December 6, 2007

Of Course We Trust This Journal That Just Fell Into Our Hands...

Hatched by Dafydd

The Los Angeles Times claims to have ferreted out the "new evidence" that completely flipped the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran -- that they were "determined" to develop a nuclear bomb -- into the 2007 NIE on Iran: that they had suspended their nuclear weapons program, NWP, in 2003, two years before the last NIE:

According to current and former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the matter, the information that surfaced this summer included intercepted conversations of Iranian officials discussing the country's nuclear weapons program, as well as a journal from an Iranian source that documented decisions to shut it down. [Well, those certainly sound authoritative...]

"When we first got some of this stuff, the fact that we got it was exciting," said a senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the subject. He said the information was obtained as part of a stepped-up effort targeting Iran that President Bush had ordered in 2005, but the problem with it "was digesting it to know what we had."

The information triggered a cascade of recalculations across the 16 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community, the official said. Analysts at the CIA and elsewhere began to revisit classified reports that they had scrutinized repeatedly in recent years. As they did so, officials said, they saw details that added up to the new conclusion.

Bear in mind: At best, analyzing intelligence is like playing "connect the dots" -- without any numbers. You can draw any of a large number of "pictures" by connecting dots in different ways. What the National Intelligence Council (NIC) is saying is that in 2005, they connected the dots to draw a picture of Iranian intransigence to a "high degree of confidence." But now, they connect the same dots (plus a couple of others) to create a new picture of Iranian compliance... again with a "high degree of confidence."

I can see how that would be perfectly convincing -- to anyone already deeply invested in finding that Iran has complied, so it's time to reward them. Like, you know, "Tom Fingar, formerly of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Vann Van Diepen, the National Intelligence Officer for WMD; and Kenneth Brill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."

But the NIC also has another strong argument for the reversal; from the L.A. Times again:

Intelligence officials said that process of reevaluation was guided by lessons from the prewar intelligence on Iraq. In the months leading up to the war, the intelligence community in just 19 days put together an estimate that concluded that Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. They didn't take the usual time to challenge their assumptions or sources, which later proved to be off-base.

Translation: We grossly underestimated Iraq's WMD stores in 1990; then we grossly overestimated them in 2002. Then we grossly underestimated Iran's nuclear ambitions prior to 2004. We assume we must then have grossly overestimated them in 2005.

So now, of course, it's time to grossly underestimate them again!

All of the "red teams" taking contrary positions and trying to defend them are meaningless, because the final decision was still made by Fingar to Van Diepen to Brill. As those three between them passed judgment on which pretty dot-connect pictures made sense and which did not, all argument, evidence, and debate was simply filtered through the reality-net of those who believe, in their souls, that George W. Bush is a greater threat to world peace than Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei; people who complain that we haven't offered enough incentives to Iran; career State Department weenies, at least one of whom (Brill) was so far out of the mainstream that Secretary of State Colin Powell fired him (Brill was rehired by the first Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte).

Which way did anyone think they were going to fall?

Even the former counselor of the State Department (and executive director of the 9/11 Commission) questions whether this NIE is just another wild overcorrection to the previous one:

Philip Zelikow, a former senior aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is an advocate of diplomacy with Iran, but he said the report understates the threat. The wording of the document "appears to be a reaction to the wording of past estimates," Zelikow said, calling it the latest example of a "pendulum of analytic momentum that swings between highlighting risks and understating risks."

The big complaint voiced by many "Persianists" within the intelligence and State apparatuses was that in 2002, the intelligence community allowed policy-makers to write the analysis. But it appears that an even worse situation has eventuated from the oversteer today: We now have unelected intelligence analysts creating policy. Without oversight, of course; they simply present the completed dot-picture to the president... and if he won't accept it, they will casually leak it to the Washington Post or the New York Times. They're quite familiar with that route.

The 2007 NIE clearly sinks deep into a policy-making role that is utterly foreign to the National Intelligence Council, and for which they have neither the expertise nor access to all available information (such as how other countries will react to an NIE that seems, naively, to be saying that everything's all right now, Iran is making nice, nothing to see here). (Hat tip to Power Line.)

As the New York Sun notes (link directly above):

The proper way to read this report is through the lens of the long struggle the professional intelligence community has been waging against the elected civilian administration in Washington. They have opposed President Bush on nearly every major policy decision. They were against the Iraqi National Congress. They were against elections in Iraq. They were against I. Lewis Libby. They are against a tough line on Iran.

One could call all this revenge of the bureaucrats. Vann Van Diepen, one of the estimate's main authors, has spent the last five years trying to get America to accept Iran's right to enrich uranium. Mr. Van Diepen no doubt reckons that in helping push the estimate through the system, he has succeeded in influencing the policy debate in Washington. The bureaucrats may even think they are stopping another war.

It's a dangerous game that may boomerang, making a war with Iran more likely. Our diplomats, after all, hoped to seal this month a deal to pass a third Security Council resolution against Iran. Already on Monday the Chinese delegation at Turtle Bay has started making noises about dropping their tepid support for such a document. Call it the Van Diepen Demarche, since the Chinese camarilla can boast that even America's intelligence estimate concludes the mullahs shuttered their nuclear weapons program more than four years ago.

So much for diplomatic pressure in the run up before the mullahs have their bomb. And so the options for preventing the Islamic Republic from going nuclear get progressively more narrow. What it means is that when the historians look back on this period, they will see that by sabotaging our diplomacy, our intelligence analysts have clarified the choice before the free world -- appeasement or war.

Getting back to the "new evidence," the New York Times goes into somewhat more detail about what, exactly, convinced our intrepid Three Persianeers that the Iranians gave up on their NWP in 2003:

The notes included conversations and deliberations in which some of the military officials complained bitterly about what they termed a decision by their superiors in late 2003 to shut down a complex engineering effort to design nuclear weapons, including a warhead that could fit atop Iranian missiles....

Ultimately, the notes and deliberations were corroborated by other intelligence, the officials said, including intercepted conversations among Iranian officials, collected in recent months. It is not clear if those conversations involved the same officers and others whose deliberations were recounted in the notes, or if they included their superiors.

To my admittedly untrained and non-authoritative mind, if I wanted to convince the CIA that I'd stopped my nuclear weapons program and persuade them to bang the gong for a massive incentive program for my country -- I think I would have various government officials discuss this terrible secret in a not-so-secure environment; and I think I would accidentally drop a journal where it would be sure to be found.

But then, what do I know? The intel community assures us that they're probably ("moderate confidence") not just being spun by the Iranians, despite the Iranians' well-known penchant for deception:

[American officials who briefed the media on the NIE] said that the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies had organized a “red team” to determine if the new information might have been part of an elaborate disinformation campaign mounted by Iran to derail the effort to impose sanctions against it.

In the end, American intelligence officials rejected that theory, though they were challenged to defend that conclusion in a meeting two weeks ago in the White House situation room, in which the notes and deliberations were described to the most senior members of President Bush’s national security team, including Vice President Dick Cheney.

“It was a pretty vivid exchange,” said one participant in the conversation.

Oh. Well then. Who can argue with that?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 6, 2007, at the time of 4:44 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this hissing:


The following hissed in response by: Terrye

Cheney said yesterday that he did not doubt the report.

I think we should also note that if the report had come out saying that Iran is on the verge of testing a nuke, conservatives would not have questioned it. We all have gotten in this unfortunate habit of assuming that the truth takes sides.

It does not.

I have no idea if the Iranians have stalled that nuke program. I would not be a bit surprised to find out they have not. I would not be in the least surprised to find out the Syrian site bombed by Israelis a few weeks ago, was in fact an Iranian bomb factory.

However, the bottom line here is that the Iranians themselves can clear all this up by cooperating with the international community instead of playing this dangerous game. Because the next report might say something else entirely, something they don't like at all.

But this is not bad for Republicans. They can always claim truthfully that if Iran has halted this program, it has done so because the United States put pressure on them. The mullahs can make some childish claims of victory over there all they want, but if this report is true, then that means the Iranians backed down. And it makes the possibility of immediate military action less likely. And whatever those of us on the hawkish side might think, the American people are in no mood for a war with Iran. It will be more difficult for Obama {and his ilk} to claim that if a Republican wins the world will be engulfed in another war.

The larger problem remains however, the fact that unseen bureaucrats can set policy. But, I wonder if that is always the case to some extent? And in the end reality will win out. I the NIE is wrong the Iranians will get their bomb and then who will look the moron? I know that is small comfort, but it does make me wonder if perhaps these people really believe what they say. I think that perhaps they do, because I doubt they would willingly open themselves to such a scenario. And that makes it more difficult to counter.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 6, 2007 5:48 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


It's not this NIE in isolation that makes us suspicious, Terrye... it's this NIE coupled with the last one in 2005, and with comments made by the principal author of this one just five months ago; it's not just rare, it's shocking and unheard of to have such a complete reversal in such a short period of time.

That's what causes us to look closer; and the closer we look, the more cause for doubt emerges.

Suppose the 2005 NIE had said there was a possibility, as yet unconfirmed, that the Iranians had halted their program in 2003. And suppose Fingar had said in July that we're starting to believe that their program is no longer moving forward. Then this NIE would not have provoked any incredulity, and we wouldn't have had these last few posts on Big Lizards.

When the inexplicable happens, something unexplainable by the normal ebb and flow of intelligence, we begin to cast about for explanations outside the normal channels... hence the focus on the new people writing this NIE who did not write the last one; the focus on the previous pattern of Iranian deception; and the focus on the oddly convenient "new evidence" that suddenly appeared, just in time to derail the next round of sanctions and to give Democrats a push towards the presidency.

It's not at all hypocrisy or anger that things didn't go our way; what gives one pause is the shocking twist that seems poorly sourced (at least from what has been publicly released), coming from people who, upon close inspection, appear to have a vested interest in taking the U.S. in the opposite direction from where we've been heading... people who have proven themselves eager, in the past, to confront and thwart the president -- and use dirty tricks to get their way.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 6, 2007 12:19 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

My impression is that this NIE has nothing to do with American security intersts.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2007 3:45 AM

Post a comment

Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

(If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)

Remember me unto the end of days?

© 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved