December 4, 2007

No Delay On NIE

After yesterday's release of the declassified National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, a number of pundits assumed that the White House had suppressed the report for months. The conclusions of the NIE -- that Iran had stopped pursuing nuclear weapons "years earlier" -- led people to believe that the Bush administration had kept it locked away so it could pursue a policy of war against Iran. As the Washington Post reports this morning, the conspiracy theorists have overreached again (via Rick Moran):

While concluding that Iran's weapons program is now halted, the NIE presents a mixed view of Tehran's nuclear ambitions. It portrays Iran's ruling clerics as susceptible to international pressure, having abandoned an extensive and costly covert nuclear program in the face of threatened economic sanctions and global censure.

But the report also depicts Iran as cleverly preserving its options, by making steady strides toward a civilian nuclear energy capability that both complies with international law and puts the country on a course that will allow it to easily develop nuclear arms if it so chooses.

The report also states more confidently than in previous assessments that Iran's military had been actively seeking to build a bomb. Iranian armed forces were "working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons" until the fall of 2003, it says.

The assessment, under preparation for more than 18 months, was completed on Tuesday and President Bush and Vice President Cheney were briefed on Wednesday, intelligence officials said. Hadley said Bush first learned in August or September about intelligence indicating Iran had halted its weapons program and was advised it would take time to evaluate.

Of course, the Washington Post manages to report this below the jump, well into the final half of the article. In the last paragraph, readers discover that DNI Mike McConnell decided to declassify this NIE because of its significant change from previous assessments, not in spite of it. None of this makes it into the lead for the article, where Dafna Linzer and Joby Warrick talk about Bush's "continuing campaign" against Iran.

In effect, the President and his team got confirmation of this information less than five days before it hit the papers. The conspiracy theorists who insisted yesterday that the White House kept it secret have to now explain why the administration so quickly published the findings. Is this a conspiracy to discredit conspiracy theorists?

The new information came from high-level intercepts, specifically communications between Revolutionary Guard commanders. One in particular complained openly about the shutdown of the nuclear weapons program -- a violation of OPSEC that sounds a little convenient. However, the classified report references over a thousand pieces of information gathered by the intel community to support this conclusion.

So why did it take from August to the end of November to finalize the NIE? The data seemed so at odds with the conclusion of previous NIEs -- all of which insisted that Iran continued to pursue nuclear weapons -- that the DNI assigned a "red team" to punch holes in the new information. While that process continued, the White House continued its pursuit of sanctions against Iran, but began lowering the profile of the effort while the EU attempted talks. As soon as the red team finished its work, the NIE was completed and presented on Wednesday to the administration.

So much for the conspiracy theories. Whether this NIE is correct and the previous ones were not is anyone's moderately-confident guess, but the presumption of evil at the White House has once again been shown for the paranoia it is.


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» About that Iran NIE report from Sister Toldjah
The Usual Suspects are jumping all over a report about Iran released by the NIE that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, contrary to prior intelligence reports. This, according to the predictable far left, is ‘evidence’ t... [Read More]