1. 1967: CIA estimate of Viet Cong Troops Strength before Tet Offensive
2. 1970s and 1980s: CIA estimates of Soviet military spending that suggested artificially inflated Soviet military strength
3. 1996: CIA and DIA estimates suggesting that the North Korean regime was likely to collapse within a few years
4. 1998: CIA estimate that accepted the main arguments of the Rumsfeld Commission about the threat of ICBMs from rogue states
5. 2001: CIA estimate that concluded wrongly that Iran already had a nuclear weapons program
6. 2002: CIA estimate that cited alleged evidence that Saddam still had WMD programs
7. 2011: CIA estimate that failed to register massive evidence of increased the Afghan Taliban troop strength over previous years
The estimate: In spring 1967 the CIA presented a draft estimate of Communist-led forces in South Vietnam of 431,000 to 491,000, based on meticulous research by analyst Sam Adams. But the military command continued to stonewall, flatly refusing to accept any increase in the overall Viet Cong “order of battle” above 300,000, which supported its claim that the war was being won. The CIA finally backed down for purely bureaucratic political reasons, and did not provide an overall figure for Viet Cong troops strength in its final November 1967 estimate.
The consequences: The CIA’s retreat from its original draft let the U.S. military command off the hook politically. Had the CIA’s estimate prevailed, and had the estimate leaked to the public, combined with the Communist force’s Tet offensive, might well have begun a process of negotiations with Hanoi earlier and with greater determination.
1970s and 1980s: CIA estimates of Soviet military spending that suggested artificially inflated Soviet military strength.
The estimates: From the mid-1970 until the end of the Soviet Union, the CIA’s estimates of Soviet military spending were overstating enormously the size of the Soviet military budget. It began with a 1976 report claiming that the Soviet Union was spending 40 percent more on defense than the United States, based solely on a new way of estimating its costs. And it continued through the mid-1980s, when analysts aligned with Deputy Director Robert M. Gates, predicted a 5-7 percent increase in Soviet military spending through 1990. The gamesmanship being used during those years to exaggerate the Soviet military budget was revealed retrospectively by CIA insiders and other analysts.
The consequences: these exaggerated estimates were a crucial factor in both the resumption of the Cold War after a relatively détente period and supported the biggest U.S. military buildup since the one in the early 1950s during the Reagan administration.
1996: CIA and DIA estimates suggesting that the North Korean regime was likely to collapse within a few years
The intelligence assessment: In the mid-1990s, the CIA and DIA both concluded that a collapse of North Korea within a very few years was very possible and or even highly likely. Outgoing CIA Director John Deutch discussed that intelligence judgment in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1996, and the CIA issued a report outlining different scenarios for the fate of the Kim Jong-Il regime, including regime collapse, in 1998.
The consequences: Because of intelligence analysis projecting the likely demise of the DPRK, Clinton and Bush administrations were both less motivated to make political concessions necessary to curb North Korean missile and nuclear programs in late 1990s and early 2000s, in the belief it would not be necessary to avoid a full-fledged North Korea nuclear/long-range missile capability.
1998: CIA estimate that accepted the main arguments of the Rumsfeld Commission about the threat of ICBMs from rogue states.
The estimate: The 1998 CIA NIE on the ballistic missile threat from “rogue states” (North Korea, Iran and Iraq) sharply reversed its judgment just three years earlier and conceded that the main conclusions of the Rumsfeld Commission about the threat of an ICBM that could potentially reach the United States from one of those states. The estimate clearly reflected intense political pressure from the Republican-controlled Congress and the missile defense lobby.
The consequences: The failure of the CIA to stand up to political pressures in its estimate dramatically increased the freedom of action of the missile defense lobby and accelerated its moves for a national commitment to such a program, which were then implemented by the Bush administration. It also reduced the freedom of action of the Clinton administration to carry out its 1994 agreement with North Korea.
The intelligence assessment: In 2001 the intelligence community wrote the first ever national intelligence estimate (NIE) that asserted that Iran had a nuclear weapon. But the assessment was based on the assumption that no intelligence had been collected from a credible source supporting the opposite conclusion. But a CIA spy handler working on nuclear proliferation in Iran had just learned from an intelligence asset he had recruited that Iran had no intention of using enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, and the head of CIA covert operations had prevented that intelligence from reaching analysts.
The consequences: The CIA has continued to repeat that original assessment, based on false information in a series of assessments, and successive U.S. administrations have based policy toward Iran on the false assumption that has been hiding its intention to obtain nuclear weapons. Now with Trump in the White House that mistaken assumption could lead to a military confrontation and even war with Iran.
The estimate:The October 2002 NIE that set the CIA’s seal on arguments advanced by the neoconservatives in the Bush administration that the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq had maintained WMD programs – especially chemical warfare programs — was found by the Robb-Silverman Commission in 2005 to have been the result of analysts having abandoned objective methodologies and simply operating on the basis of predispositions that were influenced by the knowledge of what policymakers expected.
The consequences: The CIA’s finding what was expected to find eliminated one of the few brakes on the aggressive use of military power by the post-Cold War U.S. military. It encouraged news media to play down questions about the soundness of the case for the invasion and encouraged a lock-step Congressional vote in support of the Bush administration’s policy.
2011: CIA estimate that failed to register massive evidence of increased the Afghan Taliban troop strength over previous years.
The estimate:The Taliban increased the total number of attacks against U.S. and Afghan government targets in 2010 by 54 percent over the number in 2009, clearly indicating a major increase in its effective military strength over the intelligence community’s 2009 estimate of 20,00 to 40,000 full-time insurgents. But David Petraeus, who had become CIA Director, prevented the intelligence community from issuing a revised estimate, clearly protecting his personal interest in suppressing intelligence that would reflect negatively on his period of command in 2010.
The consequence: Because no debate over evidence that the war was being lost was allowed to surface, the bureaucratic interests in the Pentagon who were determined to continue regardless of the facts were enabled to slow the growing opposition to the war in Afghanistan.