Saturday, November 28, 2009

Another Intelligence Failure

On Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its first resolution on Iran in almost four years. The resolution condemned Iran for blocking inquiries into its nuclear program and demanded that they cease activity at their Qom site. The resolution is a signal that patience with Iran is running out, as a plan to enrich uranium overseas has all but fallen through. Evidence of an Iranian nuclear program includes drawings, computer simulations, and documents that show work on nuclear cores, explosions designed to start a nuclear chain reaction, and simulated detonations at 2,000 ft. Iran has numerous planned and existing facilities for its nuclear program.

Condemnation by the IAEA and talk of an ongoing nuclear program comes just two years after a National Intelligence Estimate (released in December 2007) said that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The 2007 NIE is yet another intelligence failure for the U.S. intelligence community. The credibility of the intelligence community seemed to be rebounding from the intelligence failures of 9/11 and WMD in Iraq. The intelligence community has underestimated nuclear weapons programs before including in Iraq (pre-Gulf War), North Korea, India, and Pakistan. However, what most people remember is the overestimation of Iraq’s capabilities in a 2002 NIE that led to invasion in 2003. That overestimation drew so much criticism and outrage directed at the intelligence community that perhaps they became gun shy when it came to the NIE on Iran.

Whatever the reason for the inaccurate 2007 NIE, it gave China and Russia an excuse to reject sanctions and made many countries grow complacent about Iran’s nuclear program. The NIE was a victory for Iran, which was able to insist that its purposes were peaceful; the NIE vindicated Iran’s defiance of sanctions and efforts to stop its nuclear program (after all it is technically allowed to have a civilian nuclear program). Now we are starting to pay for those years of complacency as the Obama administration is desperately trying to get China and Russia on board to hammer out a deal to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

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