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News | Aug. 31, 2017

DIA teams up with Spy Museum for Cold War Spycast

By DIA Public Affairs

Defense Intelligence Agency historian Greg Elder joined the Spy Museum to discuss some of the major events of the Cold War during a podcast Aug 29.

Elder discussed U.S. intelligence, policy and strategy from the early days of the cold war to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"When the Soviet Union first got nuclear weapons, we had virtually no [intelligence] collection ... to be able to keep track of how well they were doing and how they were advancing," said Elder.

Elder said the U.S. intelligence deficit was caused by lack of satellites, a dearth of open source news and material, and HUMINT that often needed weeks or months to come back for analysis. "There were periods of time when we actually thought the Soviets had an advantage over us," said Elder. "We had no warning capability ... and very little visibility on how many missiles they had."

This gap in intelligence led to a policy of mutually assured destruction in the 60's and 70's.

In the mid 1970's DIA's intelligence improved to bring a better perspective on the true Soviet capability. In hopes of moving away from the path of mutually assured destruction, Elder discussed how the National Security Council came to DIA and asked for an unclassified report on Soviet underground facilities, knowing the information would signal to the Soviets that the U.S. had accurate targeting data.

Intelligence from DIA was instrumental in shaping U.S. doctrine in the 80's. With technology playing a major role in intelligence gathering - from U2 flights to expanded satellite coverage - the U.S. revised its nuclear policy to one of flexible response in 1983.

Elder also discussed the Soviet Union's intelligence and military strategy, describing the USSR's race to catch the U.S. through use of off-the-shelf technology for missile guidance, industrial, and air traffic control systems.

"DIA warned about the danger of selling ball bearing technology to the Soviet Union ... assessing that even a simple piece of machinery could improve Soviet missile technology enough to allow precise targeting of U.S. cities," said Elder. In turn, these Soviet advances led to U.S. developing the more maneuverable Peacekeeper missile system.

The Spycast continued with anecdotes on the Soviet biological weapons, the publication history of DIA's unclassified Soviet Military Power Reports, and the 1991 economic collapse and coup.

Read DIA's 2017 Russia Military Power report here:

Listen to the entire Spycast here: