Intelligence agencies – how they work, how they don’t
This FM Reference Page is about National Intelligence Estimates and similar material. It is not a discussion page. Please post comments only about corrections or suggested additions.
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- Articles and posts about out intelligence agencies
- What is a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)?
- Background information about NIEs
- Key websites for information about NIEs
- Will future NIE’s be partially declassified and released?
- Declassified versions of recent NIEs
- Speculation about the future by western military and intelligence agencies
- Reports about science and technology by the JASON Defense Advisory Panel
- Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea by Jeffrey T. Richelson, 702 pp (2006)
- “Big Bucks, Big Bangs“, Chalmers Johnson, London Review of Books, 20 July 2006 — A review of Richelson’s book, with extended analysis.
- “The Secrets of the Bomb“, Jeremy Bernstein, New York Review of Books, 25 May 2006 — Ditto
- “What I Learned in 40 Years of Doing Intelligence Analysis for US Foreign Policymakers“, Martin Petersen (retired senior CIA Directorate of Intelligence officer), Studies in Intelligence, March 2011
Posts on the FM website (does not include the posts about covert operations, including torture and assassination):
- The Plame Affair and the Decline of the State, 25 October 2005
- The new NIE, another small step in the Decline of the State, 10 December 2007
- When will global oil production peak? Ask the CIA!, 1 May 2008 — If they don’t know this, they’re useless.
- A must-read book for any American interested in geopolitics, 5 March 2009 — About Legacy of Ashes
- Another urban legend that will not die: the CIA is the world’s major drug dealer, 11 July 2009
- Ignatius proposes “A New Deal for The CIA” – perhaps they should sometimes obey our laws, 21 September 2009
- How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this, 13 October 2009
- The CIA’s forecast about the Iranian Revolution – and the revolution prediction tool, 6 January 2010
- The Flynn report, itself a symptom of deep problems in the government establishment, 11 January 2010
- Stratfor: “The Khost Attack and the Intelligence War Challenge”, 18 January 2010
- Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again), 20 January 2010
- The US government at work, doing dark deeds in our name, 23 March 2010
- How useful are our intelligence agencies? To what degree are they blinded by prejudice and institutional needs?, 13 April 2010
- About our intelligence agences: the struggle to find an accurate AND institutionally useful narrative, 14 April 2010
- A major function of our intelligence agencies is to shape the narrative. They do it well, molding history like clay on a wheel, 15 April 2010
- Sad news about the CIA, 23 August 2010
As explained in the August 2007 NIE (see below):
National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) are the Intelligence Community’s (IC) most authoritative written judgments on national security issues and designed to help US civilian and military leaders develop policies to protect US national security interests. NIEs usually provide information on the current state of play but are primarily “estimative”-that is, they make judgments about the likely course of future events and identify the implications for US policy.
- National Intelligence Estimates, Sharon Otterman, Council on Foreign Relations, 15 July 2004 — Excellent introduction to NIEs.
- A Crucial Estimate Relived, Sherman Kent, Studies in Intelligence, Spring 1964 — a reevaluation of the 1962 NIE proclaiming the Soviet Union would not put offensive weapons in Cuba.
- The National Intelligence Council Collection — hundreds of declassified National Intelligence Estimates and other publications produced by the National Intelligence Council or its predecessor organizations, the Office of National Estimates and the Office of Reports and Estimates.
- Declassified National Intelligence Estimates on the Soviet Union and International Communism
- National Intelligence Estimates of the Nuclear Proliferation Problem – The First Ten Years, 1957-1967, National Security Archive of George Washington U.
- Archive of declassified intelligence reports, Federation of American Scientists
- Excerpts from the Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) 10-41 “The Likelihood of Japanese Military Attack“, 4 December 1941 — This is a must-read for anyone interested in the collection and analysis of intelligence, about the most important NIE (more specifically, the most important NIE never made).
- A Crucial Estimate Relived, Sherman Kent, Studies in Intelligence, Spring 1964 — A reevaluation of a 1962 NIE concluding that the Soviet Union would not put offensive weapons in Cuba.
- Office of the Director of National Intelligence
- National Intelligence Council (NIC) — Reporting to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and providing the President and senior policymakers with analyses of foreign policy issues that have been reviewed and coordinated throughout the Intelligence Community. They have published declassified NIEs (sold in print and on CD) about China (1948 – 1976), Vietnam (1948 – 1975), and Yugoslavia (1948 – 1990).
- Browse the publications of the NIC (1946 – 1994) — Find declassified NIEs by using “National Intelligence Estimate” on the advanced search screen.
“Officials Lean Toward Keeping Next Iraq Assessment Secret“, Washington Post , 7 March 2008
A new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq is scheduled to be completed this month, according to U.S. intelligence officials. But leaders of the intelligence community have not decided whether to make its key judgments public, a step that caused an uproar when key judgments in an NIE about Iran were released in November.
… Key NIE judgments on Iraq had previously been made public, beginning with a highly controversial October 2002 assessment warning that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. That estimate was later proved wrong, with no such weapons discovered in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, and the matter led to charges that the intelligence community had been politicized by the Bush administration.
“Overall, professional life is less complicated if nothing becomes public, and one doesn’t have to organize classified assessments always having in the back of one’s mind, ‘If this is ever leaked, how would it read’ ” in the news media, a former intelligence analyst said.
- Prospects for the Worldwide Development of Ballistic Missile Threats to the Continental United States, NIE 93-17
- Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs, October 2002 — a 28 page declassified version of the 90 page original. The Senate Intelligence Committee published an analysis of this and other pre-war intelligence (July 2004, 521 pages, the pdf is here on the CFR website).
- Transformation through Integration and Innovation – National Intelligence Strategy of the US, 26 October 2005
- Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States, prepared April 2006, released 26 September 2006
- Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead, January 2007
- The Terrorist Threat to the US Homelane, July 2007
- Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive, August 2007 — Update to NIE of January 2007.
- Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, November 2007
- Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, DHS Assessment (not an NIE), 7 April 2009.
The National Intelligence Council (NIC) is the US Intelligence Community’s (IC’s) center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking.
- “Air Force 2025“, conducted 1995-1996 for the Air Force Chief of Staff
- “Global Trends 2010“, National Intelligence Council, November 1997 (revision)
- “Global Trends 2015“, National Intelligence Council, December 2000 — “A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts”
- “Mapping the Global Future 2020“, National Intelligence Council, December 2004 — “Based on Consultations With non-governmental Experts Around the World”
- “Global Scenarios to 2025“, National Intelligence Council, February 2008
- Experts, with wrinkled brows, warn about the future, 2 May 2008 — Remarks by General Michael V. Hayden, Director of the Central Intelligence
- “Global Trends 2025“, National Intelligence Council, November 2008 — Here is a brief FM review.
- “Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008)“, US Joint Forces Command, released 25 November 2008 — Here is a brief FM review.
- The Brit Ministry of Defense looks at world’s future – it’s grim, 28 November 2008
- A National Drug Threat Assessment - 2009, National Drug Intelligence Center of the US Department of Justice, 30 December 2008
JASON is an independent scientific advisory group established in 1960 to provide consulting services to the U.S. government on matters of defense science and technology. JASON typically performs most of its work during an annual summer study, and has conducted studies under contract through The MITRE Corporation, to the Department of Defense (frequently DARPA and the U.S. Navy), the Department of Energy, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the FBI. Approximately half of the resulting JASON reports are unclassified.
Here are links to some unclassified JASON studies.