Politico: Obama’s unplanned Iran announcement — Weekly Standard Blog: About that 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran — Washington Post 2007: Intelligence on Iran — Key Differences Between the Key Judgments of The 2007 Estimate on Iran’s Nuclear Program and the May 2005 Assessment — DNI UNVEILS 2009 NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY — Netanyahu’s Speech at U N Video — NY Times 2007: U.S. Says Iran Ended Atomic Arms Work — Wash Times Editorial: Leader of the Free World no more
“The revised NIE shows that non-military measures are the best way to curb Iran’s nuclear program. 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.”
Sec of Defense Gates – Kabal, Afghanstan Time (Dec 5, 2007)
Obama’s unplanned Iran announcement
Politico: By LAURA ROZEN
Late Thursday night, two hours after it sent out President Barack Obama’s Friday schedule, the White House told reporters it was adding another event – a statement that he would give in the morning. Amid all the hoopla of the G-20 economic summit in Pittsburgh, there was scant indication the announcement would be dramatic.
But behind the scenes, the Obama administration was furiously preparing for a major public intelligence disclosure that it had not planned to make: that the U.S. had known for years about a previously undisclosed clandestine nuclear enrichment facility Iran has been building since 2005 in a mountain near Qom.
Interviews with administration and international officials, diplomats, non-proliferation and Iran experts suggest the administration had no plans to announce its suspicions before beginning international talks with Iran next week. But its hand was forced after learning some time during the week of a letter Iran had sent the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna acknowledging construction of a previously undisclosed facility.
POLITICO has learned that the International Atomic Energy Agency did not notify the United States or other member states of the receipt of the Iranian letter or its contents. Only on Friday morning, a few hours before Obama’s announcement, and only then in a press statement that was prompted by news reports, did the IAEA acknowledge receiving the notification from Iran.
“Generally, communications from member states are supposed to be confidential,” one official in Vienna close to the atomic agency told POLITICO on condition of anonymity. “ I think in terms of notification, we generally don’t release member states’ communications unless the member state asks us to. A fundamental tenet of the agency and its members is that they have to be able to trust us.”
Indeed, one international official who asked for anonymity said that to this person’s knowledge, it was an Associated Press reporter in Vienna, George Jahn, who having learned of the Iranian letter, may have first tipped off western officials to its existence. Jahn broke the story of the letter by 5:55 a.m. EST Friday, but his reporting on it earlier in the week may have been what eventually alerted U.S. officials to Iran’s communication with the IAEA.
An administration official declined to tell POLITICO how the U.S. had learned of the letter.
Shortly after the A.P. story broke, the IAEA sent out a press statement confirming that it had received a letter from Iran. “I can confirm that on 21 September Iran informed the IAEA in a letter that a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country,” an IAEA spokesman said in a statement.
The IAEA statement indicated it was made in response to numerous calls following first the A.P. story, and shortly thereafter stories from Reuters, and the New York Times, which was apparently told about the U.S. intelligence by the White House on Thursday night, under an embargo that it not be released until shortly before Obama’s statement, which was lifted as the AP report appeared.
At 8:30 am, Obama made the announcement, flanked by Britain’s Gordon Brown and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy in a show of international unity. But the haste with which the event was pulled together was perhaps underscored by who was not with them in Pittsburgh.
Many of the key officials who work most closely on the Iran nuclear issue were still in New York, meeting with their foreign counterparts in town for the annual swirl of meetings that occur on the sidelines during the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. Not in Pittsburgh, for instance, were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher or Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, the U.S. government point person to the international talks with Iran that begin next week in Geneva.
As Obama spoke, the administration sent out background guidance to Congress and the press with more information on the Qom facility.
The town of Qom is best known for its religious university Howzeh-ye Elmieh. It attracts a lot of students from all over Iran and the rest of the world who want to become a mullah. Imam Khomeini is probably the most famous among those who studied the Quran here.
The Weekly Standard – The Blog, Posted by Thomas Joscelyn on September 25, 2009
In November of 2007, the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) drafted a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program. In its publicly released “Key Judgments,” the IC concluded: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” A footnote at the end of that sentence made it clear just what the IC thought had been “halted” (emphasis added):
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.
As many noted at the time, the language and logic of the NIE were nonsensical. There were transparent flaws in its analysis, including the arbitrary decision to set aside concerns over Iran’s overt uranium enrichment and ballistic missile development efforts –- both of which continued apace.
Now, with the Obama administration’s revelation this morning that Iran has secretly built a covert uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qom, we know just how flat wrong –- and potentially willfully misleading –- that 2007 NIE was.
This morning, standing alongside UK prime minister Gordon Brown and French president Nicolas Sarkozy, President Obama announced that the three nations had discovered a secret Iranian enrichment facility. Obama noted that “the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program.”
That is, Iran has built a covert uranium enrichment facility that was intended to produce fuel for nuclear weapons. It is this type of facility that the IC considered part of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” in November 2007. At the time, the IC said that the program had been halted. But clearly the Iranians had restarted it. The question is: When?
The answer is at least months prior to when the November 2007 NIE was finalized –- and probably further back in time than that.
In a background session with reporters this afternoon, senior administration officials briefed the press on this latest revelation. One official said that the U.S. and its allies “have been looking for” a secret underground enrichment facility for years. “And not surprisingly, we found one,” the official said. This same official explained, “we have known for some time that Iran was building a second underground enrichment facility.” (The first is the Natanz facility, which was found out in 2002.)
The official added:
“…we’ve been aware of this facility for several years; we’ve been watching the construction, we’ve been building up a case so that we were sure that we had very strong evidence, irrefutable evidence, that the intent of this facility was as an enrichment plant.”
Later in the background session, an official reiterated, “as my colleagues have made clear, we’ve been aware of this facility now for several years.”
Several years? That would suggest that the IC knew about this facility long before the November 2007 NIE was written. In fact, the senior administration official made it clear that construction on the facility began prior to March 2007 and probably well beforehand.
One of the senior administration officials explained that “in a modern safeguards agreement, which the IAEA has with all countries that have a comprehensive safeguards agreement, countries are obligated to report to the agency as soon as they make a decision, as soon as they begin construction of a nuclear facility.” But in March 2007 “Iran unilaterally announced that it no longer considered itself obligated by that provision of its safeguards agreement, which obviously is — sets off some alarm bells if you suspect that they may be trying to conceal nuclear activities.”
The IAEA determined that the Iranians were wrong to think that they could unilaterally back out of the agreement, the administration official explained. Regardless, Iran began construction of the facility prior to March 2007. “Now, no matter what interpretation you put on this [the IAEA’s safeguards agreement], Iran began construction of that facility at a time when they were legally bound to declare it,” an administration official said.
An official made the same point again later in the session: “this construction began before they attempted to withdraw.” That is, the construction began prior to March 2007, which, in turn, was months prior to the November 2007.
The officials’ comments regarding the IC’s knowing about the facility for “several years,” coupled with the fact that construction on the facility began prior to Iran’s March 2007 announcement, certainly leads one to believe that the IC knew about this facility in advance of the November 2007 NIE.
And what is it, exactly, that they knew about the secret site? “I think as I indicated, from the very beginning, we had information indicating that the intent of this facility was as a covert centrifuge facility,” one official explained.
At a bare minimum then, the November 2007 NIE was simply wrong. The NIE’s authors concluded:
We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.
Wrong. Construction on a new covert enrichment facility, which the NIE’s authors themselves defined as part of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, began prior to March 2007. This is before “mid-2007.” And if the mullahs have a covert facility that both Obama and his officials say was built to produce weapons-grade uranium, then we certainly do know that “Tehran…intends to develop nuclear weapons.” Why else would they build facility for enriching weapons-grade material?
The NIE’s authors concluded:
Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.
Wrong again. The mullahs were simply determined to keep such efforts covert. The NIE’s authors should have known that already. And the program wasn’t “halted primarily in response to international pressure” because it wasn’t halted at all. Moreover, to the extent that anything was halted (one weaponization program), it was probably because of the tens of thousands of American forces on either side of Iran’s western and eastern borders –- in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
There were always good reasons to think that the 2007 NIE was more of a policy-prescription than a rigorous intelligence analysis. It is well-known that its authors have their own views of Iran’s nuclear program and how (not) to deal with it. As the Wall Street Journal wrote at the time, the NIE’s three chief authors were “hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials” with their own distinct policy preferences. In all likelihood, they wanted to make sure that the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t considered a particularly worrisome threat requiring action. There is ample room for public debate about how to deal with Iran’s burgeoning nukes, but the NIE’s authors apparently wanted to short-circuit such discussion. The NIE achieved that goal, by clearly having a “cooling effect” on such talks.
In fact, the Democrats seized upon the NIE to justify their own policy preferences. The leading Democratic presidential candidates at the time were quick to cite the NIE as justification for their pursuit of engagement with Iran…]
Anti-aircraft guns guard the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran. Photo by Hamed Sabe
The new U.S. assessment has some good news — but the reaction to it could be bad.
The Washington Post Editorial: Wednesday, December 5, 2007 (Emphasis Mine)
THE NEW National Intelligence Estimate on Iran contains some unambiguously good news: that Tehran halted a covert nuclear weapons program in 2003, and that it is responsive to the sort of international pressure applied by the United States and other Western governments. 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,” says the public summary released Monday.
That sounds like an endorsement of the diplomatic strategy pursued by the Bush administration since 2005, which has been aimed at forcing Iran to choose between the nuclear program and normal economic and security relations with the outside world. It strengthens the view, which we have previously endorsed, that this administration should not have to resort to military action to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities.
But there is bad news, too, which seems likely to be overlooked by those who have been resisting sanctions and other pressure on the mullahs all along, such as Russia, China and some members of the European Union. While U.S. intelligence agencies have “high confidence” that covert work on a bomb was suspended “for at least several years” after 2003, there is only “moderate confidence” that Tehran has not restarted the military program. Iran’s massive overt investment in uranium enrichment meanwhile proceeds in defiance of binding U.N. resolutions, even though Tehran has no legitimate use for enriched uranium. The U.S. estimate of when Iran might produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb — sometime between late 2009 and the middle of the next decade — hasn’t changed.
“Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” says the summary’s second sentence. Yet within hours of the report’s release, European diplomats and some U.S officials were saying that it could kill an arduous American effort to win support for a third U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran for failing to suspend uranium enrichment. It could also hinder separate U.S.-French efforts to create a new sanctions coalition outside the United Nations. In other words, the new report may have the effect of neutering the very strategy of pressure that it says might be effective if “intensified.”
President Bush yesterday vowed to continue pushing for international sanctions. But Democrats and some Republicans are arguing that now is the time for the Bush administration to begin a broad dialogue with Iran — and drop a precondition that the regime first suspend uranium enrichment. It’s an odd time to recommend such a concession: The latest European Union talks with Iran last week were a disaster, in which a new hard-line envoy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad withdrew the previous, inadequate Iranian compromise proposals. Were the Bush administration to abandon its insistence on a suspension of enrichment, Mr. Ahmadinejad would declare victory over the relative moderates in Iran who have recently criticized his uncompromising stance.
That’s not to say the United States should never attempt to negotiate directly with Iran about its nuclear program. But before doing so, the administration should have some indication that the Iranian regime is prepared to comply with binding U.N. resolutions and seriously address other U.S. concerns. A report by U.S. intelligence agencies is an unsatisfying substitute for a signal that has yet to come from Tehran.
Key Differences Between the Key Judgments of This Estimate on Iran’s Nuclear Program and the May 2005 Assessment
2005 IC Estimate: Assess with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that Iran is immovable.
2007 National Intelligence Estimate: Judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. Judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (DOE and the NIC have moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program.) Assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons. Judge with high confidence that the halt was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work. Assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.
2005 IC Estimate: We have moderate confidence in projecting when Iran is likely to make a nuclear weapon; we assess that it is unlikely before early-to-mid next decade.
2007 National Intelligence Estimate: We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon is late 2009, but that this is very unlikely. We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. (INR judges that Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.)
2005 IC Estimate: Iran could produce enough fissile material for a weapon by the end of this decade if it were to make more rapid and successful progress than we have seen to date.
2007 National Intelligence Estimate: We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon is late 2009, but that this is very unlikely.
Read More Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities (PDF)
OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
PRINCIPAL DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Washington, DC 20511
December 3, 2007
Statement by the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Dr. Donald M. Kerr
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Intelligence Council prepared a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program titled, Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. NIEs are generated to help U.S. civilian and military decision-makers develop policies to protect national security interests.
The decision to release unclassified conclusions from any NIE is based upon weighing the importance of the information to open discussions about our national security against the necessity to protect classified information and the sources and methods used to collect intelligence. It is also important to ensure that the unclassified judgments accurately reflect the broad strategic framework the NIE is assessing.
The decision to release an unclassified version of the Key Judgments of this NIE was made when it was determined that doing so was in the interest of our nation’s security. The Intelligence Community is on the record publicly with numerous statements based on our 2005 assessment on Iran. Since our understanding of Iran’s capabilities has changed, we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available. While the decision to release the declassified Key Judgments was coordinated in discussion with senior policy makers, the IC took responsibility for what portions of the NIE Key Judgments were to be declassified. These unclassified Key Judgments are consistent with the findings of this National Intelligence Estimate.
DNI UNVEILS 2009 NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY
On September 15, 2009, the Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair unveiled the 2009 National Intelligence Strategy – the blueprint that will drive the priorities for the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies over the next 4 years. The National Intelligence Strategy (NIS) is one of the most important documents for the Intelligence Community (IC) as it lays out the strategic environment, sets priorities and objectives, and guides current and future decisions on budgets, acquisitions, and operations.
Read More (pdf)
By MARK MAZZETTI Published: December 3, 2007
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 — A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.
The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran’s nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.
The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is likely keeping its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies “do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”
Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, a program that the Tehran government has said is designed for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates.
But the new estimate declares with “high confidence” that a military-run Iranian program intended to transform that raw material into a nuclear weapon has been shut down since 2003, and also says with high confidence that the halt “was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure.”
The estimate does not say when American intelligence agencies learned that the weapons program had been halted, but a statement issued by Donald Kerr, the principal director of national intelligence, said the document was being made public “since our understanding of Iran’s capabilities has changed.”
Rather than painting Iran as a rogue, irrational nation determined to join the club of nations with the bomb, the estimate states 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.” The administration called new attention to the threat posed by Iran earlier this year when President Bush had suggested in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III” and Vice President Dick Cheney promised “serious consequences” if the government in Tehran did not abandon its nuclear program.
Yet at the same time officials were airing these dire warnings about the Iranian threat, analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency were secretly concluding that Iran’s nuclear weapons work halted years ago and that international pressure on the Islamic regime in Tehran was working.
Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, portrayed the assessment as “directly challenging some of this administration’s alarming rhetoric about the threat posed by Iran.” He said he hoped the administration “appropriately adjusts its rhetoric and policy,” and called for a “a diplomatic surge necessary to effectively address the challenges posed by Iran.”
But the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, quickly issued a statement describing the N.I.E. as containing positive news rather than reflecting intelligence mistakes.
“It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons,” Mr. Hadley said. “It tells us that we have made progress in trying to ensure that this does not happen. But the intelligence also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem.”
“The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically — without the use of force — as the administration has been trying to do,” Mr. Hadley said.
The new report comes out just over five years after a deeply flawed N.I.E. concluded that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons programs and was determined to restart its nuclear program — an estimate that led to congressional authorization for a military invasion of Iraq, although most of the report’s conclusions turned out to be wrong.
Intelligence officials said that the specter of the botched 2002 N.I.E. hung over their deliberations over the Iran assessment, leading them to treat the document with particular caution.
“We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” said one senior intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Washington Times Editorial (Online Sep 2009)
Israel is looking like the new leader of the Free World. The previous leader, the United States, resigned this role last week at the United Nations to take the position of global community organizer. This was made plain by President Obama in his speech, titled “Responsibility for Our Common Future,” in which he heralded “a new chapter of international cooperation.” By contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a blunt and forceful call to action in the central challenge facing free people today. This is the struggle of “civilization against barbarism” being fought by “those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.”
Mr. Obama’s address was the predictable mix of criticism of the past policies of the United States, self-praise for correcting said policies and vague calls to united action on matters of collective interest. It sought to ingratiate rather than offend. But Mr. Netanyahu chastised the United Nations for its “systematic assault on the truth.” He spoke truths that Mr. Obama would never whisper regarding the regime in Iran, which is “fueled by an extreme fundamentalism” and an “unforgiving creed.” Mr. Netanyahu rebuked those members who countenanced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s diatribe before the same world body, rightly calling it a “disgrace.”
Mr. Netanyahu repeatedly paid tribute to the blessings of liberty and “the allure of freedom.” He marveled at the technological advances freedom made possible. He asked if the international community would support the Iranian people “as they bravely stand up for freedom.” He envisioned a future of Israel and Palestine, “two free peoples living in peace, living in prosperity, living in dignity.” Mr. Obama, meanwhile, touted the imperative of responding to global climate change and mentioned as an afterthought that democracy should not be an afterthought.
Israel stands out because it understands the central challenge faced by the civilized world and by its willingness to take action. Israel is readying to stem the tide of barbarism and stand up to the threat of a nuclear Iran. In return, it asks only for moral support. “If Israel is again asked to take more risk for peace,” Mr. Netanyahu said, “we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow.” He challenged the countries of the world with a clear-cut test: “Will you stand with Israel? Or will you stand with the terrorists?”
Mr. Obama said in closing that “we call on all nations to join us in building the future that our people deserve.” But people only deserve what they have earned. Mr. Netanyahu called on the civilized world to “confront this peril, secure our future, and, God willing, forge an enduring peace for generations to come.” Sometimes the future doesn’t come without a fight.
Related Previous Posts:
Background Related Links (Dec 2007/Jan 2008):
Jewish Journal: The NIE, Iran, presidential politics and the Jews
Heritage Background: The Iran National Intelligence Estimate: A Comprehensive Guide to What Is Wrong with the NIE (PDF)
Current Related Links:
Flopping Aces: French President Tells Obama “We Live In The Real World”
AP via Google: Venezuela seeking uranium with Iran’s help
IBD: Nuclear Kumbaya
Telegraph (UK): Iranian nuclear site has been under surveillance since 2006
The Independent (UK): ‘Ahmadinejad has enough uranium to go whole way’
Time Video: Ahmadinejad Says Obama Should Back Off
Polemiquepolitique (FR): Sarkozy pète un plomb … une fois de plus ! (French)
Polemiquepolitique (FR): (English Translation: Sarkozy a lead fart … une fois de plus ! again!) (Good info at the Le Point links)
Le Figaro (FR): (English Translation: Nuclear ultimatum Westerners in Iran)
Le Monde (FR): (English Translation: Westerners Iran threatens “severe” penalties)
New York Post: Iran: The great US intelligence fraud