In 2002 the administration was eager to use the NIE on Iraq published in October as "proof" of its beliefs with regard to the Saddamist government. Now, there is another NIE, parts of which have been leaked to the press from within one of the branches of the government. This NIE, having to do with Terrorism contains within it the judgment that the occupation of Iraq has been an impediment to prosecution of the struggle against the international Jihadi movement. Not surprisingly, the administration does not like this judgment. Also unsurprisingly, the corporatist media have faithfully begun to denigrate National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) generally, reminding us all that the October, 2002 NIE on Iraq was an abomination of exaggeration, outright falsehood, and policy driven propaganda. Yesterday I heard two cable news ladies question whether or not anything in an NIE could be trusted. The paper is variously described in the media as "an intelligence report." It is not.
An NIE is the collective judgment of the analytic branches of all the 16 agencies of the national intelligence community as to what constitutes reality with regard to a particular subject at a particular time. It is written by a body called the National Intelligence Council (NIC) which used to reside at Langley firmly under the control of the Director of the CIA in his second statutory capacity as titular head of the community of 16 agencies. When that was the case, the CIA almost always filled the posts of members of the NIC with their own people, usually wrote the drafts for NIEs within CIA control and presided over the often prolonged and sometimes bitter editing and modification struggles that took place when the other 15 agencies were asked to accept the draft. This was an interactive and iterative process and what always emerged were "negotiated" documents whether or not the heads of the agencies wanted to hear that term used or not. I still have the scars. In many cases CIA was forced to accept major revisions of the drafts. In others, footnotes were demanded and received by one or more agencies. At times, parallel text was included in columns side by side as though scripture was being variously translated. Once a text had been "agreed" on, the document went to the National Intelligence Board (NIB) which was basically the heads of the 16 agencies sitting together. After it was briefed they voted. If the text was approved, that NIE became the "truth" of the United States government on that subject at that time, and remained so until superseded by a new NIE on that subject. At policy meetings of non-intelligence people, where history is created, the policy people would refer to this judgment of the intelligence people and such reference often silenced opposition. If you don’t like that system, what other system would you prefer? What we are talking about is the "reality" on which the government functions.
Since the reforms of recent years, the CIA no longer runs this "show." It is among the many functions that CIA has lost to other parts of the government. The NIC now works for John Negroponte as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). It appears that Negroponte is trying to let the NIC function as it should, in splendid isolation from the policy confirmation needs of whatever administration might currently be in power. It must be difficult. The neocons believe that they "know better" than the intelligence people, and that estimates should be written on the basis of the needs of an administration for propaganda support of policy. Negroponte evidently resisted that demand in this NIE. He has tried to publicly distance himself somewhat from the judgments of this NIE, but he let it be published. Congratulations Mr. Negroponte. Congratulations.