Strategic Warning and The Role of Intelligence: 1968 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

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In January , the North Koreans seized the U. Navy spy ship USS Pueblo, which Johnson correctly describes as an intelligence disaster of unparalleled proportions. One of the major revelations stemming from Dr. Instead, they held that the upcoming offensive would focus on U. The Johnson history also reveals that U. Another intelligence failure occurred at the end of the Vietnam conflict. In April , as the North Vietnamese military prepared for the final offensive to capture the beleaguered South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, the U.

Three days later, Saigon fell. Book III, p. Nevertheless, one can find a number of interesting tidbits sandwiched among the deletions. Despite the fact that the s was a period of lower budgets and dramatic personnel reductions at Fort Meade, the Agency finally regained some degree of access to Soviet encrypted communications during the Carter administration in the late s.

This and a number of other major cryptanalytic successes are hinted at in a sentence that NSA did not delete from Dr.

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Also surviving the security review is some of the discussion of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Berlin Tunnel episode provides a starting example. Book I, pp. The discovery of high-level Soviet spies operating inside the Australian government in led the U. Full U.


NSA reached its historic peak strength in , with 93, military and civilian cryptologists working for the Agency and the three military service cryptologic agencies that were subordinate to NSA. Book III, pp. A political equivalent is suggested by Soviet initiatives for a conference on European security.

NATO After the Invasion | Foreign Affairs

First broached in the 's as an anti-German measure, such a conference has more recently been seen by Moscow as a means to insure Soviet involvement in Europe in the future and to speed the reduction of U. A change in leadership also can significantly alter intentions, as evidenced by the replacement of Khrushchev in Soviet intentions in a number of areas both at home and abroad were modified, in some cases substantially, in his wake.

Finally, the bureaucracy can affect the interpretation and implementation of a given intention. Aside from sheer incompetence, bureaucracies can drag their feet in putting policies or intentions into practice, and can even actively obstruct the will of a political leadership -- particularly if special bureaucratic interests are at stake. Moreover, bureaucratic inertia can also thwart the intentions of the leadership. External Influences The plans and policies of the USSR, like those of every country, are subject to external forces -- the initiatives of other governments, foreign aggression, internal turmoil in client or subject states, and so forth.

Soviet sensitivity to the actions and intentions of other powers is particularly acute in view of the new relationship between the United States and China. It is frequently argued on the one hand that Soviet intentions are formed in reaction to outside influences or pressures, or on the other hand that they are planned well in advance and are ruthlessly implemented.

Both of these formulations are too simple. For example, the same intention can be both reactive and assertive, depending on the perspective. Current Soviet initiatives and intentions in Western Europe can be seen as a reaction to the Chinese problem and the possibility of closer U. Yet in a strictly European context, those same intentions are quite assertive. The important lesson, however, is that external influence -- whether it be an opportunity to exploit or a problem to be dealt with -- significantly affects Soviet intentions and substantially increases their mutability.

Capabilities Another factor affecting Soviet intentions is that of capability. If there are no troops or installations on the Sino-Soviet border, a large-scale ground attack on China clearly is not a near-term Soviet intention; if there is no missile in service or under development accurate enough, or with a warhead big enough, to destroy a Minuteman in its silo, then there is probably no intention of a first strike. The absence of capability thus can effectively preclude intention.

Unfortunately for the analyst, the reverse is not true: the existence of capability does not necessarily indicate the intention to use it. A good example of this was the Sino-Soviet border situation in , when some analysts believed that the Soviets would attack China because they had the capability. This was a failure to predict Moscow's intention accurately. The task of analyzing Soviet intentions can only become more difficult as Soviet military capabilities arc expanded to a point where Moscow has numerous options in a given situation. In assessing Soviet intentions, a point often overlooked is that political as well as military capabilities must be considered.

The Soviet system itself imposes certain limitations on the leadership. It would be unthinkable, for example for the Politburo to contemplate dismantling the system of collectivized agriculture. Even though that would benefit the country economically, it is an unacceptable alternative for political and ideological reasons. Similarly, removing censorship is also beyond the political, though not the physical, capability of the leadership. The limitations posed by political and ideological capabilities -- or lack thereof -- often narrow the alternatives or intentions open to the ruling elite in internal affairs.

On the other hand, in the Soviet system political capabilities in foreign policy broaden rather than limit the range of possible intentions. Answering to none but those in power, inseparably tied to no ally, the Soviet Union politically is capable of justifying -- and doing -- virtually anything. The Soviet Union has never been inhibited from collaborating with another power because it would demand forsaking ideological principles or the interests of an erstwhile ally. Scope and Time So far, we have elaborated a number of factors which together make Soviet intentions extremely changeable and therefore quite elusive.

Internal politics, external influences, and a host of other pressures all render "intentions," even the most fundamental, a mixed and constantly changing bag of expediency, compromise decisions, indecision, expressions of personal influence, and opportunism. As if that did not make them baffling enough to sort out, they also vary according to their scope and time frame. The most important intentions, and therefore those relatively less flexible, are the ones concerning long-term strategy. These broad intentions are generally expressions of Soviet national interest and are consequently relatively durable and predictable -- although the means of their achievement are remarkably flexible.

Attempts to achieve military parity with the United States, the political and military neutralization of Western Europe, and the military and political containment of China are examples of durable strategic intentions. The Soviets have in mind specific methods for fulfilling each, yet are aware that their accomplishment -- if possible at all -- will take years. Intentions of lesser scope and of shorter range may be considered tactical, and they often relate to the specific means of achieving strategic intentions. Tactical intentions also encompass sudden military deployments, VIP visits or tours, friendship treaties, and so on.

These kinds of intentions are especially subject to expediency, opportunism, and chance; they are easily altered or eliminated, and replaced by something more likely to help achieve the larger objective. They may take a few years to achieve, or only a few months. Of course, some Soviet intentions are a mix of strategic and tactical intentions. The invasion of Czechoslovakia involved all kinds of tactical aspects, including the military preparation, the date of invasion, and political action. At the same time, however, the invasion fulfilled a strategic intention which was to limit, if not destroy, the influence of Czech reformism on the other satellites and the USSR itself.

Priority and Action Two final factors affecting intentions need to be mentioned. Most strategic intentions are by definition vitally important to the Soviet Union. But shorter-range tactical intentions have widely differing priorities. For example, shipping Soviet military equipment and personnel to Egypt in early for a time clearly had a higher priority than sending military aid to other third world countries. A second factor is the frequent gap between intention and action.

The best-laid plans often go awry, and for a multitude of reasons intentions can fail to become accomplished deeds. Any of the variables cited in this essay can consign an intention to oblivion. By the same token, it would be attributing too much foresight to the Soviets to assume that all their actions flow from intentions, to believe that every move is calculated and planned.

Often the Soviets are caught in situations not of their own making, where they must act without prior planning. Their intercession in the Jordanian-Syrian crisis in September is a good example of this, as were their reactions to the first Chinese border incursion in March and to their expulsion from Egypt in July These responses had not been programmed beforehand; they were last-minute reactions to critical situations. All the foregoing hopefully suggests the enormous pliancy and complexity characteristic of Soviet intentions.

Such intentions are decided, develop, evolve, or simply spring forth in a myriad of ways, and even the most important are subject to alteration. They clearly are not decided for the coming year or decade by 15 men in Politburo assembled and voting for the record. Four Soviet divisions in Hungary were reported moving into the field, roadblocks were set up and convoys were seen moving in the direction of Czechoslovakia. The film-return systems in use at the time lacked the flexibility to respond to the rapidly changing situation in Czechoslovakia.

A KH-4B satellite was in orbit, but its canister was not recovered until after the invasion. When it was, the film showed Soviet forces deployed to invade— airfields packed with aircraft, Soviet military vehicles painted with white crosses to distinguish them from identical Czech equipment. The next two weeks or so were something of an anti-climax, for the simple reason that the Soviets themselves had not decided to intervene.

This hesitation gave some reason to hope that an invasion was not forthcoming— but, with nearly 40 Soviet divisions on the move it was clear the Soviet alert remained in place. Martin's Press, , p.

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Intelligence for an update on the Czechoslovak situation. This was unusual in itself: Soviet leaders normally spent August entrenched in their dachas, and only a crisis would suffice to get them out. Clarke, Lehman, and Helms agreed that, taken together with the military alert in Central Europe, the emergency Politburo meeting was a sure indicator something was about to happen, most probably the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Helms was already scheduled to meet with President Johnson and decided to convey the information personally. Not unreasonably, but unfortunately, LBJ believed that to be the subject of the meeting in the Kremlin. The President and his advisers soon were disabused of that notion. At , central European time, on 20 August, a Soviet special forces battalion landed at and occupied Prague airport. At 23 1 1 NATO radar monitors reported that the air space around Prague was covered with artificial "snow," blanking out radar screens and preventing observation of what was happening. The invasion of Czechoslovakia was underway.

Given the swiftness of events, it is hard to see how Johnson could have received more warning than he did.

CIA documents on Prague 1968 from LBJ libe

Official Washington was holding its breath in August , waiting to see what the Soviets would do. Ample, precise, and accurate strategic warning concerning events in Eastern Europe had been pouring in all summer. The August calm before the stonn may have meant that much of the intelligence community was surprised by the invasion when it occurred, but there had been no indication that the Soviets had stood down in Eastern Europe, nor had strategic warning ever been withdrawn. A CIA memorandum prepared immediately after the invasion noted that the decision to intervene must have come very late in the game.

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To CIA analysts, however, it was clear that the decision had come sometime after the Ciema nad Tisou and Bratislava conferences. The time that elapsed, the scattering of the Soviet leadership to their dachas for the August holidays, the attitude of the Soviet press, the anodyne communiques that were issued after each meeting all were indicators that the Dubcek government was being given more time— to do what was not clear. At the same time, the positions vacated by these units were backfilled by 10 Soviet divisions.

Once strategic points in Czechoslovakia were occupied, most of these forces redeployed into western Czechoslovakia, restoring the front against NATO. There they were backed by the full might of the Warsaw Pact, including thousands of nuclear weapons targeted against Western and Central Europe.