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National Intelligence Estimate

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), prepared by or at the direction of the National Intelligence Council [1], is defined by the U.S. Department of Defense as a "strategic estimate of the capabilities, vulnerabilities, and probable courses of action of foreign nations produced at the national level as a composite of the views of the intelligence community. Also called NIE."


The 2007 NIE

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the "Unclassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate, 'Prospects for Iraq's Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead'" on its website on Friday, February 2, 2007. [2]

The NIE, presented February 1, 2007, to President George W. Bush "by the intelligence community", "outlines an increasingly perilous situation in which the United States has little control and there is a strong possibility of further deterioration," Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus reported for the Washington Post.

"In a discussion of whether Iraq has reached a state of civil war, the 90-page classified NIE comes to no conclusion and holds out prospects of improvement. But it couches glimmers of optimism in deep uncertainty about whether the Iraqi leaders will be able to transcend sectarian interests and fight against extremists, establish effective national institutions and end rampant corruption," DeYoung and Pincus wrote.

The NIE "emphasizes that although al-Qaeda activities in Iraq remain a problem, they have been surpassed by Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence as the primary source of conflict and the most immediate threat to U.S. goals. Iran, which the administration has charged with supplying and directing Iraqi extremists, is mentioned but is not a focus," they wrote.

NIE Act of 1994

The National Intelligence Estimate, according to the National Strategic Intelligence Act, 1994, "means the product of the process of considering and weighing the possibilities, probabilities and facts disclosed by national security intelligence with regard to any situation, and of drawing conclusions from such possibilities, probabilities and facts."

According to the CIA

The CIA says that a "National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is the most authoritative written judgment concerning a national security issue prepared by the Director of Central Intelligence. Unlike 'current intelligence' products, which describe the present, most NIEs forecast future developments and many address their implications for the United States. NIEs cover a wide range of issue--from military to technological to economic to political trends.

"NIEs are addressed to the highest level of policymakers--up to and including the President. They are often drafted in response to a specific request from a policymaker. Estimates are designed not just to provide information but to help policymakers think through issues. They are prepared by CIA with the participation of other agencies of the Intelligence Community and are coordinated with these agencies. When there are alternative views about a subject within the Intelligence Community, the NIEs include such views."

The 2003 NIE

The June 5, 2003, issue of Pakistan's The Nation contained the article (inactive link) "CIA reviewing Iraqi arms report" by Humayun Akhtar Khan (bio), Minister of Commerce in Pakistan. Both the original link and a subsequent archive link to the article are inactive. Therefore, the majority of the article is posted below.

Akhtar wrote that, according to the New York Times, a "top secret United States intelligence report last fall is now at the center of an internal CIA review to determine whether American intelligence miscalculated the extent of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes .... The report concluded that Baghdad had chemical and biological weapons and was seeking to reconstitute its nuclear program. ...

"The document, which was described by intelligence officials familiar with the review, provided President George Walker Bush with his last major overview of the status of Iraq's program to develop weapons of mass destruction before the start of the war. ... It is significant because it provided the White House with the last attempt by the entire intelligence community to reach a consensus concerning Iraq's weapons programs before the war started in March.

"The national estimate has been an early focus of attention for a small team of retired CIA analysts who have been brought in by the agency's director, George J. Tenet, to assess the accuracy of the intelligence reports produced before the war, according to officials familiar with the review. Separately, the CIA is now in the process of turning over to Congress the underlying documents that were used by analysts to prepare the national estimate, just as lawmakers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate are preparing for their own reviews of the prewar intelligence.

"The review of the intelligence estimate made last fall comes as the failure to find Iraq's weapons of mass destruction so far is flaring into a major political issue for the Bush administration. Both Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Mr. Tenet have been forced in recent days to defend their handling of intelligence in the months that lead up to the war. At the same time, intelligence analysts inside the government continue to complain about the role played over the past year by a special Pentagon unit that provided policy makers with an alternative, and more hawkish, view of intelligence related to Iraq. [? .. Office of Net Assessment .. ?]

"In a prepared statement issued by the CIA late last week, Mr. Tenet denied that the intelligence on Iraq was warped in order to satisfy the Bush administration's desire to find evidence to support its policies. "The integrity of our process was maintained throughout, and any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong," Mr. Tenet said. But several CIA officials interviewed by the NYT recently declined to comment on or defend the actions over the past year of the Pentagon's special intelligence unit, which sought to highlight information from Iraqi exiles and other sources that had frequently been dismissed by CIA analysts. And some CIA analysts have said they felt pressure to make their reports conform to the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

"Now, officials say that the CIA review team examining prewar intelligence plans to ask the Pentagon for documents from the special intelligence unit to try to determine what its role was in shaping the intelligence during the months leading up to the war.

"In Congress, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committee have announced plans to conduct a joint inquiry into the prewar intelligence, while the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence plans its own examination.

"In a May 22[, 2003] letter, the leaders of the House panel asked Mr. Tenet to provide answers to a series of questions on the issue, including whether the "sources and methods that contributed to the community's analysis on the presence and amount of W.M.D. in Iraq were of sufficient quality and quantity to provide sufficient accuracy."

"One official familiar with the CIA review said the answer to that fundamental question may be no. The official said it appeared that the CIA and other intelligence agencies had developed fairly solid intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs after the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and through much of the 1990's, as United Nations inspectors scoured the country.

"During that time, the United States grew convinced that Iraq had chemical weapons, was trying to develop biological agents and was seeking to reconstitute a nuclear program that had been disrupted by the war. But the official said it now appeared that the quality of the intelligence concerning Iraq's weapons programs subsequently declined, particularly after the inspectors were withdrawn in 1998.

"Without conclusive new intelligence to the contrary, it appears that the intelligence community continued to make projections assuming a continued Iraqi weapons effort, in line with its earlier assessments, the official said. The fragments of intelligence that came in periodically after the inspectors were withdrawn were never enough to prove that Mr. Hussein had abandoned his weapons programs, and so the natural inclination was to assume that those programs were still under way.

"United States intelligence officials still caution that American forces may yet find conclusive evidence of Iraq's chemical or biological weapons. Mr. Bush has pointed to the discovery of two suspected mobile labs as evidence that Iraq was trying to develop biological weapons.

"However, officials now acknowledge that at least some of the pre-war analysis was inaccurate, states the NYT.

"The United States had, for example, received reports indicating that Iraqi military units had received the authority to deploy and use chemical weapons against advancing American troops. But postwar searches of Iraqi military facilities and interrogations of Iraqi officers have failed to turn up any evidence that chemical weapons were deployed.

"It was perhaps inevitable that the national estimate on Iraq's weapons programs would receive special scrutiny. Even as it was being produced last fall, the estimate was already at the center of a political struggle between Democrats in Congress and the CIA and the Bush administration over the threat posed by Mr. Hussein's government.

"Last summer, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Bob Graham of Florida and Dick Durbin of Illinois, asked the CIA to produce a national intelligence estimate that would review all of the major policy issues related to Iraq. The intelligence community resisted, agreeing instead to produce one that was more narrowly focused on the status of Iraq's weapons programs.

"When Mr. Graham, then the intelligence committee's chairman, finally saw the report, he asked that its findings be declassified in time for the Senate debate on a resolution to support the war in Iraq. When Mr. Tenet provided a letter to Mr. Graham that included some of the report's findings, Mr. Graham complained that only those findings that supported the administration's position on Iraq had been declassified, while others that raised questions were not.

Criticism of the 2003 NIE

Josh Marshall, observed October 29, 2003, in The Hill, that the NIE was only put together when the policy was being sold, not when it was being put together. So the administration could not have been misled or ill-served by it because it was never used to formulate policy. The administration only used it to sell the policy to a skeptical Congress.

"We know that the Bush administration specifically resisted calling for an NIE until very late in the game because it didn't want the results and findings getting in the way of the policy the administration had already decided on. The reason an NIE was finally pulled together is that Senate Democrats wanted some sense of what the evidence was for all the White House's claims about Iraqi WMD and ties to international terrorism."

See Walter Pincus and Dana Priest, "Bush, Aides Ignored CIA Caveats on Iraq. Clear-Cut Assertions Were Made Before Arms Assessment Was Completed," Washington Post, February 7, 2004.

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