U.S. now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bomb – Los Angeles Times

Funny how Obama now sees that Iran is a threat and is persuing nuclear weapons… I wonder what would have happened had he been privy to this level of intel when the decision to take out Saddam was made… I bet he would have sang a different tune, but then again he was just a state senator in IL and did not have access to intel this level of intel when he spoke out against going into Iraq.

Reporting from Washington — Little more than a year after U.S. spy agencies concluded that Iran had halted work on a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration has made it clear that it believes there is no question that Tehran is seeking the bomb.

In his news conference this week, President Obama went so far as to describe Iran’s “development of a nuclear weapon” before correcting himself to refer to its “pursuit” of weapons capability.

Obama’s nominee to serve as CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, left little doubt about his view last week when he testified on Capitol Hill. “From all the information I’ve seen,” Panetta said, “I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.” 

The language reflects the extent to which senior U.S. officials now discount a National Intelligence Estimate issued in November 2007 that was instrumental in derailing U.S. and European efforts to pressure Iran to shut down its nuclear program.

As the administration moves toward talks with Iran, Obama appears to be sending a signal that the United States will not be drawn into a debate over Iran’s intent.

“When you’re talking about negotiations in Iran, it is dangerous to appear weak or naive,” said Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear weapons expert and president of the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-proliferation organization based in Washington. 

Cirincione said the unequivocal language also worked to Obama’s political advantage. “It guards against criticism from the right that the administration is underestimating Iran,” he said.

Iran has long maintained that it aims to generate electricity, not build bombs, with nuclear power. But Western intelligence officials and nuclear experts increasingly view those claims as implausible.

U.S. officials said that although no new evidence had surfaced to undercut the findings of the 2007 estimate, there was growing consensus that it provided a misleading picture and that the country was poised to reach crucial bomb-making milestones this year.

Obama’s top intelligence official, Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, is expected to address mounting concerns over Iran’s nuclear program in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee today.

When it was issued, the NIE stunned the international community. It declared that U.S. spy agencies judged “with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

U.S. intelligence officials later said the conclusion was based on evidence that Iran had stopped secret efforts to design a nuclear warhead around the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Often overlooked in the NIE, officials said, was that Iran had not stopped its work on other crucial fronts, including missile design and uranium enrichment. Many experts contend that these are more difficult than building a bomb.

Iran’s advances on enrichment have become a growing source of alarm. Since 2004, the country has gone from operating a few dozen centrifuges — cylindrical machines used to enrich uranium — to nearly 6,000, weapons experts agree.

By November, Iran had produced an estimated 1,400 pounds of low-enriched uranium, not nearly enough to fuel a nuclear energy reactor, but perilously close to the quantity needed to make a bomb.

A report issued last month by the Institute for Science and International Security concluded that “Iran is moving steadily toward a breakout capability and is expected to reach that milestone during the first half of 2009.” That means it would have enough low-enriched uranium to be able to quickly convert it to weapons-grade material.

Tehran’s progress has come despite CIA efforts to sabotage shipments of centrifuge components on their way into Iran and entice the country’s nuclear scientists to leave.

Iran still faces considerable hurdles. The country touted its launch of a 60-pound satellite into orbit this month. Experts said Iran’s rockets would need to be able to carry more than 2,000 pounds to deliver a first-generation nuclear bomb.

And there are indications that the U.S. and Iran are interested in holding serious diplomatic discussions for the first time in three decades. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week that his nation was “ready to hold talks based on mutual respect,” and Obama indicated that his administration would look for opportunities “in the coming months.”

Hassan Qashqavi, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, on Wednesday warned the U.S. not to wait for Iranian presidential elections this year, because ultimate authority rests with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He also said Iran would be patient.

“Since a new administration came to power in the U.S., we do not want to burn the opportunity of President Obama and give him time to change the reality on the ground,” Qashqavi said.

But experts said Iran was now close enough to nuclear weapons capability that it may be less susceptible to international pressure.

“They’ve made more progress in the last five years than in the previous 10,” Cirincione said.

via U.S. now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bomb – Los Angeles Times.

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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