[FPSPACE] NYT: Secret Papers About China Are Released by the C.I.A.

Paolo Ulivi paolo.ulivi at tiscali.it
Tue Oct 19 14:16:39 EDT 2004

The documents are browsable at http://www.foia.cia.gov/search.asp?pageNumber=1&freqReqRecord=china.txt 

Secret Papers About China Are Released by the C.I.A.

October 19, 2004


WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 - The Central Intelligence Agency made
public on Monday a rich trove of previously classified
documents on China, including the supposedly authoritative
National Intelligence Estimates issued over the 30-year
period of Mao Zedong's rule. 

For scholars of what Mao called China's "continuous
revolution," of its tumultuous and intertwined
relationships with the United States, the Soviet Union and
Taiwan, and of the American intelligence efforts aimed at
understanding the unfolding events, the documents disclose
a mixed record of insights and miscues. 

A National Intelligence Estimate published in June 1954
said that "no clearly established factions" existed within
the Chinese leadership. In fact, the first major party
purge had taken place earlier that year, but did not become
public for another year. 

Yet in the confusion and chaos of the Cultural Revolution
of the 1960's, when radicals published so many documented
exposés and denunciations that the flow of data became a
glut, a 1967 intelligence estimate correctly predicted the
probability that cautious military and political leaders
would find common cause eventually. 

"As long as Mao is capable of political command, China's
situation will probably be tense and inherently unstable,"
it said; a "disorderly and contentious" struggle would
follow, and eventually a move away from "discredited"
policies to "secure modest economic growth." 

In an introduction to the collection of 71 documents, which
are on the agency's Web site at <a
href=http://www.cia.gov>www.cia.gov and will be released by
the Government Printing Office on compact disc, Robert L.
Suettinger, a career intelligence analyst and China
scholar, says that "unfortunately, the collection provides
only a few examples of this kind of cogent analysis on
China's leadership situation." But Mr. Suettinger described
the record as "nonetheless an impressive one" in which "the
fundamentals are consistently right." 

Among the most important judgments, Mr. Suettinger wrote,
was a consistently accurate assessment that the Communist
Party in China was never challenged from 1948 on in its
predominance of power on the Chinese mainland. 

Other assessments contained in the documents include one
written in 1950, on the eve of China's entry into the
Korean War. It correctly said that Chinese forces were
capable of either halting the northward path of United
Nations forces or of "forcing U.N. withdrawal further south
through a powerful assault." 

A pair of Special National Intelligence Estimates on
China's response and involvement in the Vietnam War made
clear that China would not risk an open confrontation with
the Untied States. One of the estimates, issued in 1966,
said, "At present levels of American action [in North
Vietnam], we continue to believe that China will not commit
its ground or air forces to sustained combat against the

The documents show that American intelligence agencies were
slow to recognize the emergence of differences between the
Soviet Union and China in what is known as the Sino-Soviet
split. As late as 1966, three years before clashes along
the border took the relationship to its lowest state, an
estimate described an open break in relations between the
Soviet Union and China as unlikely. 

A main shortcoming, Mr. Suettinger wrote in his assessment,
was "overestimating the importance of ideological
solidarity and other centripetal forces within the
Communist Bloc at least during the 1950's." 

Documents on the emergence and status on China's strategic
nuclear forces, the subject of 13 estimates between 1962
and 1974, were heavily censored, Mr. Suettinger writes, but
if nothing else, they "reveal that estimating a country's
nuclear capabilities - much less intentions - on the basis
of a few photographs and other scarce clues has been an
imprecise science from the start." 

It is a lesson that will not be lost on students of
intelligence still looking at the agency's work on Iraq,
Iran and North Korea. 

Robert L. Hutchings, the chairman of the National
Intelligence Council, described the documents as presenting
"a unique historical record of a formative stage in China's
development" between 1948 and 1978, including "the drama of
the Chinese Civil War, the establishment and consolidation
of Communist rule, and the Sino-Soviet split." 

The collection of documents is the most extensive to be
released by the C.I.A. on China. Since 1996, the C.I.A. has
released a series of similar collections on the Soviet
Union, but those documents were largely retrospectives on
the cold war. By contrast, Mr. Suettinger noted that the
China documents contained "formative thinking on an
existing state, an ongoing challenge to American interests
and security." 

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