What is an “NIE?”

Powellatunfeb0320tenet20negroponte 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.

Pat Lang


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9 Responses to What is an “NIE?”

  1. Michael says:

    So if the US doesn’t like reality – they simply engineer a better one that supports their views? Nice.

  2. Pan says:

    There have been quite a few controversies over NIEs in the past decade. My favorite was the ruckus caused by NIE 95-19 “The Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States” NIE published in 1995. Missile defense advocates blew a gasket because the NIE concluded no countries besides Russia and China would be capable of deploying a missile which can hit the US before 2010. All kinds of slander were directed at the NIO (Dr. Dave Osias) who oversaw that NIE, and the Rumsfeld Commission (remember that?) was established to debunk the document. Now we’re getting close to 2010, and guess what, the conclusions of 95-19 has mostly withstood the test of time. Let’s see who will have been correct come 2010.

  3. fasteddiez says:

    The 2002 Iraq NIE (which was forced from an unwilling Tenet (CIA) (by a Sen Graham D, Fla…at the time), was a hundred or so pages, with 4 or 5 pages of an executive summary.
    Our vaunted Congress Critters deemed fit to ignore it for the most part. Only a handful read the whole thing; a few more read the executive summary. The rest probably had some sycophantic aide read the thing, then spit out a hundred word memo outlining its’ contents, as well as the Congress Critter’s suggested support (or non-support) posture, (Talking points to follow in a later memo).
    This is what passes for representative government.

  4. clif says:

    Pat you might want to look at your first sentence;
    In 1982 the administration was eager to use the NIE on Iraq published in October…..
    Don’t you mean 2002?

  5. Ken Houghton says:

    Shouldn’t that first line begin “In 2002…”

  6. ikonoklast says:

    From an essay on the Straussian view of NIE goals and usage:
    ‘[The} neocon agenda and philosophy of intelligence is clearly articulated in other publications co-authored by Shulsky and Schmitt, who argue that intelligence gathering and analysis should be considered more as a philosophy than a science.
    ‘Allen Dulles, director of Central Intelligence under president Dwight Eisenhower, had adopted as the CIA’s motto the biblical verse: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” … But as an operating principle for national intelligence, it was inadequate and counterproductive, according to Shulsky and Schmitt, who concluded their book advising that “truth is not the goal” of intelligence gathering – the goal is “victory.”‘
    “The Neocon Philosophy of Intelligence” by Tom Barry

  7. Yohan says:

    I was surprised by your positive statements about Negroponte since I most remember him as the chief enabler to central American mass-murder in the 80’s and for the “Salvador Option” Shia Interior Ministry death squads that coincidentally popped up after his tenure as Viceroy of Iraq. You certainly know more about the NIE process than I do, so I’m willing to give Negroponte points for letting this NIE out in this form, however it should be noted that he’s in full backpedal mode now, at least publicly:

    Negroponte denies terror claims
    US Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte has rejected claims that the terrorist threat to the US has increased since the invasion of Iraq.
    He was commenting for the first time on recent leaked excerpts of a government report suggesting the conflict had fuelled Islamic radicalism.
    Mr Negroponte said the Iraq war made up only a small part of the report, and overall the threat had not increased.
    He said that in fact it had diminished since the 11 September 2001 attacks.
    “My personal assessment with respect to the United States is that we are certainly more vigilant, we’re better prepared, and in that sense I think we could safely say that we are safer,” he said on Monday.

  8. Brent Wiggans says:

    Let’s try a little thought experiment: imagine that we had not invaded Iraq. Where could we have been directing even a fraction of the resources expended on Iraq and to what effect? What foreign policy options would be open to us that have been foreclosed by the invasion of Iraq? Are the benefits of our kinetic military engagement in Iraq worth more than the potential of a military at full strength and readiness (i.e., did we piss away our strength on the wrong war at the wrong time)? How would the country’s short-term and long-term financial outlooks have been different? Is there a provable, causal relationship between the invasion of Iraq and the fact that there have been no successful terrorist attacks inside the U.S. since 9/11?
    Yes, it is officially time to second guess. The administration has chosen to make the war in Iraq the make-or-break issue of the 2006 elections, so, one of the logical ways to evaluate it is to consider what things might have been like without it. This report is a key document in that evaluation.

  9. McGee says:

    I think Negroponte is being disingenuous here. Few would argue that US domestic counterintelligence efforts have been unsuccessful or that we are not in fact more vigilant than before September 11. The problem, however, is not a domestic one at all – the operation that culminated in 9/11 was very much European and Afghan-grown. Most of the hotbeds of the jihad movements remain in the Muslim enclaves of European and Indonesian cities, and the Iraq war has strengthened these movements, plus provided a training ground for on-the-job combat experience for their fighters. I doubt you could find one European police or intelligence official who would concur with Negroponte’s assessment. And ultimately this increased insecurity outside the US (despite some very successful multilateral efforts in which the US IS participating, and some great work being done by very professional agencies in Europe and elsewhere) will once again spill over onto our shores. So I would argue that we are not in fact safer, that the increased danger is not domestic, nor has that ever been the case.

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