December 5, 2007

Something to See Here: WSJ Dishes the Dirt on the NIE

Hatched by Dafydd

The Wall Street Journal, following Big Lizards' lead, has weighed in on the questionable provenance of the most recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear weapons program (NWP). (And if I have to mention it again, the Wall Street Journal will henceforth be the WSJ -- just to increase the alphabet soup aspect of this post. Maybe I can come up with a few more BL acronyms, while I'm at it.)

In today's editorial -- subscription (for actual money) required to read more than the first paragraph and part of the second -- they argue that the very fact that this NIE reverses the NIE of just two years ago itself casts doubt on the reliabilty of any NIE at all:

As recently as 2005, the consensus estimate of our spooks was that "Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons" and do so "despite its international obligations and international pressure." This was a "high confidence" judgment. The new NIE says Iran abandoned its nuclear program in 2003 "in response to increasing international scrutiny." This too is a "high confidence" conclusion. One of the two conclusions is wrong, and casts considerable doubt on the entire process by which these "estimates" -- the consensus of 16 intelligence bureaucracies -- are conducted and accorded gospel status.

What monumental change occurred in the last two years to completely flip our thinking on whether Iran is currently pursuing an NWP? Is it really, as Bill Gertz and Jon Ward allege, the testimony of one supposed Iranian defector -- former Revolutionary Guards Gen. Alireza Asgari -- who we have not even interviewed ourselves?

The WSJ (there! -- see?) also echoes another point of our previous post... the provenance of the NIE (where it came from):

Our own "confidence" is not heightened by the fact that the NIE's main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as "hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials," according to an intelligence source. They are 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).

For a flavor of their political outlook, former Bush Administration antiproliferation official John Bolton recalls in his recent memoir that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage "described Brill's efforts in Vienna, or lack thereof, as 'bull -- .'" Mr. Brill was "retired" from the State Department by Colin Powell before being rehired, over considerable internal and public protest, as head of the National Counter-Proliferation Center by then-National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

The Journal agrees with us that the only major "pressure" on Iran in 2003 was our invasion of Iraq, the deposing of Saddam Hussein, de-Baathification of Iraq, and the start of the insurgency... and particularly our response to it: American forces dug in and fought back, rather than the Bush-41/Clinton style of staying but a few weeks, then withdrawing -- while congratulating ourselves for a job well done -- and leaving a chaotic mess behind into which Iran could move. So shouldn't we see the suspension of Iran's NWP in respose to the Iraq war (if true) as a tremendous victory for the Bush policy?

But contrariwise, the NIE claims the turnabout was due to "international pressure," which I don't believe they ever actually specify. What international (non-American) pressure was put on Iran in 2003? We were still in the process of trying to persuade the Europeans to start dealing with Iran on the issue of their NWP. I suppose it's possible that the Iranian mullahs glanced back at Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia and started quaking in their Persian slippers; just as it's possible that I am actually Marie of Romania... but very unlikely.

The WSJ drops a bombshell; at least, I hadn't heard this before, and I tend to follow the news more carefully than I think do most non-bloggers:

In any case, the real issue is not Iran's nuclear weapons program, but its nuclear program, period. As the NIE acknowledges, Iran continues to enrich uranium on an industrial scale -- that is, build the capability to make the fuel for a potential bomb. And it is doing so in open defiance of binding U.N. resolutions. No less a source than the IAEA recently confirmed that Iran already has blueprints to cast uranium in the shape of an atomic bomb core.

The U.S. also knows that Iran has extensive technical information on how to fit a warhead atop a ballistic missile. And there is considerable evidence that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps has been developing the detonation devices needed to set off a nuclear explosion at the weapons testing facility in Parchin. Even assuming that Iran is not seeking a bomb right now, it is hardly reassuring that they are developing technologies that could bring them within a screw's twist of one.

This new NIE will surely make it more difficult to gain international support for further sanctions against Iran and against companies doing business with Iran ("Nothing to see here, folks!")... which, perversely enough, may actually make it easier for Iran to produce an actual nuclear bomb -- which will make it much more likely that we attack Iran just prior to that point.

I wonder whether the appeasement camp within the State Department -- that which spawned Messrs. Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill -- has ever given serious consideration to its strategy and whether it will achieve the desired goal... or its opposite. Is this a rational war against Bush, based upon actual tussling over policy? Or merely because, as does Jonathon Chait, they hate the way he walks and talks?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 5, 2007, at the time of 6:26 PM

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» NIEはイランの情報操作にまんまとのせられたのか? from In the Strawberry Field
English version of this entry can be read here. 昨日も疑問点多いNIEのイラン核開発停止報告で書いたように、今回のアメリカの国家情報評価(NIE)による、イランは2003年秋に核兵器開発を停止していたという調査報告には腑に落ちない点が多すぎるのだが、アメリカ主流メディア各紙の反応を読み比べてみよう。 まずはウォールストリートジャーナル(WSJ, 登録有料)の社説 からよんでみると、WSJはカカシが昨日指摘したように、この報告書が2年前の報告書を完全に覆... [Read More]

Tracked on December 8, 2007 12:14 AM


The following hissed in response by: hunter

We are living in dangerous times and ill-served by these unaccountable bureaucrats.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 9:23 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E

“National Intelligence Estimate”, eh?

Well, I hope it doesn’t actually contain any real intelligence. After all, intelligence is, by definition, supposed to be secret. At least the dictionaries I’ve consulted say so. (Or, failing that, they say it’s information about an enemy -- and why in the world would you want your enemy to know what you know about them?)

I don’t know whether anyone outside classified circles has actually seen the document or whether all the commentary we’re reading is based on briefings by “officials”. Maybe we’re supposed to take comfort in the knowledge that the real secret stuff is still closely guarded within “need to know” circles.

In any event, some information now in the public domain was not out there previously. So unless we’re absolutely sure our enemies didn’t previously know any of this now-public information, how is it a good thing to disclose it? And if they already knew it, it's no longer "intelligence".

(OK, it’s all just estimates -- probabilities -- but if the enemy knows what you think they have done or will be doing, it gives them a window into how you came to those conclusions. That can’t be good for clandestine methods or personnel.)

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 11:08 PM

The following hissed in response by: Davod

Evidence from someone we have no direct access to. Does Curveball ring a bell.

At some stage you have to ask yourself whether some in the intelligence community/state department are no being swayed by sleepers in its own ranks.

I cannot believe that Ana Montes was the only sleeper providing bad intelligence assessments (in her case about Cuba).

The above hissed in response by: Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 6, 2007 3:00 AM

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