What is a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The US Senate Select Intelligence Committee (SSIC) provided a summary of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs", in the July 7, 2004 "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Pre-war Intelligence Assessments on Iraq":

"...according to the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) are the IC's [Intelligence Community's] most authoritative written judgments concerning national security issues. The process by which the IC produces NIEs -- including the one on Iraqi WMD -- has been honed over nearly 30 years. According to the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) webpage, it is designed to provide policy makers in both the executive and legislative branches with the 'best, unvarnished, and unbiased information -- regardless of whether analytic judgments conform to U.S. policy." 

July 7, 2004 - Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Pre-war Intelligence Assessments on Iraq (23.4 MB)  
National Intelligence Estimate 2002 (2.27 MB)  
Senate Select Intelligence Committee 

The Council on Foreign Relations, in a July 15, 2004 article "Intelligence: National Intelligence Estimates," provided the following:

"What is a National Intelligence Estimate?

A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is the U.S. intelligence community's most authoritative, top-of-the-line written judgment on a specific national security issue. Representatives from key U.S. intelligence agencies participate in writing an estimate, which is then submitted to the president and other policy-makers.

Who is in charge of writing an NIE?

The National Intelligence Council (NIC), a special analytical office that reports directly to the director of central intelligence and is the intelligence community's "center for mid-term and long-term strategic thinking," according to the NIC website. The NIC employs 12 national intelligence officers (NIOs)--senior experts drawn from all agencies of the intelligence community and from outside the government--who, among their other responsibilities, head up the NIE writing process. The current chairman of the NIC is Robert L. Hutchings, a former director for European Affairs on the National Security Council and a special adviser to the secretary of state in the administration of former President George H.W. Bush.

What's the process for writing an NIE?

  • An executive branch official, a member of the House or Senate, or a military commander requests an NIE.
  • The request is authorized by the director of central intelligence.
  • The NIC prepares the terms of reference, an outline of the key issues, and questions to be covered in the estimate.
  • An NIO writes the first draft of the NIE or directs another intelligence analyst or outside expert to do so.
  • The NIC staff reviews the draft, which is then sent to the U.S. government that share responsibility for compiling national intelligence on the relevant issue. Each agency's experts review the draft and prepare comments.
  • Each agency sends a representative to meet and discuss the report at an interagency coordination session. "They go through the report line by line, paragraph by paragraph," says Michael Peters, the executive vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations and, during his Army career, a participant in the NIE-preparation process. "They discuss the quality of the information and the facts and analysis, as well as the wording and terminology."
  • In this and succeeding sessions, the analysts attempt to produce a draft that reflects the collective judgment of the intelligence community. "Once there is fundamentally a text that is as close to consensus as you can get, you either sign on or take a footnote [indicating disagreement]," Peters says. In the case of a footnote, one or more agencies will include in the report a short paragraph disputing a particular point. There can be dozens of footnotes in an NIE, Peters says.
  • A final draft is submitted to intelligence community peers and experts for their review. In addition, the NIE often includes a summary of the opinions of experts outside the government.
  • The NIC reviews the final draft, then forwards it to the National Foreign Intelligence Board (NFIB) for approval. The NFIB is composed of senior representatives of the intelligence community and is chaired by the director of central intelligence.
  • The NFIB approves the NIE, typically on the same day it is presented.

What are the agencies generally involved in the process? They are:

  • The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps intelligence organizations; they collect and process intelligence relevant to their particular services.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) collects and analyzes foreign intelligence on national security topics.
  • Coast Guard Intelligence deals with information related to U.S. maritime borders and homeland security.
  • The Defense Intelligence Agency provides military intelligence to commanders, policy-makers, and force planners.
  • The Department of Energy performs analyses of foreign nuclear weapons, nuclear nonproliferation, and energy security-related intelligence issues.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is charged with preventing terrorist attacks within the United States, reducing American vulnerability to terrorism, and minimizing the damage from attacks that do occur.
  • The Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) collects information affecting U.S. foreign policy.
  • The Department of the Treasury collects and processes information that may affect U.S. fiscal and monetary policy.
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation deals with counterespionage and data about international criminal cases.
  • The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency provides imagery and other data, generally in the form of maps, to describe and depict the Earth's physical features. Formerly called the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.
  • The National Reconnaissance Office coordinates the collection and analysis of airplane and satellite reconnaissance information gathered by the military services and CIA.
  • The National Security Agency collects and processes foreign signals intelligence information, such as telephone communications, and protects critical U.S. information security systems.

How long does it take to write an NIE?

NIE drafting guidelines included in the July 9 Senate report describe three rough timeframes: a 'fast track' of two to three weeks, a 'normal track' of four to eight weeks, and a 'long track' of two months or more. The vice chairman of the NIC told Senate investigators that an NIE prepared in 60 days would be considered a very fast schedule and that NIEs typically take three to six months to complete."

July 15, 2004 - Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)