Reprinted from NewsMax.com
Skepticism Mounts Over NIE Findings
Thursday, December 6, 2007 10:24 PM
By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
“The intelligence community has proven over past five to seven
years that they can’t get analysis right. They can’t build satellites.
They can’t keep a secret," says Rep. Pete Hoekstra.
The ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence
Committee, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, is “profoundly disappointed” with the
way the intelligence community has handled the latest National
Intelligence Estimate on Iran, and says he is “not convinced” of their
conclusion that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in late 2003.
“While the intelligence may have gotten better, it hasn’t improved to
the point where we can make this kind of definitive statement, that
Iran has stopped their weapons program,” he told Newsmax in an
exclusive interview on Thursday.
“The intelligence community has proven over past five to seven years
that they can’t get analysis right. They can’t build satellites. They
can’t keep a secret. And now they expect us to say, great work? This is
dead nuts!” he said.
This latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear
weapons program has become a political football, as Republicans and
Democrats dispute its findings, the motivations for its release, and
the policies it advocates.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the report vindicates Democrats
who have been skeptical of claims that Iran was seeking nuclear
weapons, and has urged the administration to launch a “diplomatic
surge” and cut a deal with Tehran.
Republicans are wondering how the intelligence community could reverse
itself so thoroughly from its 2005 estimate, and suspect that “shadow
warriors” opposed to the president are skewing the intelligence for
“This is CIA pay-back to the president for having made them, not FBI,
take the rap for the failures that led up to 9/11,” one well-informed
source told Newsmax.
The sparring over a highly-classified set of facts and conclusions is
precisely the reason Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, the director of national
intelligence, said last month he did not to intend to make the NIE
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on
Nov. 14, McConnell said he did not want “a situation where the young
analysts are writing something because they know it’s going to be a
public debate or political debate.”
McConnell reversed course at the insistence of Democrats in Congress
and published an unclassified summary of key findings on Monday, with
The intermingling of intelligence with politics raises “profound
issues” about the role of the intelligence community, said Michelle Van
Cleave, who was the nation’s top counter-intelligence officer until
“Should intelligence be contributing to the public debate? Or should it
be confined to providing that secret information to national security
decision makers that they cannot get anywhere else? If it is that
later, we should not be encouraging them to go public with snapshot in
time judgments,” she said.
Hoekstra said he received a call for McConnell’s to deputy, Donald
Kerr, just hours before the Key Findings were released on Monday.
That last-minute call, and subsequent briefings by intelligence
community representatives, were “disappointing,” said Hoekstra.
Citing the 2005 Iran estimate that concluded with “high confidence”
that Iran continued to pursue nuclear weapons, Hoekstra said the
president should order a “full-depth analysis” to get the intelligence
community to “fully explain how they got it so wrong in 2005 and how
they now believe they’ve got it so right in 2007.”
Hoekstra didn’t dispute the actual findings of the NIE, which concluded
with “high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear
weapons program.” His concern was the process that led the intelligence
community to so dramatically reverse itself, and whether ongoing “gaps”
in U.S. knowledge of Iran shouldn’t prompt analysts to greater prudence
in their judgments.
“I get very nervous when they make these kind of definitive
statements,” he said.
Representatives from the 16 member agencies of the intelligence
community briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, and the
House committee on Wednesday.
Hoekstra said that the closed-door presentation was “pathetic.”
“We expect them to be forthright, so you don’t have to ask 50 questions
to make sure you ask the right one,” he said. “Members didn’t find them
forthcoming, or even well-versed in answering very tough questions that
were put to them by Democrats and Republicans.”
Herbert E. Meyer, who helped draft National Intelligence Estimates
during the Reagan administration, believes the controversy has become
so intense – and so partisan – that the president should appoint a
non-partisan commission of experts to sift through the evidence, to
determine if it supports the conclusions of the report.
Such a review of the NIE is necessary, he argues, because the main
conclusion of the report – that Iran had a nuclear weapons program but
shut it down in the fall of 2003 – “flies in the face of virtually
everything we know – or thought we knew – about the Iranian regime, its
capabilities and its intentions.”
If that key judgment is incorrect, and the Iranians are in fact
continuing to build nuclear weapons, “the political impact of its
publication will be catastrophic,” Meyer said.
“Simply put, we need to know for sure whether the new Key Judgment is
right or wrong,” he said. “And, given the long list of failures and
reversals that has plagued our intelligence community during the last
decade, it's reasonable to be skeptical.”
Former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International
Security Robert G. Joseph believes that Iran’s continued production of
fissile material – ostensibly for a civilian power program – shows that
“Iran remains a threat.”
He believes that this capability brings Iran closer to a "nuclear
The same equipment and processes that are needed to enrich uranium to 4
percent for use in a civilian power reactor can also be used to enrich
uranium to 93 percent to make a weapon, he argued at a State Department
conference on Wednesday to commemorate Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, father
of the atomic bomb.
“In 2005, we had high confidence that they were pursuing a nuclear
weapon,” he told Newsmax. “I just don’t feel good about this NIE,”
which reverses that conclusion.
Joseph helped lead the effort to dismantle Libya’s previously
undeclared nuclear weapons program in 2003-2004, along with Assistant
Secretary of State for Verificatio Paula DeSutter.
“I know what I saw in Libya,” he said. “And I just don’t see that
happening in Iran.”
Joseph recalls U.S. nuclear experts flooding into Libya to take away
remnants of a turn-key uranium centrifuge plant bought from the Aq Khan
network in Pakistan.
“We packed up hundreds of tons of nuclear enrichment equipment and
shipped it to Oak Ridge, Tennessee,” he said. “That’s what I call a
non-proliferation program – seeing the Libyan nuclear program sitting
in Tennessee. I don’t know how things will end up with our Iranian
friends, but I suspect it will be something different.”
Adding to his skepticism, he said, were the jubilant reactions of
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and of
IAEA Secretary General Mohamed ElBaradei.
“I know this report will be used to marshal international support to
stop us from putting pressure on Iran,” he said.
Joseph’s predecessor at the top arms control slot at the State
Department was John Bolton, whose nomination to become the permanent
U.S. representative to the United Nations was derailed by Senate
Democrats in May 2005, with help from State Department official Thomas
Fingar. Fingar is also the author of this latest National Intelligence
Estimate on Iran. I trace his background and that of other authors of
the NIE in my latest book, “Shadow Warriors.”
Just before the NIE was released last week, Bolton told me that his
greatest fear was that changing assumptions about Iran’s capabilities
would lead the intelligence community to miscalculate.
“If some of these underlying assumptions turn out to be wrong,” he
said, “the Iranians can have weapons capability much earlier than the
estimates will lead you to believe. And I, for one, do not believe in
Bolton noted that the Iranians “are obviously aware of the risk they
run” by continuing to enrich uranium, despite international demands
that they suspend enrichment activities.
“Every day that goes by gives them more of an opportunity to harden
their existing facilities or to build completely alternative facilities
of which we have no knowledge. Our
lack of reliable intelligence inside Iran is substantial.”
Bolton believes the Iranians have made significant gains in their
nuclear program by gaming the system, and that the State Department
should have taken a harder line, instead of allowing protracted
negotiations through the Europeans to continue.
“All this long period of time has put Iran in a much more favorable
position. It is a classic case study why diplomacy is not cost-free. If
we had been working on regime change effectively over the last four
years, we would be in a lot different position today,” he said.
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