Herb Meyer: Now (part of) the story can be told

Sometimes a brilliant mind changes history.

Many AT readers are familiar with the name Herbert E. Meyer, frequent contributor to our pages, and holder of the nation's highest honor for intelligence service. As a friend of Herb, I have long wanted his full story to be told to the public, only to be told by Herb that classification and clearance requirements would prevent him from telling it himself. 

To Mr. Meyer's great surprise, however, on of the key intelligence documents revealing his historic (and that is not too strong a word for it) contribution to victory in the Cold War has been declassified, and historian Paul Kengor (also an AT contributor) has told the world.  In fascinating article, Prof. Kengor lays out the story of how one man's brilliance changed the world. Some brief excerpts will give the flavor, but this is a story that should be read in full in the original article:


there were many behind-the-scenes players who performed critical roles that have never seen the light of a historian's word processor. Here I'd like to note one such player: Herb Meyer. Specifically, I'd like to highlight a fascinating memo Meyer wrote eight years before the Soviet collapse.

From 1981 to 1985, Meyer was special assistant to the director of central intelligence, Bill Casey, and vice chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council. In the fall of 1983, he crafted a classified memo titled, "Why Is the World So Dangerous?" Addressed to Casey and the deputy director, John McMahon, it had a larger (though limited) audience within the intelligence community and the Reagan administration, including President Reagan himself. Later, it would earn Meyer the prestigious National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal. Even so, the memo has eluded historians, which is a shame. It ought to rank among the most remarkable documents of the Cold War. (snip)


Herb Meyer was dead on. I know of no other Cold War document as accurate as this one. (snip)


Meyer remembered well certain elements of the memo, particularly the Cold War predictions. He also had not forgotten the memo's reception. Within the intelligence community, there was a general feeling that Meyer had lost his mind. That was just the start of the backlash.

The memo was leaked to syndicated columnists Evans & Novak, who devoted a column to it. There was subsequent uproar throughout Washington, which made Meyer very nervous. He was summoned to his boss's office.

"Herb, right now you've got the smallest fan club in Washington," Bill Casey told him grimly. As Meyer turned pale, Casey laughed: "Relax. It's me and the president."

At the end, Prof. Kengor offers some perspective on Meyer's contribution, and the way in which American academia -- so dfar --  has managed to ignore it.

There's nary a college course on the Cold War that excludes George Kennan's seminal "Long Telegram," sent from the U.S. embassy in Moscow in February 1946. Kennan's memo prophetically captured what the free world faced from the USSR at the start of the Cold War, forecasting a long struggle ahead. Herb Meyer's November 1983 memo likewise prophetically captured what the free world faced from the USSR, but this time nearing the end of the Cold War, uniquely forecasting a long struggle about to close - with victory.

George Kennan's memo is remembered in our textbooks and our college lectures. Herb Meyer's memo merits similar treatment.

Read the whole thing.