New National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to Remain Secret?

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As we noted earlier this month, the intelligence community has been working towards producing a new national intelligence estimate on Iraq, and it’s likely to be completed in the next several weeks. It is also, unlike the last several NIEs on Iraq and last year’s report on Iran, likely to be kept secret. The report, like the last two NIEs on Iraq, will take stock of the situation there — both military and political.

That’s because Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell thinks it’s bad policy to release declassified versions of the reports’ key judgments. It’s part of his general philosophy that public debate about intelligence issues kills Americans.

So The Washington Post‘s Walter Pincus reports today that McConnell’s deputy said that the NIE process is “getting a makeover by senior intelligence officials to improve its credibility” — meaning that they want to make sure that no dodgy information (e.g. aluminum tubes) makes it in there.

Which is all well and good, but as Pincus points out, “these changes will be incorporated in the classified NIE on Iraq, but the public probably will not have a chance to judge them.” Once the NIE is completed, the National Intelligence Board, of which McConnell is chairman, will decide whether to declassify anything for release. He’s already said as a matter of policy that NIEs should be kept quiet. The Iran NIE — which undercut the administration’s public statements about Iran’s nuclear capabilities — was only released out of a fear that its contents would be leaked to the media.

It remains to be seen whether McConnell will have his way. The Hill has so far been quiet on whether there ought to be a declassified version. I put the question to the chairmen of the two intelligence committees — Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) this morning, and I’ll let you know what I hear.

Update: A spokesman for Sen. Rockefeller replies: “Our office won’t have any comment on the report until it is finished.”

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