Gravest Threat – Not

John Negroponte, our first director of national intelligence, gave his first threat assessment [.pdf] to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

“Let me begin with a straightforward statement of preoccupation shared by all of us sitting here before you: terrorism is the preeminent threat to our citizens, homeland, interests, and friends.

“The War on Terror is our first priority and driving concern as we press ahead with a major transformation of the intelligence community we represent.”

Interesting, because for weeks now, senators from across the political spectrum have been gravely warning all of us that the resumption by Iran of certain safeguarded activities constitutes the gravest threat to our national security to develop since the end of the Cold War.

Do the solons know something about Iran that Negroponte and his underlings don’t?

Perhaps, because what Negroponte fed the committee about Iran was largely misinformation.

In particular, he told them that “Iran conducted a clandestine uranium enrichment program for nearly two decades in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement.”

Now if any of those intelligence weenies sitting behind Negroponte had bothered to check with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), they would have obtained the intelligence that Iran has not yet begun initial operations of its planned uranium enrichment program, which will – in any case – be fully safeguarded. Nor has Iran ever been reported to the UN Security Council to be in violation of its IAEA Safeguards Agreement.

True, as a result of Iran’s voluntary cooperation under an Additional Protocol to Iran’s Safeguards Agreement – which the Iranian parliament has yet to ratify – the IAEA learned almost three years ago that Iran had previously imported small quantities of “source and special nuclear materials” and had engaged in laboratory-scale activities involving those materials that ought to have been reported to the IAEA, but were not.

The IAEA recently learned about similar activities by South Korea.

But the bottom line is that both Iran and South Korea have reported those activities, now. And as best as the IAEA can tell, both Iran and South Korea are presently in complete compliance with their existing Safeguards Agreements.

And if the IAEA director general doesn’t know who is – and who isn’t – in compliance with its Safeguards Agreement, who does? Certainly not Negroponte.

Nevertheless, Negroponte goes on to state that “despite its claims to the contrary, we assess that Iran seeks nuclear weapons.”

Now, everyone is entitled to an opinion about what the mullahs seek. But Negroponte is telling senators what his underlings have concluded as a result of intensive analysis of intelligence obtained through an expenditure of about a zillion dollars of your hard-earned money.

“We judge that Tehran probably does not yet have a nuclear weapon and probably has not yet produced or acquired the necessary fissile material.”

Of course, Negroponte’s underlings may be wrong about the mullahs not already having a nuclear weapon or two. (Obtained, for example, from Pakistan?)

If so, it was their job – not the IAEA’s job – to have prevented that from happening.

But it is the IAEA’s job to determine whether or not Iran has produced or otherwise acquired any quantity of fissile material, and after almost three years of go-anywhere, see-anything inspections, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei continues to report that he can find no materials or activities that ought to be subject to IAEA safeguards that are not.

So it is not Iran’s safeguarded nuclear programs that could conceivably pose a grave threat to you soccer moms; it is a nuke or two Iran may conceivably have gotten from our non-NATO ally, Pakistan, that pose a threat.

Negroponte apparently doesn’t think Pakistan has yet given Iran any of its “Islamic” nukes.

“Nevertheless, the danger that it will acquire a nuclear weapon and the ability to integrate it with the ballistic missiles Iran already possesses is a reason for immediate concern.”

Immediate concern? Does Negroponte worry about Pakistan and its stockpile of “Islamic” nukes”?

“The nation is a front-line partner in the war on terror, having captured several al-Qaeda leaders, but also remains a major source of extremism that poses a threat to Musharraf, to the US, and to neighboring India and Afghanistan. …

“Pakistan’s national elections scheduled for 2007 will be a key benchmark to determine whether the country is continuing to make progress in its democratic transition.”

Well, if Pakistan’s elections turn out like those in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine, there will no longer be a disagreement as to what constitutes the “gravest” threat.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.