Now, in a transparent attempt to save face from the recently released National Intelligence Estimate that says Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, Mr. Bush has challenged Iran to "come clean" and "explain to the world why they had a program." Presumably, Mr. Bush means Iran should come clean about its "nuclear weapons program," but presuming that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in 2003, or at any other time, might be, well, overly presumptive.
The latest NIE has the look of a corpse that's been picked over by every vulture in Dick Cheney's undisclosed aerie. Every statement in which a professional intelligence analyst appears to be conveying that Iran isn't really a major threat to the U.S. and/or its interests is accompanied by a disclaimer that Iran could very well be a major threat to the U.S. and/or its interests. Contrarily, each assertion that Iran really might be a major threat devolves into a pretzel logic loop that asserts Iran isn't much of a threat at all. In all, the NIE calls to mind the American POW who, when tortured into reading enemy propaganda in front of a camera, blinked "S-O-S" repeatedly so everyone at the receiving end would know he was speaking under duress.
The NIE "does not assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons" in one sentence, but assumes in the next sentence that Iran's nuclear activities are only "partly civil in nature" (page 4).
It judges with "moderate confidence" that the earliest Iran would be capable of producing a weapon is "late 2009," but then it says that is "very unlikely" (page 7). If you're moderately confident that something is very unlikely, why would you even bother to mention it, much less include it in an intelligence estimate?
It states: "We do not have sufficient intelligence" to "judge confidently" whether "Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program." But we're confident enough about the sufficiency of our intelligence (presumably) to warn that Tehran may "already" have "set specific deadlines or criteria that will prompt it to restart the program" (page 7). This NIE is starting to sound like one big confidence game, isn't it?
The NIE says that, "We cannot rule out that Iran has acquired from abroad—or will acquire in the future—a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material for a weapon" (page 6). Hells bells, we can't rule out that the Vulcans will reveal themselves to us tomorrow night and let us in on the secret of their matter/anti-matter drive.
The NIE goes on like this, and on and on and on. My very God. You can sleep tonight, America. Your intelligence services are awake.
As I said earlier in the week, if an intelligence officer brought me a compendium of bull feathers like this NIE, he'd need a surgical instrument to pluck it from his sinuses. If I’m the head of Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate, though, I may be rather pleased at how the final NIE product turned out. Its primary message—that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon or an active nuclear weapons program—was bound to come out sooner than later. The important thing to me, if I'm the head of Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate, is that the NIE says the one thing I absolutely, positively need it to say:
We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.
If I'm the head of Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate, that one statement gives my boss all the ammunition he needs to carry on his disinformation campaign about Iran until at least November, and probably through next January. As long as the world buys that Iran had a nuke weapons program at one time, we can pretty much hang any prevarication we want on that belief.
The only thing that can spoil the scheme is if some disloyal, un-American smarty pants takes a cursory glance at Iran's nuclear timeline. Any smarty pants who does that can't help but notice that Russia didn't begin building Iran's first nuclear reactor until September of 2002, and that the International Atomic Energy Commission said there was no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program in November of 2003, which is around the time the latest NIE says Iran "halted" its nuclear weapons program.
Having digested those data bits, said smarty pants might conclude that the nuclear weapons program that "Iranian military entities" were working to develop must have consisted of a couple of Revolutionary Guard colonels shooting the breeze about it one afternoon at the Fort Khomeini O' Club over 10 or 12 pitchers of San Miguel.
I don't know how much longer the Bush administration and its side buoys plan to stay on their Iran horse. I suspect that unless Congress or the Joint Chiefs of Staff knock them out of the saddle, they'll keep whipping it, presumably in hopes of bringing it back to life.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.