Iran’s Nuclear Project
The IAEA’s report on an Iranian nuclear bomb was predictable and inevitable.


Michael Rubin

The IAEA report should also embarrass Thomas Fingar, Vann H. Van Diepen, and Kenneth Brill. Fingar was concurrently chairman of the National Intelligence Council and deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Van Diepen, whom Secretary of State Clinton has taken under her wing, was national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; Brill was director of the National Counterproliferation Center. Colleagues knew each as deeply political and agenda-driven. As analysts began to question the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which changed definitions and manipulated evidence to exculpate Iran, each hid behind righteous indignation that anyone might question his professionalism. Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill feared that if they laid out the evidence before the elected president, Bush and his advisers might pursue a policy with which they and their unelected, unconfirmed friends disagreed.

Analysts in some of our allies’ intelligence services were unencumbered by such conceit. The Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s external-intelligence service, dissented from the NIE and, on Aug. 28, 2008, noted “the development of a new missile launcher and the similarities between Iran’s acquisition efforts and those of countries with already known nuclear weapons programs, such as Pakistan and North Korea.”

Diplomacy’s Folly
Much of the 2007 NIE was fiction. The biggest difference between the 2003 NIE and its 2007 counterpart was the conclusion that Iran had stopped its weapons program. The 2007 NIE, however, went beyond normal intelligence analysis and actively sought to guide policy. Against a backdrop of speculation that Bush might use military force against Iran, the 2007 NIE concluded that Iran’s supposed decision to cease nuclear-weapons work was a result of diplomacy. Therefore, the estimate concluded, Iran was susceptible to diplomatic persuasion. If this was the consensus opinion of the intelligence community, it was a deeply flawed and tenuous conclusion. After all, 2003 also coincided with Iran’s shock at the speed with which American troops occupied Iraq and ended Saddam’s quarter-century rule. American troops had done in three weeks what Iranian troops had failed to do in an eight-year war. By falsely endorsing diplomacy’s effectiveness, committing America to an ineffective strategy for years to come, the 2007 NIE represented an intelligence failure whose repercussions may be even more devastating than the CIA’s failure to accurately access Iraq’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs ahead of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The 2007 NIE’s conclusions led the Bush administration to reinvigorate diplomacy. This enabled Tehran to run down the clock to the verge of nuclear capability. Factional discord within the Islamic Republic exposed the Iranians’ insincerity, as both reformers and hardliners sought to take credit for Iran’s nuclear advances. On June 14, 2008, for example, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, an aide to former president Muhammad Khatami, criticized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current president, for defiant rhetoric which enabled the international community to rally support for sanctions. Ramezanzadeh counseled Ahmadinejad to accept Khatami’s approach: “We should prove to the entire world that we want power plants for electricity. Afterwards, we can proceed with other activities.” The purpose of dialogue, he argued, was not compromise, but avoiding sanctions. “We had an overt policy, which was one of negotiation and confidence building, and a covert policy, which was continuation of the activities,” he said.

Just last month, Hassan Rowhani, Khatami’s nuclear negotiator, bragged to Etemaad, a reformist daily, about how he used talks to enable Iranian progress. “When I was entrusted with this portfolio, we had no production in Isfahan. We couldn’t produce uranium tetrafluoride or uranium hexafluoride. Even if Natanz [the fuel-enrichment plant in Isfahan] had been filled with centrifuges, we didn’t have the material to inject into them. There was a small amount of uranium hexafluoride which we had previously procured from certain countries and this was what we had at our disposal. But the Isfahan facilities had to be completed before [they] could transform yellow cake to low enriched uranium. We used the opportunity to do so and completed the Isfahan facilities.” This was not all. Rowhani bragged, “We had no heavy water either, but managed to achieve it during this period.” The heavy-water plant in Arak can produce plutonium as a byproduct.


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