The Law and Custom of the National Intelligence Estimate

An Examination of the Theory and Some Recollections Concerning the Practice of the Art

As Sherman Kent's introductory note explains, this memoir-history of the National Intelligence Estimate and the Board of National Estimates had its origins in a memorandum he wrote in 1965. Completed and classified Secret as DCI Miscellaneous Study No. 12'' in 1976, this important work remained in the History Staff files until its publication in this volume.


An Introductory Note

This essay's present form owes much to the accidents of its life.

It was begun in the summer of 1965 to serve the purposes of a momentary crisis. As I started to dictate a hasty first draft I had in mind a paper of a dozen pages. The very act of composition revealed a much more complicated subject matter than I had originally contemplated and even in dictating, the short draft grew to more than twenty pages. Clearly the crisis would have to be served by some less cumbersome method. It was. But with the crisis now met, what to do about the now fairly substantial but still far from complete memo. I hesitated to junk the whole enterprise, so I took a familiar tack--I passed copies to two revered colleagues, Abbot Smith and Ludwell Montague, who were well-established aficionados of the constitutional law and custom of the NIEs, and asked for their comments.

In due course from them and others I received enough comment to indicate that I had taken on a much bigger job than I could accomplish while carrying my regular duties. So I put the manuscript, my notes, my critics' suggestions into the deep-freeze for the duration of my active duty in the Agency and for several years of my retirement.

Last year (1974) I resuscitated the project. One of the things which moved me, beyond the natural desire to wind up a piece of unfinished business, was the realization that the Agency's very considerable history program was drawing to a close with comparatively little written about either the Office of National Estimates or the NIEs, which had absorbed its attention. Perhaps by slightly changing the tight legalistic frame of reference of my original plan I could give my essay a bit more of the juice of discursive and analytical history. This is what I have tried to do.*

In terms of chronology the essay deals most fully with the years which coincide with my association with the Office of National Estimates (November 1950 to 31 December 1967). I have made no systematic effort to cover developments that occurred between the time of my departure and the end of the office six years later (1 November 1973).

In all enterprises of this sort one collects a very large burden of indebtedness to old friends and associates. To Philip Anderson, Paul Borel, Keith Clark, James Cooley, Charles Cremeans, Harold Ford, John Huizenga, Lawrence Houston, Wayne Jackson, Ludwell Montague, Abbot Smith and Karl Weber my heartfelt thanks for reading, criticizing, and amending some or all of the manuscript, or making written contributions to it sight unseen.

To Bernard Drell and Walter Elder, successive chiefs of the History Staff and Clinton Conger, their editor-in-chief, all thanks for their careful reading of earlier drafts. The present text owes much to their editorial talent and their own ability to recall the past.

Working here (in the Key Building) as a consultant to the Agency's history project, I have had access to the magnificently filed and indexed collection put together by the genius of John Scott and his successor, John Mayo. With this sort of research tool at hand, difficult jobs have been easy and even impossible ones, manageable. To them and to Leon Sullivan, the now-retired Agency archivist, my admiration and thanks.

Thanks to Betty Naley who transformed my longhand into the first typescript and to Virginia Gibbons who typed this, the final, from what had become a tortured script. To her my special gratitude for undertaking the chore of putting the footnotes and reference notes at the bottom of the page where they belong; not at the end of the manuscript where few readers would bother to look.


    Sherman Kent
    25 April 1975



* [Footnote of four lines deleted]


Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 11:00 AM
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2008 02:10 PM