Office of Net Assessment

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The Department of Defense's Office of Net Assessment (ONA), "the Pentagon's internal think tank,"[1] was "created and Andrew Marshall was named its first director in 1973, and Marshall has been reappointed by every administration and Secretary of Defense since then. The accomplishments of the office are legendary. In the 1970s, it produced the analyses of U.S. and Soviet military investment that compelled the Carter administration to reverse the decline in American military spending. It produced the analysis that moved the U.S. nuclear posture away from massive retaliation and towards a strategy that would better deter Soviet nuclear aggression. It was also the office that persistently called attention to the vast overestimates of the Soviet GNP that were put out by the CIA during the Cold War. It was the first to develop the idea that the American military can be transformed by the revolution in information technology. Every Secretary of Defense for twenty-five years, regardless of party, has kept Andrew Marshall close to him, because Marshall spoke truth to power." --Gary J. Schmitt, Project for the New American Century, November 10, 1997.[2]

"... but arguably the most important in shaping American military thinking, stimulated by a small, little-known office in the Pentagon. The Department of Defense's Office of Net Assessment, directed by Andrew Marshall, closely analyzed the Soviet writings and built on them with its own analytical rigor. The objective of a net assessment, as perfected by Marshall's office, was to provide an even-handed look at both sides of complex military competitions, examining the long-term trends and present factors that govern the capabilities of the United States and its potential enemies. In particular, Marshall had a penchant for historical case studies which proved especially useful for highlighting the political, social, cultural, and ideological dynamics that affect military developments. Studies sponsored by his office were highly influential in shaping opinions in the defense, intelligence, and foreign policy communities."

James Carafano, "Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050", Richmond Independent News, September 13, 2002.

"In 1971, Richard M. Nixon, dissatisfied with the quality of the intelligence he was receiving, ordered a comprehensive restructuring of the intelligence community. As part of the shake-up, a new 'net assessment group' was created in the National Security Council, with the director reporting to Henry Kissinger. The job of the office would be to evaluate the intelligence from the various agencies about Soviet and Chinese nuclear capabilities, and compile it all in one place. Marshall, having been deeply immersed in intelligence issues during his early years at RAND Corporation/Rand, had the right credentials for the job. He was appointed as the group's first director.

"In 1972, his friend and fellow researcher at Rand, James R. Schlesinger, who was serving as defense secretary in the Nixon administration, arranged to have Marshall's outfit moved over to the Pentagon. Marshall has been at the Office of Net Assessments (ONA) ever since.

"ONA had a murky brief. Marshall's job was to imagine every kind of threat the military might ever face. He has used the ONA to assist Team B in its efforts to access raw intelligence, follow Soviet military thinking closely, run war games involving novel scenarios, and teach a summer seminar at the Naval War College. His taste for daring ideas has not abated, and his knack for cultivating eloquent spokesmen to do his talking for him helped him spin a web that would overwhelm the defense establishment 30 years later."[3]


  • Andrew W. Marshall, Director, Office of the Secretary of Defense / Net Assessment (OSD/NA).
  • David S. Yost, 1984-86.
  • John Milam, strategic analyst.
  • Donald Henry, "special assistant to the director of net assessment in the Office of Net Assessment within OSD" May 2002.
  • Stephen Michael Meyer, Principal Investigator, Office of Net Assessment (Transformation and Adaptation of Civil-Military Structures in Russia) (1992 - present).
  • Andrew May (2003)

According to "Our Man In ONA" by Ken Silverstein, The Nation, October 7, 1999:

"In 1972 Henry Kissinger hired Marshall to work at the National Security Council, and he was soon appointed head of the Pentagon's newly created ONA, which was charged with rating the threat to national security posed by the Soviet Union. One of his earliest studies proclaimed that the CIA was seriously underestimating Soviet military spending and power. Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger promptly used the report to bludgeon Congress into allocating more money to counter the Russian bear.

"During the Ronald Reagan years Marshall helped write a secret document that called for the United States to have the ability to fight and win a nuclear war with Russia. 'Well ahead of most Sovietologists, Mr. Marshall noticed weaknesses of Soviet society,' reads the Journal profile. 'In 1977, he focused on the environmental and demographic crises that were undermining the Soviet system.' Associates of his have no recollection of Marshall's ever having expressed such views. The ex-Pentagon man says, 'Until the very end he was a major promoter of the line that 'The Russians are coming and they're 10 feet tall.'

"Late into 1989--after the fall of the Berlin wall and shortly before Mikhail Gorbachev's ouster in the Soviet Union--Marshall was insisting that high levels of military spending were as urgently needed as ever. 'I don't think I've ever seen so much uncertainty about the future as there is today,' he said.

"Since the collapse of Communism, Marshall has spent much energy hunting for a suitable threat to replace Boris the Bear. He first turned his attention to North Korea, with a 1991 ONA report concluding that in the event of war, Pyongyang's troops could wipe out Seoul within ten days and US forces would be unable to do much to stop them. After it became apparent that North Korea was on the verge of mass starvation and collapse, Marshall turned his attention to China. An ONA study from the mid-nineties stated that Beijing's military was modernizing so rapidly that the People's Liberation Army would soon be able to defeat the United States in a regional conflict in Asia. A second ONA report, prepared for the agency by [the] RAND Corporation, estimated that Beijing is spending about $140 billion a year on defense. That figure is more than twice as high as other high-end estimates and seven to eight times higher than commonly accepted low-end ones. In 1997 yet another ONA-sponsored study ominously concluded that China viewed the United States as a declining superpower and was scheming to exploit America's military weakness.

"Such conclusions are highly dubious. China's military capabilities are modest. The country's ground-troop strength has been cut in half--to 2 million--since the seventies, and most of its soldiers field weapons that are a quarter-century old. Beijing's air force doesn't have a single long-range bomber, and according to a story in Time this past June, its entire nuclear arsenal 'packs about as much explosive power as what the U.S. stuffs into one Trident submarine.'

"Marshall has also been an enthusiastic supporter of Star Wars and related schemes. Just last year he gave secret testimony before the Rumsfeld Commission, which issued a report stating that the United States could face a ballistic missile threat from countries such as Iraq and North Korea within a very short time. Its recommendations led to legislation, signed by President Clinton [in 1999], mandating the deployment of a multibillion-dollar ballistic missile shield 'as soon as technologically feasible.'

"Marshall's pivotal position in the military gravy train became clear in 1997, when incoming Defense Secretary William Sebastian Cohen proposed downgrading the ONA's status. A group of Congressional hawks and defense executives led by James G. Roche, a former Marshall aide now at Northrop Grumman, immediately mounted a fierce counterattack to protect their man. Marshall's friends in the press also weighed in, with letters and articles appearing in outlets such as the Washington Times, Aviation Week, the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal. 'Americans don't go to sleep at night worrying about how we'll win the next war,' Paul Gigot wrote in the Journal. 'Andy Marshall does, which is why Americans ought to worry that he's being banished to outer Siberia by a witless and bureaucratic Pentagon.' Cohen swiftly backed off and Marshall remains at his post."

In "War in the Information Age" (Hoover Institution, Spring, 2002), Bert Berkowitz writes:

"These technologies are turning over many traditional notions about how to wage war. Much of this new thinking can be traced to the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment and its director, Andrew Marshall. Although little known to the general public, the office has often been much more influential than its obscure title suggests. It is an in-house think tank for DOD charged with looking 10 or 20 years into the future, sizing up the threats the United States will face, and analyzing how we will match them.

"In the early 1990s, Marshall began to speak about a 'revolution in military affairs' (RMA). This revolution was driven mainly by the great changes that were under way in information technology. As a result of these changes, military forces would be able to have a better picture of the adversary and would be able to strike at him with precision weapons from great distance. The military would also need to become more mobile because large, stationary forces would be too vulnerable.

"Over the course of three decades, many promising majors, lieutenant commanders, and GS-13 civilians have done a tour through the Office of Net Assessment. These officers are now generals, admirals, and members of the Pentagon's Senior Executive Service and have considerable influence in drafting war plans and designing new weapons programs."

In "Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us" (The Observer, February 22, 2004), Mark Townsend and Paul Harris write:

"Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters.. A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world."

"The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents."

"'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'"

"The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority."

"The report was commissioned by influential Pentagon defence adviser Andrew Marshall, who has held considerable sway on US military thinking over the past three decades. He was the man behind a sweeping recent review aimed at transforming the American military under Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld."

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External links

September 11, 2001

  • Jason Vest, Why Warnings Fell on Deaf Ears, American Prospect, June 17, 2002: "For the Bush administration, the Cold War never ended -- so al Qaeda had to get in line behind more serious enemies. ... What did the president know and when did he know it? Following revelations that the White House had reason to suspect an imminent al-Qaeda attack last year, even The New York Times has noted that the perennial post-Watergate question seems entirely appropriate. Nor should it be put exclusively to President Bush: In most countries, the directors of the internal and external security services would have resigned by now. ... Proponents of such blinkered defense priorities -- Andrew Marshall's Office of Net Assessment at the Pentagon, the Rumsfeld Commissions on ballistic missiles and space, and Frank Gaffney's private, defense contractor-funded Center for Security Policy come to mind -- have produced a steady stream of reports based on dubious methodology."


  • The Definition of Strategic Assessment. In particular, scroll down to the section on "Department of Defense Net Assessments."
  • BreakAway Games: "Developers of retail, online, and proprietary military games, including Sid Meier's Antietam, Cleopatra, and Waterloo. Their proprietary software model is in use at the Army War College, Naval War College, and The Joint Chiefs of Staff Office of Net Assessment."
  • Knut Royce, Plan: Tap Iraq's Oil. U.S. considers seizing revenues to pay for occupation, source says, Newsday, January 10, 2003: "An administration source said that most of the proposals for the conduct of the war and implementation of plans for a subsequent occupation are being drafted by the Pentagon. Last month a respected Washington think tank prepared a classified briefing commissioned by Andrew Marshall, the Pentagon's influential director of Net Assessment, on the future role of U.S. Special Forces in the global war against terrorism, among other issues. Part of the presentation recommended that oil funds be used to defray the costs of a military occupation in Iraq, according to a source who helped prepare the report. ... He said that the study, undertaken by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, concluded that 'the cost of the occupation, the cost for the military administration and providing for a provisional [civilian] administration, all of that would come out of Iraqi oil.' He said the briefing was delivered to the office of Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of Defense and one of the administration's strongest advocates for an invasion of Iraq, on Dec. 13."
  • Rosalinda, Chickenhawk Intelligence Agency is Born, Rumor Mill News, April 9, 2003.
  • Seymour M. Hersh, Selective Intelligence, New Yorker, May 5, 2003: "Donald Rumsfeld has his own special sources. Are they reliable?"
  • U.S. and India Consider 'Asian NATO', May 29, 2003: "The Office of Net Assessment, the Pentagon's key think tank, conducted its first seminar in India last year with counterparts from India's Integrated Defense Staff, the connection that led to this week's discussions on an Asian version of NATO."