Study of Soviet power as seen by U.S. intelligence agencies

"U.S. Intelligence Perceptions of Soviet Power 1921-1946" by Leonard Leshuk. Portland: Frank Cass Publishers, 2003. 284 pp. $64.50 (hardcover).

"U.S. Intelligence Perceptions of Soviet Power 1921-1946" by Leonard Leshuk was published this past January, claiming to be the first comprehensive study of U.S. intelligence regarding the strength of the Soviet Union in the period from 1921 to 1946.

Using previously classified U.S. intelligence files, Mr. Leshuk attempts to determine what the U.S. intelligence perceptions were, on what information they were based and what connections they had to U.S. policy.

A major focus of the book is to determine how and why the United States underestimated the strength of the Soviet Union. Mr. Leshuk writes that prior to World War II the United States viewed the Soviet Union as both militarily and economically weak. Additionally, the war was seen to have weakened the USSR even further, with 40 percent of its industry disappearing.

Yet, after the war, the Soviet Union proved strong enough to rival the United States. Mr. Leshuk attributes this misappraisal to incompetence and prejudice on the part of U.S. intelligence analysts, arguing that the actual intelligence data presented a picture of the USSR different from the prevailing perceptions among policy-makers.

The book is divided into seven chronological parts, delving into issues such as the Soviet Union's industrial and economic strength, as well as espionage and counter-espionage. The issue of espionage is treated at length, as espionage can accelerate industrial development.

Mr. Leshuk expands the scope of his book by arguing that similar problems still exist in the analysis of U.S. intelligence, as evidenced by the surprise that accompanied the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. He also notes problems in the American perception of and policies toward China.

In the course of the book, Mr. Leshuk makes reference to Walter Duranty, The New York Times reporter who has been in the news recently because his Pulitzer Prize has come into question.

After claiming that the media in the United States strongly influenced official U.S. views of the USSR, Mr. Leshuk writes, "The reliability and objectivity of U.S. newspapers concerning the Soviets, as well as their ethics and those of their reporters, can be judged from the statement of Walter Duranty of The New York Times who admitted to A.W. Klieforth of the US Embassy in Berlin in June of 1931 that, 'in agreement with The New York Times and the Soviet authorities,' his official dispatches always reflect the official opinion of the Soviet regime and not his own."

Mr. Leshuk notes that journalists who failed to praise the USSR would no longer be allowed by the Soviet government to report from the Soviet Union. Mr. Leshuk also writes that Mr. Duranty denied the existence of a famine in his writing, while privately admitting that a famine existed and may have claimed the lives of as many as 10 million people.

Mr. Leshuk is a researcher and independent intelligence analyst in Washington. He spent several years helping the Afghan resistance in the war with the Soviet Union, and more recently has examined first-hand much of the Soviet-era industrial infrastructure remaining in the successor states of the USSR.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 3, 2003, No. 31, Vol. LXXI

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