Today marks a week since the release of one of the most unintelligent – and dangerous – intelligence reports in history.
Already, as a result, the Chinese are backing away from whatever support they might have provided for tougher sanctions against Iran, while Russia has used the report as another reason to oppose them. Behind the scenes, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, now fearful that America will not be able to stop Iran going nuclear, have each decided in the last week to expand their own efforts to gain a nuclear capability.
For the Islamic Republic of Iran, the only country which encourages suicide bombing as state policy, to acquire a nuclear arsenal will amount to a threat quite unlike any that the world has ever known. Even in the darkest days of the Cold War there was a never any real possibility that the Soviets or Chinese (or Americans or French or British) would unilaterally use a nuclear device. Not so with the regime now running Iran. The danger is not just in the first strike use of a nuclear weapon but also in the use of a “dirty bomb” in a major western or Middle East capital by one of the regime’s proxy terror groups.
Thankfully, many respected commentators and the general public (see extracts below) aren’t buying the NIE report. But will this skepticism about the NIE be enough to leave all options on the table for Western governments before it is too late?
Below is some further reaction since my round-up last Wednesday (See: Ahmadinejad Doesn’t Want a Nuclear Bomb? Just Like There Are No Gays in Iran?)
* The first major opinion poll of the American public on the NIE report, conducted by Rasmussen, shows that just 18% of Americans believe that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program. Only 19% believe that Iran is not a threat to U.S. national security. Among liberal voters only 29% of believe that Iran has stopped its weapons program, as the NIE claims. Just 8% of Conservatives believe Iran has stopped its program.
* The (London) Sunday Telegraph reports that “Iran hoodwinked the CIA over its nuclear plans”:
“British spy chiefs have grave doubts that Iran has mothballed its nuclear weapons program, as a U.S. intelligence report claimed last week, and believe the CIA has been hoodwinked by Teheran. Analysts believe that Iranian staff, knowing their phones were tapped, deliberately gave misinformation
“The timing of the CIA report has also provoked fury in the British Government, where officials believe it has undermined efforts to impose tough new sanctions on Iran and made an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities more likely.
“… A senior British official delivered a withering assessment of U.S. intelligence-gathering abilities in the Middle East and revealed that British spies shared the concerns of Israeli defense chiefs that Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons.
“… A U.S. intelligence source has revealed that some American spies share the concerns of the British and the Israelis. ‘Many middle-ranking CIA veterans believe Iran is still committed to producing nuclear weapons and are concerned that the agency lost a number of its best sources in Iran in 2004,’ the official said.”
* The Wall Street Journal reports today the Iranian opposition group that first exposed Iran’s nuclear-fuel program said a U.S. intelligence analysis was wrong in that Teheran only briefly shut down its weaponization program in 2003, and relocated and restarted it in 2004.
* Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz called the report:
“Just about the stupidest intelligence assessment I have ever read. It falls hook, line and sinker for a transparent bait and switch tactic employed not only by Iran, but by several other nuclear powers in the past.
“The tactic is obvious and well-known to all intelligence officials with an IQ above room temperature. It goes like this: There are two tracks to making nuclear weapons: One is to conduct research and develop technology directly related to military use. That is what the United States did when it developed the atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project. The second track is to develop nuclear technology for civilian use and then to use the civilian technology for military purposes.
“… If Neville Chamberlain weren’t long dead I would wonder whether he had a hand in writing this ‘peace in our time’ intelligence fiasco.”
* Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin, both leading experts on nuclear arms control, wrote in a New York Times op-ed:
“During the past year, a period when Iran’s weapons program was supposedly halted, the Iranian government has been busy installing some 3,000 gas centrifuges at its plant at Natanz. These machines could, if operated continuously for about a year, create enough enriched uranium to provide fuel for a bomb. In addition, they have no plausible purpose in Iran’s civilian nuclear effort. All of Iran’s needs for enriched uranium for its energy programs are covered by a contract with Russia.
“Iran is also building a heavy water reactor at its research center at Arak. This reactor is ideal for producing plutonium for nuclear bombs, but is of little use in an energy program like Iran’s, which does not use plutonium for reactor fuel. India, Israel and Pakistan have all built similar reactors – all with the purpose of fueling nuclear weapons. And why, by the way, does Iran even want a nuclear energy program, when it is sitting on an enormous pool of oil that is now skyrocketing in value? And why is Iran developing long-range Shahab missiles, which make no military sense without nuclear warheads to put on them?”
* President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany issued a joint statement: The leaders of France and Germany believe that Iran remains a danger and that other nations need to keep up the pressure over its nuclear program despite a United States intelligence report’s conclusion that Teheran was no longer building a bomb.
* Not even the diplomats at the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agree with the NIE. “To be frank, we are more skeptical,” a senior official close to the agency told The New York Times this week. “We don’t buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran.”
* Former Secretary of State George Shultz, former CIA Director James Woolsey, Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) issued a joint statement criticizing the NIE report:
“Did Iran drop its nuclear weapons program? To believe so, you must set aside lots of other evidence that the Islamic Republic is hell-bent on developing or acquiring such weaponry, including its boasting about future superpower status and new capabilities; its messianic rhetoric; its stated designs on Israel, the United States, and the West in general; its simultaneous development of long-range missiles; its research into equipping such missiles with nuclear warheads; its two decades (and counting) of deception about nuclear research to begin with; and the desires of at least ten of Iran’s less complacent neighbors to start their own nuclear programs.
“The United States currently lacks anything resembling a serious human intelligence capability vis-à-vis Iran, with such basic elements as ‘eyes on the ground.’ That raises the question of how, exactly, the NIE’s authors have any ‘confidence’ at all in their estimates. Couple that with reports that the earthshaking new information that prompted the intelligence U-turn came from disclosures by Iranian military commanders and defectors, and there is ample reason to greet the new revelations with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
* Senator John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, is so skeptical that he wants Congress to establish a bipartisan panel to explore the NIE’s evidence.
* Yossi Klein Halevi, writing from Israel for The New Republic:
“Until now, pessimists in Israel could console themselves that a last-resort Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would likely draw wide international sympathy and even gratitude – very different from the near-total condemnation that greeted Israel’s attack on Saddam’s reactor in 1981. Now, though, the NIE will ensure that if Israel does attack, it will be widely branded a warmonger, and faulted for the inevitable fallout of rising oil prices and increased terror.
“The sense of betrayal within the Israeli security system is deep. After all, Israel’s great achievement in its struggle against Iran was in convincing the international community that the nuclear threat was real; now that victory has been undone – not by Russia or the European Union, but by Israel’s closest ally.
“What makes Israeli security officials especially furious is that the report casts doubt on Iranian determination to attain nuclear weapons. There is a sense of incredulity here: Do we really need to argue the urgency of the threat all over again?
“… Adds a key security analyst: ‘The report didn’t surprise me. The [American intelligence] system isn’t healthy. It has been thoroughly politicized. I saw it when I brought hard evidence to them through the 1990s about how the Palestinian Authority was violating its commitments. Their responses weren’t professional but political. This report only deepens the crisis of confidence we feel.’
“… ‘The Syrians were working on their nuclear project for seven years, and we discovered it only recently,’ says one security analyst. ‘The Americans didn’t know about it all. So how can they be so sure about Iran?’”
* Ephraim Asculai, of the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies and a 40-year veteran of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission:
“Today the Iranians are enriching uranium at four percent; to make a bomb, you need 90 percent. From there, the transition doesn’t require a lot of time. Most of the work has been done to get to the four percent. It is a matter of months, not years.”
* Israeli government minister Yitzhak Cohen compared the NIE report to what he said were faulty reports released by the U.S. during the Holocaust that Jews were not being killed in spite of information possessed by American intelligence of the existence of concentration camps:
“In the middle of the previous century the Americans received intelligence reports from Auschwitz on the packed trains going to the extermination camps. They claimed then that the railways were industrial. Their attitude today to the information coming out of Iran on the Iranians’ intention to produce a nuclear bomb reminds one of their attitude during the Holocaust.”
* Writing in The Washington Post, John Bolton points out:
“Many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department, brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence. These officials had relatively benign views of Iran’s nuclear intentions five and six years ago; now they are writing those views as if they were received wisdom from on high. In fact, these are precisely the policy biases they had before, recycled as ‘intelligence judgments.’”
* Many commentators accuse the NIE’s primary authors, Thomas Fingar, Vann Van Diepen and Kenneth Brill, of harboring partisan agendas. All three are State Department officials on loan to the office of the Director of National Intelligence. According to press reports, all three have reportedly worked studiously for years to downplay the danger of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
* A Wall Street Journal editorial says:
“What’s amazing in this case is how the White House has allowed intelligence analysts to drive policy. The very first sentence of the national intelligence estimate (NIE) is written in a way that damages U.S. diplomacy: ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Teheran halted its nuclear weapons program.’ Only in a footnote below does the NIE say that this definition of ‘nuclear weapons program’ does ‘not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.’
“In fact, the main reason to be concerned about Iran is that we can’t trust this distinction between civilian and military. That distinction is real in a country like Japan. But we know Iran lied about its secret military efforts until it was discovered in 2003, and Iran continues to enrich uranium on an industrial scale, with 3,000 centrifuges, in defiance of binding U.N. resolutions. There is no civilian purpose for such enrichment. Iran has access to all the fuel it needs for civilian nuclear power from Russia at the plant in Bushehr. The NIE buries the potential danger from this enrichment, even though this enrichment has been the main focus of U.S. diplomacy against Iran.”
* The Middle East Times says:
“The main flaw of the report is that it may deny the U.S. administration the credible threat of the use of force as a foreign policy tool. This should never be the case.
“The main winners [besides Iran] include Russia, China, and Germany… Russia and China are major suppliers of military and nuclear technology to Iran. Teheran spends billions building an arsenal of increasingly long range ballistic missiles. Iran also invested a fortune in educating hundreds of nuclear physicists and engineers in the best military technology colleges in Russia and around the world. German companies will be happy to continue business as usual in Iran.”
* The Christian Science Monitor reports since the NIE reports was released:
“Iran’s nuclear know-how is continuing unimpeded. At a remote site 200 miles south of Teheran, Iranian scientists are learning more about the basic means to build a nuclear weapon every day. The facility – named Natanz, after the nearest town – is where Iran has begun the process of producing fissile material. Thousands of thin, vertical tubes spin at outrageous speeds, atom by atom enriching raw uranium gas into more useful material.”
* Claudia Rosett in The Philadelphia Inquirer writes:
“There’s lots to wonder about in the Key Judgments of the latest National Intelligence Estimate, which informs us with “high confidence” that Iran halted its nuclear bomb program four years ago. This contradicts its 2005 warning that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons.” That followed the 2003-2004 zig-zag from our intelligence community on Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s interest in weapons of mass destruction; which followed the intelligence failure to zero in on the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers before they slammed airplanes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.
‘Would you buy a used car from our spooks?’”