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A Critical Review of Fall from Glory by Gregory I. Vastica

Gregory Vistica has written a book entitled Fall from Glory (Simon & Schuster, NYC, 1995, 448 pages, $27.50) which makes some serious accusations against the U.S. Navy, Naval Intelligence, and our senior uniformed leadership during the 1980s. 1he purpose of this article Is to set the record straight-particularly with regard to the restructuring of U.S. Naval strategy and war plans which took place during this period.

[Editor’ Note: This review was written for publication in the Spring 1996 issue of ‘The Naval intelligence professionals Quarterly. It ls reprinted here with their permission.]

T he late 1970s and early 1980s were heady times for Naval Intelligence and for the submarine community with which we worked closely. Several sensitive sources became available which provided us, for the first time, with highly accurate insights gleaned from the highest levels of the Soviet regime. The information derived from these sources confirmed analyses of unclassified Soviet doctrinal writings that had been going on within ONI, at the Center for Naval Analysis, and at DNI-sponsored symposia for several years. It provided us with reliable second source confirmation and an indisputable under-standing of Soviet naval doctrine, their development of naval strategy, their plans for weapons and tactical development, and in particular, how they would deploy and utilize their submarine force. It also provided us with valuable insights into the readiness of the Soviet Navy and how the Soviets perceived our Navy would fight a war. We maintained this access until, one by one, the sources were compromised by various traitors inside the U.S. government. The single best source of technical intelligence paid with his life when Aldrich Ames betrayed him, along with the host of others he betrayed.

But while it lasted, the insights gained from these sources allowed the U.S. Navy, led by Naval Intelligence, to totally reassess how the Soviets would fight a war, where their strengths and vulnerabilities were, and how their perceptions and prejudices caused them to view us. This enabled Naval Intelligence to stimulate and participate not only in a complete rewrite of U.S. naval strategy and the war plans which governed how the U.S. would fight a war with the Soviet Union, but also to plan and conduct meaningful perception management. The unclassified exposition and documentation of these efforts became known as The Maritime Strategy. The classified results were totally rewritten war plans at SUBLANT and SUBPAC.

The detailed story of the sources, how we exploited them, and how the Navy utilized the resultant intelligence could be cited as a textbook example of how intelligence should work. It was one of the great Intelligence successes of the Cold War!

The effort was not easy to initiate or sustain. The intelligence that we were presenting to the leadership of the Navy was not what they expected or necessarily wanted to hear. First of all, what we were telling them about the strategy and planned operations of the Soviet Navy were completely antithetical to the way U.S. and other Western admirals believed that any Navy would operate. Thus Admiral Train’s observations (cited by Vistica) that Soviet naval strategy appeared to be written by Field Marshalls.

Secondly, the new intelligence would force the U.S. Navy to change their strategy and plans and effect much of their planned force structure and training. It would result in modifications to submarine design, training, peacetime exercising, and wartime deployment. Thus, initially, many found it hard to believe and were reluctant to accept the intelligence. To the great credit of the senior uniformed leadership of the Navy, and due to the open minded leadership of the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Bill Small, and the DNI, Rear Admiral Shap Shapiro, followed by Rear Admiral John Butts, the new intelligence was not ignored but was presented, challenged, debated, and ultimately accepted as valid. Once the strategists, operators, and weapons systems developers began their work to change the direction of the U.S. Navy, the so-called green door was wide open to them and they were able to wargame their plans against red teams playing at the highest levels of classification and to base their development and procurement decisions on the best technical data available.

Gregory Vistica, currently a Newsweek reporter, alludes to these events in his book Fall from Glory‘. Sadly, he does not get the story straight in his rush to tar the entire Navy with the brush of ineptitude, intellectual dishonesty, and “institutional corruption”, he is too busy fabricating intelligence failures (they usually help sell books) to pick up on what probably was the biggest story: how good intelligence, well-analyzed and well-applied by teams of Intelligence Officers and Line Officers working together enabled the U.S. Navy to devise a strategy and a set of war plans which would have helped ensure victory should we have had to fight a war with the USSR.

Bernard Baruch once observed, “Every man is entitled to his opinion. But no man is entitled to be wrong in his facts.” This dictum should apply, in particular, to journalists. Vistica mixes fact with fabrication, history with self-serving and mean-spirited gossip, half truth with personal prejudice. All to provide sensationalism to a book which, handled in a more accurate and objective fashion, would have had a worthwhile story to tell.

The result of Vistica’s efforts is an indictment of the U.S. Navy as an institution, and its senior uniformed leadership (“The Admirals”) as little more than a self-serving cabal, bent more on preserving personal perquisites and covering up problems than protecting the nation. Naval officers are depicted as inept, “cowboys”, or as drunken, lewd, sex-crazed adolescents who make a ritual of assaulting women-beginning, it would seem, at the Naval Academy.

But the central villain of the book is John Lehman. To Vistica he is the personification of evil, and anything that he did for the Navy is characterized as somehow being driven by personal ambition or self-aggrandizement. All who were associated, or even forced by circumstances to serve with him, are cast onto the same dungheap. Sadly, the list includes some of the best officers and leaders we produced during that era. Some of these officers are depicted as little more than stooges of Lehman; many suffered from the tremendous stress of serving under a Secretary of the Navy with whom they disagreed but who, nevertheless, was their lawful superior. Many of the senior uniformed leaders worked hard at modifying or changing Secretary Lehman’s views. But when he gave specific direction or orders, as was often the case, they were obliged to carry them out.

And Naval Intelligence, for all its contributions, is vilified as well. Vistica properly portrays Rear Admiral Bill Cockell as one of the brightest officers in the Navy and one who possessed a unique expertise in Soviet affairs. It was Cockell, while serving as EA to CNO Tom Hayward, who was instrumental in getting the CNO to focus on the new sources of intelligence that his DNI, Rear Admiral Shap Shapiro, was bringing him. As a result, special teams were put together to analyze the intelligence and its implications. Shap Shapiro brought Rich Haver to the Pentagon from his job as Technical Director of NFOIO to head 009J (not Team Charlie as reported by Vistica) and lead the analysis effort. In those days, ONI was known as OP–O()C), and 009J reported directly to the DNI. Team Charlie came later, was initially beaded by Dr. Alf Andreassen, who was Technical Director for Vice Admiral Kin McKee, the Director of Naval Warfare. Team Charlie was normally populated by Line Officers and studied the implications of the intelligence which 009J produced. Seldom bas the Navy had the benefit of the analytic talent of a Rich Haver and the intellectual capacity of an Alf Andreassen focused on the same problem at the same time.

The senior leadership Board of Directors for the effort was the Advanced Technology Panel, established by the CNO, and comprised of senior Flag Officers under the inspired leadership of VCNO Bill Small and bis successors. It was the team of the VCNO and CNO Jim Watkins who successfully got the effort off the ground and encouraged what today would be called out of the box thinking. The ATP was supported by the ATP Working Group, led by Rear Admirals Bobby Bell and Roger Bacon, and comprised of a number of very bright commanders and captains, including Jim Hay in an executive secretary role and Captain Linton Brooks, who provided much of the intellectual energy. The Strategic Studies Group at Newport participated actively in deriving strategy and wargaming the results.

Other key players in the process were DNis Shap Shapiro and John Butts, Vice Admiral Kin Mckee, who recognized the potential importance of this new intelligence from the very beginning, and then-Captain Bill Studeman, who was EA to the VCNO and active at the very heart of the effort. There were many others, some of whom were mentioned by Vistica, but usually with great inaccuracy.

Quite apart from the tenure of John Lehman, the 1980s were a true golden age of naval strategic thinking, and Naval Intelligence was at the center of that effort. The creation of the Maritime Strategy and the planning to implement that strategy with the Navy that Lehman was dictating deserve a book in themselves. Fortunately, the ATP files have been saved, organized, and summarized for the benefit of current Flag Officers who would like to re-invigorate naval strategic planning. When their contents can be declassified and opened to historians, a truly fascinating book will result.

Not only did Vistica mis-portray the elements of the story, be also chose to vilify some of the players who were, in fact, the true heroes. He singles out Shap Shapiro for allegedly deliberately misleading Congress by painting the Soviet Navy as a threat, which the newly-expert Vistica clearly believes it never was. In his own words “Almost every senior admiral and intelligence officer knew the truth about the capabilities of the Soviet Navy and did their best to bury it.” Patent nonsense written by someone with no personal knowledge, involvement, or expertise who, if he did not invent the notion out of the whole cloth, was badly misled by his sources. He claims that his work was reviewed by “several senior Naval Intelligence officers who must remain anonymous”. Whoever these officers were, they clearly were not aware of the facts. If I were one of them, I would surely hope my anonymity held up!

What Naval Intelligence did discover and convince the admirals of was that, given its strategy, plans, force levels, and general readiness, the Soviet Navy was not focused on interdicting the sea lines of communication to the Central Front in Europe. It was that long-assumed threat that had led to the weakening of U.S. naval superiority, especially by those in the Carter administration who were using it as a justification to build low-end frigates and VP aircraft. Rather, the new intelligence demonstrated that the Soviet Navy was, indeed, a strategic nuclear ballistic missile threat (and a growing one at that) to the United States and a potential threat to our own strategic forces. Furthermore, it was a threat to the implementation of the Sea Strike or Sea Plan 2000 carrier-forward strategy and a growing competitor for peacetime and crisis influence in the Third World. Recall that the Soviet shipbuilding program of the time included not only the destroyer and smaller class ships which might readily be perceived as defensive, but also aircraft carriers (including a nuclear powered carrier), Kirov class nuclear powered guided missile heavy cruisers, new-generation submarines of every class, and an overall rate of ship construction which far outstripped ours. It was these threats that the U.S. Navy had to take into account when developing a new strategy and war plans.

While Vistica besmirched his own professional reputation by stooping to half-infomed character assassimation to flesh-out bis boot, it is sad that institutions like ONI and fine officers like Shap Shapiro, Chuck Larson, Frank Kelso, and others should be portrayed as dishonest and self-serving. Those of us who were involved in the events and have served under men know who the true heroes were. Some day the full story will be declassified and the public will recognize that the true Fall from Glory lies with one who publishes damning articles about events be only dimly perceives and maligns dedicated, honorable people whose actions he could not possibly understand.

1he autlwrs were participants in the 009J, Team Charlie, and war gaming events described herein. 1hey retired as the Director of Naval Intelligence and the Deputy Director of Naval lntellgence, respectively.

One Star Two Star
John Byrd Rick Buchanan
John Davis Tom Fargo
Tom Elliott Tony Watson
Jim Metzger
Paul Sullivan

Three Star Nominations
Tom Fargo with orders to COMFIFTHFLT
Rich Meis with orders to COMSUBLANT

Four Star Nominations
Skip Bowman ordered to NR
Archie Clemens ordered to CINCPACFLT

Admiral Bruce Demars
Vice Admiral George Emery
Rear Admiral Marc Pelaez

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