Wednesday, November 16, 2005

NIE vs. PDB: The Alphabet Soup of Intelligence 

The loudest voices in the "Wah! The mean Bush lied to me" crowd of Democrat lawmakers have, in light of the incontrovertible truth that they had equal access to the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), have latched onto the claim that since they didn't have equal access to the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) they didn't know what Bush did. Now, if the PDB contained information that the NIE was wrong they may have a point, but that is quite a stretch given that the commission that investigated pre-war Intelligence deemed the PDB to be more alarmist and strident than the NIE. This, however, is no surprise given the different ways in which these different reports are created.

A National Intelligence Estimate is a big deal. In order for an NIE to be published all national intelligence agencies have to agree that the information included is, to the best of their knowledge, accurate and supportable. This means the CIA, DIA, NSA, NIMA, INR and whatever other random sets of phonemes happen to be in the mix for that iteration get together and say "this is right." By definition, then, what comes out in an NIE is often the most conservative estimate. When I had extremely peripheral contact with an NIE concerning DPRK in the mid '90s this was well known, as State Dept INR and NSA, especially, differed greatly in their estimates of both capabilities and intent. I have no reason to doubt that the discussions concerning Iraqi WMDs was equally contentious during creation of the related NIE.

The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB), as I understand it, is a document of contemporaneous information and analysis from the various national intelligence agencies compiled by the CIA for use in briefing the President. As such, there is no wide-ranging consensus required. While this admittedly opens the door to inaccuracies or slanted data, a daily briefing is worthless if it takes three or four weeks of negotiation in order to produce it.

So, that the PDB reflected the more aggressive positions generally help by the CIA is no surprise. Unfortunately, it is also no surprise that those who wallow in the mud of blatant partisanship would try to exploit the general lack of understanding concerning the Intelligence business and its products to try and push its "gotcha" politics.

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