Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

NIE Aftermath

A little over a week after a U.S. intelligence report concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, the...

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A little over a week after a U.S. intelligence report concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, the sabre-rattling inside the Washington Beltway appears to have receded, and with it, the George W. Bush administration’s strongest pretext for a military confrontation with Iran.

The judgments of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) contradicted findings in a similar 2005 report, which assessed that Iran was 10 years away from developing nuclear weapons. That report—the first major review since 2001 of what is known and what is unknown about Iran—also said Iran’s military was conducting clandestine nuclear work and that if "left to its own devices, Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons."

Critics of President Bush’s Iran policy believe that the new intelligence estimate provides the rationale for a shift in the administration’s stance on Tehran, away from confrontation and toward engagement.

The new NIE did not portray Iran as a rogue ideological state zealously questing for nuclear weapons, as many neoconservatives have fiercely argued, but rather a rational political actor whose "decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs."

But the competition of dueling intelligence estimates is already underway, as is a battle for the integrity of the U.S. intelligence community, which has been harshly criticized for its failure to properly assess the WMD threat—or the lack thereof—in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Former Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet called the 2002 NIE about Iraq’s weapons programs "one of the lowest moments of my seven-year tenure." The Iraq report relied heavily on information provided by a source called "Curveball," an Iraqi chemical engineer later revealed as Rafid Ahmed Alwan, who had fed false information to German intelligence in exchange for asylum protection for him and his family. Germany did not trust him, but Alwan’s claims eventually made it to Washington.

Critics argue that intelligence was also manipulated by policymakers within the Bush administration to justify a U.S.-led invasion, and that neoconservatives are still trying to exert political control over the intelligence process.

"The last thing we need is more political input into intelligence matters. The facts are the facts, and it’s time conservatives began to deal with the facts on the ground," said Jon Wolfsthal, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, responding to the attempts to undermine the NIE’s findings.

"The days of Doug Feith and Steve Cambone creating intelligence to suit their ideology are thankfully behind us," he said.

Meanwhile, neoconservatives and former Bush officials have launched a ferocious counterattack on the NIE, and more pointedly at its authors, the intelligence officers.

"I must confess to suspecting that the intelligence community, having been excoriated for supporting the then-universal belief that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, is now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view … that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons," wrote Norman Podhoretz in the right-wing Commentary magazine.

"But I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is the intelligence community, which has for so many years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again."

In the opinion pages of the Washington Post, former U.S. envoy to the United Nations John R. Bolton was more pointed, accusing the NIE of being polluted by "refugees from the State Department" who were brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence, a position created in the response to the 9/11 Commission’s assessment of U.S. intelligence failures. Bolton also criticized the intelligence community for engaging in "policy formulation" rather than "intelligence analysis," and said that the new estimate was based on a bias given to new information that could not decisively negate all previous knowledge.

"It is a rare piece of intelligence that is so important it can conclusively or even significantly alter the body of already known information," said Bolton. "Yet the bias toward the new appears to have exerted a disproportionate effect on intelligence analysis."

Some experts have suggested that the new information involved the interception of a conversation between top Iranian military officials who were bitter over the Iranian leadership’s decision to halt its weapons program.

More importantly, the U.S. intelligence community’s belief that Iran was pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program up until 2003 was largely based on information contained in a laptop computer belonging to an Iranian engineer, said Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the nonproliferation Initiative at the Washington-based New America Foundation think-tank.

Lewis said that media outlets erroneously reported that the laptop, which the United States obtained in 2004 and which contained documents describing two Iranian nuclear programs, termed L-101 and L-102 by the Iranians, directly related to weapons work. He said it more specifically referred to modifications to a missile that would ostensibly carry a nuclear warhead.

"A lot of folks, myself included, have wondered about the reliability of the information. We’ve even taken to calling it the ‘laptop of death,’" he said. But it was the crude manner in which the documents were constructed that gave Lewis pause.

"What led many of us to have serious doubts about it was how utterly unconnected from reality some of the information seemed. Some of the reports indicated that some of the view graphs were done in PowerPoint, which suggested to me that the program was not terribly sophisticated," he said.

The report also seems to vindicate the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, but the NIE has been rejected by Israel, which claims that the Iranian nuclear weapons program is still running. And it appears that for the Bush White House, the NIE may not alter the course of its policy. "We’re dealing with a country that is still enriching uranium and remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism. That is a cause of great concern to the United States," said Vice President Dick Cheney in remarks delivered Friday at the National World War I Museum. "Not everyone understands the threat of nuclear proliferation in Iran or elsewhere but we and our allies do understand the threat and we have a duty to prevent it," he said. Earlier in the week, Cheney expressed support for the estimate, saying that he had no reason to question "what the community has produced, with respect to the NIE on Iran."

Khody Akhavi writes for the Inter Press Service.

Citations

Khody Akhavi, "NIE Aftermath," Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, December 10, 2007).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a leading framer of the “global war on terror” and a staunch supporter of aggressive U.S. military action around the world.


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Right Web readers will be familiar with Mr. Fleitz, the former CIA officer who once threatened to take “legal action” against Right Web for publicizing reports of controversies he was associated with in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz recently left his job at the conspiracy-mongering Center for Security Policy to become chief of staff to John Bolton at the National Security Council.


Norm Coleman is chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former senator from Minnesota known for his hawkish views on foreign policy.


Billionaire hedge fund mogul Paul Singer is known for his predatory business practices and support for neoconservative causes.


Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, is a passionate supporter of Trump’s foreign policy.


Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest “pro-Israel” advocacy group in the United States, is known for its zealous Christian Zionism and its growing influence in the Republican Party.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.


RightWeb
share