Chapter 20 - Taking on the Intelligence Wars and the Soviet Espionage Threat

3. The First Term: Soviet Intelligence Threats, Reagan’s Strategy, Executive Orders, and Public Statements—1981 to 1983

Before turning to directives and statements by Reagan and CIA Director William Casey on the overall Soviet intelligence threat and U.S. requirements, readers should note that a large number of official U.S. intelligence documents redacted and declassified by the U.S. National Archives are separately reviewed in the individual topical chapters of this book on specific national security areas of defense, arms control, and foreign policy. These documents consistently demonstrate the importance of Reagan’s strengthened U.S. intelligence objectives and capabilities as he and his national security team undertook an unprecedented effort to assess, expose, counter, and defeat the related Soviet ideological and intelligence threats.

Defense. In the area of defense, Soviet military power, doctrines, and investments were carefully reassessed by the U.S. intelligence community in terms of Soviet weapons capabilities, deep underground facilities, and areas like treaty violations, and emerging U.S. vulnerabilities. Reagan’s U.S. defense modernization, including in capabilities and targeting doctrines, was largely based on these assessments and replaced Carter’s wide-ranging unilateral U.S. defense cuts and restrictions. Similarly, Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) proposal was to provide deterrence, protection, and insurance rather than have the United States rely on a “balance of terror” that relied on the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and its associated ban on anti-missile defenses.

Arms Control. In arms control, prior administrations’ concepts and concessions dealing with “caps,” “freezes,” and “adequate” verification were confirmed by U.S. intelligence assessments as having permitted escalatory Soviet nuclear arms buildups and treaty violations, also including the use of chemical weapons in Afghanistan, Laos, and Cambodia by the Soviet Union and/or its proxies. Reagan, however, insisted on deep reductions in the most destabilizing arms, and on truly effective, i.e., intelligence community-certified “high-confidence,” verification and public exposure of Soviet arms treaty violations.

Foreign Policy. In foreign policy, a range of instruments of Reagan’s Cold War strategy of “peace and freedom through strength” (including U.S. intelligence capabilities) greatly raised the Soviet cost of empire. Reagan changed assumptions and terms of the conflict by speaking truth to Soviet myths and lies, by ending U.S. policies of diplomatic concessions and economic bail-outs, and by actively supporting the cause of dissidents within the Soviet Union and the Kremlin’s captive nations including Poland and others in Eastern Europe. Overt and covert U.S. assistance was provided there and to other areas including Afghanistan, Latin America and Africa that were particular targets of subversion and attack by the Soviets and their proxies.

Earlier topical chapters on the period before Reagan’s presidency, notably Chapter 5 (Nixon and Ford), Chapter 6 (Carter) and the Republican Platform—1980 reviewed above, detailed the 1970s erosion of U.S. intelligence capabilities, the concerns expressed by U.S. intelligence and defense experts like members of “Team B” Report, the President’s Foreign Intelligence Board (dissolved by Carter), the Committee on the Present Danger and anti-Communist Cold War voices like Ronald Reagan. As concerns mounted, Reagan and his former Campaign Director and new U.S. Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), William J. Casey, and other senior Reagan officials, were determined to reverse the erosion of U.S. national security capabilities notably including intelligence and to fully take on the Soviet threat.

Elements of the New U.S. Strategy. Reagan’s new Cold War strategy required realistic, in-depth intelligence assessments to address the deceptive and aggressive nature of the totalitarians’ objectives and practices. Reagan ended the “détente” period of frequent, and at the time, “politically correct” official silences and diplomatic concessions in the face of Soviet espionage lies, deceptions, treaty violations and subversion. It was essential to assess and reverse the West’s provision of critical technological and financial support vital to the foundations of Soviet economic and military power, notably the Soviet military-industrial complex. It was necessary to expose and counter Soviet treaty violations, espionage, denial, and “active measures” campaigns involving Soviet front organizations, disinformation, propaganda, and pro-Communist “liberation wars.”

First Reagan News Conference—January 1981. In Reagan’s First Presidential News Conference, on January 29, 1981, also reviewed in Chapter 8, the president answered a question on long-range Soviet intentions and the possibility of real “détente” with an unscripted “let Reagan be Reagan” characterization of Soviet methods that referenced Soviet lying and cheating to achieve global revolutionary goals:

[Book pg. 489]