Estimative Intelligence

L - R

Lowenthal, Mark M. "The Intelligence Time Event Horizon." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 22, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 369-381.

Keying off the NIC's Global Trends 2025 (2008), the author posits that "the longer the time event horizon, the greater likelihood that estimative fidelity begins to drop off.... [V]ery long-term estimates ... tend to be so far out that proving them right or wrong becomes difficult, and thus they are of little inherent use to policymakers.... [T]hree years is probably the limit for any hope for analytical fidelity."

Mandel, Robert. "On Estimating Post-Cold War Enemy Intentions." Intelligence and National Security 24, no. 2 (Apr. 2009): 194-215.

Using Garthoff's 1978 article that identifies "common fallacies" in U.S. "government estimates of enemy intentions" [Raymond L. Garthoff, "On Estimating and Imputing Intentions," International Security 2 (Winter 1978): 22-32], the author concludes that "the challenges to accurate intelligence assessment of enemy intentions, and the need to move away from dysfunctional standard operating procedures, have never been higher."

McLaughlin, John. "McLaughlin: NIE Is Not as Decisive as It May Seem." CNN, 10 Dec. 2007. []

"National estimates are a widely misunderstood art form. When they become public,... they are always heralded as the 'most authoritative' documents the intelligence agencies produce.... [E]stimates are treated by critics and proponents alike as though what they say is chiseled in stone -- 'facts' that can be established like evidence in a courtroom trial.... [E]veryone seems to forget that these are not facts but judgments. In the best of cases, they are judgments based on a sizeable body of fact ... but the facts are never so complete as to remove all uncertainty from the judgment."

Miller, Bowman H. "U.S. Strategic Intelligence Forecasting and the Perils of Prediction." International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 27, no. 4 (Winter 2014): 687-701.

Montague, Ludwell Lee. "The Origins of National Intelligence Estimating." Studies in Intelligence 16, no. 2 (Spring 1972): 63-70.

Text of speech on 11 May 1971 to the Intelligence Forum. As Montague states, he "was 'present at the creation,' though without power to control the event." The author notes that "British joint intelligence estimates ... were joint only in the sense that all of the members of the JIC subscribed to them." However, they "were nothing more than a set of departmental [Army, Foreign Office, etc.] estimates fastened together."

Muller, David G., Jr. "Improving Futures Intelligence." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 22, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 382-395.

"Futures intelligence today has little credibility. Suffering from a variety of intellectual and methodological flaws, it provides little value to planners and strategists."

National Intelligence Council. Eds., John K. Allen, Jr., John Carver, and Tom Elmore. Intro., Lloyd Gardner. Estimative Products on Vietnam, 1948-1975. Washington, DC: NIC 2005-03, Apr. 2005.

The print copy of this important set of documents contains, in whole or in part, 38 of the 174 documents declassified at this time. The accompanying CD contains all of the documents in their entirety. The documents "show how the US Intelligence Community viewed critical developments over a 27-year period, ranging from analysis of the implications of the post-World War II breakup of colonial empires to the Communist takeover of Saigon in 1975." ["Preface," p. i] Gardner's excellent introduction seeks "to provide the context within which the Vietnam analysts worked and how they viewed developments in South Vietnam until the fall of Saigon in 1975." ["Introduction," p. xi]

Hanyok, I&NS 20.4 (Dec. 2005), finds Gardner's introduction "both useful and insightful about the content and makeup of the Estimates." This compendium "is a useful tool for scholars interested in the Indochina conflict and the way the US intelligence community arrives at the intelligence it delivers to the administration."

For Brooks, NIPQ 22.2 (Apr. 2006), Gardner's introduction "does an excellent job of presenting the history of our Vietnam involvement juxtaposed with what the [NIEs], Special NIEs and estimative memoranda were saying." This "is a very cleverly organized and well-presented book.... [It] would have profited from some commentary on the diversity of views within the IC and the impact this had on policy decisions."

National Intelligence Council. Eds., John K. Allen, Jr., John Carver, and Tom Elmore. Intro., Robert L. Suettinger. Tracking the Dragon: National Intelligence Estimates on China During the Era of Mao, 1948-1976. Washington, DC: NIC 2004-05, Oct. 2004.

This hefty volume contains 37 formerly classified NIEs and SNIEs on China. The accompanying CD has an additional 34 such documents. Suettinger's "Introduction" to the collection provides excellent and concise context. The print version is also available on the NIC Public Web site at

Nye, Joseph S., Jr.

1. Estimating the Future. Washington, DC: Working Group on Intelligence Reform, Consortium for the Study of Intelligence, 1994.

2. "Peering into the Future." Foreign Affairs 73, no. 4 (Jul.-Aug. 1994): 82-93.

3. "Estimating the Future." American Intelligence Journal 17, no. 1&2 (1996), 65-70.

The author is former Chairman, National Intelligence Council. He believes that the "need for good intelligence estimates continues" in the post-Cold War world. Nye also stresses the importance of open sources in the estimative endeavor. Surveillant 4.2 comments that the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence version is "the better acquisition," because it includes the give-and-take discussion that followed Nye's presentation at the Working Group session.

Oldham, Max S. "A Value for Information." Studies in Intelligence 12, no. 2 (Spring 1968): 29-36.

How do you "measure the worth of different items of intelligence about strategic forces?"

Ostensoe, James G. "The Problem of Scientific Surprise." Studies in Intelligence 5, no. 4 (Fall 1961): 15-20.

"Progress report on efforts to pin down an elusive estimative problem."

Peake, Cyrus H. "History's Role in Intelligence Estimating." Studies in Intelligence 3, no. 1 (Winter 1959): 85-91.

"There are two ways to acquire the broad and balanced sensitivity needed by the estimator, one through long residence in the area in question, with close observation and participation in its life and fortunes, and one vicarious, through thoughtful study of its history."

Pillar, Paul R. "Inside Track: Sometimes the CIA Is Right." National Interest, 6 Jun. 2007. "The Right Stuff." National Interest, 29 Aug. 2007. []

The author was NIO/Near East and South Asia 2000-2005. He notes that the much excoriated "estimate was one of only three ... community-coordinated assessments about Iraq that the intelligence community [IC] produced ... prior to the war." The other estimates "addressed the principal challenges that Iraq likely would present during the first several years after Saddam's removal, as well as likely repercussions in the surrounding region." These estimates present a different view of how the IC really performed on Iraq. They "offered judgments on the issues that turned out to be most important in the war..., even though those judgments conspicuously contradicted the administration's rosy vision.... And for the most part, those judgments were correct."

Pincus, Walter. "Estimates to Undergo More Scrutiny." Washington Post, 26 Mar. 2008, A17. []

At a recent meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis said that the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) "is getting a makeover ... to improve its credibility. The estimates ... are to be subjected to special internal reviews before they are finished, during which the reliability of each source of information will be examined anew."

Price, Victoria S. The DCI's Role in Producing Strategic Intelligence Estimates. Newport, RI: Center for Advanced Research, Naval War College, 1980.

Lowenthal finds this to be "an extremely useful analysis of the roles played by successive DCIs (through DCI Turner) on strategic estimates of the Soviet Union."

Rosenberg, Joab. "The Interpretation of Probability in Intelligence Estimation and Strategic Assessment." Intelligence and National Security 23, no. 2 (Apr. 2008): 139-152,

The author suggests that "a priori probabilities should be used when trying to predict strategic events such as wars, regime change or other global changes. This means that the only possible way to determine a certain future probability is by using the analyst's intuition."

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