November 04, 2003

The Infamous "Team B"

Matthew Yglesias writes about the infamous "Team B":

TAPPED: November 2003 Archives: IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED. Over the weekend, The Boston Globe ran an interesting profile of Richard Pipes, the historian of the Soviet Union whose anti-communist zeal led him to Washington to do some practical work as a cold warrior:

In late 1975, a dramatic reshuffling of the Ford administration installed a new defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, a new chief of staff, Dick Cheney, and a new CIA chief, George H.W. Bush. It was Bush who approved the formation of "Team B," a group of 16 outside experts charged with challenging what some considered the CIA's sanguine estimates of Soviet military strength. Pipes, named the group's chairman, brought in a brilliant young weapons analyst, Paul Wolfowitz. "Richard Perle recommended him," Pipes says of Wolfowitz today. "I'd never heard of him."

Team B was engulfed in controversy from the outset. A top CIA analyst called it "a kangaroo court of outside critics all picked from one point of view." Others said its mission was to hype the Soviet threat. Pipes disagrees. "We dealt with one problem only: What is the Soviet strategy for nuclear weapons? Team B was appointed to look at the evidence and to see if we could conclude that the actual Soviet strategy is different from ours. It's now demonstrated totally, completely, that it was," he says, adducing documents in Polish archives that show the Soviets planning to use nuclear weapons in the event of war.

This is a pretty serious misrepresentation on Pipes' part of Team B's work. As Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek over the summer:
It all started with the now famous "Team B" exercise. During the early 1970s, hard-line conservatives pilloried the CIA for being soft on the Soviets. As a result, CIA Director George Bush agreed to allow a team of outside experts to look at the intelligence and come to their own conclusions. Team B--which included Paul Wolfowitz--produced a scathing report, claiming that the Soviet threat had been badly underestimated.

In retrospect, Team B's conclusions were wildly off the mark. Describing the Soviet Union, in 1976, as having "a large and expanding Gross National Product," it predicted that it would modernize and expand its military at an awesome pace. For example, it predicted that the Backfire bomber "probably will be produced in substantial numbers, with perhaps 500 aircraft off the line by early 1984." In fact, the Soviets had 235 in 1984.

The reality was that even the CIA’s own estimates--savaged as too low by Team B--were, in retrospect, gross exaggerations. In 1989, the CIA published an internal review of its threat assessments from 1974 to 1986 and came to the conclusion that every year it had "substantially overestimated" the Soviet threat along all dimensions. For example, in 1975 the CIA forecast that within 10 years the Soviet Union would replace 90 percent of its long-range bombers and missiles. In fact, by 1985, the Soviet Union had been able to replace less than 60 percent of them.

This is significant because the Team B personnel are now back working in the government, where they once again decided to circumvent the intelligence agencies and over-over-estimate a threat that it appears the agencies were already over-estimating on their own. Take a look at Pipes' defense of the intention-based approach to intelligence gathering:
Today Pipes defends his approach. "Hardware doesn't tell you anything. You can have a neighbor who's a peaceful man who likes to collect guns because he likes to collect guns. But he may also be a criminal, or someone who collects them for a different reason." The big question, in other words, is intention.
This makes no sense whatsoever. Clearly, if you want to know whether or not somebody is going to shoot you, you need to know two things. First, does he have a gun? Second, does he want to use it? In Pipes' example it's simply taken for granted that the neighbor has a gun, but we now know Saddam Hussein's WMD program was all hat and no cattle, so his intentions hardly seem relevant.

Pipes and his collaborators seem to have gained a lot of confidence from America's victory in the Cold War, but the fact remains that they had relatively little to do with it. In the second Reagan administration, a reform-minded Soviet leader came to the helm and the president largely sidelined the super-hawks in favor of a return to containment. As a result, the Soviet Union was kept in its box and the communist system collapsed under its own weight. The Soviet menace wasn't growing any more than Iraq was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons.

Getting something like this wrong once is pretty understandable -- intelligence gathering is an inexact science -- but having been proven wrong once, the same group of people came back to power, used the same methods again, and were proven wrong again. Pay attention to administration statements about the WMD search and you'll see the goalpost-moving strategy Pipes employed in this article -- trying to switch the conversation from whether Saddam had weapons to whether he wanted them. Doubtless we'll see the younger members of today's team back 20 years from now insisting that the CIA is underestimating the looming Peruvian threat or something. Some people never learn.

--Matthew Yglesias

Posted by DeLong at November 4, 2003 04:58 PM | TrackBack

Comments

It didn't start with Team B. In US history, at least, this sort of threat inflation started in 1950 with NSC-68, whose principal author, Paul Nitze, later was a remember of the "Team B" panel.

Posted by: Josh Pollack on November 4, 2003 07:23 PM

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It didn't start with Team B. In US history, at least, this sort of threat inflation started in 1950 with NSC-68, whose principal author, Paul Nitze, later was a remember of the "Team B" panel.

Posted by: Josh Pollack on November 4, 2003 07:26 PM

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It didn't start with Team B. In US history, at least, this sort of threat inflation started in 1950 with NSC-68, whose principal author, Paul Nitze, later was a remember of the "Team B" panel.

Posted by: Josh Pollack on November 4, 2003 07:26 PM

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Funny thing is that Richard Pipes's son is Daniel Pipes, recently appointed to the National Endowment for Peace (I believe) for his role in creating Middle East friendships by demanding that all Palestinians should be burnt alive.

Posted by: ahem on November 4, 2003 08:06 PM

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We actually do not know that Saddam's WMD plan is all hat and no cattle. We know that we haven't found the WMD's. The WMD's could be hidden, sold, burnt, buried, disguised, underwater, or even embedded in some huge public sculpture.

We do know that Saddam had a long program of WMD development and that he continued to want to dominate the region. We also know that if he had a complete set of WMD's he would use them on weaker neighbors or on string nations with some deniability. Possibly by Iraqi agents disguised as Terrorists.

With nuclear weapons in enemy hands, the prudent, safe, choice is to over-estimate and prepare rather than under-estimate until the time that millions die. Nuclear war is not horseshoes or golf, there is no "Nearly" and no "Mulligan".

It is crystal clear that once the sanctions were gone, Saddam would have accelerated his WMD program including his long struggle to acquire nuclear weapons and missiles. And it is equally clear that Saddam and his sons were perfectly capable of using them on a whim.

Posted by: Warren on November 4, 2003 09:00 PM

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>>We actually do not know that Saddam's WMD plan is all hat and no cattle. We know that we haven't found the WMD's. The WMD's could be hidden, sold, burnt, buried, disguised, underwater, or even embedded in some huge public sculpture.<<

Or given to Al Qaeda.

Certainly we took no effective steps to try to keep them from being given to Al Qaeda.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on November 4, 2003 09:07 PM

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This is news?

Posted by: john c. halasz on November 5, 2003 12:15 AM

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Warren,

Give it up. There are no NBC assets in Iraq. Not even 1916-era mustard gas with timed fuses in artillery shells.

Given that cold hard cash bought the betrayal of Saddam's sons, I believe it is absolutely incredible that the amount of money on offer has not smoked something out.

Thus, we can either believe

(a) no-one who took part of a program to make NBC weapons "hidden, sold, burnt, buried, disguised, underwater, or even embedded in some huge public sculpture." is buyable for, say, ten mill in cash and a new identity, or

(b) it was a bluff - there were no NBC assets, but if he pretended there were, the other side would back down somewhere between the flop and fifth street.

Occam's Razor points to (b).

Posted by: Ian Whitchurch on November 5, 2003 04:58 AM

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Giving "TEAM B" >credit< AGAIN for having simply made "honest" mistakes is just plain naive, if not worse than stupid. Some people never learn.....

Read my lips guys, I'm only going to say this once:

If THEIR lips are moving, they're PROBABLY lying...

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ITEM:

U.S. Row with UN Brews Over Iraq Sanctions
By Hassan Hafidh
Reuters

Friday 18 April 2003

BAGHDAD - A new dispute loomed between Washington and the United Nations over a role for the international community in rebuilding post-war Iraq as the United States presses for an end to crippling U.N. sanctions against Baghdad.

A call by President Bush to lift the sanctions, which have been in place for a dozen years, was widely viewed as a direct challenge to the Security Council to set aside its objections to the U.S.-led war and help the shattered Iraqi economy recover.

At a summit in Athens, the European Union on Thursday urged Washington to allow the United Nations to take a central role in Iraq's reconstruction....

http://www.truthout.org/docs_03/042003G.shtml

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Of course, we all know NOW how THAT "turned out"...

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Iraqification: Losing Strategy

By Fareed Zakaria

Tuesday, November 4, 2003; Page A25


Iraq, everyone agrees, is not Vietnam. In Vietnam the United States lost dozens of troops for every one it is losing in Iraq. The Viet Cong guerrillas had broad popular support. They were being supplied by great powers. And so on. But there is one sense in which the analogy might hold. Frustrated by the lack of quick progress on the ground and fading political support at home, Washington is now latching on to the idea that a quick transfer of power to local troops and politicians would make things better. Or at any rate, it would lower American casualties. It was called Vietnamization; today it's called Iraqification. And then as now, it is less a winning strategy than an exit strategy...


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Don't kid yourselves boys and girls, the "bottom line" with "TEAM B" boys and girls is, was and always will be THE bottom line...

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Study: Bush donors rake in contracts
By James Cox, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Big givers to President Bush and companies with political and military connections are getting most of the reconstruction work in Iraq and Afghanistan, a watchdog group said Thursday.
The Center for Public Integrity has done the first detailed analysis of $8 billion in contracts awarded to 71 U.S. companies by the Pentagon, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

"There is a stench of political favoritism and cronyism," says Charles Lewis, executive director of the center, a non-partisan group based in Washington....

http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/2003-10-30-contracts_x.htm

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For "TEAM B", EVERYTHING beside the bottom line is...Well...Let's be honest...Can you keep a secret?...REALLY?...

Beside the bottom line, what else IS there? I mean: REALLY?...IS there anything else? Really?...

You can tell me, IF you know. I mean, REALLY know...

Posted by: Mike on November 5, 2003 05:30 AM

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>"...Certainly we took no effective steps to try to keep them from being given to Al Qaeda.

>Posted by Brad DeLong at November 4, 2003 09:07 PM

Sigh.

Seems like I've been trying to "effectively" educate Brad on this point for more than a year now...Come to think of it, I do believe I HAVE been trying to educate Brad on this point for over a year now.

DON'T "read MY lips" THIS time, Brad....

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Published on Saturday, July 20, 2002 in the Boston Globe

Is Iraq a True Threat to the US?

by Scott Ritter

http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0721-02.htm

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Top Republicans Break With Bush on Iraq Strategy

By Todd S. Purdum And Patrick E. Tyler

New York Times | International

Thursday, 15 August, 2002

http://www.truthout.org/docs_02/08.17A.gop.no.irq.htm

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Inspectors Call U.S. Tips 'Garbage'

By Mark Phillips

CBS News.com

Thursday 20 February 2003

http://truthout.org/docs_02/022303A.htm

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Star Witness on Iraq Said Weapons Were Destroyed: Bombshell revelation from a defector cited by White House and press

February 27, 2003

http://www.fair.org/press-releases/kamel.html

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Frustrated, U.S. Arms Team to Leave Iraq: Task Force Unable To Find Any Weapons

By Barton Gellman

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, May 11, 2003; Page A01

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A40212-2003May10?language=printer

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Posted by: Mike on November 5, 2003 05:51 AM

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A couple of more "words for the wise"--assuming, of course--Well, never mind...

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Blood Money

By William Rivers Pitt

t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 27 February 2003

"In the counsels of Government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the Military Industrial Complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
- President Dwight Eisenhower, January 1961.

George W. Bush gave a speech Wednesday night before the Godfather of conservative Washington think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute...

http://www.truthout.org/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi?archive=1&num=53


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The spies who pushed for war

Julian Borger reports on the shadow rightwing intelligence network set up in Washington to second-guess the CIA and deliver a justification for toppling Saddam Hussein by force

Thursday July 17, 2003

The Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,999737,00.html

Posted by: Mike on November 5, 2003 06:12 AM

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Brad, what effective steps are available for preventing transfer of these weapons? Removing Saddam does not make containment harder. Containment in this instance is exceedingly difficult already. Removing Saddam from political control in Iraq greatly diminishes his ability to direct resources toward the development and proliferation of these weapons. As far as I can tell, it is the most effective step available.

Posted by: Stan on November 5, 2003 07:50 AM

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This post raises a side issue.

Does anyone know who coined the phrase "Upper Volta with rockets" as a description of the early 1980s Soviet Union?

It always seemed a mystery why any journalist who could get into the USSR could see how ramshackle the place was, even as the CIA was hyping up the threat.

Posted by: P O'Neill on November 5, 2003 08:28 AM

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Does any one remember Craptor Swinebergers' "Red Book"? I always told friends that if I was caught with my pants down in Times Square with an under age child I wanted Craptor to be my defence lawyer.
Even a dufus like me could see the coming colapse of the USSR. Just a little bit of reading, some knowledge of the accellerating economic power of the west and a bit of thinking lead me to that conclusion. The timing was hard to predict.

Posted by: dilbert dogbert on November 5, 2003 09:37 AM

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Be careful. Reagan must be treated like a god or at least the best president of the 20th century. These posts are treading on the Reagan legacy of causing the collapse of the Soviet Union through his "peace through strength" increases in military spending. The cold war would never have ended were it not for Reagan, his evil empire rhetoric, his star wars defense and 600 ship navy. Anyone who thinks otherwise is itching for a fight and deserves to have their documentary kicked off network TV and relegated to late night on a second rate pay cable network.

Posted by: bakho on November 5, 2003 11:41 AM

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Stan wrote, "Removing Saddam from political control in Iraq greatly diminishes his ability to direct resources toward the development and proliferation of these weapons. As far as I can tell, it is the most effective step available."

But with chaos in Iraq, whatever materials are there are up for sale/looting. Ditto Iraqi nuclear scientists/engineers knowledge. If someone competent had directed the war and its aftermath, your argument might be plausible, but given how badly Bush et al. fumbled things, it's not. And their fumbling was predictable in advance, given how badly they screwed up in Afghanistan.

The sanctions regime, on the other hand, was extremely effective in containing Saddam's nuclear ambitions.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on November 5, 2003 11:41 AM

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These historical issues (Team B) seem to those who came to political consciousness after their effects were made manifest to be of little interest. Hence note the lack of discussion of Team B on the thread. We are focused on today at the expense of learning the lessons of the past.

In fact, the Team B recommendations were the basis for a far larger and more deadly arms buildup than George W. Bush has yet accomplished. They may well have been the basis for igniting the Afghan war and funding Islamic extremists which actions led, full circle, to the attack on the World Trade Center. They were used to justify the wars whose sequels even now rock Africa and the murder of tens of thousands of Central American civilians. They, in combination with Reagan and Carter defense spending and the reckless Reagan tax cuts, directly led to the chronic debt crisis that the United States faces.

It was a horrible lie, a lie that has led to more death and destruction than any other modern lie. Unless, of course, we count Clinton's deliberations on the meaning of the word "is".

Posted by: Charles on November 5, 2003 02:02 PM

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>"...But with chaos in Iraq, whatever materials are there are up for sale/looting. Ditto Iraqi nuclear scientists/engineers knowledge. If someone competent had directed the war and its aftermath, your argument might be plausible, but given how badly Bush et al. fumbled things, it's not. And their fumbling was predictable in advance, given how badly they screwed up in Afghanistan...."

>Stephen J Fromm at November 5, 2003 11:41 AM

For a while there Stephen, I scratched my head (when I wasn't shaking it) over the cabal currently occupying our nation's capital's penchant for snatching defeat and chaos from the jaws of victory.

I mean, the ENTIRE civilized world was on 'our side' AND 'down' on the Taliban in the immediate aftermath of 911. Pakistan, the Saudi's and UAE (their only remaining friends in the world) ostentatiously cut the commercial, diplomatic and military 'strings': the pressure on Afghanistan to cough up Osama was overwhelming. AND in fact they offered to do just that--

>"...Despite being agreed by Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, the extradition was vetoed by Pakistan's President Musharraf..."

http://www.j-n-v.org/AW_briefings/ARROW_briefing005.htm


All they wanted in return was enough "evidence" against him to make the transaction respectable. "We" opted to "adopt" Afghanistan instead...

http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=12525

Ditto Iraq.

The international community's FORMAL "legitimate" interest in ANY sovereign state's 'internal affairs' really doesn't extend much farther than EVERY state's interest in protecting ALL states from any ONE state's real and/or perceived threat to its neighbors and/or 'the world order' generally. To that end, getting UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq WITH unfettered access was in EVERYONE'S interest and OUGHT to have been counted a real diplomatic success. But once again, "we" apparently weren't really interested in THAT kind of success...

>Blood Money

>By William Rivers Pitt

>t r u t h o u t | Perspective

>Thursday 27 February 2003

>>"In the counsels of Government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the Military Industrial Complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
- President Dwight Eisenhower, January 1961.

>George W. Bush gave a speech Wednesday night before the Godfather of conservative Washington think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute..."

http://www.truthout.org/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi?archive=1&num=53

No. These guys and girls are pursuing an agenda that bears only a tangental and/or incidental relationship to their rhetoric. THAT is the ONLY rational way to explain their behavior. Bowing to their "authority", giving them "the benefit of the doubt", trusting in their competence, grasp of the facts, good faith and/or taking their rhetoric at face value only encourages THEM and endangers EVERYONE else.

In my humble opinion, we really ought to be about the business of locking up as many of them as posssible for as long as possible. We owe that to their ("internal" and "external") victims, to ourselves AND to future generations, both here at home and abroad.


Posted by: Mike on November 5, 2003 02:09 PM

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