Hide And Seek With Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program

Another piece of missing NIE information. As many are already speculating, Iran is still running its nuclear weapons program. The NIE report surely seems damning of our government, but as the report states, Iran suspended its program in 2003. Key here is suspended. This is not the same as ended.

Well according to this report, which claims to have people inside Iran, the program is unsuspended and under the strictest covert cover. This is more believable than the complete dumping of the program. It would also indicate that diplomatic methods are not working. Have diplomatic efferts ever worked with Iran?

Iran needs to be shown force, that is the only thing this Jihadist regime understands. As for their 2003 suspension of their nuclear program, force is clearly their motive behind its suspension, the invasion of Iraq scarred the shit of the Iranians…

Since then threat of force has been deminished to nothing thanks to our liberal comrades in the US and UN. So Iran feels they are free to do as they please. The NIE report gives Iran just the cannon fodder they needed to through the anti-American and anti-Bush political movements into high gear.

In 10-15 years, hindsight will be 20-20 and people will be blaming Bush for not attacking Iran when he knew they were running this nuclear program all along.

Mr. Bush get some balls and turn up the pressure on Iran.

NEW YORK —  Iran did shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 but restarted it a year later, moving and hiding the equipment to thwart international inspectors, according to an Iranian opposition group, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran exposed the country’s nuclear-fuel program in 2002 and now believes a newly released U.S. analysis is giving the wrong impression that Iran’s nuclear program is not an urgent threat, the newspaper reported.

The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate published last week said Tehran shut down its weaponization program in 2003, contradicting an earlier report that the Islamic Republic was determined to build a nuclear bomb.

Read the Wall Street Journal report (subscription required)

The NCRI, considered by the United States and European Union to be a terrorist organization, has had a mixed record of accuracy with its claims about Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the past, the Wall Street Journal said.

The NCRI, however, says it was added to the EU terrorist list under pressure from Tehran at a time when Western countries were trying to improve relations with Iran.

The group agrees that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council decided to shut down its most important nuclear weapons research center in eastern Tehran, called Lavisan-Shian, in August 2003, the Journal said.

But the group, which claims it has sources inside Iran, told the paper the facility was broken into 11 fields of research, including projects to develop a nuclear trigger and shape weapons-grade uranium into a warhead.

“They scattered the weaponization program to other locations and restarted in 2004,” Mohammad Mohaddessin, NCRI’s foreign affairs chief, told the Wall Street Journal.

“Their strategy was that if the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) found any one piece of this research program, it would be possible to justify it as civilian. But so long as it was all together, they wouldn’t be able to.”

By the time international inspectors were allowed to visit the Lavisan site, the buildings Iran claimed were devoted to nuclear research had been torn down and the ground bulldozed, the paper reported.

The NCRI said the equipment was moved to another military compound known as the Center for Readiness and Advanced Technology, to Malek-Ashtar University Isfahan and to a defense ministry hospital in Tehran.

NIE Gaps Missing

Michael Tanji posted a very insightful piece on Threatswatch.org regarding the latest NIE report. Mr. Tanji, a former intel analyst points out the missing ingredient that leave open a doorway to disaster in our national security.

As Mr. Tanji points out, the intel community left out variables they do not know from the report, which means that future intel reports may not be accurate because they will be looking for the wrong information.

Also of concern is the fact that of the 150 page report, only a 4 page summary has been released to the public. Can a true interpretation of the intel be comprehended by this summary and is this more of a partisan play that highlights only the anti-Bush agenda… The questionable intelligence in the report may show more of a concern for what Iran is doing, but that is not at our disposal.

There is Value in Recognizing Ignorance

By Michael Tanji | December 10, 2007

Ample ink has been spilled by both ends of the political spectrum on what the latest NIE on Iran’s nuclear capabilities means. Partisans in both camps have reason to love and hate the thing, or more precisely what they think is in the thing, given that we are dealing with just four pages of unclassified and high-level conclusions from 150 pages of narrative and supporting material. The folly of judging important books by their covers notwithstanding, one question remains to be asked: with all that may be wrong with an NIE, what should be done to make them more right?

By “right” I do not mean what political slant they should take (ideally, none). To a certain extent I do not even mean how correct they should be. By “right” I mean how accurately they explain what is known and more importantly what is unknown.

Allow me to explain.

As a former intelligence analyst I recall a time when an enlightened boss with sufficient bureaucratic muscle would allow analysts to include a section in their assessments labeled “intelligence gaps.” “Key judgments” are the intelligence community’s version of the outside world’s “executive summary.” I’m not aware of a parallel to “intelligence gaps,” since like most authors trying to convey expertise, intelligence officers do not like to suggest that there is something they don’t know.

The importance of the gaps section in an intelligence assessment cannot be understated. It was not simply a laundry list of factors that you were ignorant about; it served as a management tool that would help craft future collection requirements. Satellites not taking pictures of the right sites? Not recruiting agents in the right locations or asking them the right questions? By pointing out where collection was coming up short and how you were under-serving policymakers, you justified your request for a change in tactics and demonstrated your willingness to respond to consumer needs.

This wasn’t a one-way street. Collectors get more credit when the gather information of high value. One report with a breakthrough piece of information is worth infinitely more than 20 reports telling you some variation on what you already knew. By providing what analyst’s needed, collectors ended up helping themselves. Likewise, if the list of unknowns grew smaller, consumers could better determine if intelligence was serving their needs and bolster their confidence in our assessments.

Of course like any exercise conducted in a bureaucracy, this collector-analyst feedback process was spotty at best. You had to make a serious effort to carve out the time the fill out evaluations and in a job that is often nothing but juggling one “must do now” task after another, collector feedback was often viewed as a housekeeping task that could be put off, usually indefinitely. As much as anything, this internal intelligence failure contributes to the community’s sorry record of gathering meaningful intelligence on a wide variety of targets, particularly hard targets like Iran.

There are many ways to tackle an intelligence problem analytically, but what makes or breaks an intelligence assessment is the information available to be analyzed. One unimpeachable source on one discrete topic can make for a very confident assessment indeed, but few intelligence problems are so narrow and simple. Read the key judgments of this latest NIE backwards to see what I mean. Viewed in this fashion it says, “We are not terribly confident in these discrete elements, but when we view them as a whole our confidence is boosted.” That’s akin to an airline mechanic signing off on the airworthiness of a jetliner knowing that almost everything he just inspected is dodgy. Who wants to board the plane first?

As mentioned previously, the full NIE is 150 pages long, so enough collection may not be a problem. However, the fact that the authors make such an effort to couch and caveat what they think they know indicates that they are making up for a great deal of ignorance. Should we be satisfied with such ambiguous and circumspect descriptions of the information our nation’s leaders will be using to make the critical decisions of our time?

Your author has commented elsewhere on what he feels is really at work with this NIE. While it may very well be a partisan political agenda made manifest, experience suggests that the intelligence community is doing its utmost to avoid another public failure on par with Iraq’s WMD programs (or India’s nuclear weapons test, or the collapse of the Soviet Union, etc.). This includes but is not limited to using every linguistic trick in the book to ensure that anything written about any intelligence problem could be looked at in hindsight as “right” if interpreted in a particular way.

The community owes the leaders of our country, regardless of their political affiliation, better.

People laughed at former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he spoke of the problem of “unknown unknowns.” Odd as his verbiage was, he was driving home the point that you cannot make sound decisions about national security if you are in any way ignorant of your adversary’s intentions and activities. Does anyone really think that one of our toughest intelligence targets suddenly became transparent or is it more likely that there is more going on here than meets the eye?

Anyone in the current administration – and any aspiring presidential candidate – that is interested in leaving a noteworthy imprint on the intelligence community should make mandatory the inclusion of intelligence gaps in every NIE and major intelligence product. Our adversaries do not need to know what we don’t know, but the community would be doing itself and its customers a great service by remembering the significance of ignorance.

Liberal Doves Wary Of NEI Conclusion On Iran’s Nuclear Program

Wow another news story I never thought I would see happen… It appears that Bush’s assertion that Iran is a danger is not overblown….

Some experts fear the intelligence estimate will sap international pressure to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons.

By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 7, 2007

WASHINGTON — The new U.S. intelligence report that says Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 is suddenly raising concerns among the political center and left, as well as conservatives who have long called for a hard line against the Islamic Republic.

Moderate and liberal foreign policy experts said that U.S. intelligence agencies, possibly eager to demonstrate independence from White House political pressure, may have produced a National Intelligence Estimate that is more reassuring than it should be on the potential risks of the Iranian nuclear program.

Isfahan

Isfahan

 click to enlarge

The report, made public Monday, contradicted the Bush administration’s assertion that Iran has been secretly working to build nuclear weapons. It also found that Tehran, which says it is enriching uranium solely for civilian energy purposes, appears to have a pragmatic view and has responded to outside pressure and economic sanctions, in contrast to characterizations by administration hawks.

For years, President Bush’s anti-Tehran vitriol has drowned out the more circumspect voices in the U.S. foreign policy establishment who nonetheless agree Iran poses a concern. But with this week’s report, many experts worried that the pressure they believe is needed to counter Tehran now may dissipate.

Iran expert Ray Takeyh, a former professor at the National War College and National Defense University, said that although his own politics are left of the president’s, he agrees with Bush that Iran’s nuclear program is a continuing threat.

“The position I take is that President Bush is right on this,” said Takeyh, now at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Takeyh, who has long argued for engaging Iran in diplomacy, said the intelligence report was too easy on Tehran by not objecting to the uranium enrichment program, which many Western governments have alleged is meant to build the knowledge base to eventually develop nuclear weapons. The American intelligence agencies, in effect, accepted Iran’s contention that the enrichment is for peaceful purposes, Takeyh said.

After the report’s release, Bush pledged to maintain pressure on Iran and lobbied for international support. On Thursday, French and German leaders meeting in Paris said they favored continued pressure, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not commit herself to backing harsher United Nations sanctions sought by the United States.

The new U.S. intelligence estimate has made any new economic sanctions unlikely, most analysts agree, since it has given nations such as Russia and China a reason to give the benefit of the doubt to Iran, their ally and business partner. As a result, experts of varying political affiliations in Washington believe that efforts to successfully apply pressure on Iran have been hurt by the report.

At the same time, they say, it is questionable whether the Islamic Republic has been responsive to international pressure, as the report suggests.

Sharon Squassoni, a former government nuclear safeguards expert now with the generally liberal Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, noted that the intelligence report said Iran suspended its enrichment program in 2003 and later signed an agreement allowing U.N. inspections.

But, she said, the portion of the report made public was silent on the fact that the Iranians reversed both actions in 2006.

The ability to develop fissile materials is the most important element of a nuclear weapons program, she told reporters.

Gary Samore, who was a top arms control official in the Clinton White House, agreed that the National Intelligence Estimate did not adequately emphasize Iran’s continuing efforts to enrich uranium and build missiles.

The halting of the weaponization program in 2003 is less important from a proliferation standpoint than resumption of the enrichment program in 2006,” said Samore, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Samore said the report undermined Bush’s warnings about Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons and left Tehran in a strong position, allowing it to develop its enrichment capacity without a substantial challenge from the United States and its allies. The secret weaponization program is “on ice,” he said, but Iran preserves the option to resume that when it wishes.

Though American intelligence officials believe Iran has been enriching uranium at a concentration that could only be used for civilian energy purposes, analysts fear that the same basic technology could eventually be used to kick-start a weapons program.

Anthony Lake, who was a national security advisor to President Clinton, found no fault with the intelligence report. But he said a key message was the importance of taking action.

While we’ve got more time, we’ve got to use the time, because the enrichment activities are continuing,” Lake said in an interview.

The new report repeats a number of the same cautions and conclusions in its last major assessment, in 2005, when the agencies reached the vastly different conclusion that Iran was determined to develop nuclear weapons. But the new report stresses the more recent findings that cast doubt on Tehran’s determination to build a bomb.

As a result, conservatives have denounced the report.

John R. Bolton, the hawkish former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has called for a congressional investigation of the report, which he said is flawed.

In a Washington Post op-ed column Thursday, Bolton alleged that many of the officials involved were “not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department” brought in by J. Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence.

Norman Podhoretz, the right-wing commentator who has advocated a U.S. military strike on Iran and who is a foreign policy advisor to Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential campaign, accused the intelligence community of purposefully “leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush.”

paul.richter@latimes.com