According to White House adviser Fran Townsend, the report is expected to take six months to produce. "Most NIEs are substantial research and writing projects that can take as much as a year," she said yesterday. The six-month timeframe for the Iraq NIE is "still quicker than most NIEs get done.
"The timing has got nothing to do with the election," she added.
Townsend appears to have stretched the truth to the point of snapping. According to a 2004 Senate intelligence committee report, the intelligence community's internal guidelines call for NIEs to be produced on timeframes of between two weeks and around two months. That means that with an Aug. 4 start date, President Bush should have expected a report on his desk around Oct. 4.
What's more, most U.S. intelligence agencies have been grappling with Iraq almost full-time since the invasion, many providing direct warfighter support. This is hardly an obscure intellectual issue for them, nor one that is particularly fuzzy. This may be one of the few reports whose conclusions are widely known before a word is put to paper.
In prognosticating what the upcoming Iraq NIE would say, Newsweek's Mark Hosenball reported two weeks ago that Defense officials briefing lawmakers were "paint[ing] a scenario in which Iraq could dissolve into civil war if Iraqi security forces don't soon get their act together."
Seeing those conclusions leaked to the media -- that's an October surprise the White House would likely hope to avoid.