NEWS: More on NIE

Diving deep, unearthing a surprise

As they digested the new findings, Bush and his aides chose to focus on the part that confirmed their suspicions — that Iran previously had a secret weapons program and might still restart it. In their discussions at the White House, officials said, no one suggested Bush tone down his public rhetoric or change his policy.

Still, they understood the sensitivity of the new conclusions. At first, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, decided to keep the new findings secret, but reluctantly reversed course in a flurry of discussions last weekend out of fear of leaks and charges of a coverup, officials said. At that point, only the Israelis had gotten a heads-up. Congress, European allies and the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency were not given full briefings about the report until hours before it was released.

That irritated European allies. “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date,” said Robert J. Einhorn, a former State Department nonproliferation official. “The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.” [complete article]

Intelligence expert who rewrote book on Iran

The intelligence came from an exotic variety of sources: there was the so-called Laptop of Death; there was the Iranian commander who mysteriously disappeared in Turkey. Also in the mix was video footage of a nuclear plant in central Iran and intercepts of Iranian telephone calls by the British listening station GCHQ.

But pivotal to the US investigation into Iran’s suspect nuclear weapons programme was the work of a little-known intelligence specialist, Thomas Fingar. He was the principal author of an intelligence report published on Monday that concluded Iran, contrary to previous US claims, had halted its covert programme four years ago and had not restarted it. Almost single-handedly he has stopped – or, at the very least, postponed – any US military action against Iran. [complete article]

Unilateral military strike still an option, senior ministers insist

Senior Israeli officials warned yesterday that they were still considering a military strike against Iran, despite a fresh US intelligence report that concluded Tehran was no longer developing nuclear weapons.

Although Israel says it wants strong diplomatic pressure put on Iran, it is reluctant to rule out the threat of a unilateral attack. Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy defence minister, told Army Radio yesterday: “No option needs to be off the table.”

Avigdor Lieberman, the hard-right deputy prime minister, said Israel should be ready to act if sanctions did not work. “If they don’t, we will sit and decide whatever we have to decide,” he told the Jerusalem Post in an interview yesterday. [complete article]

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