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On Second Thought...

Having taken two months to digest the NIE report on Iran, National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell has now changed his tone. As reported by Eli Lake of the New York Sun, McConnell retreated from the NIE reports key finding - that Iran had abandoned its pursuit of nuclear weapons in 2003 - during a hearing of the Selected Senate Committee on Intelligence. He said:

If I had 'til now to think about it, I probably would change a few things…
I would change the way we describe the Iranian nuclear program. I would have included that there are the component parts, that the portion of it, maybe the least significant, had halted.

McConnell now acknowledges that Iran is developing the most critical components for a nuclear weapon:

Declared uranium enrichment efforts, which will enable the production of fissile material, continue. This is the most difficult challenge in nuclear production. Iran’s efforts to perfect ballistic missiles that can reach North Africa and Europe also continue.

The original NIE report was far less direct on this point:

Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons.

Fortunately, as Lake rightly notes, most Western Intelligence agencies continue to view the estimate with great skepticism:

The estimate also drew rare rebukes from American allies, including Israel, France, and the United Kingdom who said their intelligence agencies did not concur with the American assessment that Iran had frozen its plan to produce an A-bomb.

Indeed, during a visit to the U.S. last week, French Defense Minister Herve Morin contradicted the findings of the NIE by asserting that Iran “continuing to develop” a nuclear program:

Coordinated information from a number of intelligence services leads us to believe that Iran has not given up its wish to pursue its (nuclear) program.

It is unclear if McConnell's retraction will have any real effect.

1 Comment

I'm not sure who Eli Lake is, but I just finished reading McConnell's unclassified report to the Senate Committee and it is essentially the same language used in the December NIE on Iran. There is no retraction in print that I have found. The blog Sources and Methods agrees - "The section on Iran was largely about Iran's nuclear program and the words used to describe it were identical to the Iran National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)."