Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The NIE Iranian nuke report

The left-leaning media is having a field day touting a National Intelligence Estimate that Iran has no current nuclear weapons program.

The Israeli defense minister disputes the findings.

What no one is emphasizing is that the report also says:
We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons....we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

....We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.
So this report states pretty unequivocally that Iran had a nuclear weapons program until 2003; that it kept it secret and was lying to the world about it; that it is ready to restart the program at any time; and that it certainly has the capability to build nuclear weapons.

The major disagreement with Israeli intelligence is whether Iran had already re-started the program after 2003.

It appears that what this report proves is that the West had really poor intelligence capabilities in Iran. The report proves that Iran is duplicitous; how hard would it be for the Iranians to start a separate secret nuclear weapons program, while they was misdirecting the IAEA and other inspectors with the shenanigans at their known nuclear power plants?

Obviously I don't know any intelligence that the US doesn't, but the NIE did make two possibly very flawed assumptions:
This NIE does not assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons. Rather, it examines the intelligence to assess Iran’s capability and intent (or lack thereof) to acquire nuclear weapons, taking full account of Iran’s dual-use uranium fuel cycle and those nuclear activities that are at least partly civil in nature.

This Estimate does assume that the strategic goals and basic structure of Iran’s senior leadership and government will remain similar to those that have endured since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. We acknowledge the potential for these to change during the time frame of the Estimate, but are unable to confidently predict such changes or their implications.
If these two assumptions are wrong, and I believe that they are, then the chances of a current, secret nuclear program in Iran is significantly higher than the NIE is saying.

The first assumption, that Iran does not intend to acquire nuclear weapons, is very suspect because the NIE itself acknowledges that Iran did indeed have a real, clandestine nuclear weapons program. And the second assumption - that Iran's strategic goals are the same as they were in 1989 - is also shaky, as only in recent years has Iran publicly voiced its goal of being a global Islamist superpower and the major counterweight to the US.

Nowhere does the NIE try to explain why Iran was interested in building nuclear weapons once, and why it would have abandoned its program strategically (it does explain why it would have done so tactically.) Given a known track record of desiring nuclear weapons, the capability to do so and the proclivity to lie about it, this report is hardly something to celebrate. And if the report was written under questionable assumptions then the seemingly optimistic results must also be called into question.