Saturday, October 27, 2007

Spy Chief Makes it Harder to Declassify NIEs

National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has reversed the recent practice of declassifying and releasing summaries of national intelligence estimates, a top intelligence official said yesterday.

Knowing their words may be scrutinized outside the U.S. government chills analysts' willingness to provide unvarnished opinions and information, said David R. Shedd, a deputy to McConnell.

Shedd told congressional aides and reporters that McConnell recently issued a directive making it more difficult to declassify the key judgments of national intelligence estimates, which are forward-looking analyses prepared for the White House and Congress that represent the consensus of the nation's 16 spy agencies on a single issue. The analysis comes from various sources including the CIA, the military and intelligence agencies inside federal departments.

Referring to the public release of the reports, Shedd said during a Capitol Hill briefing: "It affects the quality of what's written."

This year, the national intelligence director's office has released unclassified key judgments from three NIEs -- two on Iraq and one on terrorist threats to the U.S. homeland.

The trend toward releasing NIEs started about four years ago, most notably with the White House's July 2003 disclosure of key judgments from a controversial NIE on Iraq's weapons of mass-destruction. The White House was pressured to release those findings after parts of the NIE that supported the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq were leaked to the news media.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said national intelligence estimates should be released in their entirety.

"That doesn't mean disclosing sensitive intelligence methods or the identity of confidential sources. But that's not what estimates are," Aftergood said. "The public needs unvarnished assessments as well. Without them, we stumbled our way into the war in Iraq."

Bush Discusses Renewed Fighting in Congo

President Bush expressed concern about renewed fighting in Congo, where the government has struggled with little success to establish authority over lawless eastern regions of the African nation.

Security issues topped Bush's Oval Office meeting with President Joseph Kabila of Congo.

The mineral-rich nation has been wracked by years of war and decades of dictatorship. Last fall's presidential polling marked Congo's first free elections in more than 40 years, but Kabila's government remains fragile.

"We talked about the eastern part of the country, and he shared with me his strategy to make sure that the government's reach extends throughout the entire country and that there's stability throughout the country," Bush said.

Kabila said he stressed the need for continued U.S. support to achieve peace and stability throughout the whole nation, and promote investment -- "to come back from a very, very long journey of development and really try to combat poverty, which is the biggest issue, not only in the Congo but in the region and on the African continent."

Since January, 400,000 to 500,000 people have been displaced by fighting in Congo's Nord-Kivu province. The fighting is between pro-government militiamen and rebels loyal to former army general Laurent Nkunda.

Earlier this week, Jendayi E. Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told Congress that the United States is stepping up efforts to train Congo's military to help the government subdue the rebel forces.

-- From News Services

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