Correcting the CIA

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New York Sun – Editorial: What a difference two months make. On December 3, when the director of national intelligence released an estimate of Iran’s nuclear program that said the Mullahs had suspended its bomb making in 2003, the left could barely contain its glee. The New York Sun

New York Sun Editorial

What a difference two months make. On December 3, when the director of national intelligence released an estimate of Iran’s nuclear program that said the Mullahs had suspended its bomb making in 2003, the left could barely contain its glee. The New York Times featured a front page analysis that said, “Rarely, if ever, has a single intelligence report so completely, so suddenly, and so surprisingly altered a foreign policy debate here.” The Majority Leader, Senator Reid took the opportunity of its release to call again for a “surge of diplomacy with Iran.” Senator Obama said, “The juxtaposition of this NIE with the president’s suggestion of World War III serves as an important reminder of what we learned with the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: members of Congress must carefully read the intelligence before giving the President any justification to use military force.”

Careful, indeed. It turns out that on Tuesday, as our Eli Lake reported on page one of yesterday’s Sun, the director of national intelligence, Mr. McConnell says he now regrets the phrasing of the unclassified estimate that so stirred America’s enthusiasts of diplomacy. In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mr. McConnell went further. He noted that Iran is developing both the long range ballistic missiles and the nuclear fuel for a potential weapon. What had halted, it turns out, was work to design the actual warhead and secret enrichment activity. The Iranians continued to enrich uranium in the open in Natanz in defiance of two Security Council resolutions.

As for the secret enrichment and weapons design, Mr. McConnell is not even sure as of mid-2007 whether the Iranians have restarted this work. “We assess with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted these activities as of mid-2007, but since they comprised an unannounced secret effort which Iran attempted to hide, we do not know if these activities have been restarted,” he told the assembled senators. So why then did the opening sentence of the December 3 assessment state with no equivocation, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”? Mr. McConnell said that it was because he had to assemble quickly a declassified estimate in late November and that it did not occur to him that this kind of declarative statement would confuse the issue.

For the unelected intelligence bureaucrats who pushed through December’s distortion and the newspapers that cheered them on, the walk back from the director is a serious blow. It’s hard to recall a situation quite like it. Only a few lines about Mr. McConnell’s testimony on this point appeared in yesterday’s New York Times, and that was buried in a story that focused on the improvements Al Qaeda has been making in its ability to strike the home front. Yet for a brief moment the unclassified assessment about which Mr. McConnell now has regrets ended political debate about the urgency of stopping the world’s leading sponsor of Islamic terror from obtaining an apocalyptic arsenal.

* * *

It’s a lesson to remember. Mr. McConnell’s regrets came in questioning from Senator Bayh, a Democrat from Indiana who once harbored hopes of running for president before his party was taken over by the likes of moveon.org. Mr. Bayh cited an article about the estimate that was issued Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal and written by John Bolton, the man accused three years ago, when President Bush nominated him to be ambassador to the United Nations, of intimidating all those intelligence professionals. We’d like to think Mr. McConnell’s correction will steer the American debate on how best to counter the threat from the Iranians away from the aspirations of our professional diplomats and spies to appease them and back toward an unvarnished view of the danger that is building in Iran.

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