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Context of 'July 15, 1998: Rumsfeld’s Ballistic Missile Committee Says Chief Threat to US Is from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea'

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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

An independent panel issues its report on recently released National Intelligence Estimate NIE 59-19, “Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years.” The panel, chaired by former CIA Director Robert Gates, was commissioned by Congressional conservatives as a “Team B” (see November 1976) to challenge and disprove the NIE’s finding that no rogue state such as North Korea or Iraq would be able to develop a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of striking the continental US or Canada until at least 2011. Gates’s panel includes former ambassador Richard Armitage; nuclear scientist Sidney Drell; former State Department and National Security Council official Arnold Kanter; Brookings Institution fellow Janne Nolan; former Defense Department official and RAND Corporation president Henry Rowen; and Major General Jasper Welch, a retired Air Force flag officer and former National Security Council staffer. The panel’s findings enrage those conservatives who pushed for its creation; the panel not only agrees with the NIE’s conclusions about the capabilities of those rogue nations, but finds that the Congressional conservatives’ allegations that the NIE had been “politicized” and written to satisfy Clinton administration positions have no basis in fact. “The panel found no evidence of politicization,” it reports, and adds: “There was no breach of the integrity of the intelligence process. Beyond this, the panel believes that unsubstantiated allegations challenging the integrity of intelligence community analysts by those who simply disagree with their conclusions, including members of Congress, are irresponsible. Intelligence forecasts do not represent ‘revealed truth,’ and it should be possible to disagree with them without attacking the character and integrity of those who prepared them—or the integrity of the intelligence process itself.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/23/1996; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 172] Congressional conservatives will demand, and receive, another study of the NIE that will provide them with conclusions more to their liking (see July 1998).

Entity Tags: Sidney Drell, Robert M. Gates, Richard Armitage, Jasper Welch, Clinton administration, Arnold Kanter, ’Team B’, Henry S. Rowen, Janne Nolan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

May 28, 1998: Pakistan Tests Nuclear Bomb

Pakistan’s first nuclear  test take place underground but shakes the mountains above it.Pakistan’s first nuclear test take place underground but shakes the mountains above it. [Source: Associated Press]Pakistan conducts a successful nuclear test. Former Clinton administration official Karl Inderfurth later notes that concerns about an Indian-Pakistani conflict, or even nuclear confrontation, compete with efforts to press Pakistan on terrorism. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Pakistan actually built its first nuclear weapon in 1987 but kept it a secret and did not test it until this time for political reasons (see 1987). In announcing the tests, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declares, “Today, we have settled the score.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan, Karl Inderfurth

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US International Relations, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

The “Team B” intelligence analysis exercise of 1975, which so disastrously overestimated the Soviet threat (see November 1976), returns in the form of the “Rumsfeld Commission,” which issues its report this month. Conservative commentators and former participants have called for a second “Team B”-style competitive intelligence analysis ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall (see 1990, 1994, and 1996). The “Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States” (see July 15, 1998), led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is packed with conservative and neoconservative hardliners much as the original Team B cadre was; it includes some former Team B members such as former Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz. Like the original Team B, the Rumsfeld Commission challenges CIA estimates of foreign military threats; like the original Team B, the Rumsfeld Commission wildly overestimates the impending threat from countries such as Iran and North Korea, both of which it judges will be capable of striking the US with nuclear weapons in five years or perhaps less. The original Team B findings impelled thirty years of full-bore military spending by the US to counter a Soviet threat that was fading, not growing; the Rumsfeld Commission’s equally alarmist findings impels a new push for spending on the so-called “Star Wars” ballistic missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly will observe that the Rumsfeld Commission’s report “provided Congress with enough talking points to win the argument [on missile defense] both in the strategic arena and in the 20-second soundbite television debates.” Former State Department intelligence analyst Greg Thielmann will later observe, “time has proven Rumsfeld’s predictions dead wrong.” Author and professor Gordon R. Mitchell will write that the second “Team B” exercise shows “that by 1998, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had honed the art of intelligence manipulation through use of competitive intelligence analysis. Retrospective assessments revealing serious flaws in the Team B work products came long after political officials had already converted the alarmist reports into political support for favored military policies.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Strategic Defense Initiative, ’Team B’, Central Intelligence Agency, Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, Donald Rumsfeld, Gordon R. Mitchell, Phyllis Schlafly, Paul Wolfowitz, Greg Thielmann

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Congressional conservatives receive a second “alternative assessment” of the nuclear threat facing the US that is far more to their liking than previous assessments (see December 23, 1996). A second “Team B” panel (see November 1976), the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and made up of neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Cambone, finds that, contrary to earlier findings, the US faces a growing threat from rogue nations such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, who can, the panel finds, inflict “major destruction on the US within about five years of a decision.” This threat is “broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly” than previously believed. The Rumsfeld report also implies that either Iran or North Korea, or perhaps both, have already made the decision to strike the US with nuclear weapons. Although Pakistan has recently tested nuclear weapons (see May 28, 1998), it is not on the list. Unfortunately for the integrity and believability of the report, its methodology is flawed in the same manner as the previous “Team B” reports (see November 1976); according to author J. Peter Scoblic, the report “assume[s] the worst about potential US enemies without actual evidence to support those assumptions.” Defense analyst John Pike is also displeased with the methodology of the report. Pike will later write: “Rather than basing policy on intelligence estimates of what will probably happen politically and economically and what the bad guys really want, it’s basing policy on that which is not physically impossible. This is really an extraordinary epistemological conceit, which is applied to no other realm of national policy, and if manifest in a single human being would be diagnosed as paranoia.” [Guardian, 10/13/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 172-173] Iran, Iraq, and North Korea will be dubbed the “Axis of Evil” by George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union speech (see January 29, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, J. Peter Scoblic, Paul Wolfowitz, Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, Stephen A. Cambone, John Pike

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. [US President, 2/4/2002] Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004] When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Jeffrey St. Clair, Michael Gerson

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations


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