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December 10, 2007: And Still Iran

December 10, 2007

Yesterday I shared the bad news — the very serious bad news — about a dubious intelligence report that is likely to reduce efforts internationally to reign in Iran’s nuclear efforts.

The good news is that a majority of the American public doesn’t buy it and a host of serious analysts in the US have come down hard on the NIE for the scenario it paints.

Main points expressed by various critics are these:

— The 2007 NIE report reverses the 2005 report, but it says that Iranian nuclear weapons efforts were halted in 2003. Why wasn’t this reported in 2005?

In "The Limits of Intelligence in The Wall Street Journal, Reps. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.) — both past leaders of the House Intelligence Committee — ask this question.


— They, and many others, also raise the issue of whether the weapons program, allegedly stopped in 2003, has since been restarted or what it would take to restart it. The point is made that the restart might happen so quickly that the West might be unprepared to deal with it, if it is not dealt with in anticipation thereof.

Amir Taheri, writing in the NY Post , makes a very similar point. He says Iranian policy has not been to develop a nuclear bomb, but rather ‘"nuclear surge capacity": "This means having the knowledge, technological base, infrastructure and raw material needed to make nuclear weapons in a short time – without actually making the bomb…It’s certainly foolish to cry wolf where none is around. But it could be suicidal to pretend there can be no wolf where one may come along."

And Jeff Stein, in "Iran Intelligence Report: Garbage In, Garbage Out," in the Congressional Quarterly, deals with a related question: At what stage did the program stop in 2003? He cites Richard Barlow, a top former CIA and Pentagon expert on Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear program in the 1980s, who points out that the NIE doesn’t say at what stage the Iranians allegedly "halted" their weapons program in 2003. "The entire NIE is meaningless without this being addressed. Its omission from the Key Judgments is so glaring as to be suspicious. These programs have these little ‘stoppages’ not that infrequently," said Barlow.


— There is a political hand in the writing of the report — it is not straight intelligence.

John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN , wrote, in "The Flaws in the Iran Report," in The Washington Post, that "…we not only have a problem interpreting what the mullahs in Tehran are up to, but also a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than ‘intelligence’ analysis."

Bolton points out that "The real differences between the NIEs [of 2005 and 2007] are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs’ motives and objectives…many involved in drafting and approving the [2007] NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department, brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence. These officials had relatively benign views of Iran’s nuclear intentions five and six years ago; now they are writing those views as if they were received wisdom from on high. In fact, these are precisely the policy biases they had before, recycled as ‘intelligence judgments.’"


— Iran is said to be developing nuclear capacity for peaceful energy purposes only, but the track for doing so is the same as for developing weapons, or so similar that switch over is easily and readily done.

Bolton makes this point, as does Alan Dershowitz, who, in "Stupid Intelligence," The Huffington Report, writes, "The recent national intelligence estimate that concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 is just about the stupidest intelligence assessment I have ever read. It falls hook, line and sinker for a transparent bait and switch tactic… The tactic is obvious and well-known to all intelligence officials with an IQ above room temperature. It goes like this: There are two tracks to making nuclear weapons: One is to conduct research and develop technology directly related to military use…The second track is to develop nuclear technology for civilian use and then to use the civilian technology for military purposes. What every intelligence agency knows is that the most difficult part of developing weapons corresponds precisely to the second track, namely civilian use. In other words, it is relatively simple to move from track 2 to track 1 in a short period of time."


— Those writing the report were duped by the Iranians .

Lots of comments on this, including by Ken Timmerman , writing in Newsmax, who says, "sources in Tehran believe that Washington has fallen for ‘a deliberate disinformation campaign’ cooked up by the Revolutionary Guards, who laundered fake information and fed it to the United States through Revolutionary Guards intelligence officers posing as senior diplomats in Europe."


— There is some sort of clandestine deal at work .

I cannot vouch for the veracity of any of this, but there are various suggestions afloat. For example, not from the US, but from Al Hayat in London, comes the suggestion that the US and Iran are cooperating to divide up Iraq.


And so, hopefully this is not a closed issue yet . Hard questions are still to be raised at official levels. And, I should add, should be raised as well by every American citizen distressed by what is happening.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, at a security conference in the Persian Gulf on Saturday argued that Iran still represents a major threat.

Now Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is here in Israel now to meet with Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on this issue. Mullen’s spokesman, made a statement before the meeting: "Despite the American intelligence report on the Iranian nuclear program, Iran still poses a major threat to the region. The Iranians have tried in the past to develop their nuclear capabilities, they can still develop them, they have tried it and they support terror groups in the region."

It is at this meeting that the Israeli defense establishment hopes to use intelligence to convince Mullen of what Iran is up to now. In spite of the words of Mullen’s spokesman, it is not clear how possible this will be, as Mullen is said to be among those opposed to attacking Iran.




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