Team B was a competitive analysis exercise commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1970s to analyze threats the Soviet Union posed to the security of the United States. Team B, approved by then Director of Central Intelligence George H. W. Bush, was composed of "outside experts" who attempted to counter the positions of intelligence officials within the CIA.[1] Team B concluded that the National Intelligence Estimate on the Soviet Union, generated yearly by the CIA, underestimated Soviet military power and misinterpreted Soviet strategic intentions. Its findings were leaked to the press shortly after Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential election win in an attempt to appeal to anti-communists in both parties and not appear partisan.[2][3]

The Team B reports became the intellectual foundation for the idea of "the window of vulnerability" and of the massive arms buildup that began toward the end of the Carter administration and accelerated under President Ronald Reagan.[4]

Numerous scholars and policy-makers, such as Anne Cahn of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, later criticized the Team B project's findings as wrong.[5][6]


In 1974, Albert Wohlstetter, a professor at the University of Chicago, accused the CIA of systematically underestimating Soviet missile deployment, in his 1974 foreign policy article entitled "Is There a Strategic Arms Race?" Wohlstetter concluded that the United States was allowing the Soviet Union to achieve military superiority by not closing a perceived missile gap. Many conservatives then began a concerted attack on the CIA's annual assessment of the Soviet threat.[4][7]

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began to make speeches arguing that the Soviets were ignoring Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s treaties and secretly building up their weapons, with the intention of attacking the United States. Rumsfeld used his position to persuade President Ford to set up an independent inquiry. Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz wanted to create a much more severe view of the Soviet Union, Soviet intentions, Soviet views about fighting and winning a nuclear war.[8][9][10]

The organization chosen by the Ford administration to challenge the CIA's analysis was the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB).

In 1975, PFIAB members asked CIA Director William Colby to approve the initiative of producing comparative assessments of the Soviet threat. Colby refused, stating it was hard "to envisage how an ad hoc independent group of analysts could prepare a more thorough, comprehensive assessment of Soviet strategic capabilities than could the intelligence community."[11] Colby was removed from his position in the Halloween Massacre; Ford has stated that he, himself, made the decision alone,[12] but the historiography of the "Halloween Massacre" appears to support the allegations that Rumsfeld had successfully lobbied for this.[13]

When George H. W. Bush became the Director of Central Intelligence in 1976 the PFIAB renewed its request for competitive threat assessments. Although his top analysts argued against such an undertaking, Bush checked with the White House, obtained a go-ahead, and by May 26 signed off on the experiment.[4]

A team of 16 "outside experts" were to take an independent look at highly classified data used by the intelligence community to assess Soviet strategic forces in the yearly National Intelligence Estimates.[4][14]

There were three teams:

  • One studied Soviet low-altitude air defense capabilities,
  • One examined Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) accuracy, and
  • One investigated Soviet strategic policy and objectives.

It is the third team, chaired by Harvard University professor Richard Pipes, that ultimately received considerable publicity and is most commonly referred to as Team B.[4]


PFIAB's Team B was headed by:

Team B's members included:

Advisors included:

Detailed SectionsEdit

Part OneEdit

  • Judgments of Soviet Strategic Objectives Underlying NIE's and their Shortcomings

The first section of the report dealt with the team's criticisms of the NIE's assessment of Soviet strategic objectives. It was the conclusion of the report, that the NIE was mostly wrong to view Soviet strategic actions as primarily a response to its history of being invaded and that the NIE ignored or misinterpreted evidence that most Soviet strategic actions were offensive rather than defensive in nature. The report also rejected the NIE's conclusion that as the Soviet Union grew more powerful and capable its foreign policy would also become less aggressive.[18]

Part TwoEdit

  • A critique of the NIE interpretation of certain Soviet Strategic Developments

The second section of the report was primarily a criticism of the NIE's conclusions regarding Soviet strategic weapons programs, and how they are integrated into conventional Soviet forces and what impacts they have on Soviet strategic goals and plans. The report argued that the NIE underestimated the threat posed by Soviet strategic weapons programs, and that the development and deployment of several new weapons platforms and advancements in existing technologies would drastically alter the advantages that the United States and NATO had over the Warsaw Pact. The report cited these specific areas to reinforce its assessment:

  • Soviet ICBM and SLBM Programs: The report cited the recent development of Soviet MIRV missile technology, coupled with a rapid modernization of ICBM and SLBM targeting capabilities to argue that the NIE was underestimating the impact of the sophistication, effectiveness and threat of numerical superiority that the Soviet strategic missile program was posing.[19]
  • Economic Factors: The NIE viewed Soviet military expenditures as being limited to economic activity in a similar manner as in the west. The report also took exception to this conclusion, arguing that, in retrospect, prior estimates of Soviet military budgets were far from accurate. They cited the 1970 NIE's estimate of the Soviet military budget as being only half of its actual value, and that this number was still being used as a baseline for current estimates. Using these numbers, the report concluded, greatly underestimated the resources available to the Soviet military and consequentially, underestimated potential capability, The report argued that the Soviets did not have the same financial constraints as the West, Guns vs. Butter, because as a dictatorship, the Soviet Union was less accountable for its budget.[20]
  • Civil Defense: Both the NIE and the Team B report noted that the level of sophistication, scope and expansion of nuclear civil defense was unmatched. And although the Soviet hardening of military and governmental facilities was covered by the NIE the report argued that this was a significant factor in their determination that the Soviets strategic planning was more focused on an offensive nuclear war rather than a defensive stance or deterrence.[21]
  • Mobile Missiles: The report also complained that the NIE did not adequately address the issues surrounding the planned Soviet deployment of the SS-X-16 mobile missile system. The SS-X-16, deployed as the SS-16 was the first mobile intercontinental ballistic missile deployed by the Soviet Union. Because it was built off the SS-20 platform (an intermediate range nuclear missile), it was argued that the SS-20 could be quickly and covertly converted into the longer range SS-16 in times of crisis, and would be a backdoor around the SALT I Treaty.[22]
  • Backfire Bomber: The recent deployment, and capabilities of the Tupolev Tu-22M, designated the “Backfire” by NATO, was also addressed. As with the mobile ICBS, the NIE was said to have underestimated the current and potential performance of the Backfire, and as such, designated it as a short range bomber similar to the F-111, in capabilities. The report argued that the potential of the bomber, both in range and armaments, meant that it was more appropriate to classify the bomber as a long range strategic platform, thereby impacting the total Soviet strategic nuclear threat.[23]
  • Anti Satellite Capability: The report argued that there was stronger evidence than presented by the NIE of a Soviet intent to develop Anti Satellite Capability and that despite the NIE judgment contrary, the Soviets were combining directed energy research to this end.[24]
  • Anti-Submarine Warfare: The report argued that despite the NIE's assessment in its 10 year forecast that the Soviet Navy was not aggressively developing more accurate ASW detection tools and would not be able to deploy new more advanced ASW capabilities in the next 10 years, the evidence in the NIE suggested that they had significantly ramped up ASW R&D, including non acoustic methods of detection. The report cautioned that to determine the real extent of Soviet ASW development would require significantly more research and access to classified materials, as the US Navy would not release its data to either Team B, or the CIA, they stressed that the probability of advanced Soviet ASW research was greater than zero, as the NIE implied it was.[25]
  • Anti-Ballistic Missiles: Although the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, put a halt to further development and deployment of most ABM technology, there were exceptions for ABM systems surrounding Moscow and the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. The report argued that since the NIE conceded that Soviet ABM research and development was continuing at a pace similar in size and scope it was before the ABM Treaty in 1972, it was likely that Soviet ABM technology was greater than the NIE concluded it was.[26]


According to Fred Kaplan, "In retrospect, the Team B report (which has since been declassified) turns out to have been wrong on nearly every point.[27] Team B came to the conclusion in their report[28] that the Soviets had or could develop an entirely new anti-submarine detection system that used a system that did not depend on sound and was, thus, undetectable by contemporary Western technology, even though no evidence existed for it or its deployment, other than money spent on research, and when the Western experts believed that such a system would be impossible. When the CIA argued that the economic chaos in the Soviet Union was hindering their ability to produce an air defense system, Team B countered by arguing that the Soviet Union was trying to deceive the American public and claimed that the Russian air defense system worked perfectly. Some members were even considering promoting a first strike policy against the U.S.S.R.[8][11][29]

Team B also concluded that the Soviet Union did not adhere to the doctrine of mutual assured destruction, but rather believed it could win a nuclear war outright. Pipes—in his commentary article—argued that CIA suffered from "mirror-imaging" (i.e., from assuming that the other side had to—and did—think and evaluate exactly the same way); Pipes further wrote that Team B showed Soviet thinking to be based on winning a nuclear war (i.e., not avoiding such war due to MAD, because, he wrote, the Soviets were building MIRV'd nuclear missiles of high yield and high accuracy---appropriate for attacking hardened missile silos, but not needed for such large and vulnerable 'hostage' sites as cities. This was shocking to many at the time,[1] but Pipes argues that later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was proven to be at least partially true.[30]

Fareed Zakaria notes, however, that the specific conclusions of the report "were wildly off the mark. Describing the Soviet Union, in 1976, as having “a large and expanding Gross National Product,” it predicted that it would modernize and expand its military at an awesome pace. For example, it predicted that the Backfire bomber 'probably will be produced in substantial numbers, with perhaps 500 aircraft off the line by early 1984.' In fact, the Soviets had 235 in 1984."[31]

According to Anne Hessing Cahn (Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1977-1980), Team B's analysis of weapons systems was later proven to be false. "I would say that all of it was fantasy... if you go through most of Team B's specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong."[32] The CIA director at the time, George H. W. Bush, concluded that the Team B approach set "in motion a process that lends itself to manipulation for purposes other than estimative accuracy."[8][33] Brookings Institution Scholar Raymond Garthoff concurred, writing that in "retrospect, and with the Team B report and records now largely declassified, it is possible to see that virtually all of Team B's criticisms... proved to be wrong. On several important specific points it wrongly criticized and 'corrected' the official estimates, always in the direction of enlarging the impression of danger and threat."[34] A top CIA analyst called Team B "a kangaroo court of outside critics all picked from one point of view."[14]

Paul Warnke, an official at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) at the time of the Team B, wrote: Template:Cquote

Time Magazine editor Strobe Talbott stated in 1990 that: Template:Cquote

Richard Pipes has defended the project,[1] and in 2003 said: Template:Cquote

Also in 2003, Edward Jay Epstein offered that Team B had been a useful exercise in competitive analysis.[35]

In his 2007 book The Fall of the House of Bush, Vanity Fair contributing editor Craig Unger goes into detail about the formation and inaccuracy of Team B: Template:Cquote

Jason Vest assessed the lasting implications of Team B: Template:Cquote


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Template:Cite journal
  2. Christopher Andrew. For the President's Eyes Only. pg 424
  3. Dana H. Allin. Cold War Illusions: America, Europe, and Soviet Power, 1969-1989 pg 61
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Template:Cite journal
  5. Template:Cite web
  6. Template:Cite journal
  7. Template:Cite journal
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 The Power of Nightmares, Part 1 - Baby It's Cold Outside
  9. Template:Cite journal
  10. Template:Cite journal
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Template:Cite journal
  12. Goldman, Peter, Ford Shakes Up His Cabinet, Time Magazine, 11/17/75. Time
  13. Blumenthal, Sidney, The Long March of Dick Cheney,
  14. 14.0 14.1 Template:Cite journal "At times, Team B performed logical somersaults that eerily foreshadowed Bush administration statements on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Just because superweapons like a "non-acoustic anti-submarine system" couldn't be found, Pipes's report argued, that didn't mean the Soviets couldn't build one, "even if they appeared to lack the technical know-how."
  15. Team B Strategic Objectives Panel
  16. Template:Cite book
  17. Team B Report. Page 6.
  18. Team B Report. Page 15.
  19. Team B Report. Page 21.
  20. Team B Report. Page 23.
  21. Team B Report. Page 26.
  22. Team B Report. Page 27.
  23. Team B Report. Page 28.
  24. Team B Report. Page 30.
  25. Team B Report. Pages 30-34.
  26. Team B Report. Pages 35-37.
  27. Fred Kaplan, "Can the CIA Be Saved?" Slate (July 9, 2004).
  28. Intelligence community experiment in competitive analysis- soviet strategic objectives: report of team B
  29. Template:Cite journal
  30. Template:Cite web
  31. Fareed Zakaria, "Exaggerating The Threats," Newsweek (16 June 2003).
  32. Template:Cite web
  33. Template:Cite journal
  34. Template:Cite web
  35. Template:Cite web

Further readingEdit

fr:Équipe B

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