DNI Discourages Declassification of Intel Estimates

11.01.07 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Although summary accounts of several National Intelligence Estimates have recently been declassified and published, this should not become standard practice, the Director of National Intelligence declared last week.

“It is the policy of the Director of National Intelligence that KJs [the Key Judgments from National Intelligence Estimates] should not be declassified,” DNI J. Michael McConnell wrote (pdf).

“No predisposition to declassify KJs should exist in drafting an NIE or its KJs. Any decision to declassify will be made by the DNI and only after he and other National Intelligence Board principals have reviewed and approved the entire NIE.”

“There is both a real and a perceived danger that analysts will adopt less bold approaches, or otherwise modify the way they characterize developments, and that the integrity of the NIE process could be harmed by expectations that all or portions of the NIE are likely to be declassified,” the DNI asserted.

See “Guidance on Declassification of National Intelligence Estimate Key Judgments,” memo to the Intelligence Community Workforce, October 24, 2007.

The new policy was first reported by Pamela Hess of the Associated Press.

Robert Jervis, the distinguished political scientist who advises the CIA on declassification policy, said that he supported the DNI’s position.

With declassification, “you make the pressures of politicization that much greater,” he told the Associated Press. “When you are writing an executive summary it’s hard not to ask ‘How is this sentence going to read in The New York Times?'”

But Michael Tanji, a veteran U.S. intelligence employee, disputed that view. “Having contributed to more than one of these in my career, I’m here to tell you, public opinion does not enter into the calculus,” he wrote in the Danger Room blog.