Thesis Title

Mind the Gap: The Failure of the Central Intelligence Agency to Support U.S. National Interests

Date of Graduation

Spring 2005


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

Bradley Thayer


Throughout the history of the Central Intelligence Agency, effective covert action and accurate assessments of its adversaries have proved problematic. This has manifested itself in areas such as the soviet threat during the Cold War and towards the rogue nation of Iraq. Covert activities tended to supplant U.S. policy, and often failed to advance U.S. interests in the Cold War. The estimate of the Soviet threat was consistently inaccurate. The bomber and missile gaps of the 1950s, which involved overestimating Soviet long-range bombers and missiles, was followed by a decade of underestimating Soviet Intercontinental Ballistic Missile deployments. Similarly, one episode of underestimating Iraqi nuclear weapon effects was followed by a decade of overestimating Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs. In each case, the estimates were biased largely by mirror-imaging, basing assumptions on an ethnocentric view of what the U.S. would be doing in the same situation. It also suggests an overlearning of lessons when estimates are found to be wrong, similar to fighting the last war. Lack of human intelligence concerning adversaries’ intentions exacerbated these problems. Getting beyond the analysts’ personal beliefs and expectations and basing estimates on known facts is the hardest aspect of providing neutral and independent assessments, but it is critical if the Intelligence Community is to serve the interests of U.S. policymakers in the Global War on Terror.


intelligence, Soviet Union, Iraq, CIA, HUMINT, covert activity

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


© Glenn W. Scrima