Foreign Missile Threats:

Analytic Soundness of Certain National Intelligence Estimates

NSIAD-96-225: Published: Aug 30, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO analyzed the soundness of certain national intelligence estimates (NIE) on the threat to the United States from foreign missile systems, focusing on comparing the content and conclusions of NIE 95-19, which analyzed emerging threats to North America during the next 15 years, with the content and conclusions of two previous NIEs prepared in 1993.

GAO found that: (1) the main judgment of NIE 95-19, that no country, other than the major declared nuclear powers, will develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the next 15 years that could threaten the contiguous 48 states or Canada, was worded with clear, 100-percent certainty; (2) GAO believes this level was overstated, based on the caveats and the intelligence gaps noted in NIE 95-19; (3) NIE 95-19 had additional analytic shortcomings, since it did not: (a) quantify the certainty level of nearly all of its key judgments; (b) identify explicitly its critical assumptions; and (c) develop alternative futures; (4) however, in accordance with standards for producing objective NIEs, NIE 95-19 acknowledged dissenting views from several agencies and also explicitly noted what information the U.S. intelligence community does not know that bears upon the foreign missile threat; (5) the 1993 NIEs met more of the standards than NIE 95-19 did; and (6) NIE 95-19 worded its judgments on foreign missile threats very differently than did the 1993 NIEs, even though the judgments in all three NIEs were not inconsistent with each other, that is, while the judgments were not synonymous, upon careful reading they did not contradict each other.

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