INT: That was very good, actually. Now we've heard it said that humans increase tension, or (unclear words) was transparent and less sort of aggressive, and was in fact used for arms control verification. How do you feel about that - is there any truth in that?
ST: Well, the technical systems were almost essential to our arms control process; we learnt just all kinds of things about Russian military systems from the photographs and from the electronic listing, and they still are very important to the arms control process. They're going to be very important in continuing to monitor a place like Iraq, as we move into a different phase, whenever the present sanctions are lifted and such forth, so we're going to be very dependent on these systems in the future.
INT: OK. And so, in terms of this increase in tension, would that be true during the course of the Cold War?
ST: I'm not following you.
INT: That human intelligence would have the actual use of the traditional sort of spies... increased tension between the two superpowers during the course of the Cold War?
ST: I don't think the use of spies increased tensions particularly. The tensions were there. When we got caught spying in Russia, when they got caught spying here, we'd have a little dust-up for a while and a little acrimony in the media, but it wasn't a big deal, because we each knew we were spying on the other: it was accepted as part of the Cold War game. Today, if you get caught spying in Moscow, or if they get caught spying, (a Russian?), it's a much more disturbing event.
INT: Indeed, yes. Now did the fact that the Soviet Union and its satellites were closed societies, but the US is open, mean that the KGB and the CIA were forced to fight the intelligence war in different ways, or is there too much made of that sort of so-called asymmetry?
ST: I think there's too much made of that, and in fact the closed system of the Soviet Union was a great disadvantage to them, because when their people who were coming to the United States to spy lived in the United States and saw the values of the United States, some of them defected to us because they realized that it was a charade over there.
INT: It didn't let these KGB operate more freely and more effectively than the CIA?
ST: Oh, yes, we had much more trouble operating in the Soviet Union, where they were always putting you under surveillance. No question about that. But I don't think they were that much more successful here than we were there, and they had this disadvantage that they were very vulnerable to being subverted into our way of life. One of their ambassadors to the United Nations defected to the United States really because he just didn't want to go home: he'd lived here too much and enjoyed it too much.
INT: Well, we can understand that. There is a long list of world events which caught the CIA out, caught it by surprise: the invasion of Korea, the toppling of the Shah, the collapse of the Soviet Union. It seems to be a pretty big mistake... I think I'd be pretty frustrated and upset if I was running an intelligence outfit and that had happened to me, these sort of crucial events had happened and one hadn't spotted them coming. And in fact, the Shah was during your own time there. How do you feel about those intelligence blanks?
ST: Well, I don't want to try to excuse them, because they were intelligence failures. At the same time, we knew the Shah was in trouble, and the President understood that and had even talked to the Shah about doing things to stabilize his position more. We knew the Soviet Union was in trouble; we briefed the Congress as far back as 1978 that the Soviet economy was declining and that we saw no way they were going to be able to stop this decline. But in both of those cases, we were unable to draw the right conclusions, because there was such conventional wisdom out there: there was no reason to think that because the Shah had opposition, he wasn't going to hang on to his throne, because he had all the military power he needed to do that, and we thought he would exercise that. He didn't; he let us down (Laughs) in a sense. I'm not saying that we wanted him to use his military power, but that we expected that he would, and he did not. In the Soviet Union, we thought, "Yes, they have a declining economy, but they're going to maintain their military power as the symbol of their superpower status, and they're going to do so by telling their people to tighten their belts and get on with the show." Well, we were wrong: public opinion made a difference; they couldn't get the people to work any harder to bring the economy back, because there were no rewards, and so public opinion turned the tide and they had a political revolution. So, I only want to say that the overall background that the intelligence function of this country provided to our policy-makers was in the right direction, and a good understanding of what was happening in those countries. Predicting the specific events, we didn't do well and should try to do better. It's always tough to overcome conventional wisdom.
INT: But it's still egg on your face - I mean, even if you know which way it's going but you don't actually get it right, it makes the CIA ... it sort of undermines their interpretation of some of this background noise, if you like, that you're getting through.
ST: Yes, it's always discouraging when you don't call the shots right. But remember, the importance of good intelligence is the long range that you're talking about. I mean, I was criticized because they had an election in Israel during my time and we didn't predict the outcome of that election. Well, that's a bit much, because not even the Israelis predicted that. And of course, there weren't many people in CNN or the media or academia who predicted the fall of the Soviet Union. You know, I'm not trying to excuse us: we in the intelligence world should do better, because we have all these secret assets to rely on.
INT: OK. ... When you were in place, did you feel that politicians made best use of the intelligence provided by the agency?
ST: Oh, no, you're never satisfied, because you think you have all the right...
(Request for full answer. Wait for plane.)
(There was overlap)
ST: Intelligence professionals are never satisfied that the policy-makers use their intelligence adequately or properly. But that's part of the game and that's part of the profession. It's not that the policy-makers are necessarily wrong; sometimes they have better information than you do. I mean, whenever I briefed President Carter, I always had to keep in the back of my mind that "he met with Brezhnev last week". I'd never met with Brezhnev, so if he interpreted what Brezhnev was going to do tomorrow differently than we interpreted what Brezhnev might do tomorrow, I had to give him some credit that maybe he understood Brezhnev better than we. I mean, that's just a hypothetical example. But that's all you can do in intelligence, is produce the best analysis you can, send it out there, but try to make it as responsive to the policy-maker's needs... don't tell him about topic A when he's really worried about topic B.
INT: You've touched on something, actually, that I want to bring up as well, because it seems to me that during your time there, what you were doing was making the CIA more accountable, more sort of responsive to customer needs. Is that how you saw what you were doing?
ST: Yes, absolutely, because the Congress had mandated that this was going to be... the President of the United States had mandated that this was what was going to be, because he'd written an executive order, President Ford, that said "Here are various rules and controls over the CIA." The Congress had done the same thing. I had no choice: this is the law of the land, this is what we were required to do. It was a question of: how do you make that operable, how do you make it so you can still do your intelligence? The secret to doing that was to be open and sincere with the intelligence committees of the Congress - that is, you had to develop a sense of trust. I went to them one time and said, "I've given you a budget here; it's a secret document, but there's a lie in the secret document, because one of these things is so sensitive that I don't want to tell you about it. I can tell you that it's not very expensive, that it's not something you'd be ashamed of if you found out what it was, but that if it leaks just a little bit, we'll lose it, and it's a very nice piece of information that we're getting, and so I ask your forbearance." Well, I got that permission from them not to tell them about a certain item in the budget here, because they trusted me not to be hiding something that they needed to know in order to do their job. That's the secret of intelligence review by an outside body: you've got to get them to tolerate your saying "I'd rather not tell you something" once in a while, because they trust you.
INT: Well, that sounds like a terribly hard thing to accomplish. Can I just ask you, just for us, to say the beginning of that answer again, just to say, "Yes, when I came in, I saw it as part of my remit..." if you like, to make the CIA more accountable, to make it more sort of responsive to what you were being asked for"?
ST: When I came into office, it was just a year after the Congress had passed a law saying that there would be intelligence committees of the Congress that would have full access to all the information of what was going on in the CIA, and just a year after President Ford had signed an executive order of the president, saying, "Here are the rules under which the intelligence process will operate." So one of my key jobs was to reconcile the lack of openness of the CIA before that time with respect to either the Congress or even the White House, and to bring it to where we were complying with this law and this presidential executive order. It was not an easy process, because intelligence professionals, understandably, have concerns that leaks of information will cost people's lives, and therefore they tend to keep more secret than is necessary. But we had to find the common ground here, the median ground, where we could comply with the laws and the presidential directives, and yet keep the secrecy adequately to do good intelligence work. I think it can be done, and I think, more than that, it strengthens the intelligence process. There is no profession in the world that doesn't become overly fixated on its own little sphere of activity. That's even more so in the world of intelligence because it's so secret; there is less interplay from the outside, there is less scrutiny from other people, and so therefore they can go off in.. various directions that maybe they shouldn't, because they are so inwardly focused. Having to report - in secret - to the Congress, helps you avoid that.
INT: That would make sense. During the process of politicization, if you like, of intelligence, analyses of the Soviets were made in response to a belief in Washington that Moscow was seeking a first-strike capability. In other words, perhaps intelligence was tailored too much to what the politicians wanted to hear, to fit the agenda that they had there. Is that fair? What would you say to that?
ST: I'm not following that fully. I don't think...
INT: I suppose what we were trying to say that perhaps you were tailoring intelligence to fit what politicians wanted to hear, to a great extent. Is that true?
ST: I don't think that the intelligence on the Soviet military capabilities was tailored to what the politicians wanted to hear, no. I think that the intelligence was skewed by the fact that we misunderstood the nuclear relationship in particular - for instance, that it was important that we have same kinds and numbers of nuclear weapons as the Soviet Union. In retrospect, that really wasn't important at all, but we spent a great deal of our time trying to determine whether we had precisely the same amount. At one point, when we were ratifying... or negotiating the SALT II arms control treaty, I had to go to the Senate and say, "If you ratify this treaty, this is how closely I can monitor it and check on whether they are complying with the terms of the treaty," and I told the senators that if the Soviets cheated by 100 warheads, we would have an indication of it, I felt, we would begin to know that something was going on against the terms of the treaty. At the time that I said that, the Soviets had 40,000 nuclear warheads, so that 100 made no difference at all. That's where we skewed the thing: we got off on to details that were insignificant.
INT: Absolutely, yes. My final question: what contribution did intelligence make to the Cold War? Some say it was decisive, some say it was a sort of sideshow. How would you assess it?
ST: The intelligence on both sides was an important factor in the Cold War, a very important factor in bringing the Cold War to its conclusion, I think, because although we didn't predict the collapse of the Soviet Union, we knew we were winning, we knew that the Soviet Union was on its way down. And an interesting indication of the fact that we knew the Cold War was coming out on our side - way back in 1974, the Congress passed the first law controlling, inhibiting the CIA, most specifically from doing dirty tricks and that kind of thing that we were in the game to do during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. It put some controls over that. I interpret that to say that by 1974, the Congress intuitively - not expressly, not outwardly - understood that we were winning, and therefore they could begin to curtail the activities of the CIA, which we would not normally have wanted them to do, because they were contrary to our basic sense of democracy and freedom and individual liberties, and such forth. During the Fifties and Sixties, we were willing as a country to accept these intrusions into our normal standards, because we were so anxious not to lose the Cold War. So I interpret it that in '74, and then again in '76, when the Congress started passing laws controlling the CIA, it was in part because we knew we were on the up side. We weren't there yet; we didn't come out and say this publicly, because we didn't fully articulate it, but it was there.
INT: And my last question: just to sum up for me, which would be terribly helpful - despite the end of the Cold War, is there still a risk of a sort of major nuclear exchange, and what would that do to the world?
ST: Of course there's a risk today of major nuclear exchange. It's not as high as it was during the period of the Cold War, when we were in a state of tension with the Soviet Union. When you've got 20-some thousand nuclear warheads on one side, and 15-some thousand warheads on our side, you cannot ignore this. The amount of destructive capacity is so great that you cannot overlook the potential that it might be used. If the probability is .001, the catastrophe at the end is so great that you can't ignore even that very low probability. It isn't that low today, because you have this risk that there'll be mistakes made, you have the risk that there'll be accidents and something will get started, and if one goes off, two go off. I mean, you just don't know what will ever happen. We have got to divest ourselves of this legacy of the Cold War, in terms of excessive numbers of these weapons. The likelihood of their being used in a large scale is low, but the damage done, if they are used on a large scale, is so immense that it's like taking out fire insurance on your house: you don't think it's ever going to happen, and most of us have never had it happen, but we all take it out.
INT: Very good. Admiral Turner, thank you very much.