History Ext 2

Phoebe Sharpe


To what extent does the quality of evidence inhibit our understanding of American Intelligence in the Cold War?

The historical construction of American Intelligence within the Cold War is a complex framework emanating from the scarcity and quality of evidence. The questionable evidence in relation to American Intelligence in the Cold War period, has resulted in an inconclusive and contradictory historiography.

It is essential to consider the inaccuracy of evidence to determine the effectiveness, thus whether it perverts the historical truth. However, external factors that digress from evidence also need to be considered into the historiography of espionage as it can potentially fill the gap if evidence is not accessible. In addition to this, quality of evidence can be examined via fundamental aspects including the comparison of popular, academic and public history and the context including the period of time that history has been written.

Thus, through historiographical inquiry, it can be determined whether meticulous evidence is essential in order to develop a thorough construction to the history of American intelligence within the Cold War.

As a fundamental understanding, there is restricted availability and lack of dimension in regards to American Cold War intelligence. This results in a distorted historical analysis and therefore the quality of the historiography is questioned. D Cameron Watt, explores this notion when critiquing John Gaddis’ historical analysis where he explores the idea that due to the scarcity of evidence available, historians face both a psychological and methodological hindrance within their writing (Watt, p.199).

He further speculates that even when valuable sources are present, the clandestine operations are difficult to evaluate as, “we do not know how the reports of the GRU and the NKVD were circulated or evaluated” (Watt, p.201), thus creating obstruction. John Ferris supports this argument of counterfeit evidence when he says, “The intelligence services have been able to palm disinformation off as fact, to write their own history or determine who will do so” (Ferris, p.93).

Therefore, due to limited resources, Historians that attempt to develop a historiographical inquiry within this area ultimately result in unhistorical literature. Historians primarily derive their understanding of Cold War intelligence from primary sources of accounts from operative employers who have worked in the confidential and covert side of intelligence. This evidently increases concern to the authenticity and reliability of the historical literature emanating from these primary sources due to the restricted amount of information which they are able to release or press upon.

Thus witness accounts can manipulate and misconstrue historical truth. R. Jeffrey Jones, discusses this concept where he challenges Ray Cline’s (an official of the CIA) work, Secrets, spies and scholars (Jones, p.490). Although he advocates Cline's credibility, he argues that Cline dismisses and flounders to recognize the covert operations and the CIA failures. This includes the United States using secret agents continuously from the 1880s to 1939, which in turn, contradicts Cline’s claims that agent penetration (which he says was only overt), was originally needed due to the increase in surreptitious societies such as the Soviet Union, ultimately concerning foregin policy, pre WWII and throughout the Cold War. Cline’s judgement, emerging from his defensive interpretation of the administrative history of American intelligence ultimately protrudes a restricted understanding of CIA espionage and intelligence from 1939 - 1976. As well as this, Jones suggests an incompetency of the contribution to expanding the knowledge and documentation of CIA intelligence. He therefore suggests that there is key missing documentation released within this subject, which ultimately creates a fragmentary understanding of the more clandestine operations and therefore an incomplete understanding of history within the Cold War period.

The corruption and implausibility of evidence is also portrayed in other primary sources including documents and reports and this concept can be further regarded through fathoming the branch of public history. In Tim Weiner’s 1998 New York Times article, he discusses the continual repudiation of declassifying Cold War files and the documents that were released, fail to contribute a notable understanding of the nature of the covert operations, such as the lucrative coup against the Guatemalan Government.

The historians John D. Marks and Victor Marchetti support this aspect of public history in their work, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence in which they give insight into the fact that the “Eisenhower administration lied to the American people about the CIA’s involvement in the Guatemalan coup d’etat in 1954”, although it was a success (Marks and Marchetti, p.6). This emphasises the issue that due to the scarce evidence declassified it is extremely difficult to develop an accurate historiographical understanding of the covert operations throughout the Cold War. This is furthered when Weiner mentions, “A historian who advises the CIA on declassification, Page Putnam Miller, said today that there are no resources now for this project” (Weiner, p.A13). The continual issue of constraining Cold War files on covert operations is additionally evident through his 2007 New York Times article with Mark Mazzetti. Although he claims that there was a new release on details of the more clandestine and illicit activities done by the CIA throughout the decade, such as bugging a Los Vegas hotel room to obtain intel, he argues that there was still heavy restriction placed on the declassification of valuable files.

Due to these restraints, as Weiner and Mazzetti support, it is difficult to develop a savvy understanding of the darker side of history within the CIA during the Cold War. For example, due to the ties with the reports of the illicit activities directed by the CIA known as the, “Family Jewels” documents, and the Watergate investigation ( a political scandal associated with Ex President Nixon’s administration, involving illicit activity, including domestic break ins into the Democratic National Committee headquarters), the declassification of these documents created turmoil ultimately censoring what was released to the public eye (Weiner, p.A18). Marks and Marchetti, support this when they describe the operations of the CIA being “beclouded by false images and shielded by official deceptions”, which ultimately indicates that the evidence that is already restricted, is deemed to be likely a facade and deviated from the truth (Marks and Marchetti, p.5). Therefore, evidently conveyed through the facet of public history, it is palpably distinguished that there are extensive faults to evidence, ultimately misconstruing the understanding of operations within the Cold War.

Although it is predicted that evidence is imperative in order to cultivate the understanding of intelligence within the Cold War, external factors such as context can potentially still enable a sophisticated understanding even with the absence of considerable evidence. A prime Historian, John Ferris, discusses this concept in his article The Historiography of American Intelligence 1945-1990, however he still acknowledges greatly that evidence is vital in order to develop a sophisticated understanding.

Nonetheless, John Ferris probes the notion that academic historicism of intelligence, and analysing history in an empirical manner, can allow the development of a refined understanding of history without such reliance upon evidence, in which he reveals, “the study of military intelligence...rests on a large and fairly complete documentary base in the public domain… the lesson it teaches are balance, patience and precision” (Ferris, p.90).

He thus distinguishes that due to the empirical influence with an analytical framework, in which he establishes “For intelligence, the proof of the pudding is interpretation and use” (Ferris, p.110), literature within the American military assessments of conventional and guerrilla opponents has prospered to be quite valuable. Within this argument, Ferris displays his perception that through empirical research, historians can derive accurate analysis upon American espionage by using scientific and historical study of intelligence, rather than prospering a historiographical understanding via exclusively primary sources (Ferris, p.114).

James Wirtz illustrates this concept through his book, The Tet offensive, where he skillfully examines American intelligence within the Cold War before the Tet Offensive. Furthermore, although nationally being American, he acknowledges the nature and causes that enabled failure before the Tet Offensive (i.e. 1968), in which he states in his work, “Although Americans expected the communists to attack during the night of 30-31 January, it is apparent that they failed to anticipate the intensity, scope, and nature of the offensive” (Wirtz, p.224). This displays a considerable open mind and hence regarding his methodology, he is enabled to understand the workings of American intelligence on a more esteemed level. Therefore, it is apparent that through the correct methodology and eminent analysis of examining history within different areas that surround the subject of American intelligence, historiographical understanding can be achieved without the heavy reliance upon evidence.

The historiography of American intelligence and the examination of whether the availability of evidence is fundamental can be further questioned through scrutinising context including the period of time when the historiography was written. It is vital to consider the extent of the severity that historiographical literature is affected by throughout the 20th Century and onwards, due to the lack of influence from evidence. Anna Karalekas’ work published in 1977 “History of the Central Intelligence Agency '', is a primary example in which due to the release of evidence in the late 20th Century, has now lost value within prominent historiography.

This is supported by John Ferris in which he criticises Karalekas book, that “for over a decade, the best book on the topic, is now showing its age” (Ferris, p.107). As well as this, Stephen E Ambrose’s work, ‘Ike’s Spies’ released in 1981 (and although published later than Karalekas work), is still questioned for its authenticity and quality within creating a cultivating understanding of American espionage (Ferris, p.107). John Ferris’ claim that his analysis is predominantly superficial, ultimately contradicts with the fact that Ambrose was facilitated to access President Eisenhower and his covert papers.

The importance of evidence is further regarded by Michael Herman, a retired senior veteran, as he criticizes that western historians literature during the Cold War Era undermine the value of military intelligence (Herman, p.765-799) in which John Ferris supports this claim, stating that they make “sweeping and crude assumptions about Soviet behaviour, for ignoring diplomatic possibilities and Western strength” (Ferris, p.112). This indicates that due to the lack of valuable, authentic and reliable evidence disclosed, historians during this era such as Ambrose and Karateka adopt methods involving assumptions, accusations and literature that dissociate from the palpable truths of American intelligence, ultimately producing ineffective and bogus literature. This can be clarified through Walter Lacquer’s contradicting claim in his book A World of Secrets, where he states that intelligence is a “prerequisite” for, but “can never be a substitute for policy or strategy, for political wisdom or military power” (Lacquer, p.338). Therefore, as displayed through the context of historians predominantly being the period of time historical literature is produced, the importance of evidence and it’s quality can be determined. This ultimately reveals that it is still extensively needed in order to produce a sophisticated historiographical understanding of American intelligence within the Cold War.

Disregarding the scarcity of evidence within American intelligence, there is still a wide range of historiographical writings available, however the quality can be determined to decide whether they execute a thorough, historical understanding. Analysing the effectiveness of historical sources, can be explored through the branches of academic and popular history. Primarily, due to the obscure and deceitful nature of the history of American Intelligence within the Cold War, it is imperative to predominantly interpret in an empirical manner.

It is also fundamental to encompass a strategic and even marginal influence of scientific methodology when examining academic history. John Ferris distinguishes that a more simple interpretation where evidence is considered to be the whole historical judgement, can result in a distorted decision making process in the view of signifying individuals with intelligence. Ferris permits that, “One has to prove the influence of these writings by thoroughly investigating the relations between staffs and statesmen” (Ferris, p.111), ultimately concluding that sophisticated writings within Intelligence history can be achieved, however the combination of an empirical and scientific basis with the eminent analysation of sources is needed.

Walter Laquer’s book “A World of Secrets”, is a prime example, where he evaluates (for the majority) the performance of American intelligence in a refined and sophisticated manner. However, some comments made within Laqueur’s book, such as his perception of the first three years of the Carter Administration (1977), “intelligence was not considered important but a source of potential trouble” (Lacquer, p.87), there is an indication of bias influence and a sense of incomprehensive examination in regards to the nature of American intelligence. This ultimately reveals a lack of authenticity within sections of his writing and can be supported in Harry Howe Ransom’s historiographical review relating to Part II of the book, “this part of the book has a gossipy quality” (Ransom, p.986). This can be confirmed by the fact that the book was published in 1985 in which there was still a considerable amount of classified documents and therefore depicts the importance of valuable evidence. Hence, within the history of American intelligence within the Cold War period, extensive attention is needed in order to interpret history and thus manifest it.

Popular history, a less imperative and refined aspect of history suggests that it is not a reliable form to obtain understanding of the history of American intelligence, however this can be considered to not be entirely the case. Considering a more intricate interpretation of Cold War intelligence inspired film, can ultimately reveal a more accurate representation of history then first conceived.

Simon Willmetts, a cultural historian, discusses that although there was minimal interaction and activity between the CIA and Hollywood film industry within the early stages of the Cold War period, the development of the semi-documentary was a greatly momentous form of historical representation. He states that the semi-documentary displayed a meticulous depiction of reliable government sources within America’s recent past where he claims that “whether it came in the form of official endorsement, documentary evidence from the National Archives or technical advice from current or former employees of” it is presumed to be quite accurate (Willmetts, p.132).

Rick Worldland discusses this concept in his work, Journal of Popular Film and Television, using specific examples where metaphorical plot lines and features within film, display an accurate representation of intelligence history. Two primary examples, Get Smart and The Man From U.N.C.L.E convey adequate ties with communist references including espionage, in which Worldland suggests to “consider the tone and performance of the material and we arrive at a more equivocal assessment” (Wordland, p.152). This therefore demonstrates the broad range of historiography that can deem to be useful within obtaining an understanding of American intelligence history. However, all though there have been some clear representations made that disclose evidence within popular history, it’s evidence can still inhibit a complete historical understanding of American intelligence within the cold war.

Evidence in the history of American intelligence within the Cold War period, is unquestionably fundamental in order to develop an understanding. Through the study of historiographical writings, it is clear that it is difficult to interpret and develop an accurate view, resulting in an inept understanding of American intelligence and espionage. Nevertheless some writings have managed to be adequately valuable, such as sections within Walter Lacquer’s book ‘A World of Secrets’.

Ultimately, in order to achieve this, the authenticity and accuracy is imperative to divulge the surreptitious truths of history whilst approaching it in a methodological and empirical manner. As well as this, the consideration of historiographical aspects including public, popular and academic history and the context of the historians should also be examined to fathom further knowledge.

Therefore, through these historical aspects, constrainment of manifesting the construction of American intelligence can be avoided, however without the existence of valuable evidence, inhibited understanding of history is likely to occur.