Washington Times – Editorial: The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, asserting that that Tehran probably shut down its covert nuclear weapons program in 2003, has become a football to kick around in Washington. The Washington Times
The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, asserting that that Tehran probably shut down its covert nuclear weapons program in 2003, has become a football to kick around in Washington. As Jon Ward reported in this newspaper on Friday, three officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence were primarily responsible for the estimate C. Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Van H. Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; and Kenneth Brill, director of the national counterproliferation center. All were State Department officials who repeatedly clashed with John Bolton, the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control between 2001 and 2004, and actively worked to block U.S. pressure on Tehran to halt its nuclear weapons program. A U.S. official who has worked with them in the past described the National Intelligence Estimate as “a political exercise to torpedo the threat that this administration would pose to their desired policy outcomes on Iran, which is some kind of accommodation with an Iranian nuclear program.”
Sens. Barack Obama and John Edwards have seized on the estimate with demagoguery against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for voting to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which trains organizations like Hezbollah, as terrorists. Bush administration partisans cite the report as evidence that economic and diplomatic pressure can change Iran’s behavior. But the politicians and spinmeisters should be cautious about using this National Intelligence Estimate as a basis for much of anything. Only two years ago the U.S. intelligence agencies drafted an estimate with a very different conclusion that they assessed with “high confidence” that “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure.”
The new estimate raises more questions than it answers. What has changed in Iran during the past two years? Given recent intelligence failures regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and given the previous underestimation of Libyan and North Korean progress in developing nuclear weapons, as well as India’s preparations for its 1998 nuclear tests, how do we know that the U.S. intelligence agencies got Iran right this time and got it wrong two years ago? Moreover, given the fact that much of Iran’s nuclear weapons research occurred in secret for nearly two decades, how do we know that they don’t have other clandestine programs? The nine-page summary of the National Intelligence Estimate doesn’t answer these questions. Although the National Intelligence Estimate notes that Iran continues to develop technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, this has received scant attention.
Israel’s left-of-center government is skeptical about the National Intelligence Estimate, as it should be, believing it underestimates the danger from Iran. Even International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials, who usually search for silver linings, have their doubts. “To be frank, we are more skeptical,” a senior official close to the IAEA told the New York Times. “We don’t buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran.” Neither are we. Congress must exercise its oversight responsibility and take a closer look, now.