NEWS, ANALYSIS & OPINION: NIE reverberations continue

Why the Pentagon is happy about the NIE

The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran was the final factor in a military equation that now appears to guarantee that there will be no war with Iran during the Bush Administration. It meshes with the views of the operational types at the Pentagon, who have steadfastly resisted the march to war led by some Administration hawks. The anti-war group was composed of Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and Admiral William Fallon, who oversees the U.S. forces that would have had to wage that war. In recent months, all have pushed back privately and publicly, on the wisdom of going to war with Tehran. Indeed, the Pentagon’s intelligence units were instrumental in forming the NIE’s conclusions.

The U.S. military contributes nine of the 16 intelligence agencies whose views are cobbled together in NIEs: the Counterintelligence Field Activity, the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, Army Intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Security Agency, and the Office of Naval Intelligence. Some critics have suggested that the military simply found a public way to quiet the drumbeat for war coming from Vice President Dick Cheney and his shrinking band of allies in the Administration.

There was no formal response from the Pentagon. It is evident, however, that the U.S. military, already strained by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has no appetite for a third war. That’s true even if a series of strikes against nuclear and other targets inside Iran were carried out by the Air Force and Navy, the two services who have sat, somewhat frustrated, on the sidelines as the Army and Marine Corps has done the heavy lifting in the two wars now under way. Some Pentagon officials welcomed the new NIE as evidence that the intelligence community is not tied to ideology, as some critics argued was true during the buildup to the Iraq war in 2003. [complete article]

Details in military notes led to shift on Iran, U.S. says

American intelligence agencies reversed their view about the status of Iran’s nuclear weapons program after they obtained notes last summer from the deliberations of Iranian military officials involved in the weapons development program, senior intelligence and government officials said on Wednesday.

The notes included conversations and deliberations in which some of the military officials complained bitterly about what they termed a decision by their superiors in late 2003 to shut down a complex engineering effort to design nuclear weapons, including a warhead that could fit atop Iranian missiles.

The newly obtained notes contradicted public assertions by American intelligence officials that the nuclear weapons design effort was still active. But according to the intelligence and government officials, they give no hint of why Iran’s leadership decided to halt the covert effort. [complete article]

Bush tells Iran to disclose nuclear activities

President Bush called on Iran to “come clean” about the scope of its nuclear activities Wednesday, as the White House made it clear there will be no change in its policy toward Tehran despite new intelligence questioning his claims about the country’s nuclear ambitions.

Traveling here for a political fundraiser, Bush indicated that he still sees Iran as a serious threat. He demanded that its leaders fully disclose details of its nuclear weapons program, which the intelligence community said Monday was shut down in the fall of 2003.

“The Iranians have a strategic choice to make,” Bush told reporters. “They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities and fully accept” the U.S. offer to negotiate if they suspend their nuclear enrichment program — “or they can continue on a path of isolation.” [complete article]

Iran’s nukes: now they tell us?

In August, National Intelligence Director McConnell ordered CIA Director Michael Hayden to have ready by Labor Day a new intelligence estimate reflecting the latest information. Hayden said he needed more time. McConnell set a Nov. 30 deadline. Because some of the information sources were new, Hayden decided to launch a “red team” counter-intelligence operation to make sure that the U.S. wasn’t falling for Iranian disinformation. In late October, the Persia House and red-team analysts offered their findings to Hayden and his deputy, Steve Kappes, around the coffee table in Hayden’s office. The red team found that the possibility of Iranian disinformation was “plausible but not likely.” That assessment led two of the 16 intelligence agencies, but not the CIA, to dissent from the final “high” degree of certainty that Iran had stopped its weapons program in 2003. On the other hand, there was general agreement on a “moderate” finding that Iran had not restarted the program. The National Intelligence Board met and reached its conclusions on Tuesday, Nov. 27. “The meeting took a little more than two hours,” a senior intelligence official told me. “There have been times when it has taken multiple meetings that went on for hours and hours to reach a consensus, especially when dealing with one of Iran’s neighbors.”

Hayden and his senior Iran analysts briefed President Bush on the new NIE on Wednesday, Nov. 28. But it seems apparent the President made little effort to figure out how his Administration could leverage the shocking candor of the intelligence report to his advantage in dealing with Iran. “He could have said to the Iranians, ‘This document shows that we’re not rushing to war. We’re not out to get you,'” said Kenneth Pollack, a National Security Council staff member during the Clinton Administration and author of The Persian Puzzle. “‘But we — and the rest of the world — are very concerned about your uranium-enrichment program, and so let’s sit down and talk about it.'”

Oddly, Bush didn’t seem to ask for a delay in the release of the report. He could easily have requested a few weeks for his Administration to chew over the import of the NIE, discuss it with our allies, organize a new diplomatic initiative to negotiate with the Iranians. As it was, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns briefed the U.N. Security Council members who had been considering a new round of sanctions against Iran about the same time that word of the NIE broke in the press. When it did, the Chinese, who had seemed surprisingly ready to approve the sanctions, started backing away from that position. [complete article]

See also, Spinning the NIE Iran report (Tony Karon), A pattern of deception (Dan Froomkin), White House Iran intel story 2.0 (TPM).

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