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A Curious Justification

12:30 AM, Sep 18, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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It is true that 2015 was the common benchmark deduced from these assessments, but you will be hard-pressed to find a single instance when the IC says that year is the definitive cut-off. And, as a report by the Congressional Research Service noted earlier this year, the IC has always been of multiple minds when it comes to Iran's development of ICBM's.

Therefore, it is hard to believe that the Obama administration's new analysis, which apparently pushes the 2015 benchmark back further, is much better than what we had previously. It is also hard to believe that the disagreements within the IC on this issue have been resolved.

But, isn't it fortunate that the new analysis fits the Obama administration's preconceived narrative (e.g. Tauscher's view) about Iran's long-range missile capabilities?

Right about now the press should be asking: What changed? What is the nature of the new analysis? Does it rely on new intelligence, or is it just a new analysis of old intelligence? If it does rely on new intelligence, then what is the nature of this information?

All of these questions, and more, are vitally important because we know that the IC has had a hard time collecting intelligence inside Iran. This brings us to our next point.

Third, oftentimes you don't need intelligence garnered in the shadows to see the enemy clearly. Iran regularly tests short and medium-range ballistic missiles. The available evidence, as reflected even in the Obama administration's new missile defense fact sheet, indicates that its capacity in this regard is continuing to grow. Why should believe the story is any different with Iran's long-range missile capabilities?

In fact, there is publicly-available evidence that Iran's long-range missile capabilities are improving.

It is no secret that the development of space satellites is closely related to ballistic missile development. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched its first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. That same year the Soviets also developed their first intercontinental ballistic missile. Concerns over the dual use of technologies related to satellites have lived on ever since.

Flash forward more than forty years and you'll find the mullahs spending a large amount of money on its satellite program. In 2005, the Iranians announced they would spend $500 million over five years on satellites. For the perennially cash-strapped Iranians, this is an especially significant sum. But the mullahs have received a handsome return on their investment. In February of this year, Iran launched its own satellite into space for the first time. "It is certainly a reason for us to be concerned about Iran and its continued attempts to develop a ballistic missile program of increasingly long range," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said at the time. "They (Iran) pose a real threat and it is a growing threat," Morrell added.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Iran's satellite launch was cause for "grave" concern. "Developing a space launch vehicle that could be -- could put a satellite into orbit could possibly lead to [the] development of a ballistic missile system," Wood explained.

Indeed, Iran's ability to launch satellites could easily lead to a new long-range missile capability. Thus, the Obama administration's latest intelligence assessment is especially curious in light of the Iranians clear progress in launching satellites.

This brings us to our final point.

Fourth, this episode is eerily reminiscent of the IC's 2007 NIE on Iran's nuclear program, which was both fatally flawed and policy-motivated. Remember that the IC then reversed its conclusions from just two years prior. In 2005, the IC concluded that Iran was determined to develop nuclear weapons. In 2007, the IC said it could not tell whether Iran intended to develop nuclear weapons or not.

Such a sudden about-face does not inspire confidence in the IC's ability to get it right when it comes to the matter at hand here, especially because the IC is once again reversing itself.

In fact, there were good reasons in late 2007 to question the IC's judgment. There are, in general, three basic components to a nuclear weapons program: fissile material, weaponization, and a delivery capability. The 2007 NIE focused on only the second of these: weaponization. The IC claimed that Iran had stopped its weapons design program in 2003. Oddly, the IC pretended that uranium enrichment (the first and most essential component of Iran's nuclear weapons development) could be treated as a civilian endeavor that was unconnected to the mullah's quest for the world's most dangerous weapons. And the declassified portions of the NIE said nothing of any significance about Iran's delivery capabilities.

As many noted at the time, the IC's conclusions were clearly foolish.