The Blog

About that 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran . . .

5:02 PM, Sep 25, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The officials' comments regarding the IC's knowing about the facility for "several years," coupled with the fact that construction on the facility began prior to Iran's March 2007 announcement, certainly leads one to believe that the IC knew about this facility in advance of the November 2007 NIE.

And what is it, exactly, that they knew about the secret site? "I think as I indicated, from the very beginning, we had information indicating that the intent of this facility was as a covert centrifuge facility," one official explained.

At a bare minimum then, the November 2007 NIE was simply wrong. The NIE's authors concluded:

We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

Wrong. Construction on a new covert enrichment facility, which the NIE's authors themselves defined as part of Iran's nuclear weapons program, began prior to March 2007. This is before "mid-2007." And if the mullahs have a covert facility that both Obama and his officials say was built to produce weapons-grade uranium, then we certainly do know that "Tehran…intends to develop nuclear weapons." Why else would they build facility for enriching weapons-grade material?The NIE's authors concluded:

Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.

Wrong again. The mullahs were simply determined to keep such efforts covert. The NIE's authors should have known that already. And the program wasn't "halted primarily in response to international pressure" because it wasn't halted at all. Moreover, to the extent that anything was halted (one weaponization program), it was probably because of the tens of thousands of American forces on either side of Iran's western and eastern borders -- in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

There were always good reasons to think that the 2007 NIE was more of a policy-prescription than a rigorous intelligence analysis. It is well-known that its authors have their own views of Iran's nuclear program and how (not) to deal with it. As the Wall Street Journal wrote at the time, the NIE's three chief authors were "hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials" with their own distinct policy preferences. In all likelihood, they wanted to make sure that the Iranian nuclear program wasn't considered a particularly worrisome threat requiring action. There is ample room for public debate about how to deal with Iran's burgeoning nukes, but the NIE's authors apparently wanted to short-circuit such discussion. The NIE achieved that goal, by clearly having a "cooling effect" on such talks.

In fact, the Democrats seized upon the NIE to justify their own policy preferences. The leading Democratic presidential candidates at the time were quick to cite the NIE as justification for their pursuit of engagement with Iran.

"It is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology," then Senator Obama said of the NIE. "They need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front."

"They should have stopped the saber rattling, should never have started it," Obama added. (Of course, talk of "saber rattling" was always overblown.)

Now that the NIE has been debunked, by his own administration, will President Obama "not let facts get in the way of his ideology" -- that is, his belief that he can talk the mullahs out of nukes?