CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner stunned a conference of dozens of current and former agency analysts Friday with a blunt critique of the CIA's effectiveness--and his own--during his term in office.
Although not listed on the program, Turner stole the spotlight when he told the audience the agency had shortchanged President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.
Turner said the CIA "didn't do well" in foreseeing the downfall of the Shah of Iran or the collapse of the Soviet Union and had consistently failed to serve the President in its handling of its primary analytical product, the lengthy documents known as National Intelligence Estimates.
These reports were not inaccurate or misleading, Turner said, but were simply "irrelevant" to the President in making policy. "If anyone is to blame, it is I," he said.
Robert M. Gates, who served as CIA chief under President George Bush, disagreed sharply with Turner, saying the intelligence agency's reports on the Soviet Union "underpinned the entire arms control process" through the presidencies of both parties. "You could not negotiate with the Russians without the NIE," Gates said in an interview, adding the Senate would not have ratified arms control treaties without assurances the CIA could verify Soviet compliance.
Besides Turner, other critics said the agency's reports were too long, too biased or flat wrong. But they all welcomed the release at the conference of the latest batch of CIA documents from the Cold War years.
The conference, sponsored by the CIA and Harvard University, is devoted to evaluating how the agency performed in its most critical role--assessing Soviet weapons and plans.