Estimated Intelligence

December 6, 2007

Among the big news this week has been the bombshell dropped in the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE): the determination that Iran stopped its military nuclear program in 2003. You can read the publicly released version of the document here. (PDF. Via LGF)

Needless to say (Then why are you saying it? -ed. Oh, shut up.), this has turned discussion of the threat posed by the Mad Mullahs of Tehran upside down: if there is no military nuclear program, if Iran responded (as is claimed) to diplomatic pressure, then there is no building crisis, and certainly no justification for a military attack. Not surprisingly, the Copperheads Democrats are having a field day. To quote Senate Majority Leader Harry “Ignore reality, we’ve lost the war” Reid:

β€œThe Administration should begin this process by finally undertaking a diplomatic surge necessary to effectively address the challenges posed by Iran.”

The NIE asserts with highest confidence that Iran ceased its pursuit of a nuclear weapon in 2003, in response to diplomatic pressure. But the only “diplomatic pressure” exerted on Iran in 2003 was the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq that knocked off Saddam Hussein in three weeks, something the Black Robes couldn’t do in eight years. It assesses with only moderate confidence (meaning, they haven’t a clue) that Iran has not restarted that bomb-making program.

To put this in some context, the 2005 NIE asserted with highest confidence that Iran was definitely seeking The Bomb. Indeed, one of the lead authors was testifying to that same thing to Congress only last July.

So, which is it? Were our intelligence agencies incompetent as recently as this last summer, or are they full of it now?

A careful reading of this latest NIE reveals a lot of problems. Former State Department official and UN Ambassador John Bolton gives the best rundown. His third critique is worth quoting:

Third, the risks of disinformation by Iran are real. We have lost many fruitful sources inside Iraq in recent years because of increased security and intelligence tradecraft by Iran. The sudden appearance of new sources should be taken with more than a little skepticism. In a background briefing, intelligence officials said they had concluded it was “possible” but not “likely” that the new information they were relying on was deception. These are hardly hard scientific conclusions. One contrary opinion came from — of all places — an unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency official, quoted in the New York Times, saying that “we are more skeptical. We don’t buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran.” When the IAEA is tougher than our analysts, you can bet the farm that someone is pursuing a policy agenda.

In other words, it appears very much that elements within the permanent bureaucracy, long opposed to Bush Administration policies, rather than confining themselves to analysis, are trying to preempt elected officials and direct policy themselves.

Michael Ledeen has a similar take.

What makes the NIE assertion that Iran has likely not restarted their military nuclear program incredible to me is that is flies in the face of all Iranian behavior since the program was first revealed in 2003: the 3,000 centrifuges, the hardened facilities, the long-range missile development, the multiple fingers flipped at EU negotiators and IAEA inspectors. In four years, they have done nothing —nothing— that would reassure people who are desperate to believe Iran poses no threat. Instead, their officials have bragged in the press about how they have deceived the West.

No. It fits Iran’s millenarian, apocalyptic ideology to have the bomb. Once they realized we were tied down in Iraq and weren’t about to invade them, I’m sure they restarted it. Well, as sure as the NIE’s authors are that they haven’t, and I think I have better reason. As Wretchard at The Belmont Club puts it:

The longer I look at what is presented, the less confidence I have that anybody can answer the requisite question with sufficient accuracy. What’s your risk profile? Suppose you had to bet that the revolver you were going to put to your head did not have a bullet in the chamber right before the hammer. What level of proof would you require to snap the barrel to your temple and squeeze? Is it “high confidence”, “moderate confidence”? If five dollars were at stake instead of a life, a lot of people would chance it. But with the stakes this high, what is a reasonable level of confidence you will require?

A lot more than I get from reading this NIE.

LINKS: More at Fausta’s Blog, Captain’s Quarters, Pajamas Media, Power Line, and Hot Air.