Stalin's death intensified American fears about Soviet intentions. The question for the CIA was whether Stalin's successors—whoever they might be—would launch a preemptive war. But the agency's speculations about the Soviets were reflections in a fun house mirror. Stalin never had a master plan for world domination, nor the means to pursue it. The man who eventually took control of the Soviet Union after his death, Nikita Khrushchev said, “Stalin never did anything to provoke a war with the United States. He knew his weakness.”
One of the fundamental failings of the Soviet state was that every facet of daily life was subordinated to national security. Stalin and his successors were pathological about their frontiers. Napoleon had invaded from Paris, and then Hitler from Berlin. Stalin's only coherent postwar foreign policy had been to turn Eastern Europe into an enormous human shield. While he devoted his energies to murdering his internal enemies, the Soviet people stood in endless lines waiting to buy a sack of potatoes. Americans were about to enjoy eight years of peace and prosperity under Eisenhower. But that peace came at the cost of a skyrocketing arms race, political witch hunts, and a permanent war economy.
Apparently (and perhaps not too surprisingly) there were some in the agency who had a clue. From page 112:
"Those of us who knew a little bit about Russia viewed it as backward Third World country that wanted to develop along the lines of the West," said the CIA's Tom Polgar, the Berlin base veteran. But that view was rejected at the highest levels in Washington. The White House and the Pentagon presumed that the Kremlin's intentions were identical to theirs: to destroy their enemy on the first day of World War III. Their mission was therefore to locate Soviet military capabilities and destroy them first. They had no faith that American spies could do that.
But American machines might.
The Killian report was the beginning of the triumph of technology and the eclipse of old-fashioned espionage at the CIA. "We obtain little significant information from classic covert operations inside Russia," the report told Eisenhower. "But we can use the ultimate in science and technology to improve our intelligence take." It urged Eisenhower to build spy planes and space satellites to soar over the Soviet Union and photograph its arsenals.
[I]n the end, the Pebntagon always set the requirements for reconnaissance: How many bombers did the Soviets have? How many nuclear missiles? How many tanks?
... the cold war mentality blocked the very idea of photographing any thing else.
"We didn't raise the fight questions," ... If the CIA had developed a bigger picture of life inside the Soviet Union it would have learned that the Soviets were putting little money into the resources that truly made a nation strong. They were a weak enemy. If the CIA's leader had been able to run effective intelligence operations inside the Soviet Union, they might have seen that Russians were unable to produce the necessities of life. The idea that the final battles of the cold war would be economic instead of military was beyond their imagination.
So all those years of grade school drills of what to do in the event of an atomic or nuclear bomb, crawl under your desk on your knees, put your hands over your head, all those years learning to fear the big Red menace, all the billions, trillions of dollars stockpiling enough nuclear weapons to wipe humanity off the planet many times over, the Star Wars missile shield defenses, the arms races, were to prepare to defend us against an enemy who never wished to attack us?
Shocked, I tells you. I'm shocked!!
Hype the threat. A certain madness must overtake us. And we project time and again upon the other the threat we are to them.
The musician Sting displayed a better understanding (I hope the Russians love their children too) than our politicians, military, and intelligence services. Fancy that.