NIE Crippling US Policy on Iran

The disclosure this week that Iran is secretly trying to assemble nuclear-bomb triggers should convince the Obama administration to retract, once and for all, the United States’ official assessment that Tehran stopped working on atomic weapons in 2003, intelligence experts say.

The 2007 assessment, called a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE,) has done great harm to U.S. security during its two-year existence.

It blunted President Bush’s efforts, in Washington and the international community, to stop the radical Islamic regime from becoming a nuclear power.

The NIE also influenced the 2008 presidential run of Barack Obama, who made it a hallmark campaign position to negotiate face-to-face with hardline Iranian leaders. That effort now appears to have been a waste of time.

“I think every day that goes by shows the 2007 NIE to be politicized,” John Bolton, Bush’s United Nations ambassador in 2005-06, told HUMAN EVENTS.

Long an advocate for a tough approach to Iran, Bolton added, “That’s what I thought at the time, as did many others. And this is just more evidence of it. It’s an embarrassment for the U.S. intelligence community, and they ought to be working on ways to do a new estimate and repudiate that one.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told HUMAN EVENTS the bomb-trigger news report makes it urgent that the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair appoint a “red team” of outside experts to reassess Iran’s nuclear program.

“I think the NIE does a tremendous amount of damage,” he said. “Number one, it influenced the elections of 2008. It gave the American people and the Obama administration at least some kind of belief they could work with Iran and they had time to work with Iran.

“It set the predicate for what the Obama administration has done for the last 11 months. And really, now for the last two years, the public and Congress and policy leaders, and the whole debate, were being driven by a total inaccurate NIE. I think the [NIE authors] in 2007 were a bunch of political hacks who made political calculations and they damaged the security of the United States. They really should be held accountable. The people who put that thing together, they should be identified. They knew better.

“I’ve asked for a red team because I don’t trust the intel community to get it right. They were so politicized and the Iran thing has become so politicized and ingrained, what I want is a red team to look at this independently.”

Said Bolton, “The NIE was intended to prevent the Bush administration from considering the use of force against Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It achieved that objective and several more as well. I think it undercut all the efforts we were making to isolate Iran and to imposed sanctions on them. That just gave Iran a free pass and more time to work on its program.”

In the Senate, Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), the senior Republican on the Intelligence Committee, told HUMAN EVENTS the evidence is clear.

“I have said many times since the release of the 2007 NIE that it was flawed for several reasons, but most significantly because it underplayed Iran’s continuing nuclear enrichment efforts and focused only on a suspected halt of dedicated weapons work,” Bond said. “The NIE gave people a false sense of security by making them think the intelligence community assessed there was no intent.

“No one disputes that Iran’s dangerous “dual-use” uranium enrichment efforts are underway; at a minimum, we must deal with this risk.  Given Iran’s behavior in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s statements about destroying Israel, and periodic revelations about secret nuclear facilities, an ability to produce any fissionable material is dangerous.  Even if Iran doesn’t intend to build a bomb today, that doesn’t mean they won’t change their minds later.”

Here is the 2007 NIE’s main assertion:

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.  We judge with high confidence that the halt, and  Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.”

Since its release, Iran has defied the United Nations by continuing to enrich uranium, and, in fact, building new hidden facilities seen as capable of producing bomb-grade material.

Then came this week’s bombshell in the Times of London. The newspaper acquired secret Iranian documents that revealed Tehran has been working on developing bomb triggers since 2007 — the same year the U.S. intelligence agencies said it was not doing such work.

The NIE is supposed to be the crown jewel of U.S. intelligence assessments, the best scientific and analytical minds producing a first-rate product on which the president and his advisers can act.

“That NIE was a lousy NIE. It ought to be redone,” Hoekstra said. “I’m not surprised at all by this [trigger] report. The NIE was a pathetic piece of work and it was presented in even a worst format. It was a political document meant to embarrass the Bush administration by political operatives in the intel community. It has repeatedly been shown to be wrong. The NIE should be withdrawn and it should be redone.”

The congressman’s assertion was underscored a day after the Times story appeared. Iran tested its most advanced missile, the Sajjil-2, with a range of 1,200 miles. Israel is now in striking distance.

HUMAN EVENTS reported last summer that Israel is on a tighter timeframe than the U.S. when it comes to deciding whether to use air strikes to damage Iran’s nuclear sites. A U.S. source close to Jerusalem said once the government decides Iran is approaching a point of no return — that is, its program is so diverse it cannot be destroyed — military force will be used.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has all but said President Obama’s outreach to Tehran has failed as a deadline for progress expires at year’s end.

“I think the international community really still wants to engage with Iran, but people are going to now turn to other routes like more pressure, like sanctions to try to change their mind and their behavior,” she told Al Jazeera TV.

Bolton told HUMAN EVENTS the Obama administration has all the proof it needs.

“They are simply reflective of a lot of other evidence that’s out there that Iran never gave up working on weaponization,” he said. “There have been lots of reports, going back to 2004, of activity involving explosives relating to nuclear weapons and a whole range of other things. I think this is simply one more piece of evidence. It is entirely consistent with what other intelligence services have been saying over the years. And in fact the whole enterprise has been moving forwarded as we can see from their continued enrichment activity, today’s successful test of that ballistic missile, all of which are important parts of an overall weapons program.”