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Friday, December 07, 2007

Republicans in Congress push to investigate NIE

Republicans in Congress are pushing for a congressional commission to investigate the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that was released this week:
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said he plans to introduce legislation next week to establish a commission modeled on a congressionally mandated group that probed a disputed 1995 intelligence estimate on the emerging missile threat to the United States over the next 15 years.

"Iran is one of the greatest threats in the world today. Getting the intelligence right is absolutely critical, not only on Iran's capability but its intent. So now there is a huge question raised, and instead of politicizing that report, let's have a fresh set of eyes -- objective, yes -- look at it," he said in an interview.

Ensign's proposal calls for Senate leaders to put an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on a panel to study the NIE and report back in six months. "There are a lot of people out there who do question [the NIE]. There is a huge difference between the 2005 and 2007 estimates," he said. The 2005 intelligence estimate reported that Iran was still working on a clandestine military program, and the new assessment basically says the previous judgment was wrong on a key point.

"If it's inaccurate, it could result in very serious damage to legitimate American policy," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). As recently as July, he noted, intelligence officials said in congressional testimony that they had a high degree of confidence that Iran was intent on developing the world's deadliest weapon. "We need to update our conclusions, but this is a substantial change," he said in an interview.

While other NIEs have been the subject of intense criticism -- most recently the 2002 assessment on Iraq's program to develop weapons of mass destruction -- critics of the new assessment are modeling their response after the clash over a 1995 NIE on ballistic missile threats. That document concluded that no country other than the major declared nuclear powers "would develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile over the next 15 years that will threaten the contiguous 48 states or Canada."

President Bill Clinton used the NIE to veto a fiscal 1996 defense authorization bill that would have required deployment by 2003 of a missile defense system capable of defending all 50 states, a project costing tens of billions of dollars.

But a congressionally mandated commission, headed by Donald H. Rumsfeld, who would become President Bush's defense secretary, concluded in 1998 that the United States "might have little or no warning before operational deployment of a ballistic missile by a hostile Third World country." Its conclusions formed the basis for the Bush administration's push for a missile defense system.
WaPo refers to this as 'politicizing' the NIE report, but I disagree. I think it's just common sense to have another bipartisan group (the commission is to be equally divided between Republicans and Democrats) of intelligent people look at the evidence.


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