Reprinted from NewsMax.com
Mike McConnell: I Would Change
Iran Nuke Report
Wednesday, February 6, 2008 5:12 PM
By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell took careful
steps to reconsider key portions of a controversial National
Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons program on Tuesday
under sharp questions from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
McConnell was grilled on the NIE’s disputed conclusion that Iran had
shut down its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 under
international pressure by both Democrats and Republicans.
Sen. Kit Bond, the ranking Republican on the committee, chided
McConnell for allowing the NIE to be used as a “political football,”
and pointed out that the real revelation of the NIE was just the
opposite of how it has been portrayed in news accounts at home and
“The main news of the NIE was the confirmation that Iran had a nuclear
weapons program, not that it had halted it temporarily,” he said.
Even the presumed, temporary halt was open to question, Bond added.
“The French defense minister said publicly that he believes the program
has restarted. Now if our government comes to that assessment, then we
have set ourselves up to release another NIE or leak intelligence,
because this last one has given us a false sense of security.”
John Bolton, the former undersecretary of state for Arms Control and
Nonproliferation, blasted McConnell and the NIE on the morning of the
hearing in a sharply-worded oped appearing in The Wall Street Journal.
“Few seriously doubt that the NIE gravely damaged the Bush
administration’s diplomatic strategy,” Bolton wrote.
The NIE was driven by policy considerations, not actual intelligence,
and put the community’s credibility and impartiality on the line,
“Mr. McConnell should commit the intelligence community to stick to its
knitting — intelligence — and return its policy enthusiasts to agencies
where policy is made,” Bolton added. He called for the reassignment of
the three State Department policy-makers who had authored the NIE.
McConnell tried to dismiss Bolton’s comments, then began to seriously
Once he realized that the intelligence community had turned up
information that directly contradicted public statements he and his
predecessor, John Negroponte, had made about Iran’s nuclear weapons
program, McConnell said he was in a bind.
“So now my dilemma was, I could not not make this unclassified,” he
said, even though his preference had been to keep the entire 140 page
estimate out of the public eye.
Senior Bush administration officials who have read the entire
classified NIE have told Newsmax they were “appalled” at the thin
sourcing and shoddy analysis.
A former career CIA analyst commented, “I have never seen an
intelligence analysis this bad. It is misleading, politicized, and
In a column entitled “Stupid Intelligence on Iran,” the former defense
secretary, James Schlesinger, wrote, “Clearly, the key judgments in the
NIE were overstated . . . and thus incautiously phrased.”
Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger warned (in a Dec. 13, 2007
Op-Ed in The Washington Post) that the authors of the NIE saw
themselves as “a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive
branch,” and excoriated them for seeking to become “surrogate
policy-makers and advocates.”
Newsmax first revealed that the NIE’s main author, Vann Van Diepen,
fled the State Department for the Office of the Director of National
Intelligence after he was investigated for insubordination.
Van Diepen’s superior at State, none other than John Bolton, had to
bring in an attorney to force Van Diepen to implement sanctions on
countries that were engaged in WMD-related technology transfers; that
is, to ensure that Van Diepen followed the law after he refused to do
I identified Van Diepen as a key “shadow warrior” within McConnell’s
Directorate of National Intelligence in my recent book of the same
McConnell pleaded lack of time for what he acknowledged was careless
wording in the unclassified version of the NIE that was ultimately
released to the public on Dec. 3, 2007.
“So now we’re in a horse race. I’ve got to notify the committee. I’ve
got to notify allies. I’ve got to get unclassified out the door,” he
said. “So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have
changed a thing or two.”
Asked what specifically he would have changed, McConnell said he “would
change the way that we described the nuclear program.”
For a bureaucrat, such wording amounts to “a significant walk back,” a
congressional source who followed the hearing told Newsmax.
The opening sentence of the NIE set the tone for the controversy. It
states: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted
its nuclear weapons program.”
McConnell acknowledged that the decision to relegate the explanation of
what his analysts meant by “nuclear weapons program” to a footnote was
“I think I would change the way that we described the nuclear program,”
he said. “I would argue, maybe even the least significant portion — was
halted and there are other parts that continue.”
Armed with McConnell’s admission, Democrat Evan Bayh then rephrased the
key conclusions of the NIE as stating that the Iranians could
recommence their nuclear program “at any point in time” and “ultimately
they’re likely to be successful.”
When McConnell agreed, Bayh then blasted him for releasing a document
to the public that was misleading, contradictory, and had “unintended
consequences that, in my own view, are damaging to the national
security interests of our country.”
McConnell will face renewed grilling on the NIE on Thursday when he
faces the House intelligence panel for a similar hearing.
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