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Thursday, October 08, 2009

CIA knew about Qom as far back as 2006

The Wall Street Journal reports that in light of what has come out about Iran in the last couple of weeks, the authors of the infamous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which claimed that Iran had abandoned the pursuit of nuclear weapons in 2003, effectively removing the military option from George W. Bush's hands, have some explaining to do (Hat Tip: Instapundit).
When it comes to politicized intelligence in the Bush years, the critics may finally have a point. Perhaps the work of America's intelligence agencies was manipulated to suit the convenience of a small group of willful officials, intent on getting their way against the better judgment of their colleagues.

Except the intelligence was about Iran, not Iraq, and the manipulators weren't conniving neocons but rather the Administration's internal critics on the left.


But the more telling detail, as a recent White House "guidance paper" acknowledges, is that the U.S. has been "carefully observing and analyzing this facility for several years." That timeline is significant, because it was less than two years ago, in December 2007, that a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear programs asserted with "high confidence" that Tehran had "halted its nuclear weapons program" in the fall of 2003.
It gets worse. Time Magazine quotes CIA chief Leon Panetta, who says that the United States was aware of the Qom facility as far back as 2006 - a year before the NIE came out.

The Qum site first attracted the attention of Western intelligence agencies in 2006, when the CIA noted unusual activity at the mountain: the Iranians moved an anti-aircraft battery to the site, a clear sign that something important was being built there.

Exactly what, however, was hard to know. "We didn't jump to any conclusions and considered a number of alternatives," says a U.S. counterterrorism official. Iran is suspected of having a number of secret research labs and manufacturing facilities linked to its nuclear program. Roland Jacquard, an independent security and terrorism consultant in Paris, says there was some debate among analysts about the Qum site. While some said it had to be a nuclear facility, "others warned it could also easily be a decoy the Iranians wanted to fix Western attention to as [it] continued clandestine work on another facility elsewhere," he says. Jacquard says doubts gradually vanished as European and U.S. intelligence agencies shared information, "and the Americans could use that alongside what was being learned through the infiltration of Iranian computers."

Panetta won't say what kind of covert operations were carried out or how the agency was able to conclude that the Qum facility was nuclear. The counterterrorism officials says only that "our body of knowledge, based on multiple sources, grew to the point that allowed us earlier this year to reach the high-confidence conclusion that this was a covert nuclear facility."
The Wall Street Journal notes a crucial footnote to the NIE assessment:
Yet some of us noted at the time that the NIE added, in a crucial footnote, that by [Iran having halted its] "nuclear weapons program" it meant "weapon design and weaponization work and . . . uranium enrichment-related work," rather than Iran's "declared" nuclear facilities. The NIE's main authors—including former intelligence official Tom Fingar and other internal critics of Bush Administration policies—downplayed this critical detail. Never mind that it was precisely Iran's "declared" nuclear facilities that constituted the core element of any nuclear-weapons program.
In other words, they were claiming that Iran wasn't working on any more secret facilities, although it was continuing enrichment work at its 'declared' facilities. It now turns out that the report was wrong even on its own terms.

What's more disturbing is that the Wall Street Journal noted in its 2007 critique of the NIE that Tom Fingar and two other principal authors of the report were "hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials" (via Pundita).
Our own "confidence" is not heightened by the fact that the NIE's main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as "hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials," according to an intelligence source. They are 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).

For a flavor of their political outlook, former Bush Administration anti-proliferation official John Bolton recalls in his recent memoir that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage "described Brill's efforts in Vienna, or lack thereof, as 'bull -- .'"

Mr. Brill was "retired" from the State Department by Colin Powell before being rehired, over considerable internal and public protest, as head of the National Counter-Proliferation Center by then-National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
What is now becoming clear was that the 2007 NIE on Iran was either negligently or maliciously issued with a view to (a) taking the military option out of the hands of George W. Bush and (b) discouraging any responsiveness from the Bush administration to Israeli requests for 'bunker busters' and rights to overfly Iraq to attack Iran. The result is that as a result of petty American politics (or is it anti-Semitism), we are now on the verge of a nuclear Iran that promises to annihilate Israel, and the cost of removing that threat - if it can be removed - will be significantly higher than it was two years ago.

The Wall Street Journal says that the authors of the NIE have some explaining to do. I would go further. The American intelligence community ought to be hauled before Congress to explain how this politicized NIE happened and how and why it will never happen again in the future.

And then we need to talk about American cooperation in destroying Iran's nuclear weapons capability.

The picture in the middle is a satellite photo of the Qom facility.


At 3:13 PM, Blogger Andre (Canada) said...

A Democratic Congress will NEVER question the conclusions of the NIE as long as they were against Bush. If anything, the 3 authors who knowingly lied will become poster boys for the left and the 'pacifists".
Israel is now alone and must unfortunately wait for the US to complete the development of its super-sized bunker busters to get the job done. It remains to be seen as to whether Obama will allow the sale of these ordinances to Israel. If he doesn't, then Israel might have no option but to use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities.
I think it is fair to say that if Israel eventually has to use its nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, the blame will squarely rest at the feet of these 3 authors who decided that the end of tying GWB's hands justified the mean of sacrificing Israel.
I would suspect these guys are up for a Nobel Peace prize just about now.

At 6:32 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - I'm afraid you're whistling past the graveyard.

The NIE may be discredited but US policy isn't going to change,



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