Tuesday, December 04, 2007


According to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapons program is overstated. The report, titled "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities", assesses the status of its nuclear weapons program and provides a 10 year outlook. It paints a decidedly different picture than the 2005 NIE, and among its key findings are:

-Iran halted its weapons program in 2003 .
-Tehran is less determined to developed nuclear weapons than previously judged.
-Iran will not be technically capable of producing a nuclear weapon before 2015.
-Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to produce weapons if it chooses.

One reason why the new estimate reaches such a different conclusion is that the Directors of the Clandestine Service, DIA, NGA, NSA, and State INR are now required to submit separate assessments to highlight respective strengths and weaknesses. This change, instituted during the last year and a half, is important because these agencies often hold quite different opinions. For instance, in the 2007 NIE the INR states that "Iran cannot achieve nuclear weapons capability before 2013 due to foreseeable technical and programmatic problems", the other agencies believe the earliest concievable date is closer to 2010.

The 2007 NIE carefully defines its "estimative language" so when it attaches the phrase"high confidence" it means the agencies are in agreement and, further, the judgments are based on high-quality information. Therefore we can deduce that the Intelligence community, almost unanimously, believes that Iran halted its weapons program in 2003.

The report should have had domestic implications, specifically on the Bush Administration, who might want to temper the harsh rhetoric in the wake of this report. It would appear that, since the intelligence community is unified in these judgements, they can no longer selectively dismiss intelligence assessments. Amazingly, Bush has somehow spun the estimate as a warning, highlighting the unlikely "could happen" judgments of instead of the high confidence judgments of what has actually occurred.

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