The JIC’s main function12, on which its regular weekly meetings are centred, is to provide: Ministers and senior officials with co-ordinated intelligence assessments on a range of issues of immediate and long-term importance to national interests,pr imarily in the fields of security,defence and foreign affairs . The Assessments Staff are central to this role, and the Chief of the Assessments Staff is a member of the JIC in his own right. With the assistance of other departments, the Assessments Staff draft the JIC assessments, which are usually debated at Current Intelligence Groups (CIGs) including experts in the subject before being submitted to the JIC. The JIC can itself ask the Assessments Staff to draft an assessment, but the process is usually triggered by a request from a policy department. The forward programme of assessments to be produced is issued three times a year, but is revised and, when necessary, overridden by matters of more immediate concern. The JIC thus brings together in regular meetings the most senior people responsible for intelligence collection, for intelligence assessment and for the use of intelligence in the main departments for which it is collected, in order to construct and issue assessments on the subjects of greatest current concern. The process is robust, and the assessments that result are respected and used at all levels of government.
Intelligence is disseminated at various levels and in different forms. The agencies send reports direct to users in departments and military commands; these reports are used by civil and military officials in their daily business, and some of them are selected and brought to Ministers’ attention. The JIC’s co-ordinated intelligence assessments, formally agreed at their weekly meetings, are sent to Ministers and senior officials. In addition the JIC produces Intelligence Updates and Immediate Assessments whenever required, which are sent to a standard distribution throughout government.
A feature of JIC assessments is that they contain single statements of position; unlike the practice in the US, there are no minority reports or noted dissents. When the intelligence is unclear or otherwise inadequate and the JIC at the end of its debate is still uncertain, it may report alternative interpretations of the facts before it such as they are; but in such cases all the membership agrees that the interpretations they are proposing are viable alternatives. The JIC does not (and this is borne out by our examination of several hundred JIC assessments in the course of our Review) characterise such alternatives as championed by individual members who disagree with colleagues’ points of view. While the JIC has at times been criticised for its choice of language and the subtlety of the
linguistic nuances and caveats it applies13, it has responded that when the intelligence is ambiguous it should not be artificially simplified.
In the sometimes lengthy line that leads to the production of the JIC’s output, all the components of the system – from collection through analysis and assessment to a well- briefed and educated readership – must function successfully. Problems can arise if the
The JIC also has other responsibilities, for the establishment of intelligence collection priorities and monitoring of agency performance. We have been told that some readers believe that important distinctions are intended between such phrases as “intelligence indicates . . . ”, “intelligence demonstrates . . . ” and “intelligence shows . . . ”, or between “we assess that . . . ”, “we judge that . . . ” and “we believe that . . . ”. We have also been told that there is in reality no established glossary, and that drafters and JIC members actually employ their natural language.