The JIC's main task is to produce top-level all-source intelligence assessments for UK ministers and senior officials. It also agrees the requirements and priorities (for ministerial approval) which direct and inform intelligence collection work by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the Security Service (MI5) and the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS). It evaluates the performance of these agencies and presents summaries to the Prime minister and other ministers. It normally meets once a week.
Its current chairman is Alex Allan, previously Permanent Secretary at the Department for Constitutional Affairs (now the Ministry of Justice).
The JIC was founded in 1936 as a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, the advisory peacetime defence planning agency. During World War II, it became the senior intelligence assessment body in the UK. In 1957 the JIC moved to the Cabinet Office, where its assessments staff prepare draft intelligence assessments for the committee to consider.
In addition to its Chairman, the JIC comprises the heads of the four main British intelligence and security agencies, the Deputy Chief of the DIS, the Chief of the Assessments Staff, representatives of the Ministry of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other departments, and the Prime Minister's adviser on foreign affairs. Official details of the UK central intelligence machine, including the JIC - although without mention of the CIA involvement - are published in the government document, National Intelligence Machinery.
Ever since World War II, the chief of the London station of the US CIA has attended the JIC's weekly meetings. One former US intelligence officer has described this as the "highlight of the job" for the London CIA chief. .
The JIC recently played a controversial role in compiling a dossier in which the UK government set out the threat posed by Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction in the run up to war. There were allegations that the dossier was "sexed up" prior to publication in order to bolster the case for military action. Evidence that the wording of the dossier was "strengthened" was presented to the Hutton Inquiry, a judicial review set up to investigate the circumstances leading up to the death of an eminent government weapons expert David Kelly who had criticised the wording of the dossier in off-the-record briefings to journalists. Dr. Kelly committed suicide shortly after his identity was confirmed to the media by the government. JIC members John Scarlett and Sir Richard Dearlove (then head of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service) gave evidence to the Inquiry in which they argued that the words used in the dossier were consistent with their assessment of the intelligence available at the time.
Despite the work of the 1400 strong Iraq Survey Group in post-war Iraq, no evidence of actual WMD capability has so far been uncovered; according to its final report in September 2004. The US and UK Governments both announced investigations into the assessment of WMD intelligence in the run up to war. The British inquiry, headed by Lord Butler of Brockwell, in its report in July 2004, while critical of the British intelligence community, did not recommend that anyone should resign. Similarly, the US Senate Intelligence Committee, while critical of US intelligence officials, did not recommend any resignations in its report, also issued in July 2004.