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US confrontation with Iran

US Intelligence on Iran

Project: US Confrontation with Iran
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Wreckage of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina,Wreckage of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, [Source: Reuters / Corbis]A Jewish community center called AMIA in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is destroyed in a blast. The seven-story building is reduced to rubble and eighty-five people are killed. [BBC, 8/25/2003] Argentinean authorities, as well as the United States and Israel, are quick to blame Hezbollah and its backer, Iran. They accuse an Iranian diplomat of having provided a van packed with explosives to a Hezbollah suicide bomber.
Problems with Investigation - But the investigation becomes the subject of intense controversy. Argentine President Nestor Kirchner will later call it “a national disgrace.” In 2003, it will be revealed that the investigative judge offered an apparent bribe to the man accused of selling the van used in the attack in exchange for his testimony against local police officers charged with complicity in the bombing. That judge will later be impeached and removed from office and the case will collapse. [BBC, 12/3/2003; BBC, 8/3/2005]
Forensic Evidence - Critics will also argue that the forensic evidence suggests that the bomb exploded inside the building, rather than in the street. This will be the conclusion reached by Charles Hunter, an explosives expert with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) who was part of the investigation. Hunter will quickly identify “major discrepancies” between the car-bomb thesis and the blast pattern recorded in photos. A report drafted two weeks later will note that, in the wake of the bombing, merchandise in a store immediately to the right of AMIA was tightly packed against its front windows and merchandise in another shop had been blown out onto the street—suggesting that the blast came from inside rather than outside. Hunter will also say he does not understand how the building across the street could still be standing if the bomb had exploded in front of AMIA. Investigators will find no conclusive evidence against any Iranian diplomat. The US ambassador to Argentina at the time, James Cheek, will comment in a 2008 article: “To my knowledge, there was never any real evidence of [Iranian responsibility]. They never came up with anything.” [Nation, 1/18/2008] Nevertheless, in November 2007, Argentina, with strong support from the US and Israel, will successfully persuade Interpol to issue arrest warrants against several Iranian officials and one Lebanese Hezbollah militant. [Wall Street Journal, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, James Cheek, Hezbollah, Nestor Kirchner

Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks

Category Tags: Israel, US Intel on Iran

President Clinton submits his biannual report to Congress on the “National Emergency with Respect to Iran” that was declared in Executive Order 12170 (see November 14, 1979). The report, required under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, states that Iran is not in full compliance with the Algiers Accords (see January 19, 1981) which require Iran to maintain a certain amount of funds in a special security account for the purpose of honoring claims made against Iran by US claimants. [US President, 11/16/1998]

Entity Tags: Algiers Accords, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Category Tags: Financial, US Intel on Iran

According to a later report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pentagon officials conceal potentially life-saving intelligence gleaned from Iranian agents. The report will find that in 2001, the officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, fail to pass along information gained from Iranian agents to US intelligence agencies, including reports that Iran has sent “hit squads” to Afghanistan to kill Americans. The findings will be based on information from highly unreliable sources: Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar and former Pentagon official Michael Ledeen, both of whom have often provided false or questionable information gathered from questionable sources (see April 3, 2005). In a series of meetings authorized by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see December 9, 2001, December 12, 2001, June 2002, July 2002, and June 2003), two Pentagon officials, including one who reported to then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith (see September 2002), meet with Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, and other Iranians. Hadley does not fully brief CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage about the meetings. The head of the DIA is briefed on the meeting but is not authorized to keep a written summary of it or to discuss it on the orders of then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. For his part, Ledeen will say he twice briefed the US ambassador to Italy about the meetings. “Any time the CIA wanted to find out what was going on all they had to do was ask,” he will say. Though the report will admit that the sources of the intelligence are unreliable, it will still criticize the Pentagon for failing to allow what it calls “potentially useful and actionable intelligence” to be shared with intelligence agencies. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, Richard Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, Senate Intelligence Committee

Category Tags: Calls for Overthrow, Geopolitics, Neoconservative Hawks, Opposition Groups, Preparation, US Intel on Iran

In Los Angeles, local CIA and FBI stations increase efforts to obtain intelligence from the local Iranian exile community. According to officials, Iranian businessmen and expatriates who travel frequently between the States and Iran are viewed as potential sources of intelligence on Iran’s internal opposition and the country’s nuclear program. Iranian-Americans interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 2005 will acknowledge having supplied the CIA and FBI with information. [Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

April 2003: US Military Bases to Surround Iran

Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper notes that with the construction of proposed US bases in Iraq, Iran would be surrounded. “[T]heir proximity to Syria and Iran could help the US to apply added pressure on those countries,” the paper says. “With US troops also stationed in Afghanistan, Iran is now almost surrounded by American forces.” [Daily Telegraph, 4/21/2003]

Category Tags: Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran

Ahmed Chalabi, a member of Iraq’s governing council, meets with the Baghdad station chief for Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and informs him that the US has broken the code used to encrypt Iran’s intelligence communications. Chalabi says that he learned about the code-break from a drunken American official. A frantic exchange of communications takes place between the Iranian agent and Tehran concerning Chalabi’s claim. The US intercepts and decodes all of them, revealing Chalabi’s role. When the story is broken in the press, Chalabi denies having passed classified information to the Iranians. [Newsweek, 5/10/2004; New York Times, 6/2/2004; CBS News, 6/3/2004; News Insight, 6/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

An Iranian man appears in Turkey with a laptop computer and the phone number of a German intelligence officer. He calls the number, and 24 hours later, CIA analysts are poring over thousands of documents containing information and sketches. The CIA concludes that Iran is trying to retrofit its longest-range missile, the Shahab III, to carry a nuclear payload. The retrofit project is designated Project 1-11, the documents say, and analysts believe that the laptop information confirms their belief that Iran has a viable and active nuclear weapons program. Though the information on the laptop is from 2003 and earlier, it leads to the issuance of a National Intelligence Estimate (see August 2, 2005) that declares “with high confidence” Iran is working on a nuclear bomb, and will give ammunition to the Bush administration’s attempts to pressure Russia, China, and the US’s European allies to sanction Iran if it does not give up its uranium enrichment program. [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Origin of Laptop - The laptop was stolen by the Iranian citizen from an Iranian engineer, who some intelligence sources say may now be dead. The laptop contains designs by a firm called Kimeya Madon for a small facility to produce uranium gas, a substance that could be enriched for fuel or nuclear weapons. The laptop also contains drawings relating to the retrofitting of the Shahab III. The laptop’s information, so extensive that some say it may have been designed by an entire team of engineers, will be given unsubstantiated confirmation from an imprisoned Pakistani arms dealer, who will say that Iran took delivery of several advanced centrifuges that would greatly increase its nuclear knowledge. Although the documents are not verified, US intelligence considers them authentic.
Possible Forgeries - However, analysts admit it is possible that the documents are forgeries, perhaps from internal opponents of the Iranian government, or perhaps from the government itself in an attempt to convince Western intelligence agencies that its nuclear weapons program is still in an embryonic stage. The US denies that the documents were provided through the auspices of any Iranian dissident groups such as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. [New York Times, 11/13/2005; Washington Post, 2/8/2006] The identity of the Iranian “walk-in” may be revealed four years later (see February 2007). By November 2004, administration officials begin to admit that they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 2004 and November 17-18, 2004).

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Kimeya Madon, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approves a top secret “Interim Global Strike Alert Order” directing the military to assume and maintain readiness to attack hostile countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction, specifically Iran and North Korea (see September 2004). The plan is revealed to be formally called CONPLAN 8022-02. The plans have contingency strategies for both a quick-action, highly choreographed strike on short notice against an enemy that is an imminent threat and also a more generic attack against an enemy’s WMD infrastructure, possibly with the inclusion of earth-penetrating nuclear weapons. In concert with the military strike there would be coordinated disruption such as turning off the electricity, jamming and spoofing radars and communications, penetrating computer networks and garbling electronic commands. [Washington Post, 5/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Policy Papers, Calls for Overthrow, US Intel on Iran

The Shreveport Times, of Louisiana, interviews Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, who tells the newspaper that his fleet of B-2 and B-52 bombers are on alert to launch strikes anywhere in the world against enemy countries suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction. “We’re now at the point where we are essentially on alert,” Carlson says, adding that his forces are the US Strategic Command’s “focal point for global strike” (see also July 2004) and have the capability to execute an attack “in half a day or less.” The US has expressed its most immediate concerns over Iran and North Korea. [Tribune (Chandigarh), 9/8/2004; Washington Post, 5/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Bruce Carlson, US Department of the Air Force

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Several months after the CIA receives an Iranian laptop computer supposedly containing top-secret information about Iran’s nuclear program (see Summer 2004), US officials admit they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 17-18, 2004). [New York Times, 11/20/2004] Under analysis, the documents begin to lose reliability. Nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis of the New America Foundation will later say that he and fellow experts began disparagingly referring to the computer as “the laptop of death.” One of the biggest warning flags, Lewis will say, is the crude manner in which the documents on the laptop were constructed: “What led many of us to have serious doubts about it was how utterly unconnected from reality some of the information seemed. Some of the reports indicated that some of the view graphs were done in Powerpoint, which suggested to me that the program was not terribly sophisticated.” [Inter Press Service, 12/9/2006; New York Times, 12/4/2007]
IAEA Response - Officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will say that the laptop evidence, like much of the US’s other intelligence on Iran, is unreliable. “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us has proved to be wrong,” a senior diplomat at the IAEA will say. Another IAEA official will describe the agency’s intelligence stream as “very cold now” because “so little panned out.” IAEA officials are suspicious of the documents in part because most of the papers are written in English and not in Persian. “We don’t know. Are they genuine, are they real?” a senior UN official will ask. Another official who was briefed on the documents will describe himself as “very unconvinced.” Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, will call the laptop documents nothing but “fabricated information” and “nonsense.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Lewis, International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

An Iranian exile group says it has evidence that Iran is still enriching uranium and will continue to do so despite an agreement it signed pledging it to halt such activities. The group, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), the political arm of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), also charges that in the mid-1990s, Iran bought the plans for a Chinese nuclear bomb from the global nuclear technology network led by Pakistan’s A. Q. Khan. Khan’s network sold the same type of bomb blueprint to Libya, which has renounced its nuclear ambitions (see December 2003). The NCRI’s Mohammed Mohaddessin says the Khan network also provided Iran with a small amount of highly enriched uranium, though the amount is too small to use for a weapon. While the NCRI provided information in 2002 that helped disclose Iran’s secret nuclear program, many of its subsequent allegations have been proven false.
Claims - Mohaddessin uses satellite photos to show what he says is a new nuclear facility inside Tehran’s Center for the Development of Advanced Defense Technology (CDADT). He says that the CDADT also houses chemical and biological weapons programs, and that Iran began enriching uranium at the site in early 2003. Mohaddessin refuses to provide any evidence for his claims, instead saying, “Our sources were 100 percent sure about their intelligence.” Those sources, he says, are scientists and other people working in the facilities, and local citizens living near the facilities who see what he calls suspicious activities.
Reaction - Many diplomats and arms control experts dismiss the NCRI’s claims, saying the claims are an attempt to undermine the recent agreement Tehran signed with Britain, France, and Germany to restrict its uranium enrichment program. In return, the agreement says, Iran can continue working on developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. [Washington Post, 11/18/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Mohaddessin, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, National Council of Resistance of Iran, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Center for the Development of Advanced Defense Technology (Iran)

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Secretary of State Colin Powell tells reporters that the US has intelligence showing Iran’s active pursuit of a nuclear warhead. The evidence, Powell says, documents Iran’s attempt to adapt ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear payloads. He says: “I have seen some information that would suggest that they have been actively working on delivery systems.… You don’t have a weapon until you put it in something that can deliver a weapon.… I’m not talking about uranium or fissile material or the warhead; I’m talking about what one does with a warhead.” Powell does not claim that Iran has the nuclear material—enriched uranium—to actually construct a bomb. “I’m talking about information that says they not only have these missiles, but I am aware of information that suggests that they were working hard as to how to put the two together.… There is no doubt in my mind—and it’s fairly straightforward from what we’ve been saying for years—that they have been interested in a nuclear weapon that has utility, meaning that it is something they would be able to deliver, not just something that sits there.”
Implication - Nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that Powell is implying that Iran is trying to reduce the size of a nuclear warhead to fit on one of its ballistic missiles, a difficult task. “Powell appears to be saying the Iranians are working very hard on this capability,” Cirincione says. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said just days before that it had not seen any information that Iran had conducted weapons-related work, Cirincione notes. The Bush administration is likely to press for sanctions from the UN. Powell says that the US will monitor international verification efforts in Iran “with necessary and deserved caution because for 20 years the Iranians have been trying to hide things from the international community.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2004]
Claims Said to Be Unverified - A day later, US officials say Powell’s claims are unverified, and come from a single, unvetted source that has not yet checked out. The single source is an Iranian citizen who approached US intelligence officials with a laptop computer crammed with documents and sketches purporting to be from Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see Summer 2004). Powell and other senior Cabinet members were briefed on the laptop revelations last week, and though it was stamped “No Foreign,” meaning it was not to be shared with any foreign nations, President Bush decided to share some of the information with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Administration officials tell diplomats from Britain, France, and Germany that Powell misspoke in alluding to the laptop intelligence. Powell’s office says Powell stands by his remarks. [Washington Post, 11/19/2004]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Joseph Cirincione, Tony Blair, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

During a dinner with visiting US nuclear experts, Iranian leaders Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rowhani say that Iran’s nuclear weapons research had been halted in 2003 because Iran felt it did not need the actual bombs, only the ability to show the world it could make them. “Look, as long as we can enrich uranium and master the [nuclear] fuel cycle, we don’t need anything else,” Rafsanjani says, according to George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Our neighbors will be able to draw the proper conclusions.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hassan Rowhani, Hashemi Rafsanjani, George Perkovich

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

In an op-ed piece published by the Washington Post, David Kay, formerly of the Iraq Survey Group, recommends five steps the US should follow in order to avoid making the same “mistake” it made in Iraq when it wrongly concluded that Iraq had an active illicit weapons program. Three of the points address the issue of politicized intelligence. He implies that the US should learn from the experience it had with the Iraqi National Congress (see 2001-2003), which supplied US intelligence with sources who made false statements about Iraq’s weapon program. “Dissidents and exiles have their own agenda—regime change—and that before being accepted as truth any ‘evidence’ they might supply concerning Iran’s nuclear program must be tested and confirmed by other sources,” he says. In his fourth point, Kay makes it clear that the motives of administration officials should also be considered. He says it is necessary to “understand that overheated rhetoric from policymakers and senior administration officials, unsupported by evidence that can stand international scrutiny, undermines the ability of the United States to halt Iran’s nuclear activities.” And recalling the CIA’s infamous 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), he says that an NIE on Iran “should not be a rushed and cooked document used to justify the threat of military action” and “should not be led by a team that is trying to prove a case for its boss.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, David Kay, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: US Intel on Iran

The New York Times reports that a nine-member bipartisan presidential panel is due to provide President Bush with a classified report describing American intelligence on Iran and North Korea by March 31 (see April 2, 2005). After a 14-month review, the panel, led by Laurence Silberman, a retired federal judge, and Charles S. Robb, a former governor and senator from Virginia, will conclude that US intelligence lacks sufficient intelligence to make firm judgments on Iran’s weapons programs. The Times reports that one of its sources said the “panel’s deliberations and conclusions characterized American intelligence on Iran as ‘scandalous,’ given the importance and relative openness of the country.” [New York Times, 3/9/2005; London Times, 3/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Charles S. Robb, Laurence Silberman

Category Tags: US Intel on Iran

As expected (see March 8, 2005), the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction concludes that the CIA’s intelligence on Iran is weak. The nine-member commission, headed by Federal appeals court judge, Laurence Silberman, and Charles S. Robb, a former governor and senator from Virginia, finds that US intelligence had few human assets in Iran and only limited direct knowledge of Iran’s missile and nuclear programs. [New York Times, 3/9/2005; Los Angeles Times, 4/1/2005; Middle East Newsline, 4/2/2005]

Category Tags: Key Events, US Intel on Iran

US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warns governments in Middle East not to help Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, recently reported to have been seriously injured in Iraq. “Were a neighboring country to take him in and provide medical assistance or haven for him, they, obviously, would be associating themselves with a major linkage in the al-Qaeda network and a person who has a great deal of blood on his hands.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2005] Zarqawi is rumored to have fled to Iran for treatment (see May 29, 2005).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Diplomacy, US Intel on Iran

Iranian Shahab III missile on display.Iranian Shahab III missile on display. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org]US intelligence officials meet with the leaders of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and reveal the contents of what they say is a stolen Iranian laptop computer. The laptop contains over a thousand pages of documents describing Iranian computer simulations and results of experimental results that the US officials say show a long-term Iranian effort to design a nuclear weapon (see Summer 2004). The documents do not prove that Iran has a nuclear weapon at this time, the Americans acknowledge, but say that the documents are powerful evidence that Iran, despite its denials, is actively developing a nuclear weapon that can fit atop its Shahab III ballistic missile. That missile can reach Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. The briefing, which includes IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei, is a secret part of a US campaign to bring international pressure to bear on Iran. Some countries, such as Britain, France, and Germany, have known of the documents for over a year, and have been convinced of their accuracy. Other countries unaware of the documents are not so willing to go along with the US campaign. Foreign analysts, unable to peruse the documents for themselves because of the unwillingness of the US to provide the actual documents, have not been willing to conclude that the documents are real. One European diplomat says, “I can fabricate that data. It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt.” However, IAEA analysts find the documents credible evidence of Iran’s progress with nuclear weapons. “They’ve worked problems that you don’t do unless you’re very serious,” says a European arms official. “This stuff is deadly serious.” [New York Times, 11/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Mohamed ElBaradei, Bush administration (43), Joseph Cirincione, Colin Powell, International Atomic Energy Agency, Gary Samore

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is readying a vote on whether to recommend that the UN Security Council impose sanctions against Iran over that nation’s nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration, as part of its campaign to pressure the IAEA to vote for such a recommendation, briefs the president of Ghana, along with officials from Argentina, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Nigeria, all Security Council members, on its findings on Iran’s nuclear program derived from a laptop computer that contains evidence of Iran’s nuclear experiments (see Summer 2004). The briefing, actually a slide show, contains excerpts of the documents contained on the laptop. The US also presents a “white paper” containing summaries of the findings from the documents to another group of nations; the white paper contains no classified evidence and no mention of Iran’s purported attempts to develop a missile capable of deploying a nuclear weapon, but instead uses commercial satellite photos and economic analysis to argue that Iran has no need for nuclear power and has long hidden its nuclear ambitions. The white paper was prepared by analysts from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on behalf of the State Department. The paper does contain extensive details about some of Iran’s previously hidden nuclear sites. Most foreign officials are unimpressed. “Yeah, so what?” says one European expert who heard the briefing. “How do you know what you’re shown on a slide is true given past experience?” Nevertheless, the presentation is effective; on September 24, the IAEA votes 22 to 1 to adopt a resolution against Iran, with 12 countries, including China and Russia, abstaining. The resolution cites Iran for “a long history of concealment and deception” and its repeated failure to live up to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it signed in 1970. The resolution says Iran may now be considered for sanctions by the Security Council. Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, denounces the resolution as “illegal and illogical” and the result of a “planned scenario determined by the United States.” The IAEA will decide whether to send the recommendation to the Security Council in November. It is by no means certain that the Council will adopt the recommendation, as two countries rotating onto the Council, Cuba and Syria, are almost certain to refuse to bow to US pressure. And the IAEA itself is not wholly convinced of the accuracy of the documents, given the US’s refusal to allow the agency to examine the documents. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei says he is bound to “follow due process, which means I need to establish the veracity, consistency, and authenticity of any intelligence, and share it with the country of concern.” In this case, ElBaradei says, “That has not happened.” [New York Times, 11/13/2005]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Bush administration (43), International Atomic Energy Agency, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Mohamed ElBaradei, Manouchehr Mottaki, US Department of State

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

The US intelligence community releases a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, the first of its kind since 2001. Its central conclusion is that Iran is about ten years away from manufacturing enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. That doubles the previous estimate of five years. (The “five years away” estimate has been a staple of US assertions about Iran’s nuclear program since 1995.) Even then, the report states, it is unclear whether Iran would have the technology capable of using the uranium in a functional nuclear device. The NIE gives little support for recent statements by Bush administration officials that assert Iran is working hard to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, and that such deployment could happen much sooner than ten or even five years. President Bush has said repeatedly that while he wants to resolve the crisis with Iran diplomatically, “all options are on the table,” meaning a potential military strike is being considered. The NIE says that Iran is conducting clandestine work as part of its nuclear program, but there is no way to know if that work is on nuclear weapons development. Iran is, the report states, acquiring technologies that could be diverted to bomb-making. It is uncertain whether Iran’s ruling mullahs have decided whether to build a nuclear arsenal, the NIE says, but, according to a senior intelligence official, “it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons.” The White House has refrained from attributing its assertions about Iran’s nuclear program to US intelligence, as it did with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion. Instead, it has pointed to Iranian efforts to conceal its activities, and questioned why, since Iran has tremendous oil and natural gas reserves, it would need a nuclear energy program. The administration is riven with infighting and competing viewpoints on Iran’s nuclear program, and this NIE does little to resolve those differences. The NIE also says that the US intelligence community still knows far too little about Iran’s nuclear program. The intelligence community gathers most of its information from communication intercepts, satellite imagery, and reports from the UN inspectors who have been investigating Iran’s nuclear program since 2003. Those inspectors have found facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment, results of plutonium tests, and equipment bought illicitly from Pakistan, all of which raised serious concerns but could be explained by an energy program. Inspectors have found no evidence that Iran possesses a nuclear warhead design or is conducting a nuclear weapons program. Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden says that since the October 2002 NIE, which wrongly concluded Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see October 1, 2002), the rules governing the creation of NIEs have been revamped to mandate “a higher tolerance for ambiguity,” even if NIEs would be less conclusive in the process. [Washington Post, 8/2/2005] In 2007, a new NIE will conclude that Iran actually stopped work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Michael Hayden

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, are indicted for crimes relating to their role in passing classified US government information to Israel (see April 13, 1999-2004). They are charged with conspiring “to communicate national defense information [to] persons not entitled to receive it,” applicable under the Espionage Act. Their charges are similar to those filed against former government employee Larry Franklin, their contact (see October 5, 2005). National security expert Eli Lake will call the charges against Rosen and Weissman “unprecedented,” noting that for them to face the same charges as Franklin puts them—two private citizens—under the same obligation as Franklin, a government official, to keep secret any classified information they might acquire. Lake will write: “[I]f it’s illegal for Rosen and Weissman to seek and receive ‘classified information,’ then many investigative journalists are also criminals—not to mention former government officials who write for scholarly journals or the scores of men and women who petition the federal government on defense and foreign policy. In fact, the leaking of classified information is routine in Washington, where such data is traded as a kind of currency. And, while most administrations have tried to crack down on leaks, they have almost always shied away from going after those who receive them—until now. At a time when a growing amount of information is being classified, the prosecution of Rosen and Weissman threatens to have a chilling effect—not on the ability of foreign agents to influence US policy, but on the ability of the American public to understand it.” [US v. Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman Criminal No. 1:05CR225, 8/4/2005 pdf file; New Republic, 10/10/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 174] Months later, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will say that journalists and other private citizens can be prosecuted for leaking classified information (see May 21, 2006). Almost four years later, the charges against Rosen and Weissman will be dropped (see May 1, 2009).

Entity Tags: Keith Weissman, Steven Rosen, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Larry Franklin, Eli Lake

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Israel, Neoconservative Hawks, US Intel on Iran

The Internet news site Raw Story learns that Iranian exile and arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar (see December 9, 2001) attempted to peddle a fabricated story of stolen uranium to US and other Western governments in the spring and summer of 2003 (see March 7, 2003 and After). The story comes from US and foreign intelligence sources, and is confirmed by former CIA station chief Bill Murray. Ghorbanifar’s story, of an Iranian intelligence team infiltrating Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion and stealing enriched uranium to use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was apparently designed to earn him money as well as to embroil both Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. It is possible that a June 2003 meeting between Ghorbanifar and two US officials was part of his attempt to peddle the story (see June 2003). Ghorbanifar was extensively involved in the Iran-Contra scandal as a middleman between Iranian government officials and members of the Reagan administration (see July 18, 1985, July 25, 1985, December 8, 1985, and December 1986). [Raw Story, 1/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Raw Story, Bill Murray, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Category Tags: Covert/Clandestine Operations, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Two former CIA officials directly involved in producing intelligence estimates on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 2, 2005) say that the Bush administration’s policy of threatening to use military force against Iran is a driving force behind that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is fearful of such an attack, the two officials say, and therefore wants nuclear weapons as a way to divert such a threat. Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 through 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, says, “Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons.” Had the US tried to reassure Iran on its security fears, Pillar says, that would have had a significant effect on Iranian policies. Iran has made several diplomatic overtures to the US since 2003 (see May 4, 2003), Pillar says, that have not been reciprocated by the Bush administration. While Iran wishes to be the “dominant regional superpower” in the Middle East, the NIEs state, it is not pursuing that aspiration by means that would jeopardize the possibility of thawed relations with the US. According to Ellen Laipson, who managed several NIEs on Iran as national intelligence officer for the Near East from 1990 through 1993, and closely followed others as vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, says the Iranian fear of a US attack has long been “a standard element” in NIEs on Iran. Laipson is “virtually certain the estimates linked Iran’s threat perceptions to its nuclear program.” The 1991 Gulf War heightened fears of US attacks on Iran, Laipson says, and the recent belligerence of the Bush administration have again agitated Iran’s rulers. Iran’s 2002 listing as one of seven countries that might be targeted by US nuclear weapons, and President Bush’s 2002 naming of Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), further heightened Iranian fears of a US strike. In return, Iran has tried to counterbalance that threat with the threat of its own nuclear weapons as well as attempts to shore up relations with the US. Non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that US attempts to ease Iran’s fears would go a long way to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. “No nation has ever been coerced into giving up a nuclear program,” Cirincione says, “but many have been convinced to do so by the disappearance of the threat.” He cites the examples of three former Soviet republics, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Libya as nations who gave up their nuclear ambitions after fundamental international or internal changes eliminated the security threats that were driving their nuclear weapons programs. [Inter Press Service, 2/10/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Ellen Laipson, Paul R. Pillar, Joseph Cirincione, National Intelligence Council

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

William Kristol, the publisher and chief commentator for the neoconservative Weekly Standard, calls for a “military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.” He reasons: “Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions—and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: William Kristol

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Iran is unlikely to be able to develop a nuclear weapon before 2015, says the head of Germany’s intelligence service. Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) head Ernst Uhrlau tells a security conference, “It is difficult to give an exact estimate of the time,” but “[a]ccording to the current rate of enrichment, the Islamic Republic will not have sufficient amounts of highly enriched uranium with which to build atomic weapons before 2010. For a nuclear bomb we are looking at around 2015.” Uhrlau’s estimate echoes the findings of a recent US intelligence report on Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see August 2, 2005). Iran has long insisted that its nuclear program is strictly for the production of electricity. [Reuters, 10/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Ernst Uhrlau, Bundesnachrichtendienst

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Responding to Iranian claims that it is progressing in its attempts to enrich uranium (see Mid-November, 2006) and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s skepticism of the claims (see Mid-November 2006), analysts and officials have alternative explanations. Whether peaceful or not, Iran’s nuclear program is a source of great national pride, and its popularity bolsters President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rather tenuous grip on power. A former US intelligence official says it is not inconceivable that Ahmadinejad would welcome a limited military strike against Iran by the US, especially if it does not destroy its nuclear program. Such an attack would shore up Iran’s position in the Islamic world. “They learned that in the Iraqi experience, and relearned it in southern Lebanon,” the official says, referring to both the US debacle in Iraq and the resurgent popularity of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, after Israel’s 2006 strike at the group in Lebanon. Indeed, the former official says, a US attack on Iran could possibly serve as a rallying point to unite the divided Sunni and Shi’ite populations. “An American attack will paper over any differences in the Arab world, and we’ll have Syrians, Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah fighting against us—and the Saudis and the Egyptians questioning their ties to the West,” he says. “It’s an analyst’s worst nightmare—for the first time since the caliphate there will be common cause in the Middle East.” A Pentagon consultant says the CIA does not believe that even a large-scale bombing attack will eradicate Iran’s nuclear program, and a limited campaign of subversion and sabotage plays into Iran’s hands, bolstering support for Iran’s theocratic leaders and “deepening anti-American Muslim rage.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. 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.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Keith Alexander, Ehud Barak, Don Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ehud Olmert, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Einhorn, National Security Agency, Mike McConnell, Michael Hayden, Stephen Kappes, Thomas Fingar, George W. Bush

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

US troops raid the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shi’ite leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and capture two Iranians. The two, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, are high-ranking members of Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which the US accuses of supplying funding and training to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq. After a tense nine-day diplomatic standoff, the US acquiesces to requests by the Iraqi government and its own State Department to allow the two to return to Iran, though the Pentagon wished to keep them in captivity for interrogation. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007] Iran calls both Chirazi and Davari “diplomats,” and says they are in Iraq at the invitation of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, as part of an agreement to improve security between the two countries. [BBC, 12/29/2006]

Entity Tags: al-Quds Brigade, Abu Amad Davari, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Jalal Talabani, Mohsen Chirazi, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, US Department of Defense, US Department of State

Category Tags: US Intel on Iran

Irbil’s Iranian Liaison Office.Irbil’s Iranian Liaison Office. [Source: Yahya Ahmed / Associated Press]US forces carry out two raids inside Iraq, capturing five Iranians as well as a large amount of documentary and computer data. Both raids are inside the Kurdish city of Irbil. One raid is at the Iranian Liaison Office, which is used as a local headquarters by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; according to Iranian sources, five US helicopters land on the roof of the office building around 4 a.m. local time, and US soldiers break down doors, snatch up the five Iranians, and take away boxes of documents and computer equipment. The second raid, at the Irbil airport, ends differently, with US troops finding themselves confronting unfriendly Kurdish troops. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says, “A massacre was avoided at the last minute.” No Iranians are detained as part of the airport raid. The two raids are part of a new US intelligence and military operation launched in December 2006 against Iranians allegedly providing assistance to Iraqi Shi’ite insurgents. Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which provides funding and military training to other Shi’ite revolutionary groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is the primary target of the US offensive. “Throughout Iraq, operations are currently ongoing against individuals suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and Coalition forces,” the headquarters of the US-led Multi-National Force-Iraq says in a prepared statement. The month before, two senior Iranians of al-Quds, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, were captured in similar raids (see December 21-29, 2006), and freed shortly thereafter. [Alalam News, 1/11/2007; Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Newswire, 1/12/2007] US officials dismiss the raids as “routine.” [Reuters, 1/11/2007] Months later, a Kurdish government official says that the real target of the raids was not the Iranian liaison officials, but commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who were openly visiting Kurdish government officials. The commanders were not captured (see Early April, 2007). [Associated Press, 4/6/2007]
Rhetorical Escalation - Bush says that he has ordered US forces to “seek out and destroy the networks” arming and training US enemies, an indirect reference to Iran (see January 10, 2007). Joining Bush in the rhetorical escalation is General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who charges that Iran is “complicit” in providing weapons designed to kill American troops: “We will do all we need to do to defend our troops in Iraq by going after the entire network regardless of where those people come from.” The Iranian Liaison Office was opened with the approval of the Iraqi Kurds, who maintain a near-autonomous region in northern Iraq with the support of the US. Iran wants to upgrade the office to a formal consulate. US forces did not inform their Iraqi allies of the raids on the office beforehand; the raids may well disrupt Kurdish and Iraqi government attempts to deepen ties with the Iranian government. “This is a very, very dangerous thing,” says Zebari. The Iranian government has protested the raids, and the capture of their five officials, through Iraqi and Swiss diplomats to the United Nations (Switzerland represents US interests in Iran). Tehran insists that all five captured Iranians are diplomats, a claim rejected by US and Iraqi officials. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007] The State Department will assert, without presenting proof, that the Iranians are part of a much larger effort by Iran to support the Iraqi Shi’ite militias and insurgents. Apparently the United States’ charges that the Iranians are not diplomats rest on a bureaucratic foible: the five Iranians had applied for diplomatic accreditation, but their paperwork had not been fully processed. The Kurdish government were treating them as if they were accredited. Iran insists that the five are legitimate diplomats regardless of paperwork, and that by capturing them, the US is violating the Vienna Conventions and other international diplomatic regulations. But the US routinely ignores such laws in both Iraq and Afghanistan, causing criticism from human rights organizations and legal experts around the globe. Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton says, “The US hasn’t articulated the legal grounds under which it detains ‘combatants’. They regularly conflate criminal terrorism, innocent civilians, and real combatants on the ground, and throw them all into the same pot. The vagueness of the war on terror has supplied the soil under which all this has flourished.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/25/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007]
Eventual Release of Some Captives - Months later, the US will release some of the captured Iranians (see November 6-9, 2007).

Entity Tags: al-Quds Brigade, US Department of Defense, Peter Pace, US Department of State, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Mohsen Chirazi, Human Rights Watch, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Abu Amad Davari, Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, John Sifton, Iranian Liaison Office, Hoshyar Zebari, United Nations

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Ali Reza Asgari.Ali Reza Asgari. [Source: FARS / Reuters]Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense, General Ali Reza Asgari, defects during a visit to Turkey. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] According to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, Asgari is a longtime Western intelligence agent, and is immediately debriefed by Turkish and US intelligence officials. Asgari will be given a new identity; his current whereabouts are unknown to the public. [Guardian, 12/8/2007]
History and Connections - Asgari held the Defense Ministry position from 1997 through 2005, under the regime of reformist Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, and, according to US media reports, was providing the US with intelligence during that time period. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] He is a former intelligence officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and is believed to have considerable knowledge about several IRGC-ordered terrorist attacks, including the October 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983) and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996). He has close ties to Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and presumably can tell US intelligence about Hezbollah’s military command structure, its overseas networks, and perhaps its cells inside the US. [Time, 3/22/2007]
Source for National Intelligence Estimate - Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that Asgari is a “key” source for the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program, currently in development (see August 2, 2005). Asgari’s information helps the intelligence community determine that Iran had ceased work on its nuclear program in 2003. According to Giraldi, Asgari had been recruited by Turkish intelligence in 2003, and defected after learning that Iranian intelligence had become suspicious of him. Asgari defects with “bags of documents,” presumably including information about Iran’s nuclear program. Asgari will provide information crucial to the US’s ability to monitor sensitive communications among senior Iranian military officials (see July 2007), which helps corroborate the finding that Iran had indeed ceased research into nuclear weapons development. Former National Security Council official Gary Sick will say that Asgari’s knowledge of the Iranian military is critical in determining what is and is not important among the communications intercepts. “There are zillions of pieces of evidence, and what you look for is defined by what you know,” Sick will say. “What Asgari gave them was a new way of looking at the evidence.” It is highly likely that President Bush will be made aware of Asgari’s information soon after Asgari’s debriefing, though the White House will claim that Bush knew nothing of the new intelligence on Iran until August 2007 (see December 3-4, 2007). [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, Ali-Reza Asgari, Central Intelligence Agency, Gary G. Sick, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Philip Giraldi

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

In a press briefing, President Bush says that Iran is actively working on a nuclear weapon: “Our position is that we would hope that nations would be very careful in dealing with Iran, particularly since Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and a major threat to world peace is if the Iranians had a nuclear weapon.… [We] are deeply concerned about an Iranian government that is in violation of international accords in their attempt to develop a nuclear weapon.” [White House, 3/31/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Kurdish government officials in Iraq say that the US raids in Irbil that captured five Iranian diplomats and government officials (see January 11, 2007) were actually an attempt to capture two leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Mohammed Jafari, the deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, the chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Both were visiting Kurdish officials at the time. British journalist Patrick Cockburn writes, “The attempt by the US to seize the two high-ranking Iranian security officers openly meeting with Iraqi leaders is somewhat as if Iran had tried to kidnap the heads of the CIA and MI6 while they were on an official visit to a country neighboring Iran, such as Pakistan or Afghanistan.” [Independent, 4/3/2007]
Iranians Welcomed, Says Kurdish Leader - Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, says that the Iranian commanders visited Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, and then visited Barzani, most likely in Irbil. The five Iranians are still in US custody. “It [the house raided by US forces] was not a secret Iranian office,” Barzani says. “It is impossible for us to accept that an Iranian office in Irbil was doing things against coalition forces or against us. That office was doing its work in a normal way and had they been doing anything hostile, we would have known that.” Barzani continues, “They [the US troops] did not come to detain the people in that office. There was an Iranian delegation, including Revolutionary Guards commanders, and they came as guests of the president. He was in Sulaimaniyah. They came to Sulaimaniyah and then I received a call from the president’s office telling me that they wanted to meet me as well.” [Associated Press, 4/6/2007]
Iranians 'Disappeared' - The location of the captured Iranians is unknown; they are said to have “disappeared” into the controversial and allegedly illegal US “coalition detention” system. International law expert Scott Horton says that under the UN resolutions, the US detention of the Iranians is illegal, and they should be detained under Iraqi law. “The Iranians who are being held as ‘security detainees’ are not being charged with anything, and so are being held unlawfully,” he says. Iraqi law mandates that detainees identified as insurgents “actively engaged in hostilities” are supposed to be charged in civilian courts. They may be held up to 14 days before being brought before a magistrate and either charged with a crime or released. To hold detainees longer without charging them, detention authorities must provide justification for doing so, Horton says. “It’s an exercise of raw power by the US that’s not backed by any legal justification.” [Asia Times, 3/31/2007] Observers say the US rationale for the capture and continued detention of the Iranians is hard to fathom, as no US soldiers have ever been killed in Irbil and there are no Sunni nor Shi’ite militias operating in that region. [Independent, 4/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Scott Horton, Patrick Cockburn, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Minojahar Frouzanda, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Jalal Talabani, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Mohammed Jafari, International Committee of the Red Cross, Masud Barzani, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: US Intel on Iran

Author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes, “Iran is about to go nuclear.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Thomas Friedman

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert.George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert. [Source: White House]During a press briefing with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Bush accuses Iran of actively developing nuclear weapons, and warns of the ramifications of that activity. He warns of the “consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon, such as financial sanctions, or economic sanctions.… Now, whether or not they abandon their nuclear weapons program, we’ll see.” [White House, 6/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Ehud Olmert, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

In a press briefing, President Bush says, “The fight in Iraq is part of a broader struggle that’s unfolding across the region. The same region in Iran—the same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map is also providing sophisticated IEDs to extremists in Iraq who are using them to kill American soldiers.” [White House, 7/12/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

President Bush says, “[I]t’s up to Iran to prove to the world that they’re a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon. This is a government that is in defiance of international accord, a government that seems to be willing to thumb its nose at the international community… [T]he burden of proof is on the Iranian government to show us that they’re a positive force. And I must tell you that this current leadership there is a big disappointment to the people of Iran. The people of Iran could be doing a lot better than they are today. But because of the actions of this government, this country is isolated. And we will continue to work to isolate it, because they’re not a force for good, as far as we can see. They’re a destabilizing influence wherever they are.” [White House, 8/6/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

President Bush’s rhetoric towards Iran’s supposed nuclear program shifts from flat assertions that Iran is definitely working for a nuclear bomb (see January 26, 2007, March 31, 2007, June 19, 2007, July 12, 2007, and August 6, 2007) to a more nuanced approach. In a press briefing, Bush now asserts that Iran is taking measures to have a nuclear weapons program: “They have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program. That, in itself, coupled with their stated foreign policy, is very dangerous for world stability.… It’s a very troubling nation right now.” [White House, 8/9/2007] Journalist Dan Froomkin, and others, later believe that Bush was informed a day or two before he made this comment that the US intelligence community has found that Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. But instead of reversing course, Froomkin will write, Bush merely adjusts his rhetoric and continues to insist that Iran is a danger to the Middle East because of its nuclear ambitions (see December 5, 2007). “[I]t certainly didn’t tame the overall message,” Froomkin will observe. [Washington Post, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Dan Froomkin, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

The Washington Post’s editorial page, headed by Fred Hiatt, denounces Iran’s “race for a bomb,” writing: “[T]he danger is growing that the United States and its allies could face a choice between allowing Iran to acquire the capacity to build a nuclear weapon and going to war to prevent it. The only way to avoid facing that terrible decision is effective diplomacy—that is, a mix of sanctions and incentives that will induce [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s superiors to suspend their race for a bomb.… Even if [Iran] provides satisfactory answers, its uranium enrichment—and thus its progress toward a bomb—will continue. That doesn’t trouble [the IAEA’s Mohamed] ElBaradei, who hasn’t hidden his view that the world should stop trying to prevent Iran from enriching uranium and should concentrate instead on blocking US military action… European diplomats say they are worried that escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, if fueled by more sanctions, could lead to war. What they don’t make clear is how the government Mr. Ahmadinejad represents will be induced to change its policy if it has nothing to fear from the West.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, Mohamed ElBaradei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

NBC correspondent Howard Fineman says that the US intelligence community will release “three different reports” in upcoming weeks to “slow down” the administration’s push for war with Iran. Fineman says, “The intelligence community over the next few months is going to come out with three different reports on Iran about internal political problems of Iran, about the economy, and about their nuclear capability. Those are going to be key to decide what the Bush administration is going to do, and it’s the intelligence community I think trying to slow down what the president, most particularly the vice president, want to do in Iran.” [MSNBC, 10/7/2007] In fact, the intelligence community will release a National Intelligence Estimate in December that concludes Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003, and is not a danger of having a nuclear weapon until at least 2013 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: Howard Fineman, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen writes: “Sadly, it is simply not possible to dismiss the Iranian threat. Not only is Iran proceeding with a nuclear program, but it projects a pugnacious, somewhat nutty, profile to the world.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard Cohen

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

After spending a year traveling through the Middle East and writing about his experiences, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland says there is an “unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.” He adds: “That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion.… [T]ime is running out on the diplomatic track.” In late October, Hoagland dismissed Russian Premier Vladimir Putin’s doubt that Iran would be able to turn enriched uranium into a usable weapon (see October 26, 2007) as “implausible.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Jim Hoagland

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

While the Bush administration claims that Iran is risking “World War III” by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons (see October 20, 2007), an array of experts inside and outside the government quoted in a McClatchy News article say that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is actively pursuing such weapons. The story, and the alleged facts, change depending on which administration official is doing the speaking. President Bush and Vice President Cheney use harsh, bellicose rhetoric reminiscent of the rhetoric used in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but others, such as Bush’s “point man” on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, is attempting to tone down the rhetoric. Burns recently told reporters, “Iran is seeking a nuclear capability… that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability.” Another US official says more directly, “I don’t think that anyone right today thinks [Iran is] working on a bomb.” Iran has the capability to continue working on producing a nuclear weapon, experts note, and could transform its current uranium-enrichment program into a weapons program if it so desired. But as of now, US experts have an amalgamation of circumstantial evidence and supposition, and no real proof; reporter Jonathan Landay observes, “Bush’s rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts.” The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency agrees. With four years of inspections of Iran’s nuclear energy program behind it, the IAEA says it has no information that would show Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. The circumstantial evidence that leads some to assert the reality of Iran’s active nuclear weapons program is extensive, but not always solid. In 2006, the CIA gave the IAEA thousands of pages of computer simulations and documents that it claimed it took from a defector’s laptop; those documents showed that Iranian experts were working on mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, and working on developing nuclear “triggers,” or detonators. The CIA calls all of this Project 111. The Iranians denounced the materials as “politically motivated and baseless,” and have promised to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into the matter. Many Western intelligence officials and outside experts believe the materials are genuine—“I wouldn’t go to war over this, but it’s reason for suspicion,” says one—but Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian defector who has closely monitored Iran’s nuclear program for decades, dismisses the materials as “totally not believable,” observing, “If the laptop did exist, I find it hard to believe that its absence wasn’t noticed for so long that somebody could take it out of Iran.” The IAEA has other questions as well, including a document from the nuclear black-market program of Dr. A. Q. Khan that shows how to form uranium into explosive cores, Iran’s experiments with radioactive materials used primarily in nuclear warheads, Iranian involvement with a uranium mine, and Iran’s claim that it needs large amounts of nuclear energy to feed its energy needs when it sits on such large reserves of oil and gas. Sahimi answers this last point by noting Iran would, in his opinion, do better to sell its petroleum on the global market and rely on nuclear energy for its own needs. [McClatchy News, 11/4/2007] A month after this article is published, the administration will release an intelligence report that concludes Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Bush administration (43), Abdul Qadeer Khan, Central Intelligence Agency, Jonathan Landay, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nicholas Burns, Muhammad Sahimi

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

The US military releases nine Iranian prisoners, including two captured when US troops stormed an Iranian government office in the Iraqi city of Irbil (see January 11, 2007). The office was shut after the raid, but has now reopened as an Iranian consulate. The US had one of the freed Iranians in custody for three years, and some of the released detainees are thought to be affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent organization. Iran is believed to be helping Iraqi Shi’ites, not Sunnis; however, US military officials say Iran may be arming Sunni organizations also, though not to the extent it is allegedly arming Shi’ite groups. Military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith says the identities of the nine Iranian prisoners will be released later, and says that many of the Iranians had been taken prisoner through the course of the US occupation. Kurdish forces have already released another Iranian soldier captured in September. Smith says Iran seems to be keeping its promise, made to the Iraqi government, to halt the flow of bomb-making materials and weaponry into Iraq. Recently captured caches of roadside bombs “do not appear to have arrived here in Iraq after those pledges were made,” Smith says. The second highest-level commander of US forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, said last week that over the last three months there has been a sharp decline in the number of explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) found in Iraq during the last three months. At least five other Iranians, also captured in the Irbil office, remain in custody, facing accusations of being members of the paramilitary al-Quds force, which the US says funnels weapons to Shi’ite militias in Iraq. The US says it is still holding eleven Iranians in total, but the Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, says the number is 25, and demands their release as well. [Associated Press, 11/6/2007; McClatchy News, 11/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Gregory Smith, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Raymond Odierno, al-Quds Brigade, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Diplomacy, US Intel on Iran

According to national security director Stephen Hadley (see December 3, 2007) and President Bush himself (see December 3-4, 2007), Bush will not be informed about the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing that Iran stopped work on its nuclear program until November 28. But that may be false. On December 4, journalist Seymour Hersh will tell a CNN reporter, “Israel objects to this report. I’m told that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis—before Annapolis [where Israel and the US engaged in preliminary peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.” If Hersh is correct, then Bush discussed the NIE’s findings with Israel’s Olmert on November 26, two days before he supposedly learns of them. [CNN, 12/4/2007] According to the Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz, “Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” [Ha'aretz, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Shaul Mofaz, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley, Robert M. Gates, Seymour Hersh

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, 2007 NIE on Iran

Neoconservative eminence grise Norman Podhoretz, who recently advocated an all-out military strike against Iran (see October 28, 2007), claims that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007) is an attempt by the US intelligence community to avoid making the same mistakes with weapons of mass destruction that it made in Iraq. Podhoretz rightly notes that in May 2005, the intelligence community assured the administration in an NIE that Iraq was pushing towards developing a nuclear weapon. Podhoretz writes that he suspects the intelligence community, “having been excoriated for supporting the then universal belief that Saddam [Hussein] had weapons of mass destruction, is now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view… that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons.” Podhoretz then presents what he calls “an even darker suspicion… that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again.” [Commentary, 12/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Norman Podhoretz, George W. Bush

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

The Iran NIE.The Iran NIE. [Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence]The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iran’s nuclear weapons program concludes that Iran stopped working on nuclear weapons in 2003, and that the program remains on hold today. The Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear arms, and has intimated that it is ready to attack that nation to prevent such an event from happening (see October 20, 2007). Interestingly, the administration has tried to have the NIE rewritten to more suit their view of Iran, an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney (see October 2006). The findings of the NIE are expected to have a large impact on the negotiations between Iran and several Western countries, including the US, aimed at pressuring and cajoling Iran into giving up its nuclear energy program. The NIE, an assessment representing the consensus of the US’s 16 inteligence agencies, finds that while Iran’s ultimate ambitions towards becoming a nuclear-armed power remain unclear, Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.… Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” The NIE says that even if Iran were to restart development of its nuclear weapons program today, it would be at least two years at a minimum before it would have enough enriched uranium to produce a single bomb. The report says that Iran is more likely to develop a nuclear weapon by no earlier than 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.” The report flatly contradicts the assessment made by a 2005 NIE that concluded Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and was determined to create them as quickly as possible. “We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” says one senior intelligence official. [New York Times, 12/3/2007; Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 pdf file] There is no official word as to why the NIE has been publicly released by the White House when it so transparently contradicts the stance of the Bush administration, but Cheney implies the decision stems from a fear that it would be leaked anyway: “[T]here was a general belief that we all shared that it was important to put it out—that it was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway.” [Politico, 12/5/2007] The NIE is compiled from information gathered since 2004; one of the key intelligence findings is from intercepted phone calls between Iranian military commanders indicating that the nuclear program has been halted (see July 2007).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Author and Hoover Institute fellow Victor Davis Hanson takes a different tack in his contribution to the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007). Hanson says the NIE is a victory for the Bush administration and a conundrum for Democrats, who, Hanson asserts, must now accept that Bush has successfully headed off two separate nuclear threats to the US: “The latest news from Iran about the supposed abandonment in 2003 of the effort to produce a bomb—if even remotely accurate—presents somewhat of a dilemma for liberal Democrats. Are they now to suggest that Republicans have been warmongering over a nonexistent threat for partisan purposes?… After all, what critic would wish now to grant that one result of the 2003 war—aside from the real chance that Iraq can stabilize and function under the only consensual government in the region—might have been the elimination, for some time, of two growing and potentially nuclear threats to American security, quite apart from Saddam Hussein?” [National Review, 12/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Victor Davis Hanson, George W. Bush, Hoover Institute

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

While President Bush takes something of the high road (see December 5, 2007) in reacting to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), neoconservatives and other right-wing figures throw an entire array of accusations—some directed at Democrats, some at the State Department officials who compiled the report, and some at the US intelligence community itself, in an attempt to discredit the report (see December 3, 2007, December 3, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4-6, 2007, December 5, 2007, and December 6, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, George W. Bush

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

George W. Bush, apparently taken somewhat aback by the US intelligence community’s findings released on December 3, 2007, that Iran halted its work on a nuclear bomb four years ago (see December 3, 2007), claims that he only learned about the findings on November 28. The intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been in production for some 18 months. According to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were first given initial briefings in either August or September. [White House, 11/28/2007; Washington Post, 12/4/2007] Bush tells reporters he wasn’t even aware of the evidence showing Iran had halted its nuclear program, “I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell [who] came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.… And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.” A clearly incredulous reporter follows up by asking, “I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation—at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, ‘Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?’” Bush answers, “No—I’ve never—nobody ever told me that.” [CNN, 12/4/2007] From Hadley’s words, the date that Bush knew of the NIE findings may be much earlier. Hadley tells reporters attempting to pin him down on the exact date when Bush was told of the findings, “[W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October—August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.” All told, Hadley says that Bush was told of the findings within “the last few months” five different times during the press conference. [Think Progress, 12/3/2007] By December 5, the White House will begin refusing to answer the question at all. White House spokesman Tony Fratto will tell reporters, “I don’t have anything on that.… I can’t give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the President.” [White House, 12/5/2007]
Bush Either 'Lying' or 'Stupid' - Many find Bush’s claim hard to accept. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) notes that he and ranking committee member Kit Bond (R-MO) received a briefing on the NIE’s intelligence “several months ago,” and says, “I was really struck when the president said that he only got the final judgments on Tuesday.” He cannot imagine that he and Bond received information months in advance of Bush. Rockefeller says he “can’t believe” that McConnell’s indication of new information didn’t prevent Bush from “talking about a nuclear holocaust.” [PBS, 12/4/2007] Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says the White House is probably being dishonest about what Bush knew and when he knew it. “I can’t imagine that McConnell… would tell the president about this and not tell him what the information actually said,” Leverett observes. [CNN, 12/5/2007] Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says, “What’s shocking today is that apparently he knew about this estimate a month or more before he made those statements. I don’t think that shows a responsible use of intelligence.” [Reuters, 12/5/2007] And MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman, says flatly, “We are left with only two options here. Either the President of the United States is lying to the American people about what happened during that meeting, or the President of the United States is stupid.” [MSNBC, 12/5/2007]
Cheney Not Hampered by Lack of Intelligence - If Bush was indeed ignorant of the intelligence findings, as he asserts, it is not likely that his vice president labored under the same lack of information, judging from the fact that Cheney’s office has been involved in trying to suppress the NIE for over a year (see October 2006).

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Joseph Scarborough, Stephen J. Hadley, John D. Rockefeller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jack Reed, Bush administration (43), Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Tony Fratto

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Neoconservative academic and intelligence figure Michael Ledeen joins his fellows Norman Podhoretz (see December 3, 2007) and John Bolton (see December 4, 2007) in attacking the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Ledeen excoriates the intelligence community for reversing themselves from their previous claims that Iran did indeed have an active nuclear program, and accuses its members of trying to “cover their derrieres.” Ledeen writes. “[I]ndeed, those ‘intelligence professionals’ were very happy to take off their analytical caps and gowns and put on their policy wigs.… This sort of blatant unprofessionalism is as common in today’s Washington as it is unworthy of a serious intel type, and I think it tells us a lot about the document itself.… This document will not stand up to serious criticism, but it will undoubtedly have a significant political impact, since it will be taken as confirmation of the view that we should not do anything mean to the [Iranian] mullahs. We should talk to them instead.” Ledeen concludes that the NIE is “insulting to our leaders, who should expect serious work from the [intelligence community] instead of this bit of policy advocacy masquerading as serious intelligence.” [Pajamas Media, 12/4/2007; National Review, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, John R. Bolton, Norman Podhoretz

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Former UN ambassador John Bolton joins the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Bolton says that the NIE is a victory for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, both advocates of diplomacy with Iran: “Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates have fundamentally won. This is an NIE very conveniently teed up for what the administration has been doing.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2007] Bolton echoes and extends an accusation leveled by fellow neoconservative Norman Podhoretz about the intelligence community manipulating the NIE for its own ends (see December 3, 2007): “I think there is a risk here, and I raise this as a question, whether people in the intelligence community who had their own agenda on Iran for some time now have politicized this intelligence and politicized these judgments in a way contrary to where the administration was going. I think somebody needs to look at that.” [Fox News, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: John R. Bolton, Robert M. Gates, Norman Podhoretz, Condoleezza Rice

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

As part of the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), American Enterprise Institute fellow and former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin tries to pin the blame for the previous uncertainty about Iran’s nuclear program on the Clinton administration. Rubin writes: “If Iran was working on a nuclear weapons program until 2003, what does this say about US policy in the late Clinton period…? Is it fair to say that while Iran spoke of dialogue of civilizations, it was working on a nuclear weapons program?” [National Review, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, George W. Bush, Clinton administration

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, says that he does not know of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran has long ago shut down its nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), but he does not believe it. “I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says that they suspended the program and how credible that is versus the news that they actually are expanding it,” he says. “And then I’ve heard the last two weeks supposed reports that say that they are accelerating and could be having a reactor in a much shorter period of time than originally they thought.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/4/2007] Huckabee made light of his ignorance of foreign policy earlier in the day, joking on a radio talk show that he’s “not an expert… but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” [National Journal, 12/4/2007] Conservative pundit Byron York attacks Huckabee: “Beyond doing nothing to resolve doubts about his foreign policy qualifications, the exchange underscores the fact that Huckabee doesn’t really have much of a campaign, in the sense that [fellow Republican presidential candidates Rudolph] Giuliani and [Mitt] Romney have campaigns, with teams of advisers and carefully-thought-out policy positions. In important ways, he has been flying by the seat of his pants, relying on his unequaled talents as a retail campaigner. But now that he is leading in Iowa, and moving up nationally as well, the deficiencies of his campaign might come more and more into the spotlight.” [National Review, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Byron York, Mike Huckabee

Category Tags: Neoconservative Hawks, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, 2007 NIE on Iran

Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that President Bush deliberately misled the American people over the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that if Bush initiates an attack on Iran without the approval of Congress, he will call for Bush’s impeachment. Biden tells reporters, “After all we’ve been through, for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about an issue of war and peace, I find outrageous.” Biden is referring to the faulty and deceptive intelligence presented by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq. The US intelligence community recently released a National Intelligence Estimate (see December 3, 2007) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003, and Bush has asserted that he himself only learned about the shutdown in late November (see December 3-4, 2007). Biden doesn’t believe Bush’s tale of ignorance: “Are you telling me a president who’s briefed every single morning, who’s fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies of the United States government said [Iran] had abandoned their effort for nuclear weapons in 2003?” Biden says if Bush’s assertion of ignorance is true, then he and his staff are thoroughly incompetent. “You cannot trust this president,” Biden states. [ABC News, 12/4/2007] Biden is joined by other Democratic presidential candidates, although they use less “heated rhetoric” than Biden. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says, “I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.” And Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) notes that Bush “continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology.… They should have stopped the saber rattling; should have never started it. And they need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.” [CNN, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph Biden, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Republican National Committee, Hillary Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Joining the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page questions the motives of the three former State Department officials who helped compile the NIE, Thomas Fingar, Vann Van Diepin, and Kenneth Brill. The Journal writes, “Our own ‘confidence’ is not heightened by the fact that the NIE’s main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as ‘hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.’” [Fox News, 12/6/2007] Former UN ambassador and influential neoconservative John Bolton agrees. Bolton, who has already accused the intelligence community of deliberately politicizing its report (see December 4, 2007), tells a reporter: “I would also say many of the people who wrote this are former State Department employees who, during their career at the State Department, never gave much attention to the threat of the Iranian program. Now they are writing as members of the intelligence community, the same opinions that they have had four and five years ago.” [CNN, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Thomas Fingar, John R. Bolton, Kenneth Brill, Wall Street Journal, Vann Van Diepin, US Department of State

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

President George W. Bush demands that Iran “come clean” about its nuclear weapons program or face diplomatic isolation. The director of national intelligence recently released a sweeping National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear weapons research program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), and since then the administration has attempted various responses to the document. Bush is now demanding that Iran produce details about its nuclear weapons programs which it “has yet to acknowledge.” Bush says: “The Iranians have a strategic choice to make. They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities, and fully accept the long-standing offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation.” According to analysts, Bush may be worried the US is losing leverage over Iran, as well as credibility around the world.
Response to NIE and US intelligence community - Bush does not directly criticize the US intelligence community, but says he appreciates its work in helping his officials understand past and present activities in Iran, and helping his administration develop a sound policy towards Iran. Of the NIE, Bush continues to portray it as in line with his own policies and suspicions, saying, “It is clear from the latest NIE that the Iranian government has more to explain about its nuclear intentions and past actions.” Bush says that his administration will continue to push for tougher UN sanctions against Iran. Deputy White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto says that Iran continues to hide information, remains in violation of two UN Security Council resolutions, tests ballistic missiles and is enriching uranium. “Anyone who thinks that the threat from Iran has receded or diminished is naive and is not paying attention to the facts,” Fratto says. [Associated Press, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations, George W. Bush

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Former senator and current Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson joins the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007). Thompson asks if Iran might have leaked the information used in the NIE for its own purposes: “We’re just going to have to wait and see, why they would start it up and they would move away without telling anybody. Unless of course they have leaked this themselves. So, just a bunch of unanswered questions.… And this is perhaps a weak, faint or weak attempt to cause us to divert our attention a little bit.” He adds: “The accuracy of the latest NIE on Iran should be received with a good deal of skepticism. Our intelligence community has often underestimated the intentions of adversaries, including Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and North Korea.… It’s awfully convenient for a lot of people: the administration gets to say its policies worked; the Democrats get to claim we should have eased up on Iran a long time ago: and Russia and China can claim sanctions on Iran are not necessary. Who benefits from all this? Iran.” [Think Progress, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Fred Thompson

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

While many inside and outside the Bush administration consider the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which concluded that Iran halted its push towards building nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), a disappointment, a small but influential group inside the Defense Department consider it a victory for their viewpoint. The NIE almost guarantees that Bush will not order any sort of military strike against Iran, a result sought by, among others, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, and Admiral William Fallon, the supreme commander of US forces in the Middle East. All three have, in recent months, privately and publicly opposed the idea of going to war with Iran; indeed, the Pentagon’s intelligence units were instrumental in forming the NIE’s conclusions. Time reporter Mark Thompson writes, “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.” Additionally, some Pentagon officials believe that this NIE shows the US intelligence community is not as tied to ideological and political concerns as was evidenced by the 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). For his part, Gates warns that the US and the international community must continue pressuring Iran to keep its nuclear-weapons program dormant, and “[a]s long as they continue with their enrichment activities, then the opportunity to resume that nuclear weapons program is always present.” But Gates adds that the NIE demonstrates that non-military actions are the best way to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check: “If anything, the new national estimate validates the administration’s strategy of bringing diplomatic and economic pressures to bear on the Iranian government to change its policies.” [Time, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Mark Thompson, Michael Mullen, William Fallon, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert M. Gates

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program, US Policy Papers, US Intel on Iran

The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin puts together what he calls a “pattern of deception” in President Bush’s response to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate about Iran (see December 3, 2007). Froomkin writes that, contrary to Bush’s assertions that he knew nothing about the report’s conclusions until late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and December 5-6, 2007), it is evident Bush was told something concrete in August. At that time Bush began to change his rhetoric about Iran, going from explicit assertions about Iran’s nuclear weapons to more vague, yet just as alarming, assertions about Iran’s desire to obtain the knowledge and technology required for building a nuclear weapon. Froomkin writes, “Bush left his listeners with what he likely knew was a fundamentally false impression. And he did so in the pursuit of a more muscular and possibly even military approach to a Middle Eastern country. It’s an oddly familiar pattern of deception.”
Timeline of Deception - Froomkin provides a timeline of Bush’s statements against Iran, from early January 2007, where Bush said Iran “want[s] to have a nuclear weapon” (see January 26, 2007), to late March, when he asserted Iran was actively working on a nuclear bomb (see March 31, 2007). In mid-June, Bush warned that there would be “consequences” towards Iran if it continued working on a nuclear bomb (see June 19, 2007). A month later, Bush tied the Iranian nuclear program into what he called a “broader struggle” in the Middle East (see July 12, 2007). On August 6, Bush said that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a “destabilizing” force in the Middle East (see August 6, 2007). But on August 9, Bush’s rhetoric shifted: while not backing down from his threats and warnings about Iran’s nuclear program, he began talking about Iran’s enrichment of uranium and its “step[s] toward having a nuclear weapons program” (see August 9, 2007). Bush continued with that particular parsing until the NIE was made public in early December. [Washington Post, 12/5/2007]
Olbermann Denounces Bush's Rhetorical Shift - MSNBC host Keith Olbermann uses Froomkin’s carefully constructed timeline of presidential pronouncements about Iran to launch a fiery denunciation of Bush’s deceptions. Olbermann says, “We have either a president who is too dishonest to restrain himself from invoking World War III about Iran at least six weeks after he had to have known that the analogy would be fantastic, irresponsible hyperbole, or we have a president too transcendently stupid not to have asked, at what now appears to have been a series of opportunities to do so, whether the fairy tales he either created or was fed were still even remotely plausible. A pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief.” Bush’s parsing might be technically true, Olbermann notes: “Legally, it might save you from some war crimes trial, but ethically it is a lie. It is indefensible.… You, Mr. Bush, are a bald-faced liar.… You not only knew all of this about Iran in early August, but you also knew it was accurate. And instead of sharing this good news with the people you have obviously forgotten you represent, you merely fine-tuned your terrorizing of those people, to legally cover your own backside.” [MSNBC, 12/6/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dan Froomkin, Keith Olbermann

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” [CNN, 12/5/2007] Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. [Huffington Post, 12/5/2007] A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Bruce Riedel, Stephen J. Hadley, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mike McConnell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Larry C. Johnson, Joseph Biden, Condoleezza Rice, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Melvin A. Goodman

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, joining the attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), asks about the likelihood of political gamesmanship inside the administration. Limbaugh tells his listeners, “I guarantee there’s more sabotage coming out of that place regarding the Bush administration.” [Fox News, 12/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Jon Wolfstahl.Jon Wolfstahl. [Source: Washington Note]Jon Wolfstahl, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, speaks out in favor of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Wolfstahl says: “The last thing we need is more political input into intelligence matters. The facts are the facts, and it’s time conservatives began to deal with the facts on the ground.… The days of Doug Feith and Steve Cambone creating intelligence to suit their ideology are thankfully behind us.” [Inter Press Service, 12/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Douglas Feith, Jon Wolfstahl, Stephen A. Cambone, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Eric Margolis.Eric Margolis. [Source: Eric Margolis]Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis calls the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran the “revenge” of a “fifth column [of] America’s spooks” for being forced in 2002 and 2003 “to concoct a farrago of lies about Iraq, and then take the blame for the ensuing fiasco there.” While Margolis’s conclusions about the motives of the US intelligence community may be a bit hyperbolic, it is apparent that the NIE is, as Margolis writes, “a devastating, humiliating blow to Bush, Dick Cheney, and the neocons who have been fulminating for war against Iran.” The irony that “Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was telling the truth all along when he said Iran was not working on nuclear arms, while Bush and Company were lying through their teeth, just as they have over Iraq and Afghanistan,” must be particularly galling in certain quarters of the White House.
Turning to Israel - Margolis also notes that part of the underlying message of the NIE is that the White House should rely on its own intelligence community, and not other sources, for proper information. When the White House first learned over a year ago that the US intelligence community wasn’t going to give it the conclusions it wanted on Iran, it turned instead to Israel’s Mossad, which gave Bush officials the answers they wanted. (The Mossad still says Iran will have a nuclear weapon by 2008.) Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called the NIE report a “blow to the groin.” Israel has worked tirelessly, Margolis writes, to convince the US to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. It is less clear whether Israel will now consider performing that task on its own.
Impeachment Doubtful - Margolis writes, “This is the final disgrace for Bush and Cheney. Their war propaganda and efforts to suppress the new NIE should constitute grounds for immediate impeachment.” His argument is one that many find compelling: “If Bill Clinton could be impeached for lying about oral sex, shouldn’t Bush and Cheney face trial for attempting to lie and deceive Americans into yet another war of aggression?” Yet, he notes sourly, Congress “lacks the guts for such action.” [Toronto Sun, 12/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Israel Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks (Mossad), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, George W. Bush, Ehud Barak, Eric Margolis

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Preparation, US Intel on Iran, 2007 NIE on Iran

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