Tuesday, December 4, 2007

How Long Does It Take For A National Intelligence Estimate To Expire?

U.S. Says Iran Ended Atomic Arms Work
A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.
Mark Mazetti of the New York Times:
The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is likely keeping its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies “do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, a program that the Tehran government has said is designed for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates.

But the new estimate declares with “high confidence” that a military-run Iranian program intended to transform that raw material into a nuclear weapon has been shut down since 2003, and also says with high confidence that the halt “was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure.”
and so on... exactly what we've been hearing from neutral observers such as the IAEA, and Scott Ritter, and many others...

Dafna Linzer and Joby Warrick of the Washington Post add a few more details and a somewhat different, um, tone:

U.S. Finds That Iran Halted Nuclear Arms Bid in 2003
The new findings, drawn from a consensus National Intelligence Estimate, reflected a surprising shift in the midst of the Bush administration's continuing political and diplomatic campaign to depict Tehran's nuclear development as a grave threat. The report was drafted after an extended internal debate over the reliability of communications intercepts of Iranian conversations this past summer that suggested the program had been suspended.

"Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," a declassified summary of the new National Intelligence Estimate stated. Two years ago, the intelligence community said in contrast it had "high confidence that Iran currently is determined to have nuclear weapons."

Even if Iran were to restart its program now, the country probably could not produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single weapon before the middle of the next decade, the assessment stated. It also expressed doubt about whether Iran "currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."

Iran put a stop to weapons-related activities, including efforts to study warhead design and delivery systems, shortly after U.N. inspectors began probing allegations of a clandestine nuclear program. The timing of that decision, according to the intelligence estimate, "indicates Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs."
and so on...

What does it all mean? Former intelligence analyst Ray McGovern, via Consortium News, says it's a miracle:

A Miracle: Honest Intel on Iran Nukes
For those who have doubts about miracles, a double one occurred today. An honest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program has been issued and its Key Judgments were made public.

With redraft after redraft, it was what the Germans call “eine schwere Geburt”—a difficult birth, ten months in gestation.

I do not know how often Vice President Dick Cheney visited CIA Headquarters during the gestation period, but I am told he voiced his displeasure as soon as he saw the first sonogram/draft very early this year, and is so displeased with what issued that he has refused to be the godfather.

This time Cheney and his neo-con colleagues were unable to abort the process. And after delivery to the press, this child is going to be very hard to explain—the more so since it is legitimate.
McGovern then lists the main points of the NIE:
“We judge that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program...

“We assess with moderate confidence Tehran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007.

“We do not have sufficient intelligence to judge confidently whether Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program indefinitely...

“We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame.

“We judge with high confidence that Iran will not be technically capable of producing and reprocessing enough plutonium for a weapon before about 2015.”

Having reached these conclusions, it is not surprising that the NIE’s authors make a point of saying up front (in bold type) “This NIE does not (italics in original) assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons.”

This, of course, pulls out the rug from under Cheney’s claim of a “fairly robust new nuclear program” in Iran, and President Bush’s inaccurate assertion that Iranian leaders have even admitted they are developing nuclear weapons.

Apparently, intelligence community analysts are no longer required to produce the faith-based intelligence that brought us the Oct. 1, 2002, NIE “Iraq’s Continuing Program for Weapons of Mass Destruction”—the worst in the history of U.S. intelligence.
and so on ...

Larisa Alexandrovna fills in some of the background:

The NIE on Iran...
Cheney and the gang have been trying to keep this NIE from seeing the light of day.

Here is what former spook Larry Johnson has to say about it:
Now we know why some in the Bush Administration–Dick Cheney’s folks in particular–fought like hell to keep the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program under wraps.

This report was ready to go in December of 2006 but Cheney and his allies pushed back hard to stop it. They knew, as they know today, that this headline does not help them in their rush to start a new war. Damn it all!!! How dare those pesky Iranians prove malleable to diplomatic initiatives and pressure. You mean we can solve things without starting a war and killing civilians?
Well, it certainly appears that way. But who says we're trying to solve things?

Peter Baker and Robin Wright of the Washington Post say it could throttle Bush's foreign policy with respect to Iran:

A Blow to Bush's Tehran Policy
President Bush got the world's attention this fall when he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III. But his stark warning came at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program.

The new intelligence report released yesterday not only undercut the administration's alarming rhetoric over Iran's nuclear ambitions but could also throttle Bush's effort to ratchet up international sanctions and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his presidency.
Preemptive military action off the table?? Wouldn't that be un-American?

Steven Lee Myers writes for the New York Times about how this NIE will change the world in "endless" ways:

An Assessment Jars a Foreign Policy Debate
An administration that had cited Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons as the rationale for an aggressive foreign policy — as an attempt to head off World War III, as President Bush himself put it only weeks ago — now has in its hands a classified document that undercuts much of the foundation for that approach.

The impact of the National Intelligence Estimate’s conclusion — that Iran had halted a military program in 2003, though it continues to enrich uranium, ostensibly for peaceful uses — will be felt in endless ways at home and abroad.

It will certainly weaken international support for tougher sanctions against Iran, as a senior administration official grudgingly acknowledged. And it will raise questions, again, about the integrity of America’s beleaguered intelligence agencies, including whether what are now acknowledged to have been overstatements about Iran’s intentions in a 2005 assessment reflected poor tradecraft or political pressure.

Seldom do those agencies vindicate irascible foreign leaders like President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who several weeks ago said there was “no evidence” that Iran was building a nuclear weapon, dismissing the American claims as exaggerated.

The biggest change, though, could be its effect on President Bush’s last year in office, as well as on the campaign to replace him. Until Monday, 2008 seemed to be a year destined to be consumed, at least when it comes to foreign policy, by the prospects of confrontation with Iran.

There are still hawks in the administration, Vice President Dick Cheney chief among them, who view Iran with deep suspicion. But for now at least, the main argument for a military conflict with Iran — widely rumored and feared, judging by antiwar protesters that often greet Mr. Bush during his travels — is off the table for the foreseeable future.
Military conflict with Iran off the table for the foreseeable future?

Much depends on how far into the future you can foresee, doesn't it?

It takes a bit more of a cynic -- by which I mean somebody who's been paying attention for more than a couple of weeks -- to see the likely fate of this NIE.

The White House is already trying to undercut it, as Chris Floyd points out:
The White House has already shown what it will do with the NIE report: lie about it. Bush's national security adviser, the Uriah Heepish Stephen Hadley, was trotted out to say that far from showing that Bush and his minions have been lying through their teeth for years about the non-existent threat of Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons program, the report is actually a vindication of Bush's strategy....because it shows that all of the pressure that Washington has been putting on Tehran for the past four years somehow, er, magically induced the Iranians to go back in time and put the brakes on any arms programs in 2003. The truth, of course, is that nothing the Bush Administration has done in the past four years has made the slightest bit of difference to Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons program -- because the program did not, er, exist during the time of what Hadley's calls Bush's "successful" strategy.

And predictably, Hadley's main reaction to the NIE report was to call for an intensification of the current strategy: more and tighter sanctions, more diplomatic isolation. This, we are told in forceful terms, will, er, keep the Iranians from, uh, continuing their non-existent nuclear weapons program, which poses such an imminent threat to the world -- or would pose such an imminent threat, if the program in fact, er, existed.

But hey, these guys have launched wars on less than this. So while we may be treated to a few weeks of hard-to-decipher rumblings from within the Washington Kremlin -- similar to what we saw in late 2002, when the Bush Senior faction (Brent Scowcroft, etc.) fired off a few public warnings to Junior about the mess he was getting into -- I don't think we should light up the peace pipes just yet. The warmongers' fightback has just started, and heavier guns than poor old Goober Kurtz will be brought into play. But anything that puts a crimp in the White House plans for more mass murder -- even if only for a few weeks -- is a welcome development.
A welcome development indeed, but it doesn't strike me as one with legs.

Larisa again:
the Bush administration had anticipated that this NIE would one day see the light of day and changed its strategy :
"In addition to shifting from a strategy that uses an alleged immediate threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran to one featuring IEDs as the tool by which Iran is allegedly trying to sabotage the efforts of US forces in Iraq, the administration has also moved toward directly implicating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – sometimes referred to as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard – by labeling the group a "specially designated global terrorist" organizations.

According to an August 15, Washington Post article, the Guard will be designated a global terrorist organization under Executive Order 13224, which was issued shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to target and block funding to terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is the largest branch of Iran's military, boasting well over 100,000 elite active duty soldiers and roughly 300,000 reservists. The designation of the Guard as a "specially designated global terrorist” would be the first time a foreign military has been declared a terrorist organization.

Some officials speculate that the administration is trying to provoke the Iranians into an incident that will justify an airstrike in response, suggesting that the combined effect of circumstantial evidence tying Iran to the IEDs and an event or incident involving the Iranian Revolutionary Guard might “just be enough” to justify military action against Iran."
Have no fear! It might just be enough!

In other words, it might not matter whether they've failed to fix the intelligence around the policy this time -- as long as they keep trying to discredit the intelligence.

Like this: These same agencies have been wrong before; how can we rely on them now?

It rings just as hollow as: We only trust the intelligence that agrees with our previously determined course of action.

... which is, of course, exactly what they accuse their opponents of doing.

But the pro-totalitarian politicians and the pro-totalitarian media and the pro-totalitarian bloggers don't have opponents: they have enemies!

And tomorrow, when the foreseeable future is over and the NIE has lost its novelty and the preemptive strike against Iran is sitting on the table, there will still be a few lone wolves howling at the moon in the darkness, braying on and on about reality, which hardly even seems to matter anymore.

And I might even be one of them.