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Profile: Stansfield Turner

Positions that Stansfield Turner has held:

  • Director of the Central Intelligence Agency


mid June 2003

“There is no question in my mind (policymakers) distorted the situation, either because they had bad intelligence or because they misinterpreted it.” [USA Today, 6/17/2003]

Associated Events

Stansfield Turner was a participant or observer in the following events:

Richard Perle, a young neoconservative just hired for the staff of Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s), is given a classified CIA report on alleged past Soviet treaty violations by CIA analyst David Sullivan. Apparently Sullivan leaks the report to pressure the US government to take a harder stance on the Soviet Union. Sullivan quits before an incensed CIA Director Stansfield Turner can fire him. Turner urges Jackson to fire Perle, but Jackson not only refuses, he also hires Sullivan for his staff. Sullivan and Perle establish an informal right-wing network called “the Madison Group” after their usual meeting place, the Madison Hotel Coffee Shop. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, ’Madison Group’, David Sullivan, Central Intelligence Agency, Stansfield Turner, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

A team of young, mid-level CIA and DIA analysts, informally dubbed “Team A,” debates the neoconservative/hardline group of outside “analysts” known as “Team B” (see Early 1976) over the CIA’s estimates of Soviet military threats and intentions. The debate is a disaster for the CIA’s group. Team B uses its intellectual firepower and established reputations of members such as Richard Pipes and Paul Nitze to intimidate, overwhelm, and browbeat the younger, more inexperienced CIA analysts. “People like Nitze ate us for lunch,” recalls one member of Team A. “It was like putting Walt Whitman High versus the [NFL’s] Redskins. I watched poor GS-13s and GS-14s [middle-level analysts with modest experience and little real influence] subjected to ridicule by Pipes and Nitze. They were browbeating the poor analysts.” Howard Stoertz, the national intelligence officer who helped coordinate and guide Team A, will say in hindsight, “If I had appreciated the adversarial nature [of Team B], I would have wheeled up different guns.” Team A had prepared for a relatively congenial session of comparative analysis and lively discussion; Team B had prepared for war.
Ideology Trumps Facts - Neither Stoertz nor anyone else in the CIA appreciated how thoroughly Team B would let ideology and personalities override fact and real data. While CIA analysts are aware of how political considerations can influence the agency’s findings, the foundation of everything they do is factual—every conclusion they draw is based on whatever facts they can glean, and they are leery of extrapolating too much from a factual set. Team A is wholly unprepared for B’s assault on their reliance on facts, a line of attack the CIA analysts find incomprehensible. “In other words,” author Craig Unger will write in 2007, “facts didn’t matter.” Pipes, the leader of Team B, has argued for years that attempting to accurately assess Soviet military strength is irrelevant. Pipes says that because it is irrefutable that the USSR intends to obliterate the US, the US must immediately begin preparing for an all-out nuclear showdown, regardless of the intelligence or the diplomatic efforts of both sides. Team B is part of that preparation. [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993; Unger, 2007, pp. 53-57] Intelligence expert John Prados, who will examine the contesting reports, later says that while the CIA analysts believe in “an objective discoverable truth,” the Team B analysts engaged in an “exercise of reasoning from conclusions” that they justify, not in factual, but in “moral and ideological terms.” According to Prados’s analysis, Team B had no real interest in finding the truth. Instead, they employed what he calls an adversarial process similar to that used in courts of law, where two sides present their arguments and a supposedly impartial judge chooses one over the other. Team B’s intent was, in essence, to present the two opposing arguments to Washington policy makers and have them, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “choose whichever truth they found most convenient.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 98]
Attacking the Intelligence Community - The first sentence of Team B’s report is a frontal assault on the US intelligence community. That community, the report says, had “substantially misperceived the motivations behind Soviet strategic programs, and thereby tended consistently to underestimate their intensity, scope, and implicit threat.” Team B writes that the intelligence community has failed to see—or deliberately refused to see—that the entire schema of detente and arms limitations negotiations are merely elements of the Soviet push for global domination.
Fighting and Winning a Nuclear War - Team B writes that the Soviets have already achieved measurable superiority in nuclear weaponry and other military benchmarks, and will use those advantages to cow and coerce the West into doing its bidding. The Soviets worship military power “to an extent inconceivable to the average Westerner,” the report asserts. The entire Soviet plan, the report goes on to say, hinges on its willingness to fight a nuclear war, and its absolute belief that it can win such a war. Within ten years, Team B states, “the Soviets may well expect to achieve a degree of military superiority which would permit a dramatically more aggressive pursuit of their hegemonial objectives.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 94-95]
Lack of Facts Merely Proof of Soviets' Success - One example that comes up during the debate is B’s assertion that the USSR has a top-secret nonacoustic antisubmarine system. While the CIA analysts struggle to point out that absolutely no evidence of this system exists, B members conclude that not only does the USSR have such a system, it has probably “deployed some operation nonacoustic systems and will deploy more in the next few years.” The absence of evidence merely proves how secretive the Soviets are, they argue. [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993; Unger, 2007, pp. 53-57] Anne Cahn, who will serve in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Carter administration, later says of this assertion, “They couldn’t say that the Soviets had acoustic means of picking up American submarines, because they couldn’t find it. So they said, well maybe they have a non-acoustic means of making our submarine fleet vulnerable. But there was no evidence that they had a non-acoustic system. They’re saying, ‘we can’t find evidence that they’re doing it the way that everyone thinks they’re doing it, so they must be doing it a different way. We don’t know what that different way is, but they must be doing it.‘… [The fact that the weapon doesn’t exist] doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It just means that we haven’t found it yet.” Cahn will give another example: “I mean, they looked at radars out in Krasnoyarsk and said, ‘This is a laser beam weapon,’ when in fact it was nothing of the sort.… And if you go through most of Team B’s specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong.… I don’t believe anything in Team B was really true.” [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993; Common Dreams (.org), 12/7/2004; BBC, 1/14/2005]
Soviet Strike Capabilities Grossly Exaggerated - Team B also hammers home warnings about how dangerous the Soviets’ Backfire bomber is. Later—too late for Team A—the Team B contentions about the Backfire’s range and refueling capability are proven to be grossly overestimated; it is later shown that the USSR has less than half the number of Backfires that B members loudly assert exist (500 in Team B’s estimation, 235 in reality). B’s assertions of how effectively the Soviets could strike at US missile silos are similarly exaggerated, and based on flawed assessment techniques long rejected by the CIA. The only hard evidence Team B produces to back their assertions is the official Soviet training manual, which claims that their air-defense system is fully integrated and functions flawlessly. The B analysts even assert, without evidence, that the Soviets have successfully tested laser and charged particle beam (CPB) weapons. [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993; Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file] (The facility at Semipalatansk that is supposedly testing these laser weapons for deployment is in reality a test site for nuclear-powered rocket engines.) [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 96]
Fundamental Contradiction - One befuddling conclusion of Team B concerns the Soviets’ ability to continue building new and expensive weapons. While B acknowledges “that the Soviet Union is in severe decline,” paradoxically, its members argue that the threat from the USSR is imminent and will grow ever more so because it is a wealthy country with “a large and expanding Gross National Product.”
Allegations 'Complete Fiction' - Cahn will say of Team B’s arguments, “All of it was fantasy.… [I]f you go through most of Team B’s specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong.” The CIA lambasts Team B’s report as “complete fiction.” CIA director George H. W. Bush says that B’s approach “lends itself to manipulation for purposes other than estimative accuracy.” His successor, Admiral Stansfield Turner, will come to the same conclusion, saying, “Team B was composed of outsiders with a right-wing ideological bent. The intention was to promote competition by polarizing the teams. It failed. The CIA teams, knowing that the outsiders on B would take extreme views, tended to do the same in self-defense. When B felt frustrated over its inability to prevail, one of its members leaked much of the secret material of the proceedings to the press” (see Late November, 1976). Former CIA deputy director Ray Cline says Team B had subverted the National Intelligence Estimate on the USSR by employing “a kangaroo court of outside critics all picked from one point of view.” Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says that B’s only purpose is to subvert detente and sabotage a new arms limitation treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993; Common Dreams (.org), 12/7/2004; BBC, 1/14/2005; Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file; Unger, 2007, pp. 53-57]
Costs of Rearmament - In 1993, after reviewing the original Team B documents, Cahn will reflect on the effect of the B exercise: “For more than a third of a century, assertions of Soviet superiority created calls for the United States to ‘rearm.’ In the 1980s, the call was heeded so thoroughly that the United States embarked on a trillion-dollar defense buildup. As a result, the country neglected its schools, cities, roads and bridges, and health care system. From the world’s greatest creditor nation, the United States became the world’s greatest debtor—in order to pay for arms to counter the threat of a nation that was collapsing.” [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993] Former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) will agree: “The Pro-B Team leak and public attack on the conclusions of the NIE represent but one element in a series of leaks and other statements which have been aimed as fostering a ‘worst case’ view for the public of the Soviet threat. In turn, this view of the Soviet threat is used to justify new weapons systems.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Howard Stoertz, Henry A. Kissinger, Stansfield Turner, Richard Pipes, J. Peter Scoblic, Ray Cline, George Herbert Walker Bush, Craig Unger, Defense Intelligence Agency, ’Team A’, Gary Hart, Anne Cahn, ’Team B’, Carter administration, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Paul Nitze, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence


Time period

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