Analysis on the Soviet Union

The Team A/Team B Exercise

The exercise in competitive analysis that involved the pitting of Team A (CIA analysts) against Team B (outside experts) on the National Intelligence Estimate on Soviet Strategic Objectives (NIE 11-3/8) was commissioned by DCI George Bush in 1976. (Actually, there were three B-teams, but the teams on Soviet missile accuracy and air defense did not engender the controversy associated with the strategic objectives team.) The exercise, its results, and its long-term value remain controversial. Some broader works on the estimative process also should be consulted. In particular, see Lawrence Freedman, U.S. Intelligence and the Soviet Strategic Threat, 2d ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986); and John Prados, The Soviet Estimate: U.S. Intelligence Analysis and Russian Military Strength (New York: Dial Press, 1982).

The Team B leader was Prof. Richard Pipes. Associates were Prof. William Van Cleave; Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, USA (Ret.); Dr. Thomas Wolfe, RAND Corporation; and Gen. John Vogt, USAF, (Ret.). The Team's Advisory Panel was comprised of Ambassador Foy Kohler; The Honorable Paul Nitze; Ambassador Seymour Weiss; Maj. Gen. Jasper Welch, USAF; and Dr. Paul Wolfowitz, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Binder, David. "New CIA Estimate Finds Soviets Seek Superiority in Arms." New York Times, 26 Dec. 1976, 14.

This article is the begin point of the political-side of the controversy that engulfed the CIA's Team A/Team B competitive analysis exercise. It was followed by a New York Times editorial ("Handicapping the Arms Race," 19 Jan. 1977, 34) accusing the Team B members of political motivation in making "worst case" assumptions about Soviet intentions.

Cahn, Anne Hessing. Killing Detente: The Right Attacks the CIA. College Station, PA: Penn State Press, 1998.

Clark comment: The advertisement for this book at is muddled. It states: "Killing Detente tells the story of a major episode of intelligence intervention [emphasis added] in politics in the mid-1970s that led to the derailing of detente between the Soviet Union and the United States and to the resurgence of the Cold War in the following decade." The reference is to the Team A/Team B exercise. Calling the furor that followed the leaking of the Team B report, which the advertisement acknowledges was "performed by people outside the government," an "intelligence intervention" is reaching to find something else to blame on U.S. intelligence agencies. The "intervention," if such it was, came from nonintelligence, ideologically motivated individuals.

Macartney, AFIO WIN 35 (14 Sep. 1998), notes that the author "seems to view ... spending on defense or intelligence as total waste. Nevertheless, this is an interesting book with a good explanation of intelligence, the CIA, NIE's, the Committee on the Present Danger and the 1976 B Team exercise." For Zelikow, FA 78.3 (May-Jun. 1999), it seems that the "real and gnawing uncertainities at the time about Soviet capabilities and intentions do not ... evoke [Cahn's] sympathies, or [her] comprehension."

While acknowledging "the sheer depth of research" that Cahn "has mustered," Berkowitz, Survival, Spring 1999, believes that she "gives the hawks too much credit." The argument that the Team B exercise "was part of a planned campaign to attack the CIA in order to kill detente ... is, at best, stretched, and it detracts from an otherwise valuable contribution to the study of intelligence." Warnke, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan. 1999, finds this a "highly readable" book that provides "thoughtful analysis," but adds that the Team B "exercise ... delayed -- but did not derail -- detente." Killing Detente is of "historical interest" and will be "useful as a teaching tool."

Harknett, I&NS 15.4, comments that this work "is at its finest when detailing the political and bureaucratic intrigues that led to the creation of Team B." However, "[a]s an attack on defense spending and national security-making in the 1980s, it overshoots; as a treatment of the importance of NIEs to major policy shifts, it underwhelms." To Hahn, JAH, Jun. 2000, Cahn has provided "a useful overview of bureaucratic, ideological, and political rivalries among intelligence experts within and without the federal government.... [Nevertheless,] the author does not convincingly establish a causal link between the widespread opposition to detente and Team B's attack on it."

Cahn, Anne Hessing, and John Prados. "Team B: The Trillion Dollar Experiment." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Apr. 1993, 22-31.

Freedman, Lawrence. "The CIA and the Soviet Threat: The Politicization of Estimates, 1966-1977." Intelligence and National Security 12, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 122-142.

Freedman surveys the background of NIEs on the Soviet strategic threat up to the Team A/Team B exercise. He believes that the importance of the latter "was mainly to confirm the loss of authority of the national estimates on the most crucial question they were asked to address.... The problem was that a fragmented intelligence community was struggling to produce an estimate that was subject to inherent uncertainties at a time when great political issues appeared to turn on its content."

Kovar, Richard. "Mr. Current Intelligence: An Interview with Richard Lehman." Studies in Intelligence 9 (Summer 2000): 51-63.

In an interview conducted 28 February 1998, Lehman, former D/OCI and C/NIC, among other positions, "recalls the challenges associated with briefing DCI Allen Dulles, recounts how the PICL [later PDB] was born, summarizes how the Agency got to know Presidents-elect Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan, and gives his candid assessment of the famous A Team/B Team exercise."

Pipes, Richard. "Team B: The Reality Behind the Myth." Commentary 82 (Oct. 1986): 25-40.

Pipes, who headed Team B, thinks the exercise had significant, far-reaching consequences. He praises Bush's decision to go forward with the exercise as "a very bold action" in which the DCI showed "great courage."

Pipes, Richard. Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003.

Pozefsky, H-Russia, H-Net Reviews, May 2006 [], notes that one of the highlights of the author's chapter on his time in Washington is "his leadership of the now 'infamous' Team B" in 1976. Pipes regarded the CIA-staffed group (Team A) "as making errors in judgment based on wishful thinking and mirror-imaging." Team B had "little immediate impact on policy. Its findings were ... rejected by Bush, who limited their influence by keeping the report classified. However, Team B's perspective was resurrected" in the Reagan administration in which Pipes served on the National Security Council (1980-82).

Clak comment: Because of my background, I have to mention that Pipes began his academic career in the United States by enrolling (according to Pozefsky's review) "as a student at Muskingum College, a small liberal arts college in eastern Ohio.... In small-town Ohio, Pipes, the European Jew, was regarded as exotic, but embraced by students and faculty. He found it the perfect place to learn English and a comfortable environment in which to adapt to American culture. In the middle of his junior year, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps."

Reich, Robert C. "Re-examining the Team A-Team B Exercise." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 3, no. 3 (Fall 1989): 387-403.

Reich finds that the exercise clearly had an important short-term effect: it changed the finished version of NIE 11-3/8. Its long-term impact reaches even beyond changes in CIA methodological practices and include a revamping of U.S. nuclear policy in the 1980s that encompassed many of Team B's conclusions about Soviet strategic objectives.

Stack, Kevin P. "A Negative View of Competitive Analysis." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 10, no. 4 (Winter 1997-1998): 456-464. "Commentary: Competitive Intelligence." Intelligence and National Security 13, no. 4 (Winter 1998): 194-202.

I have not performed a word-by-word comparison of these two articles, but the following quoted material, which sums up the author's argument, is identical in both articles: "[T]he use of outsiders to question judgments made by intelligence officials would not result in improved analysis.... Outsiders called in to refute or negate intelligence estimates would only muddle the process from the decisionmakers' perspective."

U.S. Congress. Senate. Select Committee on Intelligence. Subcommittee on Collection, Production, & Quality. The National Intelligence Estimates A-B Team Episode Concerning Soviet Strategic Capability & Objectives. 95th Cong., 2d sess., 1978. Committee Print.

Clark comment: The controversy and charges of politicization of the estimative process that began even before the Team A/Team B NIE was completed in December 1976 led the relatively new SSCI to initiate an inquiry. The unclassified version of the committee's report, released in February 1978, supports competitive analysis as a concept, but finds flaws in the composition -- that is, the political views or biases -- of Team B.

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