National/World

CIA papers show agency struggled in Korean War

Thursday, June 17, 2010
CIA documents

The young CIA was badly organized and the American military was ill-prepared to cope with the maneuvers of Communist forces during the Korean War, according to intelligence documents released six decades after the conflict began.

The CIA released 1,300 documents Wednesday that included 900 papers that either had not been made public earlier or contained new information. The release coincides with the 60th anniversary this month of the Korean War's start.

One CIA analysis said "American military and civilian leaders were caught by surprise" when North Korean troops moved south across the 38th Parallel in June 1950.

"Only the intercession of poorly trained and equipped US garrison troops from Japan managed to halt the North Korean advance at a high price in American dead and wounded," the report said.

That document, "Two Strategic Intelligence Mistakes in Korea, 1950," also describes how U.S. military and civilian leaders were caught off-guard four months later when the Chinese "intervened in massive numbers as American and UN forces pushed the North Koreans back."

The CIA documents were released on a CD-ROM distributed at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence to participants at a two-day conference on the Korean War and were to be made available on the CIA's website. They include intelligence reports, correspondence and National Intelligence Estimates, and foreign media accounts of activity in the region.

The Truman library and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars also released Korean War documents Wednesday. The Truman library documents included audio clips of President Truman and correspondence from then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson.

Peter A. Clement, the CIA's deputy director of Intelligence for Analytic Programs, said the documents showed the CIA was "not very well-organized" at the time.

"They didn't call the invasion," he said. "It showed very clearly that we didn't put the signs all together."

Clement said the documents illustrate how the agency then relied on "a small crew of people who looked over the entire world," as opposed to current iterations involving separate staffs each assigned to a specific region.

Some parallels remain, however, between the CIA in its early years and the agency today, which is still "doing some tea leaf reading" but also has the help of more sophisticated tools, he said.

"Intelligence-wise, we have come far," Clement said. "But at its core, the (job) of understanding leaders' decisions ... is still a challenge."

James F. Person, program associate for the Woodrow Wilson center, said the documents his center had collected from 1955 to 1984 depict the "rocky relationship" between North Korea and China that continues today.

"We continue to get this wrong today, the North Koreans and the Chinese walking in lock step," Person said. "The North Koreans can't stand the Chinese. ... It's going to go on and on until we sit down and talk with them."

Michael Pearlman, a former professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth, Kan., and a conference participant, said he had hoped the release would include information on the circumstances of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's firing in 1951. But from what he could tell, the documents had no such detail.

"It's more than disappointing," he said. "It's a tragedy."

Paul Edwards, founder of the Center for the Study of the Korean War at Graceland University in Independence, Mo., said before he had seen the documents that he hoped to find information about President Dwight Eisenhower's efforts to end the war.

"I'll be terribly surprised if there's anything too surprising" in the papers, he said.

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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