Justifying the Iraq War: Why the NIE Is Wrong

In case you thought that Bonkers Bolton was finally right about something – that the U.S. Intelligence Community had finally staged a "quasi-putsch," had finally stood up to the Likudniks and assorted neo-crazies hell-bent on launching a "pre-emptive" attack on Iran, had properly assessed the voluminous information the Iranians have made available (voluntarily or upon special request) to the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s nuclear programs, and had finally produced a thoroughly professional National Intelligence Estimate [.pdf] on Iran – think again.

First, there is this "assessment";

"We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons."

Followed by this "judgment";

"We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."

Who’s "We"?

Well, many of them are the same folks from the dozen or so "intelligence" gathering and analysis groups scattered throughout the Federal government who produced the October 2002 NIE on Iraq for George "Slam-Dunk" Tenet. (Or was it for Dick Cheney?)

That 2002 NIE totally ignored the best intelligence available on Iraq’s nuclear programs, the publicly available IAEA reports, covering the years 1992-2002, documenting the destruction of Iraqi nascent capabilities to produce not-nearly-pure Uranium-235 and crude high-explosive implosion systems with which to compress the U-235 – if and when they ever managed to produce it – to super-criticality.

What that 2002 NIE on Iraq ought to have "assessed" was that until the fall of 1991, Iraqis were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.

Then, what that 2002 NIE on Iraq ought to have "judged" was that the first Gulf War and its immediate aftermath put an end to all Iraq’s nuclear programs – peaceful and otherwise – and that in succeeding years no effort had been made to resurrect them.

And, finally, in the weeks and months immediately preceding the launch of President George W. Bush’s war of aggression, to effect regime change in Iraq, when IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei and MOVIC Chairman Hans Blix, were regularly testifying before the UN Security Council that Iraq’s Full and Final Declaration of its Weapons of Mass Destruction programs appeared to be full, final and accurate, "Slam-Dunk" Tenet just sat there on his hands, when he should have been trying to alert Congress that the 2002 NIE was fatally flawed.

But, this time, for the 2007 NIE on Iran – according to Scott Ritter, former Marine intelligence officer, UN inspector in Iraq, and author of Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change – our intelligence community has been working closely with the IAEA inspectors in Iran.

After thousands of man-hours of go-anywhere see-anything inspections, at sites "declared" by the Iranians and at others, some military, suggested by our intelligence community, ElBaradei has declared there is "no indication" that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

Consequently, a year or so ago our intelligence community sought to revise its 2005 NIE on Iran to reflect what the IAEA was not finding.

So, what’s a member of the Cheney Cabal, hell-bent on bombing Iran – with nukes, if necessary – to do?

Well, after holding up its release for more than 10 months, allow our intelligence community to make public its 2007 revision, wherein they make no mention of the IAEA but "assess with high confidence that until fall 2003" ( when ElBaradei began his intrusive inspection campaign) "Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons."

[For the purposes of this Estimate, by "nuclear weapons program" we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.]

"Military entities"?

Like, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps?

The 125,000-strong elite military entity Bush recently sanctioned under Executive Order 13224 as a "specially designated global terrorist"?

Yep, that’s the entity.

But, nuclear weapon design? Covert uranium-conversion? Covert uranium-enrichment?

Well, of course. As everyone knows; "Many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned and run by the Revolutionary Guards."

How does everyone know that?

Surely you’ve heard about the "smoking laptop" and the Green Salt project.

According to the Washington Post, the only chronicled activity on that allegedly stolen Iranian laptop – which apparently is the principal basis of the 2007 NIE – that was clearly nuclear-related was the Green Salt Project.

“In the spring of 2001, a small design firm opened shop on the outskirts of Tehran to begin work for what appears to have been its only client – the Iranian Republican Guard. Over the next two years, the staff at Kimeya Madon completed a set of technical drawings for a small uranium-conversion facility, according to four officials who reviewed the documents.

“Several sources with firsthand knowledge of the original documents said the facility, if constructed, would give Iran additional capabilities to produce a substance known as UF4, or ‘green salt,’ an intermediate product in the conversion of uranium to a gas.”

Well, if you want to know what a real intelligence professional thinks about the smoking laptop and the 2007 NIE on Iran, please – please – listen to Scott Ritter’s December 6, 2007 interview on Antiwar Radio.

After listening to Ritter, you probably won’t care much what Henry Kissinger or James Schlesinger or Bonkers Bolton think about it.

They’re all extremely upset that the 2007 NIE excludes from Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program Iran’s IAEA Safeguarded programs.

And you can see why.

As best the IAEA can tell, there is nothing nuclear in Iran that isn’t IAEA Safeguarded, as the 2007 NIE now implicitly acknowledges. There’s nothing covert – if there ever was – to bomb.

Hence, Kissinger’s lament at the "extraordinary spectacle" of the President’s National Security Advisor having to defend Bush’s ongoing threats to "take-out" Iran’s "nuclear weapons program" in the face of the 2007 NIE that judged there isn’t one to "take out."

For Kissinger, Schlesinger and the Likudniks, the possible production of almost-pure Uranium-235 in Iran’s Safeguarded facilities, for use in nuclear weapons, has been, by far, the greatest danger. Never mind that Iran could not possibly produce, unannounced and undetected, such almost-pure Uranium-235 in an IAEA Safeguarded facility.

In any case, Kissinger, Schlesinger and the Likudniks argue that the principal reason the Iranians "halted" their alleged nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 – if they, indeed, did – was that Bush launched his war of aggression on Iraq and they were afraid they would be next.

In other words, the 2007 NIE on Iran justifies Bush’s war of aggression against Iraq.

Of course, if Scott Ritter is right, the Iranians never had a nuclear weapons program to halt. And, the Likudniks and the neocrazies have known that all along.

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.