The Estimating Process

  • Lawrence Freedman


President Truman recorded in his memoirs how when he had come into office there had been no co-ordination of intelligence. ‘Reports came across my desk on the same subject at different times from the various departments, and these reports often conflicted.’ With the new system, starting with the Central Intelligence Group, Truman believed that his difficulties were over: ‘Here, at last, a coordinated method had been worked out, and a practical way had been found for keeping the President informed as to what was known and what was going on.’1 Truman was being optimistic. The ability of the Director of Central Intelligence to secure an agreed and authoritative estimate for the President was limited. The different departments varied in research depth, interests and quality of analysis and from the military there was no inclination to co-operate with civilians. Such co-ordinating mechanisms as did exist were ‘protective societies for the status quo’ manned by representatives of the different agencies and charged by their chiefs to ensure that ‘no sovereignty was yielded’. The intelligence effort was fragmentary and incoherent, ineffectively brought together at the top, where a multiplicity of views were liable to clash. Attempts to resolve these views led to either the lowest common denominator or else an agreement to disagree, with often a number of incompatible positions being taken on the same point.2


Estimate Process Intelligence Community National Security Council Intelligence Analyst Intelligence Estimate 
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  1. 1.
    Harry S. Truman, Memoirs, II, Years of Trial and Hope (New York: Doubleday, 1955) PP. 56–8.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    Lt Gen. Daniel O. Graham, ‘The Intelligence Mythology of Washington’ Strategic Review (Summer 1976) p. 64.Google Scholar
  3. 23.
    John Newhouse, Cold Dawn: The Story of SALT (New York: Holt, Rinehart amp; Winston, 1973) p. 149.Google Scholar
  4. 24.
    Henry Kissinger, American Foreign Policy: Three Essays, (London: Weidenfeld amp; Nicolson, 1969) p. 18.Google Scholar
  5. 25.
    John P. Leacacos, ‘Kissinger’s Apparat’, Foreign Policy 5 (Winter 1970) p. 22.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Lawrence David Freedman 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence Freedman
    • 1
  1. 1.Royal Institute of International AffairsUK

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