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New Grist for Hype on Iran
Here we go again. A report
issued Thursday by the new Director General of the U.N. International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, has injected
new adrenalin into those arguing that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.
The usual suspects are hyping—and distorting—thin-gruel language in the report to “prove” that Iran is hard at work on a nuclear weapon. The New York Times’ David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, for example, highlighted a sentence about “alleged activities related to nuclear explosives,” which Amano says he wants to discuss with Iran.
Amano’s report said:
“Addressing these issues
is important for clarifying the Agency’s concerns about these activities
and those described above, which seem to have continued beyond 2004.”
Sanger and Broad play up the
“beyond 2004” language as “contradicting the American intelligence
assessment…that concluded that work on a bomb was suspended at the
end of 2003.” Other media have picked that up and run with it,
apparently without bothering to read the IAEA report itself.
The Times article is, at best, disingenuous in claiming:
“The report cited new
evidence, much of it collected in recent weeks, that appeared to paint
a picture of a concerted drive in Iran toward a weapons capability.”
As far as I can tell, the “new evidence” consists of the “same-old, same-old” allegations and inferences already reported in the open press—material that failed to convince the Director of Intelligence, Dennis Blair, to depart from previous assessments during his Congressional testimony on February 2. Rather, he adhered closely to the unanimous conclusions of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies expressed in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of Nov. 2007.
So What’s New? The Director General of the IAEA, for one thing.
Yukiya Amano found huge shoes
to fill when he took over from the widely respected Mohamed ElBaradei
on December 1. ElBaradei had the courage to call a spade a spade
and, when necessary, a forgery a forgery—like the documents alleging
that Iraq had sought yellowcake uranium in Niger.
ElBaradei took a perverse—if
diplomatic—delight in giving the lie to spurious allegations and became
persona non grata to the Bush/Cheney administration. So much so
that, in an unsuccessful campaign to deny him a third four-year term
as Director General, the administration called in many diplomatic chits
in 2005—the same year he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In addition to a strong spine, Elbaradei had credentials that would simply not quit. His extensive diplomatic experience together with a PhD in international law from New York University, gave him a gravitas that enabled him to lead the IAEA effectively.
Lacking gravitas, one bends
more easily. It is a fair assumption that Amano will prove more
malleable than his predecessor—and surely more naïve. How he
handles the controversy generated by Thursday’s report should show
whether he means to follow ElBaradei’s example or the more customary
“flexible” example so common among U.N. bureaucrats.
Press reports over the past few days—as well as past experience—strongly suggest that the “new evidence” cited by the Times may have comes from the usual suspects—agenda-laden sources, like Israeli intelligence.
On Saturday, the Jerusalem
Post quoted the Israeli government as saying the IAEA report “establishes
that the agency has a lot of trustworthy information about the past
and present activities that testify to the military tendencies of the
Iranian program.” The newspaper cited the IAEA report as suggesting
that “Teheran had either resumed such work [on a nuclear weapon] or
had never stopped when U.S. intelligence said it did.”
Perhaps the Jerusalem Post
should have stopped there. Rather, in a highly suggestive sentence,
it went on to suggest that “intelligence supplied by the US, Israel,
and other IAEA member states on Iran’s attempts to use the cover of
a civilian nuclear program to move toward a weapons program was compelling.”
Compelling? Not so much.
It beggars belief that Israel would withhold such “intelligence”
from the U.S. And judging from the Congressional testimony of
National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair on Feb. 2, the U.S. intelligence
community sees the evidence as neither new nor compelling.
The analysis and judgments of the Nov. 2007 NIE were a product of the original ethos of CIA’s intelligence directorate where the premium was on speaking without fear or favor—speaking truth to power. That Estimate was like a breath of fresh air for those of us aware of the importance of that kind of integrity. Some of us proudly bear the retaliatory scars from administration officials, pundits, and academics pushing agenda-shaped, alternative analyses.
The supreme indignity was former
CIA Director George Tenet’s tenet that intelligence should be cooked
to order—as was done in the September 2002 NIE regarding WMD in Iraq.
That was, pure and simple, prostitution of our profession, and not very
different from what John Yoo and his lawyer accomplices did to the legal
profession in finding waterboarding and other acts of torture not torture.
An Honest Estimate
After a bottom-up investigation
of all evidence on Iran’s nuclear activities and plans, the November
2007 Estimate boldly contradicted what President George W. Bush, Vice
President Dick Cheney, and their Israeli counterparts had been claiming
about the imminence of a nuclear threat from Iran.
Happily, courage was not limited
to Tom Fingar, then chair of the National Intelligence Council, and
those working under his supervision on the Estimate. The most
senior U.S. military officers took the unusual step of insisting that
the essence of the Estimate’s key judgments be made public.
They calculated, correctly,
that this would put a spike in the wheels of the juggernaut then rolling
toward a fresh disaster—war with Iran. Recall that Adm. William Fallon,
who became CENTCOM commander in March 2007, leaked to the press that
there would be no attack on Iran “on my watch.”
Fallon was fired in March 2008. While not as outspoken as Fallon, his senior military colleagues shared his disdain for the dangerously simplistic views of Bush and Cheney on the use of military power.
Among a handful of Key Judgments of the November 2007 NIE were these:
“-We judge with high confidence
that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program;
“-We also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons….
“-We assess with moderate confidence Tehran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”
But that was more than two years ago, you say. What about now?
In formal testimony to the
Senate Intelligence Committee on February 2, Director of National Intelligence
Dennis Blair wore out the subjunctive mood in addressing Iran’s possible
plans for a nuclear weapon. His paragraphs were replete with dependent
clauses, virtually all of them beginning with “if.”
Blair repeated verbatim the 2007 judgment that Iran is “keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons,” and repeated the intelligence community’s agnosticism on the $64 question: “We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”
Addressing the uranium enrichment plant at Qom, Blair pointed out that its small size and location under a mountain “fit nicely with a strategy of keeping the option open to build a nuclear weapon at some future date, if Tehran ever decides to do that.”
Such “advancements lead us to affirm our judgment from the 2007 NIE that Iran is technically capable of producing enough HEU [highly enriched uranium] for a weapon in the next few years, if it chooses to do so.”
Notably absent from Blair’s testimony was the first “high confidence” judgment of the 2007 NIE that “in fall 2003 Iran halted its nuclear weapons program,” and the “moderate confidence” assessment that Iran had not restarted it.
These were the most controversial judgments in 2007. Blair did not disavow them; he just didn’t mention them—probably in an attempt to let sleeping dogs lie. Less likely, Blair may have chosen to sequester for closed session any discussion of “recent evidence” bearing on these key judgments. It is likely that Blair was aware of the doubts that would be raised by Amano’s IAEA report just two weeks later.
As if the considered judgments of the intelligence community had no weight, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice was quick to cite the IAEA report to charge that Iran is pursuing “a nuclear weapons program with the purpose of evasion.” Presumably, she was merely repeating the talking points given to her boss a week ago on her way to the Middle East.
Speaking a week ago in Qatar, Secretary Hillary Clinton expressed her deep concern at “accumulating evidence” that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon—as though deterrence is a thing of the past. On the question of what kind of threat the “accumulating evidence” poses to the U.S., Clinton inadvertently spilled the beans.
The evidence is deeply concerning,
she said, not because it “directly threatens the United States, but
it directly threatens a lot of our friends”—read Israel. Recall
that Clinton is on record saying the she would “obliterate” Iran
if it attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon. It is de rigueur
never to mention the 200-300 nuclear weapons already in Israel’s arsenal.
Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow at the Arms Control Association, notes that it would be far better if the U.S. would stress that Iran's right to uranium enrichment, consistent with Non-Proliferation Treaty Article IV, is contingent on Iran's adherence to the treaty's Articles I, II, and III.
Thielmann notes that Iran has no inherent right to uranium enrichment while it is violating its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. Yet this point is being lost by the West's unqualified emphasis on the demand that uranium enrichment be suspended, and inconsistent U.S. statements about Iran's intention to develop nuclear weapons. Consequently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can posture that the West is just trying to keep Iran down and deny it the rights guaranteed under the NPT.
Deja Iraq All Over Again
On June 5, 2008, then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Jay Rockefeller made some remarkable comments that got sparse attention in the Fawning Corporate Media in the United States. Announcing the findings of a bipartisan report of a multi-year study on misstatements on prewar intelligence on Iraq, Rockefeller said:
“In making the case for war,
the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in
reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.
As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat
from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”
For God’s sake, spare us such “intelligence” on Iran.