Thursday, December 6, 2007

More Criticism of the NIE on Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program

John Bolton, writing in the Washington Post, is highly critical of the recent NIE on grounds that echo what others have already identified as glaring inadequacies, including the problem of politicization and the "wilfull blindness" exhibited by the NIE's authors concerning Iran's decision to halt its nuclear weapon's program contemporaneous with the U.S. and U.K. invasion of Iraq. Bolton adds some key details that raise further concerns with the NIE and, equally, how our intelligence community is functioning today:

. . . Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than "intelligence" analysis, and too many in Congress and the media are happy about it. President Bush may not be able to repair his Iran policy (which was not rigorous enough to begin with) in his last year, but he would leave a lasting legacy by returning the intelligence world to its proper function.

Consider these flaws in the NIE's "key judgments," . . .

First, the headline finding -- that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between "military" and "civilian" programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's "civilian" program that posed the main risk of a nuclear "breakout."

The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The current NIE freely admits to having only moderate confidence that the suspension continues and says that there are significant gaps in our intelligence and that our analysts dissent from their initial judgment on suspension. This alone should give us considerable pause.

Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point. Moreover, the risks and returns of pursuing a diplomatic strategy are policy calculations, not intelligence judgments. The very public rollout in the NIE of a diplomatic strategy exposes the biases at work behind the Potemkin village of "intelligence."

Third, the risks of disinformation by Iran are real. . . . The sudden appearance of new sources should be taken with more than a little skepticism. In a background briefing, intelligence officials said they had concluded it was "possible" but not "likely" that the new information they were relying on was deception. These are hardly hard scientific conclusions. One contrary opinion came from -- of all places -- an unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency official, quoted in the New York Times, saying that "we are more skeptical. We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran." When the IAEA is tougher than our analysts, you can bet the farm that someone is pursuing a policy agenda.

Fourth, the NIE suffers from a common problem in government: the overvaluation of the most recent piece of data. . . .

Fifth, many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department, brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence. These officials had relatively benign views of Iran's nuclear intentions five and six years ago; now they are writing those views as if they were received wisdom from on high. In fact, these are precisely the policy biases they had before, recycled as "intelligence judgments."
That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this "intelligence" torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were. Ironically, the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions in an essentially unmolested fashion, to the detriment of us all.

Read the entire article here. Unfortunately, the Democrats' BDS must be included in the mix of how this flawed NIE was able to emerge. In the wake of 9-11, Democrats have made it a cornerstone of their parnoia that Bush was responsible for the twisting of intelligence. Rather than question the NIE before its release in the instant case, Bush appears to have tried to forestall criticism in this instance by not questioning any part of the NIE and simply released it. And thus we are left with a deeply flawed product with extreme ramifications.

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