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2007 NIE on Iran Was Sexed-Down Intelligence

John on October 9, 2009 at 1:06 am

The Wall Street Journal notes a White House “guidance paper” on the newly revealed Iranian nuclear. This paper indicates the Qom site has been under the eye of our intelligence community for “several years.”

That’s significant because just under two years ago a national intelligence estimate on Iran concluded “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program…”This was a reversal of previous estimates — including some from just 10 months earlier by the same author.

If we knew about the Qom site years ago how could the NIE, authored by Dr. Thomas Fingar, have “high confidence” the Iranian weapons program had ended? As the WSJ notes, the Qom site only makes sense as part of a covert (read: weaponization) program:

The Qom site—too small for civilian purposes but ideal for producing weapons-grade uranium—is supervised by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and was only declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency after Tehran got wind that the nuclear watchdogs knew about it.

The Journal omits one additional dot that is part of the pattern. Recall the revelation by a NY prosecutor that Iran was covertly buying up bomb and missile making materials from Chinese front companies between 2006-2008. We’ve sanctioned the companies selling the materials, but not the regime in Iran buying them.

This is not a historical footnote. The 2007 NIE changed the debate over Iran sanctions. As the NY Times put it “Rarely, if ever, has a single intelligence report so completely, so suddenly, and so surprisingly altered a foreign policy debate here.” We are where we are in no small part because the authors of that report got it wrong. Was this a case of sexed-down intelligence motivated by political considerations?

As recently as last month, Dr. Fingar was still arguing on NPR that the Iranians will respond to deterrence. In essence, he’s taking the same we-can-reason-with-them line he took two years ago.

But wait, the reported basis of the 2007 NIE reassessment of Iran was that sanctions had demonstrably changed their behavior. They had bowed to pressure and dropped their weapons program in 2003, the report claimed, and this proved they were rational actors, not fanatics.

Only that wasn’t true.

If sanctions didn’t work then, why would we expect deterrence to work now? If the Iranians, in fact, did not respond as “rational actors” then, what makes us think they’ll start doing so once they’ve got a bomb?

And why hasn’t anyone in the media asked the Dr. Fingar to explain how his blockbuster report managed to omit so many facts to the contrary?

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Category: Foreign Affairs |

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