Declassified CIA files show hits and misses Use of nuclear weapons weighed in the Korean War

October 01, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence agencies weighed seriously the possible impact of using nuclear weapons against China during the Korean War and after the French defeat in Indochina, according to newly declassified CIA files.

"If atomic weapons were used, the Communists would recognize the employment of these weapons as indicative of Western determination to carry the Korean war to a successful conclusion," the CIA and other intelligence agencies said in June 1953.

This dispassionate analysis of a possible U.S. nuclear attack is contained in a series of files the CIA made public yesterday. The release was the initial step in the agency's effort to open up to historians and the American public a few of its archives from the early days of the Cold War.

Overall, the documents clearly demonstrate that, in that time of high Cold War tension, the late 1940s and early 1950s, American intelligence was sometimes prescient and sometimes wildly inaccurate.

The CIA was able to predict accurately Soviet behavior in the Middle East during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. Soviet officials had suggested that Moscow might intervene militarily in response to the invasion of Egypt by Israel, France and Britain. A hurried U.S. intelligence estimate concluded, correctly as it turned out, that the Soviet Union would not attack Britain or France and would not send its forces to the Middle East.

Agency officials also suggested the possibility of a Sino-Soviet split several years before it occurred.

"Over the long run, Sino-Soviet solidarity might be weakened as a result of efforts by the U.S.S.R. to intensify and extend its control over Communist China [and] disputes over Soviet economic and military assistance to Communist China . . ." American intelligence agencies wrote in 1952.

The study warned, however, that the Soviet Union and China would stick together in the period of the early 1950s -- as in fact they did.

But American intelligence also had notable failures, the files show.

It failed to predict the outbreak of war in North Korea in a study completed just before the conflict began. The CIA said only that North Korean forces "have a capability for attaining limited objectives in short-term military operations against southern Korea." The Pyongyang regime launched its devastatingly successful invasion of the south six days later, and the war lasted until 1953.

In the wildest miscalculation of all, the CIA in 1953 hazarded a guess on the future course of the Cold War: In many ways, U.S. intelligence officials concluded, "time must be said to be on the Soviet side."

"We believe that the Soviet Bloc under present policies and programs will over the next 10-15 years decrease the proportion by which its economic and technological capabilities are inferior to those of the West," said the CIA.

As was often the case, that same intelligence report contained a qualifier. The Cold War study went on to caution, with greater accuracy, that "internal rigidity may deprive the U.S.S.R. of that flexibility and vitality which contribute to a political system's survival and growth."

Many of the newly declassified files are "national intelligence estimates" in which U.S. agencies tried in the 1950s to reach a consensus on the intentions and capabilities of the Soviet Union and its allies in China and Eastern Europe.

The new materials, which will be opened to the public Monday at the National Archives in Washington, include only the the CIA's analytic studies and not its records of clandestine or covert operations.

In another released report, the CIA said Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews during the Nazi Holocaust, was working for a semi-clandestine U.S. agency, possibly arousing Soviet suspicions and leading to his arrest and subsequent disappearance, Reuters reported.

Mr. Wallenberg, who was assigned to the Swedish legation in Budapest in 1944 by his own government, received money as well as orders and information useful to his work from the U.S. War Refugee Board, the CIA said.

Mr. Wallenberg is widely credited with saving the lives of more than 20,000 Hungarian Jews while posted by Sweden to Budapest beginning in 1944. He was arrested by the Soviets in 1945 and never seen again. Some believe he is still alive in a Soviet prison.

The State Department in 1979 accepted partial responsibility for Mr. Wallenberg's fate by admitting in a document given Soviet officials in Washington that the United States had provided funds for his program to save Jews. But the newly released report appears to go beyond that disclosure.

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