Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Inside the NIE on Iran

Earlier I wrote that the latest NIE reminded me of Saddam's missing WMDs, David Kay's admission -- "we were all wrong" -- and how the Bush-Cheney WH hyped the nuclear threat of Iraq and more recently Iran. I figure when Bush or Cheney say something, it has to be wrong. But:

Thankfully, adults with conscience from 16 agencies dared to contradict the wrong-headed warmongering of the WH with their NIE findings about Iran.
And, once again, the IAEA and its director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, were right.
The front page headline of today's Washington Post explained what made the difference in this NIE, Lessons of Iraq Aided Intelligence on Iran. Better late than never. But don't think for one minute the lessons would have helped if Repubs still controlled the congressional intelligence committees, a point I explored in my previous post.

A few grafs from the WaPo's story:

[Keeping reading...]
The starkly different view of Iran's nuclear program that emerged from U.S. spy agencies this week was the product of a surge in clandestine intelligence-gathering in Iran as well as radical changes in the way the intelligence community analyzes information.
Drawing lessons from the intelligence debacle over supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell required agencies to consult more sources and to say to a larger intelligence community audience precisely what they know and how they know it -- and to acknowledge, to a degree previously unheard of, what they do not know....
...The new report upended years of previous assessments by asserting that the Islamic republic halted the weapons side of its nuclear program in 2003. The report, while expressing concern about Iran's rapidly growing civilian nuclear energy program, contradicted assertions by top Bush administration officials and previous intelligence assessments that Iran has been bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
"The new report brings the U.S. intelligence community in line with what the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and several European governments were saying years ago," said David Albright, a former United Nations weapons inspector and president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.
In 2005, the CIA formed the Iran Operations Division that "brought analysts and clandestine collectors together to search for hard evidence."
Communications intercepts of Iranian nuclear officials and a stolen Iranian laptop containing diagrams related to the development of a nuclear warhead for missiles both yielded valuable evidence about Iran's nuclear past as well as its decision in 2003 to suspend the weapons side of its program....
...The report also reflects what several officials described yesterday as a new willingness by the intelligence community to analyze intentions in addition to capabilities. While Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to make nuclear weapons, including knowledge of how to enrich uranium to a level usable in bombs, the new intelligence collected through intercepted communications raised doubts about Iran's intended use of the technology.
The following passage piqued my interest since the Natanz plant in Iran had been mentioned as a potential "bunker-busting" bomb target of U.S. contingency attack plans. As it turns out, DNI offcials demanded...
...a broader array of intelligence sources, including news accounts and other "open sources" that traditionally had carried little weight inside intelligence agencies. In the case of Iran, critical information was gleaned from non-clandestine sources, such as news photographs taken in 2005 depicting the inner workings of one of Iran's uranium enrichment plants, an official said.
Those photos helped persuade analysts that the Natanz plant was suited to making low-enriched uranium for nuclear energy but not the highly enriched uranium needed for bombs.
Go read the article, which covers more details than I've quoted. As always, buckle up and don on your skeptical spectacles when reading inside the Beltway reporting.

For refreshing candor and intel expertise, check Larry Johnson who offers insights into Bush's lie about when he learned Iran had shut down its nuclear program. Johnson also examines the NIE and how the "NIC stepped up and refused to budge despite repeated efforts by Dick Cheney and his minions to gut the effort."

Score one for the home team.