Soviet Leaders and Intelligence

Assessing the American Adversary during the Cold War

Raymond L. Garthoff

"A fascinating evaluation of the extent to which clandestine reporting influenced the Soviet leaders’ approach to the [United States]. . . . Both rewarding for experienced readers and potentially useful for undergraduate teaching."
+ Add to Cart Preorder


Request Print Exam Copy

Request Digital Exam Copy

During the Cold War, the political leadership of the Soviet Union avidly sought intelligence about its main adversary, the United States. Although effective on an operational level, Soviet leaders and their intelligence chiefs fell short when it came to analyzing intelligence. Soviet leaders were often not receptive to intelligence that conflicted with their existing beliefs, and analysts were reluctant to put forward assessments that challenged ideological orthodoxy.

There were, however, important changes over time. Ultimately the views of an enlightened Soviet leader, Gorbachev, trumped the ideological blinders of his predecessors and the intelligence service’s dedication to an endless duel with their ideologically spawned “main adversary," making it possible to end the Cold War.

Raymond Garthoff draws on over five decades of personal contact with Soviet diplomats, intelligence officers, military leaders, and scholars during his remarkable career as an analyst, senior diplomat, and historian. He also builds on previous scholarship and examines documents from Soviet and Western archives. Soviet Leaders and Intelligence offers an informed and highly readable assessment of how the Soviets understood—and misunderstood—the intentions and objectives of their Cold War adversary.

Table of Contents



1. Stalin: Emergence of the Cold War, 1945–1953

2. Khrushchev: Thaw and Crisis, 1954–1964

3. Brezhnev: Engagement and Détente, 1965–1979

4. Brezhnev, Adropov: Tensions Revived, 1979–1984

5. Gorbachev: Back to Détente—and Beyond, 1985–1991


Appendix 1: Soviet Leaders, 1945–1991
Appendix 2: Heads of the Soviet State Security Organization, 1945–1991
Appendix 3: Heads of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service, 1945–1991
Appendix 4: US-Soviet Summit Meetings, 1945–1991


"Marvelous"—The New York Review of Books

"There are very few people who can write about Soviet leaders' thinking and the role that intelligence played in shaping their views with the authority that Garthoff can and does in his new book. . . . [He takes] us beyond the available official and declassified record of how Soviet leaders and intelligence officers perceived and at times misperceived U.S. intentions and goals during the Cold War. . . . Fascinating . . . Nuanced, intriguging, and convincing. . . . Makes several important contributions to scholarship on the Cold War, intelligence studies, and international relations theory."—Political Science Quarterly

"Raymond Garthoff is a towering figure in Cold War studies. . . . Garthoff provides invaluble insight into the bipolar world of the Cold War. . . . For every student of the Cold War, this small volume should be referred to frequently when reading any history of the Cold War. It is an indispensable resource . . . Teachers and scholars alike will benefit immeasurably, as it is useful both in the classroom and as an essential reference."—Marine Corps History

"An outstanding book which could as well have the title ‘everything you always wanted to know about the Soviet Union not understanding the United States during the Cold War, in five easy but very informative steps’."—International Affairs

"Mr. Garthoff is uniquely qualified for such a study. . . . Much of his book is based on personal conversations with Soviet officials—including intelligence officers who spoke candidly about their own service—and declassified Soviet documents."—Joseph C. Goulden, The Washington Times

"Garthoff’s contribution is valuable because it places Soviet intelligence deficiencies in the context of state leadership and points to the need for additional comparative research on U.S.-Soviet leaders, perceptions, and intelligence. . . . Measured, insightful, and valuable to students of Cold War or espionage history."—Library Journal

"A fascinating evaluation of the extent to which clandestine reporting influenced the Soviet leaders’ approach to the [United States]. . . . Both rewarding for experienced readers and potentially useful for undergraduate teaching."—The Russian Review

"Raymond L. Garthoff has been the towering dean of experts on Soviet foreign policy for more than half a century. He now provides a definitive and fascinating account of how intelligence as distinct from other influences did, and more to the point often did not, shape the views of Moscow’s leaders as they interacted with their American adversary."—Richard K. Betts, Arnold A. Saltzman Professor of War and Peace Studies, director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, and director of the International Security Policy program, Columbia University

"Raymond Garthoff rivals George Kennan for his public service, scholarship, and insights into the Soviet-American relationship. Drawn from his expertise and experience, Soviet Leaders and Intelligence adds to his canonical bibliography. It is informed, it is intelligent, it is intelligible. At a time when leaders in both Washington and Moscow again struggle to assess one another, this masterful book should be at the top of their—and our—reading lists."—Richard H. Immerman, Marvin Wachman Director, Temple University Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy

"Raymond Garthoff is unmatched in his knowledge of Soviet leaders and Soviet intelligence, and here he brings the two topics together to show that both were driven by ideological preconceptions. For better and for worse, however, the leaders generally trusted intelligence less than they did the impressions they gained from meeting American presidents. This careful analysis throws new light on the role of intelligence in the Cold War."—Robert Jervis, author of Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War, Columbia University


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Raymond L. Garthoff is a senior fellow (emeritus) at the Brookings Institution and served as US ambassador to Bulgaria and as a Cold War–era CIA analyst. His many books include A Journey through the Cold War, Détente and Confrontation: American–Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan, and The Great Transition: American–Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War.

160 pp., 5.5 x 8.5
5 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-228-0
Aug 2015

160 pp., 5.5 x 8.5
5 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-229-7
Aug 2015

160 pp.
5 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-230-3
Aug 2015

Related Titles