Defense & National Security

Time for Honest Answers on Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program

Recent revelations about Iran’s nuclear weapons program are presenting our elected leaders and our intelligence agencies with a crisis of confidence — a crisis they could have avoided if they had objectively looked at the evidence about Iran’s nuclear program over the last five-plus years like the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence did in 2006.

Obama administration officials, some members of Congress and the media are claiming that new facts about the Iranian nuclear program have caused them to suddenly change their minds and conclude Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. These new facts are a "secret" International Atomic Energy Agency report that allegedly found that Iran is now capable of constructing a nuclear weapon and information that Iran has built a covert uranium enrichment facility, now cited as "smoking guns" to justify multilateral action against Iran. However, despite this new information, the U.S. Intelligence Community is sticking by the widely discredited conclusion of its November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

The fact that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons is not news.  HPSCI came to this conclusion in August 2006 when it issued an unclassified, bipartisan report “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States.” The report found that:

Iran’s efforts since December 2005 to resume enrichment of uranium, in defiance of the international community, Tehran’s willingness to endure international condemnation, isolation, and economic disruptions in order to carry out nuclear activities covertly indicates Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

The evidence HPSCI used for this report mostly came from unclassified IAEA reports. Our report also discussed Iran’s extensive deception and lack of cooperation with the IAEA.  Although I have also been briefed on a substantial amount of classified information about Iran’s nuclear program, unclassified information we used in this report was more than sufficient to establish in 2006 that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons.   

I therefore believe that those who are claiming to have experienced an epiphany on the dangers of Iran’s nuclear weapons program due to the Qom revelation and the secret IAEA report need to admit that this information is just as serious as the dozen or so other revelations that have surfaced about the Iranian nuclear program since 2002. The real game changer is the fact that George W. Bush is no longer president. This is the only reason that the American left, career State Department officials, and the IAEA have played down Iran’s nuclear weapons program until now. They ignored the evidence because they did not want to admit that President Bush was right.

The U.S. Intelligence Community’s analysis of this question is a bigger problem. Our intelligence analysts seem to be stuck in an analytical rut and unwilling to alter their corporate line on Iran’s nuclear program despite a preponderance of evidence contradicting their conclusions and the fact that America’s allies strongly disagree with their assessment that Iran’s nuclear weapons program was halted in 2003.  

I propose this problem be addressed by establishing a "red team" of independent experts to challenge the assessment by career intelligence analysts of the Iranian nuclear program.  The Red Team would be a diverse group drawn from organizations such as the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute and Harvard’s JFK School.  It would be granted full security clearances and issue a report with its conclusions.

This Red Team initiative would lend confidence and clarity to the work of our intelligence professionals on the difficult question of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is my hope that there will be bipartisan support in Congress for setting up this important national security exercise as soon as possible.


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