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Turner readily recognizes that all the new salesmanship will be useless unless the CIA improves its product. And while the CIA's shrouded world of spies and its secret efforts to influence political events abroad have been widely criticized, its more basic function of supplying reliable intelligence has been faulty too. TIME'S Talbott and Nelan asked top officials in the White House, State Department and Defense Department who regularly receive CIA analyses to grade the agency's work. The report card:
For highly technical military or economic facts: A.
For political intelligence on breaking developments: B.
For longterm, "over-the-horizon" forecasts of future global problems: C.
For political predictions: D.
Contends a National Security Council official: "The agency is best when there's something very specific you want to know, preferably a question that can be answered with numbersor at least with nouns. The fewer adverbs and adjectives in a CIA report, the more useful it tends to be."
Specialists in arms control, for example, credit the agency with providing what one calls "a good factual and technical base," on developments in Soviet military research and strategic weaponry. Says an Administration expert in Soviet affairs: 'The information provided by the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community has provided the whole foundation for our position in the SALT talks."
But the Kremlinologists note that the CIA failed to anticipate the sharp Soviet rejection of President Carter's sweeping arms-limitation proposals, carried to Moscow by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance (the State Department itself should have foreseen this). Nor did the agency predict the political demise last month of Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny. Carter was annoyed at the CIA's failure to forecast the Likud coalition's upset victory in last month's Israeli election. In China, the CIA seemed surprised by the rise of Chairman Hua Kuo-feng, the vilification of Madame Mao and the rehabilitation of Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p'ing. "The wide-scope stuff tends to be soft and mushy," says a National Security Council officer. "It just doesn't do us much good." A CIA official concedes that "there's a lot of bureaucratic ass-covering that goes on when guys write long-range stuff. They don't want to be wrong, so they tend to be glib and platitudinous." Yet many Government officials say that CIA experts are much more explicit and insightful when they make verbal assessmentsin meetings or on the phoneand do not have to write and file reports that could come back to haunt them.