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June 23, 2009


Fabius Maximus

"Getting information from authoritarian nations has always been extremely difficult. The CIA's long and hard struggle during the Cold War to penetrate Russia is a case in point."

This is of course true, but I wonder if this difficulty is overstated, where there is some degree of openness.

Consider the Soviet Union of 1960. A fairly closed society, as such things go. Yet Robert Heinlein and his wife vised there in 1960. He wrote "Inside Intourist".

This contained insights about the USSR that I believe became visible to western intel only one or two decades later. He highlighted its relative povery, deduced from lack of railroad and river traffic, and the fertility collapse then in the early stages.

Any thoughts on this?

His article was published in the collection "Expanded Universe". It can be downloaded from the Heinlein archives:


Yes, but in the case of Soviet union's relative strength and the analysis of it we have to take into account the political considerations that distorted analysis--most importantly the "Team B" incident.

Fabius Maximus

Agreed (esp the Team "B" scam, a monument to human stupidity). But our failure to clearly see the USSR goes beyond that, IMO.

I've seen nothing suggesting that Heinlein's observations were also seen by US government analysts, and surpressed. For expample, the demographic trends in the Soviet Union were not seen by the CIA (based on public evidence) until the late 1970's (that's from memory, and might be incorrect).


That's another issue--lack of attention to open-source information. There is an unfortunate tendency to think that the only information worth having is classified--although open-source is experiencing something of a boom right now.

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