An Admonition on Intelligence

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 26, 2007

In one of his last moves as director of national intelligence before leaving for the State Department, John D. Negroponte signed off on a new and unusually detailed policy directive that sets out common principles for intelligence analysis for the nation's 16 spy agencies.

The document lays out publicly for the first time a description of what is contained in the intelligence report given to President Bush each morning, known as the president's daily briefing. The often-30-page notebook may include "assessments of emerging problems or enduring challenges, results of long-term research, NIC [National Intelligence Council] estimates, crisis developments and analysis, open source reporting as well as occasional analysis that challenges conventional wisdom on critical issues."

"The goal," according to the directive, is to provide the president with analysis "that is new, important and of the highest quality."

Negroponte's eight-page directive -- "Management, Integration, and Oversight of Intelligence Community Analysis" -- calls for analysis to be independent of political pressure, for sources to be clearly identified and for candor about whatever gaps there may be in the intelligence analysts receive.

The directive clearly reflects lessons learned from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the mistakes about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs in 2002. It was disclosed on the Web site of Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists' secrecy project.

"They have reflected on what we should have done differently, based on Iraq, and incorporated everything that was learned," said John E. McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA and now a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The first principle in the directive is that analysis "must be objective and independent of political considerations." Another principle stresses that "the analytic process must be as transparent as possible." And the directive admonishes analysts to "identify intelligence gaps and provide precise guidance to collectors."

Each can be directly tied to concerns about intelligence leading up to the Iraq war.

A presidential commission that reviewed intelligence-gathering after U.S. troops did not find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq heard testimony from analysts, who said that repeated questions from Vice President Cheney and others showing an interest in intelligence connecting Hussein and al-Qaeda tended to skew the work.

Underscoring the role of transparency -- that is, knowing the original source of intelligence -- is an investigation that found one of the main sources for analysis indicating Iraq had mobile biological-weapons plants was an informant for German intelligence nicknamed Curveball, who was not questioned by U.S. officers before the war and whose accounts have since been suspect.

Gaps in what was known and not known about Iraq's alleged weapons programs were not shared among intelligence analysts before the war. For example, the assumption that aluminum tubes Baghdad bought were for nuclear centrifuges stood because U.S. intelligence did not conclusively investigate whether the tubes might be for antiaircraft rockets, as they turned out to be.

"Sound tradecraft, such as transparency and logical argumentation, is essential," the directive says. Referring to the intelligence community at large, the directive continues: "Without it, collaboration will be difficult and customers will lack confidence in IC judgment."

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