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NIE: An Abrupt About-Face

11:01 AM, Dec 5, 2007 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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As many recognize, the latest NIE on Iran's nuclear weapons program directly contradicts what the U.S. Intelligence Community was saying just two years previously. And it appears that this about-face was very recent. How recent?

Consider that on July 11, 2007, roughly four or so months prior to the most recent NIE's publication, Deputy Director of Analysis Thomas Fingar gave the following testimony before the House Armed Services Committee (emphasis added):

Iran and North Korea are the states of most concern to us. The United States' concerns about Iran are shared by many nations, including many of Iran's neighbors. Iran is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations and working to delay and diminish the impact of UNSC sanctions than in reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution. We assess that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons--despite its international obligations and international pressure. This is a grave concern to the other countries in the region whose security would be threatened should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.

This paragraph appeared under the subheading: "Iran Assessed As Determined to Develop Nuclear Weapons." And the entirety of Fingar's 22-page testimony was labeled "Information as of July 11, 2007." No part of it is consistent with the latest NIE, in which our spooks tell us Iran suspended its covert nuclear weapons program in 2003 "primarily in response to international pressure" and they "do not know whether (Iran) currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."

The inconsistencies are more troubling when we realize that, according to the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Fingar is one of the three officials who were responsible for crafting the latest NIE. The Journal cites "an intelligence source" as describing Fingar and his two colleagues as "hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials." (The New York Sun drew attention to one of Fingar's colleagues yesterday.)

So, if it is true that Dr. Fingar played a leading role in crafting this latest NIE, then we are left with serious questions:

  • Why did your opinion change so drastically in just four months time?
  • Is the new intelligence or analysis really that good? Is it good enough to overturn your previous assessments? Or, has it never really been good enough to make a definitive assessment at all?
  • Did your political or ideological leanings, or your policy preferences, or those of your colleagues, influence your opinion in any way?

Many in the mainstream press have been willing to cite this latest NIE unquestioningly. Perhaps they should start asking some pointed questions. (Don't hold your breath.)