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Horrid 2007 Iran NIE To Be Revised

A big part of today's DailyBriefing is the developing story that the authors of a grotesquely incorrect 2007 National Intelligence Estimate is about to get revised. Finally. And begrudgingly at that.

U.S. intelligence agencies are quietly revising their widely disputed assertion that Iran has no active program to design or build a nuclear bomb. Three U.S. and two foreign counterproliferation officials tell NEWSWEEK that, as soon as next month, the intel agencies are expected to complete an "update" to their controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that Tehran "halted its nuclear weapons program" in 2003 and "had not restarted" it as of mid-2007. The officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive information, say the revised report will bring U.S. intel agencies more in line with other countries' spy agencies (such as Britain's MI6, Germany's BND, and Israel's Mossad), which have maintained that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapon.

What the November 2007 Iran NIE (PDF) said was the following (and unsubstantiated anywhere beyond the initial report paragraph).

A. 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 judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran's announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran's previously undeclared nuclear work.

The principal authors - Department of National Intelligence employees previously transfered from the State Department - made point that Iran actually had a weapons program, but only in the false context that it had halted it in 2003. They were making political hay and, at the time, trying to derail what they perceived as a possible Bush attack inside and on Iran. That this perception was itself also patently false is of no consequence. What was written is what was written, and it armed Iran's Russian and Chinese allies to undercut any diplomatic efforts - diplomatic efforts - through the UN and the UN Security Council.

Why do I say the NIE will be "begrudgingly" revised? Pay attention to the last sentence from Mark Hosenball at Newsweek.

Yet two of the U.S. sources caution the new assessment will likely be "Talmudic" in its parsing. They say U.S. analysts now believe that Iran may well have resumed "research" on nuclear weapons--theoretical work on how to design and construct a bomb--but that Tehran is not engaged in "development"--actually trying to build a weapon. "The intelligence community is always reluctant to make a total retreat because it makes them look bad," says the third American.

Well, that's just too bad. It's not about who's right, but about what's right. Get that backwards and you are incapable of adjusting and playing a game of career defense instead of intelligence offense. This is pervasive throughout the intelligence community (and others, mind you) and leads to intelligence failures and the compounding of errors for the sake of some fool's efforts to cover a turd in the sand.

If you're not man enough to admit when you got it wrong, you're not man enough for intelligence. The end.

Just hours after the public version of the 2007 NIE on Iran was released, John Batchelor and I spoke about it on his radio program - and its intended and unintended consequences.

You'll see, regarding the handcuffing of sanctions, that this analysis was spot on. And the after-effects remain. To wit, China still balking on Iran sanctions.

Important archives regarding the 2007 Iran NIE are referenced in today's DailyBriefing. And, at risk of seeming like I am tooting my own horn, the news today of its revision is a passive admission by its authors that I was spot on in my criticism and analysis. Some archives reproduced below.

Coming Around On Iran: Bad 2007 NIE Now To Be 'Revised' - Newsweek
Explaining Why 2007 NIE Was So Bad: NIE: Cutting of your nose to... - NRO (2007)
Lingering Bad NIE Effects: A Manufactured Debate - Is Iran Designing Warheads? - ThreatsWatch (2009)
China balks at Iran sanctions - CS Monitor
Schippert Interview: The China-Russia-Iran Axis - FrontPage Magazine (2008)

In a December 2007 RapidRecon entry, I asked the following very straight-forward question which still remains.

"[A]sk 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."

Crickets from the 2007 NIE authors at the time and since. Now, perhaps, they are forced to get it right, even though they are loathe and unlikely to overtly admit being dead wrong. We are not. They were wrong and we were right. Save face if you must, but let's just start getting it right.

UPDATE: I overlooked a simple yet critical part of the 2007 NIE for ThreatsWatch readers: the NIE's politically motivated authors. From Sweetness & Light, meet the three primary authors of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran: "[H]yper-partisan anti-Bush officials" Tom Fingar, formerly of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Vann Van Diepen, the National Intelligence Officer for WMD; and Kenneth Brill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).