Russell E. Hershey,
INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM LEE - 28.8.1996
INTERVIEWER: Bill, can I ask you the hardest one of all, can we have your name and title for the transcripts?
WILLIAM LEE: Oh, well, my name is William K. Lee. My title when I retired was, I was the Senior Executive Office in Senior Executive Service and my title was absolutely meaningless. I was a substantant officer for the division that dealt with military production in the Defense Intelligence Agency.
WL: No, but it was one of these bureaucratic things, you know, that senior and expert is a word that I detest, X is an unknown quantity, it spurts water under pressure and...
INT: Bill, can I ask you first off, 1960, Eisenhower's administration went out and Kennedy's and McNamara came in. Could you give me just a brief guide to the difference between the Eisenhower strategies and the Kennedy administration strategies? What was the changeover that was first looked at?
WL: Well, the change in that really did not become clear until around 1964-66 and that is when the Kennedy administration, and McNamara in particular... well, by then it was the Johnson administration, after McNamara became totally convinced that the only strategy what was known as Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD for short. And what that meant was that the only way to have stable deterrents in the world was for both sides to be able to kill twenty five to fifty per cent of the other's population. Anything that interfered with that capability was viewed as quote-unquote 'destabilizing' and that is why McNamara fought against anti-ballistic defense of this country and that is why we have no such defense, even today - in a nutshell.
INT: Very good.
WL: (Interrupts) It also was...
WL: It also was a period when we were making the transition from worrying that... or believing, concerned, whatever however you want to put it, that the Russians had an enormous first strike capability with their first generation inter-continental ballistic missiles and it wasn't till mid 1961 that we began to get the hard evidence that they did not have a large number of these missiles and it was not until mid 1962 that we could really statistically demonstrate that there was no missile gap, as it was called.
INT: Why then did we get it so wrong? Why did we believe in the end of the fifties, beginning of the sixties that they were so far ahead?
WL: Well, that was a little point in US intelligence collection. Some of the intelligence collection that had worked very well for us in the Korean War and which we didn't believe at the time, which gave us warning that the war was going to occur when it did, that had - which I can't really talk about very much - but that was no longer productive. We did not have photography at that time. Very few of the U-2 flights were ever made over the Soviet Union and until Powers, in 1960, which I can now say publicly for the first time, until that flight, none of them went or were going to where it was necessary to go in order to find out that the Russians did not have a large number of ICBMs, large deployment under way. And of course he did not come home. Then the satellite photography began to become available at the very end of 1960 on and then on into '61 and we simply didn't know. Also, Khrushchev very successfully ran the strategic deception program, in which he made statements that referred to the production of the SS4 intermediate range system, which sounded like he was referring to production of the ICBMs. And in the absence of other information, we didn't know. Our tech... Another very important contributing factor to that was our technical people mis-estimated the evidence. We had the technical evidence on what that first generation ICBM looked like. How big it was, how it worked. And if they'd gotten it right and we'd known it was such a huge monster that it actually was, there would not have been ICBM gap, 'cos we would have known it would have been too expensive, too cumbersome to deploy a large number of those. But the...
INT: (Interrupts) I'm going to ask you that question one more time, 'cos it's so important. I mean, at that period, the 1960s, what was the American interpretation of what the Soviets had and where they did get it wrong?
WL: Well, the complete uncertainty, that some people believed that they didn't have very many and weren't going to produce very many...
INT: By the sixties, what did we think that the Russians had and where did we get it wrong?
WL: Well, what we thought is they might have as few as a hundred to two hundred or three hundred, to as many as six or seven or eight hundred and we didn't know. And the reason we didn't know is we didn't have information about what they were actually producing, we didn't know that they had already decided to go for second generation systems, what we call the SS7 and SS8, rather than for what we call the SS6, which they used as a space booster and this mis-estimation on the part of the technical people as to the nature of the beast itself. And we didn't really understand what the SS6 looked like, what a monster it was, until they flew it into the Paris Air Show in 1967 and showed it to us.
INT: Good answer. Going back to an earlier question, you talked about Mutually Assured Destruction...
WL: (Interrupts) Yes.
INT: You said that it was determined that a minimum of twenty five, up to fifty per cent of the population had... Those figures sound extraordinary, how was that determined?
WL: I haven't the slightest idea. As far as I know, that was just of a kind of a judgement... how much is enough? Well, twenty five to fifty per cent ought to deter any rational individual, any rational leader who thought it was inevitable that his country would lose twenty five to fifty per cent of the population in retaliation and it was inevitable would never push the button and start the war in the first place. It was popularly described in some ways as two scorpions in a bottle. And now I understand that even scorpions are very nasty creatures and when they meet each other they immediately engage in a battle, the largest one usually wins and he eats the smaller one. Unfortunately, the people who invented Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD, apparently didn't know how scorpions really behaved.
INT: But prior to Mutually Assured Destruction being the accepted way to go, there was talk of something called counterforce.
WL: Yes. Well, McNamara himself made a speech endorsing counterforce in 1962, when he'd been in office for, well, almost two years, at Armor, Michigan and he said the real way to go is both sides not to shoot each other's cities, not to shoot at their population, but to shoot at each other's missiles, you know, a (inaudible), which is, in many ways, the way the Russians really looked at it and we had the evidence that they looked at it, but nobody wanted to believe that. By a process that I do not begin to understand, certainly by three years later by 1965, McNamara was totally converted to the MAD.
INT: And what do you think the Russians made of all this?
WL: well, that's the question that is very hard to answer until about 1969, '68-'69. By that time, the Russians had decided in the SALT talks, to feed back to us our own concepts and make us think that their view of strategy was exactly the same as ours, and which we fell for that, despite the fact that we had the classified information - which I can now talk about - from Penkowski that showed exactly the opposite, and despite the fact that Marshal Sokolowoski had edited a book on military strategy, which was nothing more than a synthesis, an agreed upon synthesis highly classified Penkowski papers, which said they had a war fighting, damage limiting strategy counterforce. And actually used that evidence to predict the SS9, SS11, the fractional orbital bombardment system and then again, to predict the SS18, very successfully. But... the majority here in the intelligence community just, after 1962, after Cuba, they threw all that out, would not believe it, not a word of it.
WL: (Interrupts) Not until '76 did they comeback to the evidence they had all along.
INT: in that period then, what did they believe the Russians wanted to do?
WL: Oh, just the same thing as we did, blow up cities...
INT: (Interrupts) Can I just ask you to phrase that, we believed... or the intelligence community at the time believed that the Russians, if you can phrase it like that it would be great.
WL: Yeah, yes. It was called Assured Destruction, same thing as us...
INT: (Interrupts) Can I just ask you to start the question with, we believed that the Russians, the intelligence community believed that the Russians... if you could say that for me.
WL: The intelligence community just mirror imaged ourselves and believed that the Russians accepted the very same thing that we had accepted and throughout all the evidence to the contrary... and the Russians then perceived that feeding our own misperceptions back to us was the way to con us in the arms production, so-called arms control and they were very successful.