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Monday, December 03, 2007


The National "Intelligence" [sic] Estimate

The big news today is about the National Intelligence Estimate (PDF link) which asserts with "high confidence" that Iran abandoned a nuclear weapons program in 2003. The "intelligence" value of this "confidence" can be judged in light of the fact that in 2005, two years ago and two years after 2003, the same NIE claimed that Iran "was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb." Of course this "intelligence" estimate is almost entirely political, and you can speculate all you like about what's behind the latest report. Was its impetus those in the administration and intelligence community who think an attack on Iran would be folly, and want to demonstrate that "diplomacy" (sanctions and threats of war are what passes for "diplomacy" in the United States) is all that's needed? Or perhaps its impetus is Bush himself, realizing that there's no way the U.S. can go ahead with an attack on Iran so he might as well salvage some credit by claiming that his "diplomacy" made Iran abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program. Who knows? I don't, nor do you, and it's pretty much pointless to worry about it.

It is interesting to look at the estimate itself (link above), only nine pages long and that includes pages of definitions of things like what "high confidence" means; the actual "estimate" is only a few pages long. I found this paragraph perhaps the most interesting of all, and telling about the kind of "intelligence" that makes up this report:

We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran's key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons. In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible.
At the heart of this "intelligence" assessment is the assertion that Iran's leadership has to be "convinced" to "forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons" and that "many within the leadership probably see [a linkage] between nuclear weapons development and Iran's key national security and foreign policy objectives." Right now there are two poles of leadership in Iran. One is its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Here's what he has to say on the subject:
"We have declared many times, and we declare again, that our nuclear technology is in the service of peaceful goals. We declare that mass destruction weapons are sought by those who still think in the mode of 50 years ago. Those who think that political equations and cultural and economic equations can be solved to their benefit by relying on arsenals of mass destruction weapons. Our nation is a civilized nation, a cultured nation, that relies on the faith and will of its young nationals. Our nation, in order to achieve its aspiration, relies on the thoughts and beliefs and enhanced values that lie in the Islamic culture and Iranian culture. Our nation does not elicit its power from nuclear weapons. The power of our nation is rooted in the justice of its beliefs."
Then there's the second pole, the "real" power, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Here's a statement about his opinion (and Ahmadinejad's as well) that was read at the IAEA meeting in 2005:
"The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued the fatwa that the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who took office just recently, in his inaugural address reiterated that his government is against weapons of mass destruction and will only pursue nuclear activities in the peaceful domain."
Now, pray tell, which part of the leadership is it exactly that "sees [a linkage] between nuclear weapons development and Iran's key national security and foreign policy objectives"?

The only other thing in the NIE I think worth commenting on was this curious statement:

We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon.
Really? Only "moderate-to-high" confidence? For goodness' sake, even Dick Cheney hasn't made that preposterous claim (yet, anyway).


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