From the Tuesday Morning Jolt:
Obama Administration Understated How Close Iran Is to the Bomb for Years
In the eyes of the Obama administration, the American people are not allowed to know how close Iran is to a nuclear bomb.
The Barack Obama administration has estimated for years that Iran was at most three months away from enriching enough nuclear fuel for an atomic bomb. But the administration only declassified this estimate at the beginning of the month, just in time for the White House to make the case for its Iran deal to Congress and the public.
Speaking to reporters and editors at our Washington bureau on Monday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz acknowledged that the U.S. has assessed for several years that Iran has been two to three months away from producing enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. When asked how long the administration has held this assessment, Moniz said: “Oh quite some time.” He added: “They are now, they are right now spinning, I mean enriching with 9,400 centrifuges out of their roughly 19,000. Plus all the . . . R&D work. If you put that together it’s very, very little time to go forward. That’s the 2–3 months.”
Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, confirmed to me Monday that the two-to-three-month estimate for fissile material was declassified on April 1.
Here is the puzzling thing: When Obama began his second term in 2013, he sang a different tune. He emphasized that Iran was more than a year away from a nuclear bomb, without mentioning that his intelligence community believed it was only two to three months away from making enough fuel for one, long considered the most challenging task in building a weapon. Today Obama emphasizes that Iran is only two to three months away from acquiring enough fuel for a bomb, creating a sense of urgency for his Iran agreement.
President Barack Obama says U.S. intelligence agencies believe Iran is still “a year or more” away from producing a nuclear weapon, an assessment he acknowledged was at odds with Israel.
Obama also put distance between U.S. and Israeli assessments of when Iran might have the capacity to build a nuclear weapon. Israeli officials have said Iran is just months away from having the capacity and knowledge to build a bomb, while Obama said Tehran was a year or more away.
Now we know the Israeli assessment was correct, and the U.S. public assessment was disinformation. I suppose the Obama administration could argue that the assessment was classified, and that we didn’t want the Iranians to know how much we knew. But once Israel came out and started revealing the actual status of the nuclear program, what was the advantage to “playing dumb” and pretending we didn’t know how close Tehran was to a bomb? What did we gain by claiming the Israelis were wrong?
“Trust me,” said the liar.