December 5, 2007

When Did Fingar Change His Mind?

One of the main authors of the recently-released NIE on Iran sang a different tune to Congress less than five months earlier. Thomas Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard notes that Thomas Fingar testified to the completely opposite conclusion on July 11th, 2007 -- that Iran continued to pursue nuclear weapons. This tends to substantiate that the change in posture came very recently:

Iran and North Korea are the states of most concern to us. The United States’ concerns about Iran are shared by many nations, including many of Iran’s neighbors. Iran is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations and working to delay and diminish the impact of UNSC sanctions than in reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution. We assess that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons--despite its international obligations and international pressure. This is a grave concern to the other countries in the region whose security would be threatened should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.

Fingar gave this testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. As the Deputy Director of Analysis for the CIA, this could certainly be called the definitive standing for the intelligence community at the time. Fingar's assessment would have formed the basis for White House policy. Yet just weeks later, Fingar would reach a conclusion completely opposite of the bolded portion above and reverse the high-confidence findings of the last several NIEs on Iran.

Confronted with this abrupt U-turn, the Bush administration must have wondered what happened at the CIA to get this so wrong. One can hardly blame them for insisting on a high-level review of the data and the conclusions to ensure that it really represented reality. The conclusions of the red team notwithstanding, the sudden turnabout in analysis over a period of years makes it hard to put trust into the current position.

It's entirely possible that the new high-confidence conclusion is correct, and the previous high-confidence conclusions were all incorrect. Given that the same team has produced both, though, perhaps it is time to get people with better track records making these analyses.

UPDATE: On a tangent, Bill Roggio has some more interesting information on Iranian activity in Iraq, both at the Long War Journal and the Weekly Standard.


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» Estimated Intelligence from Public Secrets: from the files of the Irishspy
Among the big news this week has been the bombshell dropped in the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE): the determination that Iran stopped its military nuclear program in 2003. You can read the publicly released version of the document here. [Read More]