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New NIE on Iran: Answers or Questions?

The latest National Intelligence Estimate, Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, asserts this time that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program back in 2003. A friend of mine has Five Questions Concerning the Latest NIE. I've got a few more questions, as Tom surely does too, but that will have to wait for now.

Until then, just keep in mind that NIE's can be quite bi-polar. They are not definitive Holy Scripture, whether one agrees with any particular estimate or not. Recall that one NIE asserted that al-Qaeda was not the major threat in Iraq and was subsequently supplanted by an NIE that asserted the exact opposite. NIE's are Intelligence Community turf wars battled out on paper and within rooms in usually heated debate. Eventually, one view wins out over another, often due to the weight of the individuals who hold them rather than actual accuracy of sources and information.

With that in mind, ask yourself why Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was in North Korea to watch every rogue state's weapons farm team hold an intramural scrimmage with their first nuclear bomb test detonation.

More on this NIE later.


After actually reading this very carefully worded assessment, noting that it is replete with "waffles" throughout, I concluded that to not see the Iranian situation as still potentially dangerous based on this NIE, would be wrong.

- We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

- We cannot rule out that Iran has acquired from abroad—or will acquire in the future—a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material for a weapon.

- Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so.

- We do not have sufficient intelligence to judge confidently whether Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program indefinitely while it weighs its options, or whether it will or already has set specific deadlines or criteria that will prompt it to restart the program.

I believe that a pre-emptive strike against Iran would be "difficult" to justfy at this time. It is very possible to read this NIE and think that our guard is down. However, there are sufficient and stated uncertainties contained in the NIE to justify being very vigilent.

All of this is my opinion, recognizing that my efforts here at TW are domestic and not international.

Hi Jay, I don't think anyone would seriously propose that we be less vigilant, regardless of how the NIE is interpreted. The two best takes on the NIE that I've read are from George Friedman/STRATFOR and John McCreary/dNOVUS. They dig deeper than the surface analysis to get to the core issues: Why do the 2005 and 2007 (really 2006) NIEs flipflop (Friedman), and what the language implies about the quality of evidence (McCreary). If you haven't read either of these guys, I have the links at IntelFusion.

Hi Jeff: By saying "more vigilance" I doubt if I was implying "less." I think that George Friedman's take on this is pretty interesting (yes, I read it - more than once actually), but I did not see John McCreary's (I will pick it up at your site and read it when I have more time).

I'll be interested to see Steve or Mike's take on this. But it is pretty clear that the "first strike" has been trumped by the NIE release. I also think that Iran's role in the regional conflict needs to be considered, including Iran's possible contribution to Syria's efforts.