Spinning the Iran switch…


Richard Moore

       "The new report brings the U.S. intelligence community in
        line with what the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]
        and several European governments were saying years ago,"
        said David Albright, a former United Nations weapons
        inspector and president of the Washington-based Institute
        for Science and International Security.

Friends, the above quote captures the primary consequence of the admission by 
the US that the Iranians are engaged in no nuclear weapons program. The US has 
now accepted the judgement of the UN inspectors, and most of the wind has gone 
out of its sails, as regards pushing world leaders toward stronger action 
against Iran. An attack now would be seen by everyone as unjustified aggression.
The neocon hawks have been leashed. These are headline news developments, it 
would seem to me.

The Washington Post, however, chooses to spin us a yarn about developments in 
the Intelligence Community, how much smarter they are these days and all that. 
Such a story might be of interest technically, if one could belive it. But what 
we are seeing on this date, quite obviously, is a carefully crafted press 
release, from the CIA or whoever, designed to give a 'favorable impression' 
within the context of the Iran reversal. It reads kind of like an advert.

The poor Washington Post reader is unlikely to develop any neural connections 
between 'Intelligence announcement' and 'diplomatic trouble for Bush'. Even 
more, Bush's inevitable bungling will look like his own fault, caused by no one 
else. Such are the subtle ways of our lords behind the curtain.

By the way...has anyone heard anything from Cheney? A good time for a 
disappearing act? Imagine poor George without Cheney around to answer all the 
questions and talk to all the important people. "Help! I'm at the controls of a 
747 at 60,000 feet and I can' fly!"


Original source URL:

[links in original]

Lessons of Iraq Aided Intelligence On Iran
Officials Cite New Caution And a Surge in Spying
By Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; A01

The starkly different view of Iran's nuclear program that emerged from U.S. spy 
agencies this week was the product of a surge in clandestine 
intelligence-gathering in Iran as well as radical changes in the way the 
intelligence community analyzes information.

Drawing lessons from the intelligence debacle over supposed Iraqi weapons of 
mass destruction, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell required 
agencies to consult more sources and to say to a larger intelligence community 
audience precisely what they know and how they know it -- and to acknowledge, to
a degree previously unheard of, what they do not know.

" 'Do not know' is a new technical term for an NIE," said a senior official who 
was involved in preparation of the report, known as a National Intelligence 

While intelligence officials say the new conclusion about the Iranian program 
proved that the reforms were sound, the wide gap between Monday's report and 
previous assessments also left the agencies vulnerable to accusations that 
officials had failed for too long to grasp a fundamental change in course by 
Iran's leaders.

The new report upended years of previous assessments by asserting that the 
Islamic republic halted the weapons side of its nuclear program in 2003. The 
report, while expressing concern about Iran's rapidly growing civilian nuclear 
energy program, contradicted assertions by top Bush administration officials and
previous intelligence assessments that Iran has been bent on acquiring nuclear 

"The new report brings the U.S. intelligence community in line with what the 
IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and several European governments were 
saying years ago," said David Albright, a former United Nations weapons 
inspector and president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and 
International Security.

In 2005, a National Intelligence Estimate had said Iran was "determined" to 
acquire nuclear weapons, a view that meshed with the foreign policy of an 
administration that in 2002 declared Iran to be part of an "axis of evil." But 
former and current U.S. intelligence officials said the flaws in that report 
reflected only the extreme difficulty of penetrating Iran's nuclear program.

"It's the hardest damn target out there -- harder than North Korea," said an 
intelligence official who contributed to the report. "This is a program they 
tried very hard to hide from us, and it was hard even to fathom who was in 

The 2005 report's assertions that Iran was secretly working on nuclear weapons 
turned out to be accurate, but dated. Ellen Laipson, former vice chairman of the
National Intelligence Council, said the earlier judgment was based on credible 
information that may have been the best available at the time.

"It's not getting it wrong, it's that [the intelligence] collection may have 
been insufficient," said Laipson, now president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, 
a defense think tank. "It takes years to know the truth."

A pivotal moment occurred in early summer 2005, when President Bush discussed 
the new Iran NIE with advisers during a routine intelligence briefing. Why, he 
asked, was it so hard to get information about Iran's nuclear program?

The exchange, described by a senior U.S. official who witnessed it, helped 
instigate the intelligence community's most aggressive attempt to penetrate 
Iran's highly secretive nuclear program. Over the coming months, the CIA 
established a new Iran Operations Division that brought analysts and clandestine
collectors together to search for hard evidence.

Communications intercepts of Iranian nuclear officials and a stolen Iranian 
laptop containing diagrams related to the development of a nuclear warhead for 
missiles both yielded valuable evidence about Iran's nuclear past as well as its
decision in 2003 to suspend the weapons side of its program.

But there was no "eureka" moment, according to senior officials who helped 
supervise the collection efforts. The surge in intelligence-gathering helped 
convince analysts that Iran had made a "course correction" in 2003, halting the 
weapons work while proceeding with the civilian nuclear energy program.

The result, ironically, was a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that 
reached conclusions far different from what many intelligence officials 

"One reason this is actually an intelligence success is that when we got 
additional information that could lead to a different conclusion, we had an 
ability to move in that direction," said a senior intelligence official involved
in the drafting process.

Former and current intelligence officials say the new NIE reflects new 
analytical methods ordered by McConnell -- who took the DNI job in January -- 
and his deputies, including Thomas Fingar, a former head of the State 
Department's intelligence agency, and Donald M. Kerr, a former director of the 
Los Alamos National Laboratory and an expert on nuclear weapons technology.

Besides requiring greater transparency about the sources of intelligence, 
McConnell and his colleagues have compelled analysts working on major estimates 
to challenge existing assumptions when new information does not fit, according 
to former and current U.S. officials familiar with the policies.

The report also reflects what several officials described yesterday as a new 
willingness by the intelligence community to analyze intentions in addition to 
capabilities. While Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity 
to make nuclear weapons, including knowledge of how to enrich uranium to a level
usable in bombs, the new intelligence collected through intercepted 
communications raised doubts about Iran's intended use of the technology.

As McConnell said in a Nov. 14 speech, it "inserted some new questions" that 
made the community go back and review the conventional wisdom about Iran. It 
also shed light on Iran's susceptibility to international diplomatic pressure --
a large factor in Tehran's decision to cut off research on building a bomb, 
analysts concluded.

McConnell said his objective in preparing the Iran estimate was "to present the 
clinical evidence and let it stand on its own merits with its own 
qualification," meaning that it would contain dissent. "There are always 
disagreements on every National Intelligence Estimate," he said.

He and other officials jettisoned a requirement that each conclusion in an NIE 
reflect a consensus view of the intelligence community -- a requirement that in 
the past yielded "lowest-common-denominator judgments," said one senior 
intelligence official familiar with the reforms.

"We demolished democracy" by no longer reflecting just a majority opinion, 
"because we felt we should not be determining the credibility of analytic 
arguments by a raising of hands," the official said. Some analysts, for example,
were not "highly confident" that Iran has not restarted its nuclear program, a 
result reflected in the classified report. Other analysts said Iran was further 
away from attaining a nuclear weapons capability than the majority said.

DNI officials also pressed for a broader array of intelligence sources, 
including news accounts and other "open sources" that traditionally had carried 
little weight inside intelligence agencies. In the case of Iran, critical 
information was gleaned from non-clandestine sources, such as news photographs 
taken in 2005 depicting the inner workings of one of Iran's uranium enrichment 
plants, an official said.

Those photos helped persuade analysts that the Natanz plant was suited to making
low-enriched uranium for nuclear energy but not the highly enriched uranium 
needed for bombs. "You go to wherever you think the answer might be," the 
official said, "instead of waiting for it to trickle into your top-secret 
computer system."

Several top officials said McConnell and others were determined to avoid a 
repetition of the intelligence community's very public failures in assessing 
Iraq's weapons programs. Not only were its analytical judgments wrong -- U.S. 
forces in Iraq never found the chemical or biological weapons that the CIA said 
they would -- but the agency relied on sources known to be suspect or even 

For instance, U.S. claims that Iraq had built mobile biological weapons 
laboratories were based on more than 100 reports from a single source, an Iraqi 
defector code-named "Curveball" whom U.S. officials never interviewed in person.
After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, investigators concluded that Curveball's 
stories were fabrications.

Then-CIA director George J. Tenet initiated some of the reforms in the wake of 
the Curveball debacle, but Fingar and McConnell added to them and spread them 
across the intelligence community, officials said.

Staff writer Robin Wright contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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