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Fact-Based Intelligence Prevails on Nukes and Iran

by Ray McGovern

For those who have doubts about miracles, a double one occurred today. An honest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)(.pdf file) on Iran's nuclear program has been issued and its Key Judgments were made public. With redraft after redraft, it was what the Germans call "eine schwere Geburt" -- a difficult birth, ten months in gestation.I do not know how often Vice President Dick Cheney visited CIA Headquarters during the gestation period, but I am told he voiced his displeasure as soon as he saw the first sonogram/draft very early this year, and is so displeased with what issued that he has refused to be the godfather.

This time Cheney and his neo-con colleagues were unable to abort the process. And after delivery to the press, this child is going to be very hard to explain-the more so since it is legitimate.

The main points of the NIE:

"We judge that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program..."

"We assess with moderate confidence Tehran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007."

"We do not have sufficient intelligence to judge confidently whether Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program indefinitely..."

"We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame."

"We judge with high confidence that Iran will not be technically capable of producing and reprocessing enough plutonium for a weapon before about 2015."

Having reached these conclusions, it is not surprising that the NIE's authors make a point of saying up front (in bold type) "This NIE does not (italics in original) assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons."

This, of course, pulls out the rug from under Cheney's claim of a "fairly robust new nuclear program" in Iran, and President Bush's inaccurate assertion that Iranian leaders have even admitted they are developing nuclear weapons.

Apparently, intelligence community analysts are no longer required to produce the faith-based intelligence that brought us the Oct. 1, 2002 NIE "Iraq's Continuing Program for Weapons of Mass Destruction" -- the worst in the history of U.S. intelligence.

Truth be told, one of the Iran NIE's findings was written into its first draft, from which Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell drew in telling the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 27 that Iran could possibly develop a nuclear weapon by early-to-mid-next decade.

McConnell said not a word, though, about Iran's having halted its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003. And in February, he was still adhering to the faith-based approach, saying, "We assess that Iran seeks to develop a nuclear weapon." At which point, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R, SC) tried to sum up the proceedings with the disingenuous comment, "We all agree, then, that the Iranians are trying to get nuclear weapons."

Curiously, McConnell indicated recently that the key findings of NIEs would no longer be made public. My guess is that the Pentagon, and especially Adm. William Fallon, commander of our forces in the Middle East, succeeded in persuading McConnell to go public. Several months ago, Fallon was reliably reported to have said, "We are not going to do Iran on my watch." And it is an open secret that he and other senior military officers, except those of the Air Force, are strongly opposed to getting into a war with Iran for which the U.S. is so ill prepared.

Will President George W. Bush and our domesticated media succeed in dismissing this latest NIE as "guesswork," as he has in the past? It is going to be highly interesting to see how the White House will try to spin this one.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour. During his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he chaired National Intelligence Estimates and produced/briefed the President's Daily Brief. He is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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