Sunday, January 3, 2010

The National Intelligence Council and National Intelligence Estimates

Under the new legislation, the Office of the DNI will include the National
Intelligence Council (NIC), composed of senior analysts within the Intelligence
Community and substantive experts from the public and private sector.8 The members
of the NIC “shall constitute the senior intelligence advisers fo the Intelligence Community
for purposes of representing the views of the [I]ntelligence [C]ommunity within the
United States Government.” The members of the NIC are to be appointed by, report to,
and serve at the pleasure of the DNI.

The Intelligence Reform Act, provides that the DNI, when appointed, will be
responsible for NIEs and other analytical products prepared under the auspices of the NIC.
The three statutory responsibilities of the NIC have been to:
- produce national intelligence estimates for the Government, included,
whenever the Council considers appropriate, alternative views held by
elements of the intelligence community;
- evaluate community-wide collection and production of intelligence by
the intelligence community and the requirements and resources of such
collection and production; and
- otherwise assist the [DNI] in carrying out responsibilities established in

The DCI historically, and the DNI in the future, has a unique responsibility for the
quality of intelligence analysis for consumers at all levels of government. While a
number of agencies produce analytical products, the most authoritative intelligence
products of the U.S. Intelligence Community are published under the authority of the DCI
and potentially the DNI. NIEs are the primary, but not the sole, form in which the
Intelligence Community forwards its judgments to senior officials, and they are the only
one prescribed in statute. NIEs are produced at the NIC’s initiative or in response to
requests from senior policymakers.

NIEs are sometimes highly controversial. They are designed to set forth the best
objective judgments of the Intelligence Community, but they occasionally are more
closely related to policy rationales than some analysts would prefer. An NIE produced
in October 2002 on Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction has
been much criticized; a more recent NIE on prospects for Iraq has been the source of
significant media attention.10

Although the importance of particular NIEs to specific policy decisions may be
debatable,11 the NIE process provides a formal opportunity for the Intelligence
Community’s input to policy deliberations. Arguably, it is the responsibility of
policymakers to seek the input of the Intelligence Community, but most observers would
argue that the DNI should not be reticent in presenting intelligence information and
judgments on major policy issues when difficult decisions are under consideration.


8 50 USC 403-3(b).

9 50 USC 403-3(b)(2).

10 On the 2002 NIE see U.S. Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. Intelligence
Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, S.Rept. 108-301, July 9, 2004; on the
more recent NIE, see Douglas Jehl, “U.S. Intelligence Shows Pessimism on Iraq’s Future,” New
York Times, September 16, 2004, p.1. Neither of these NIEs has yet been made public; earlier
NIEs are occasionally released; see, for instance, Donald P. Steury, ed., Intentions and
Capabilities: Estimates on Soviet Strategic Forces, 1950-1983 (Washington: Center for the Study
of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1996).

11 See CRS Report RS21696, U.S. Intelligence and Policymaking: the Iraq Experience.

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