CSI Intelligence and Policy Monographs
Center for the Study of Intelligence
Intelligence and Policy Monographs
Editor’s Note: The three monographs posted here were produced during 2013–2015 by the RAND Corporation under the sponsorship of the Center for the Study of Intelligence. The principal author of all three is Gregory F. Treverton, who at the time of writing was a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation. The work represents one of the missions of the Center for the Study of Intelligence, which is to study important aspects of US intelligence support to policymakers and to derive lessons from such studies that may be applied in the present and the future. Originally published for official use only, these three studies have been reviewed for classification purposes and are made available here as wholly unclassified products.—July 2016
CIA Support to Policymakers: The First Callers: The President’s Daily Brief Across Three Administrations, September 2013
Over six decades, and across 13 presidential administrations, a dozen and a half directors of central intelligence (DCI), and five directors of national intelligence (DNIs), the relationship between intelligence and policy has, not surprisingly, had its ups and downs; at times it has been easy and complementary and at others, contentious and accusatory. This case study looks at the keystone of that relationship, the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), examining how and why it was perceived and used as it was during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush. The purpose is not simply to provide a historical account, but also to draw lessons to ponder in thinking about future best practices for the PDB—as both document and process—as integral to the intelligence-policy relationship.
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CIA Support to Policymakers: Unheeded Warning of War: Why Policymakers Ignored the 1990 Yugoslavia Estimate
“Yugoslavia will cease to function as a federal state within one year and will probably dissolve within two. Economic reform will not stave off the breakup.”
With this stark language, the October 1990 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Yugoslavia Transformed (NIE 15-90), forecast Yugoslavia’s disintegration. The NIE judged that the breakup would be violent and the conflict might spill over into adjacent regions. It included a paragraph on Bosnia—calling it “the greatest threat” of violence—but was more focused on Kosovo, where fighting seemed imminent.
Still, the NIE was stunningly prescient, unambiguously direct, and contained no dissenting footnotes. To the extent that policymakers saw and digested the estimate, intelligence succeeded in providing timely warning. Nevertheless, the NIE had no apparent impact on policy. It quickly leaked, leading veteran Washington Post editor Stephen Rosenfeld to observe, “It is a serious matter when the United States comes to a view that a friendly sovereign state may soon disappear … political chatter and newspaper talk are one thing and a formal verdict by a great power’s intelligence service another.”
What accounts for the lack of policy response? The case of the 1990 Yugoslavia NIE provides an opportunity to explore why intelligence went unheeded, particularly when the atmosphere surrounding the issue was not intensely political.
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CIA Support to Policymakers: The 2007 NIE on Iran’s Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities
“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
So declared the opening words of the key judgments of the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iran’s Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. Done by the National Intelligence Council (NIC), those key judgments were declassified and made public in December 2007, igniting a firestorm of controversy. The clause seemed to undercut not only any argument for military action against Iran but also the Bush administration’s international campaign for sanctions against that country. President George W. Bush called the language “eye-popping,” all the more so because it came despite the fact that Iran was testing missiles that could be used as a delivery system and had announced its resumption of uranium enrichment.
This case study is the story of how intelligence and policy disconnected. On one hand, those who produced the estimate were proud of the tradecraft that went into it, and its main conclusion stood the test of time. Yet the furor over the public release of its key judgments left policy officials feeling blindsided. As the president himself put it: “The NIE had a big impact—and not a good one.” How that disconnect came to be and what lessons it suggests for future best practices are the subjects of this case.
Download PDF of complete monograph. [PDF 1.0MB*]
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 Editor’s Note: These reports are based on reviews of unclassified documents, publicly available oral history interviews, and interviews with senior policymakers involved in the events they describe. All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed in them are those of the author or authors. They do not necessarily reflect official positions or views of the Central Intelligence Agency or any other US government entity, past or present. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying US government endorsement of an article’s factual statements and interpretations.