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CIA BELIEVED ARMS RACE OUTSTRIPPED SECURITY NEEDS

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Even while it was warning of an aggressive Soviet nuclear buildup during the Cold War, the CIA secretly lamented the seemingly endless U.S.-Soviet arms race, according to newly declassified government records.

Intelligence analysts who puzzled over Soviet military intentions saw clearly that the nuclear arms competition had gone beyond anything that could reasonably be explained by the legitimate security needs of either Moscow or Washington."The weapons competition nowadays is largely a technological race," U.S. analysts wrote in a top secret report dated Nov. 24, 1970. "Each side is impelled to press forward . . . lest it be left behind," regardless of military needs.

The U.S. and Soviet arms production programs had attained "a momentum of their own," pushed relentlessly ahead by an "immense apparatus" of government and military organizations, installations, employees and "vested interests."

This expression of doubt is unsurprising today, in the aftermath of the Cold War. But at the time it ran counter to the prevailing U.S. government view that the arms race was a necessary - indeed, the only - way to contain Soviet com-mun-ism.

In a Sept. 10, 1973, report, the analysts sought to explain the ongoing Soviet nuclear buildup by citing "the natural desire of missile designers to improve their product" and the unstoppable march of technological advances by both superpowers.

Those reports are among 80 newly declassified National Intelligence Estimates that were released at a Harvard University conference this weekend as part of a 2-year-old CIA effort to make public its reports on the Soviet Union.

In a speech to the conference Friday, Stansfield Turner, who was CIA director during the Carter administration, was even blunter in asserting that both Moscow and Washington had foolishly squandered resources by overbuilding their nuclear arsenals.

"We were conned by the Department of Defense," Turner said.

Turner said he himself was caught up in the nuclear hysteria. He noted that he approved a National Intelligence Estimate in December 1980 that should have alerted him and others to the irrational state of the superpower arms competition. That report said the three segments of the U.S. nuclear strike force - bombers, land-based missiles and sea-launched missiles - could each destroy 70 percent of the Soviet economy, even after absorbing a Soviet first strike.

The newly declassified CIA reports show that the intelligence analysts held consistently to a belief that whatever the size of the Soviet nuclear force, it was not intended for a deliberate attack on the United States. Instead it was for deterrence - the same rationale that U.S. leaders used to justify the American buildup.

The National Intelligence Estimates, which were classified top secret at the time, contain what the CIA considers some of the most sensitive intelligence information ever released to the public. The reports, covering the period 1954 to 1983, were prepared under CIA supervision.