Books Monographs

Sherman Kent and the Board of National Estimates: Collected Essays

An Anthology edited by Donald Steury (1994)


Sherman Kent is a larger than life figure in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency. His vigorous tenure as chairman of the Board of National Estimates from 1952 to 1967 was a major formative influence on the way that the Central Intelligence Agency and Intelligence Community prepare and present National Intelligence Estimates. Because of Sherman Kent’s importance in the development of the American intelligence profession, the CIA History Staff is publishing this selection of his recently declassified  writings on the occasion of the Conference on Estimating Soviet Military Power, 1950—1984, which Harvard University’s Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History and the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence are cosponsoring in Cambridge in December 1994.

After he retired as chairman of the Board of National Estimates at the end of 1967, Sherman Kent wrote a number of monographs on intelligence topics for the CIA History Staff. In recent years most of those that he published later in the CIA’s classified quarterly journal, Studies in Intelligence, have been declassified and made available to the public at the National Archives.

Two of these works, however, are declassified and published for the first time in this volume. Kent left a single sealed typescript copy of his 1970 personal memoir, “The First Year of the Office of National Estimates: The Directorship of William L. Langer,” for access only by permission of the author or the Chief or Deputy Chief of the History Staff. Those who read this essay—which Kent noted was “composed from memory 20 years after the fact”—will understand why he sequestered these unbuttoned comments on his Board of Estimates colleagues during his lifetime. The other previously classified and unpublished work is this volume’s centerpiece, “The Law and Custom of the National Intelligence Estimate.”

We are publishing these works as Sherman Kent wrote them, making only minor changes for format and obvious typographical errors; our editors have had to restrain their blue pencils from revising Kent’s prose to conform to 1994 CIA editorial style and conventions. The text clearly indicates wherever material that still requires national security classification protection has been deleted. Many of these pieces have been declassified in their entirety, although the long essay, “The Law and Custom of the National Intelligence Estimate,” has several sizable excisions.

Since 1992 this volume’s editor, Dr. Donald P. Steury, has been a member of the CIA History Staff, where his research and writing have focused on the CIA’s Soviet estimates.  As a close student of the CIA’s estimative process and participant in it, Dr. Steury is extraordinarily well-qualified to edit and introduce this collection of Sherman Kent’s writings.

—J. Kenneth McDonald

Chief, CIA History Staff

Download PDF of complete book (183 pages)