Thursday, December 27, 2007

Intelligence Estimates: How Useful To Congress? (CRS)

The CRS recently released a report (now available here in full text through the FAS) on NIEs and their increasing importance to Congress. The thing that interested me most was the discussion of the role of Congress in the recent spate of public NIE releases (including ones on Iran's Nuclear Intentions, Prospects For Iraq's Stability, the original and the update, the Terrorist Threat To The Homeland and Trends in Global Terrorism). Here are some of the other highlights from the Conclusion (I have separated the findings in order to make it easier to read and, as always, the boldface and italics are mine):

  • "Congress is and will continue to be an important consumer of national intelligence, but there are concerns that heavy emphasis on mandating NIEs may not assist the legislative process to the extent that some anticipate. NIEs can provide the Intelligence Community’s best evidence and analysis on major issues of national security and can highlight areas where information is lacking, but they usually require lengthy preparation and coordination before they can be disseminated."
  • "The example of the NIE on Iraqi WMD suggests that compressing the production schedule can be counterproductive."
  • "Moreover, conclusions of NIEs may not be informed by knowledge of initiatives planned or underway by others in the executive or legislative branches."
  • "A more public role for NIEs in debates on national security policy issues could obscure their inherent limitations and distort the discussion of the policy issues."
  • "In some cases, Congress may find intelligence assessments or briefings prepared in a less structured way and within tighter time constraints better serve its legislative needs than formal NIEs."
  • "The creation of the Office of the DNI provides a focal point from which the analytical capabilities of all intelligence agencies can be brought to bear on given issues, even ones that are narrowly focused. It is considered likely that a combination of NIEs on some topics, supplemented by more limited assessments supported by an ongoing dialogue with intelligence analysts, may provide the most effective support to the legislative process." (Historically, of course, the Executive Branch has been the primary consumer of intelligence. While this is unlikely to change, an increased interest by Congress -- the branch that controls the purse strings -- coupled with the DNI as the primary POC, is likely to lead to a more independent intel community and a stronger DNI.)

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