NIE: Iran halted its nuke program in 2003 Updates

posted at 3:40 pm on December 3, 2007 by Bryan

Sort of. Here’s some of the language in the report.


So the Iranian problem is less urgent than we all fear? Maybe, maybe not. As AJ Strata notes, you have to parse out what “high confidence,” “moderate confidence” and “low confidence” actually mean in governmentspeak, and what that means in relation to this report.

The NIE is quite clear. We know they stopped, we have no intel on whether they are still stopped or not. The reporting that Iran has stopped as of now is not accurate. Here is the scary part – Iran is still processing fuel! They don’t NEED to process fuel for Nuclear Energy. Russia has offered to SELL THEM fuel if they return the spent fuel so it cannot be used to make weapons. Note this when reading this next finding:

C. We assess centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it decides to do so. Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006, despite the continued halt in the nuclear weapons program. Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz, but we judge with moderate confidence it still faces significant technical problems operating them.

Read the rest. My take is that we’re in a state of dangerous uncertainty all around: We can’t trust the IAEA, we don’t trust the Iranians (both with good reason), but there’s just enough doubt in the NIE to keep the B2s grounded and the Iranians on the loose because the Bush administration cannot base an attack or even another round of sanctions on this estimate, not after the intel failures in Iraq. No matter what the Iranians themselves actually say. That won’t stop the administration from trying to ratchet up the pressure anyway:

The Bush administration reacted swiftly Monday, arguing that while the latest intelligence report is “positive news,” they won’t abandon their strategy of applying “intensified international pressure” on Iran.

“It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons,” read a statement by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley about the NIE report. “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.”

Hadley urged the international community to “turn up the pressure on Iran” using diplomatic isolation, financial pressure, and UN sanctions. President Bush may speak about the new intelligence report findings in a press conference scheduled for Tuesday.

In some ways, we’re back into a similar situation to that we faced in Iraq prior to 2003: We don’t know enough to know what we don’t know about what the Iranians are up to. In the wake of 9-11, that uncertainty led to war. But with the Iraq experience still very much right in front of us and this foggy NIE on the table, it’s unlikely that the vaunted international community will follow us in a tough line now. Of course, much of the international community didn’t follow us then, either.

Am I lamenting this news as a disappointed warmonger? No. I just wish I could trust it to be true and to be dealt with responsibly by our leaders on both sides of the aisle and in the media.

Update (AP): This weekend the LA Times asked a good question posed recently on this very blog, namely, what’s behind the U.S.-Iran detente in Iraq? Their answer: reality.

In the last two months … there has been a shift in U.S. military and diplomatic attitudes toward Iran. Officials have backed away from sweeping accusations that the Iranian leadership is orchestrating massive smuggling of arms, agents and ammunition. Instead, they have agreed to a new round of talks with Iranian and Iraqi officials over security in Iraq. The meeting is expected to take place this month…

Pentagon officials and analysts cite several reasons for the change, including U.S. concern that provoking Iran could set off a confrontation that military commanders are keen to avoid, and the realization that better relations with Iran would help stabilize Iraq.

“I do think that the military and civilian leadership in Washington has by and large come to the realization that it’s going to be impossible to stabilize Iraq without Iran’s positive contribution or cooperation,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington…

Analysts say the changes are the most hopeful signs of improved U.S.-Iranian relations since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003 and reflect a realization in Washington that both Iran and Sadr are powerful presences here to stay.

The fear of new sanctions is supposedly what’s driving Iranian compliance. Those look increasingly unlikely in light of the NIE’s findings so don’t be surprised if Iran suddenly starts showing some of its old boldness in the south. Or are they unlikely after all? The new Iranian nuke negotiator is a hardline nut who’s doing everything he can to alienate western diplomats. I’m guessing they’ll split the difference and push for new sanctions but weaker now than they would have without the NIE.

More: Cliff May, Victor Davis Hanson and Dan Riehl have more to say about the NIE. One thing I’ll add is just a reminder that our intel agencies missed the fall of the Berlin Wall and had no idea that Libya’s nuclear program was as advance as it was until Ghaddafi mailed it to us after we took out Saddam. He abandoned that program precisely because we took out Saddam, and that struck fear into him. There’s every reason to think that the Iraq invasion had the same (temporary) effect on the Iranians, but that the intervening years of our own divisions over Iraq and the broader war may have caused them to reconsider and unshelve the program. That’s an unknown unknown at this point.

More: From InstaPundit–

I just got an email with this story under the subject line “Your Zionist lies exposed.” But actually I think that’s a mistaken take, because I don’t think this story cuts that way at all. This story lets the Bush Administration take credit for pressuring Iran into stopping its weapons program by invading Iraq — meaning that the invasion really did end a major WMD threat — and also punt further serious action on the Iran issue to the next administration. Cui bono? I think it’s pretty obvious. . . .

Update: Tom Jocelyn pours a bucket of skepticism on the NIE.

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Did they halt to try to hide it, fearing our forces would be rolling on into Iran after a few months pause in Iraq (just questioning the timing, so to speak…)

Frozen Tex on December 3, 2007 at 3:51 PM

You can never view Iran as a paper tiger. They are dangerous, insane and hate the USA (aka Islamic). Don’t let their stupidity or lack of forethought give anyone hope for a peaceful solution. It’s just another attribute that makes them dangerous.

Hening on December 3, 2007 at 3:54 PM

We don’t know enough to know what we don’t know about what the Iranians are up to.

Heh. “Unknown unknowns” That sounds familiar.

Weight of Glory on December 3, 2007 at 3:55 PM

Al Taqiyya

Kini on December 3, 2007 at 3:55 PM

Suddenly the left trust our intelligence.

Jay on December 3, 2007 at 3:57 PM

As a member of the VRWC-WC, what we don’t know it much more of a problem than what we do know and can prove. In most cases where you have a worst case scenario, and have insufficient data to act one way or another, then you have to proceed as if the worst case scenario is pending, until you can prove that it’s not.

Additionally, we cannot assume that they are only working on what they want inside of their own country, while they have often used proxies in the past.

Canadian Imperialist Running Dog on December 3, 2007 at 3:58 PM

From Clif May over at NRO.

Weight of Glory on December 3, 2007 at 4:02 PM

Riigghhtt. Bet on the fact we don’t really know $hi^ about what those nutts are up to.

saiga on December 3, 2007 at 4:05 PM

How does an NIE end up in PDF format on Limerick’s monitor?

Limerick on December 3, 2007 at 4:14 PM

Al Taqiyya
Kini on December 3, 2007 at 3:55 PM

by the US intel agencies?

zane on December 3, 2007 at 4:20 PM

I’m curious as to why they had an ongoing nuclear weapons program until 2003. Why was their such a shift in Iranian policy to demilitarize their nuclear program? What happened earlier in 2003 that might have inspired them to stop developing weapons of mass destruction?

Jimmy the Dhimmi on December 3, 2007 at 4:32 PM

I haven’t read the report, but I’ll throw this out here: At what point did they stop their WMD program? IOW, were preparations — for whatever weapon they planned to put the weapon grade material into — complete or was it only half researched, designed and nothing yet manufactured?

If one or more planned weapon, say a simple suitcase bomb or a rudimentary aircraft transported bomb, but not missile with a range of 600 miles was complete, how is the fact they “stopped the program” any comfort if the Iranians are only waiting for the centrifuge department guys to produce the material needed?

Dusty on December 3, 2007 at 4:32 PM

If so, we owe the toxic dwarf a big apology after the 82nd Airbourne dig him out of his spider hole.

RobCon on December 3, 2007 at 4:46 PM

Good point made by VDH at NRO:

The latest news from Iran about the supposed abandonment in 2003 of the effort to produce a Bomb — if even remotely accurate — presents somewhat of a dilemma for liberal Democrats.

Are they now to suggest that Republicans have been warmongering over a nonexistent threat for partisan purposes? But to advance that belief is also to concede that, Iran, like Libya, likely came to a conjecture around (say early spring 2003?) that it was not wise for regimes to conceal WMD programs, given the unpredictable, but lethal American military reaction.

After all, what critic would wish now to grant that one result of the 2003 war-aside from the real chance that Iraq can stabilize and function under the only consensual government in the region-might have been the elimination for some time of two growing and potentially nuclear threats to American security, quite apart from Saddam Hussein?

War is unpredictable and instead of “no blood for oil” (oil went from $20 something to $90 something a barrel after the war, enriching Iraq and the Arab Gulf region at our expense), perhaps the cry, post facto, should have been “no blood for the elimination of nukes.”

In the meantime, expect a variety of rebuttals to this assurance that for 4 years the Iranians haven’t gotten much closer to producing weapons grade materials.

Michael in MI on December 3, 2007 at 4:51 PM

Michael in MI on December 3, 2007 at 4:51 PM

I was just about to link that. The second paragraph is key.

Bryan on December 3, 2007 at 5:00 PM

Well, we got the NIE so I guess that’s that.

thegreatbeast on December 3, 2007 at 5:01 PM

There’s every reason to think that the Iraq invasion had the same (temporary) effect on the Iranians

It certainly did. Iran reached out to the Bush administration following Baghdad’s fall trying to reopen negotiations. The administration refused to talk to them. Seems like a terrible mistake, considering some of the rhetoric coming out of Iran since then.

Mark Jaquith on December 3, 2007 at 5:21 PM

Since this is same intelligence group which said Saddam DID have WMD’s, why are we now supposed to trust their judgment when they say that Iran IS NOT seeking nukes?

Reverse what they declare for a closer approximation of the truth, I would guess.

profitsbeard on December 3, 2007 at 5:38 PM

Quite amazing actualy…

America built its first two Atomic bombs in FOUR YEARS with 1940s technology… without knowing how to do it, or even if it was possible…

I think we are blinded by our own technology.

They don’t have to build a small nuke… they could build somthing large and build it INTO an Aircraft… or ship… it does NOT have to be missle delivered. Crap… build it into a 747… or a merchent ship…

Because of the cold war we think in terms of massive strikes with a quick total destruction of entire countries… but it would only take a couple of nukes to flatten Israel… or one of our cities…

Remember, these folks are NOT reasonable… MAD will not work with people who WANT to end the world so the next Prophet will come.

Romeo13 on December 3, 2007 at 5:46 PM

Here’s how the MSM is choosing to cover this… The top headline from Yahoo!

U.S. intelligence report contradicts Bush on Iran nuclear program

It links to this Reuters story

Which has a slightly different, but basically still the same headline:

Report contradicts Bush on Iran nuclear program

RightWinged on December 3, 2007 at 5:48 PM

My own take is that the Iranians have decided to switch from a full-out “Manhattan Project” program to a “turn-key” one that barely passes international muster. The method Iran chose to conduct its “declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment” (from the footnote noting what the NIE does not cover) is indistinguishable from in both methodology and scope that required for highly-enriched uranium.

Also of note, the pooh-poohing of current covert efforts, when past covert efforts were acknowledged, sure smells like what was said about North Korea between 1994 and 2002.

steveegg on December 3, 2007 at 5:56 PM

So basically, what the NIE knows is that Iran halted weapons program progress in 2003. Nothing more – nothing less. They can judge all they want but that is all they know.

oakpack on December 3, 2007 at 5:59 PM


IF they stopped their Nuke program in 2003… then why do we keep getting reports of more and more centrifuges?

Didn’t they just announce they had 3000 working full time now?

Romeo13 on December 3, 2007 at 6:32 PM

I would echo what Dusty hints at in his post

Dusty on December 3, 2007 at 4:32 PM

by making the point that any development program eventually reaches the stage where your next step is to actually build whatever it is you are developing. In other words, you work on your bomb design, and if you reach the point where the next step is building one, and you don’t have the ‘stuff’ to build it with, then your development waits until you have the stuff you need to continue.

Once Iran has the weapons grade enriched uranium, there isn’t anything that prevents them from restarting their bomb development.

This NIE also points out that Iran really did have a bomb development program.

rockhauler on December 3, 2007 at 6:56 PM

I’m sure this NIE, along with the previous track record of American Intelligence, is making the Israeli government feel all warm and comfy tonight.

Helloyawl on December 3, 2007 at 7:48 PM

There are a few things to point out about this new NIE.

First, the NIE cites new intel. The only intel that might be available could have been from documents Israelis spirited out of the Syrian target site.

Second, that target site may have been an assembly site for nuclear weapons. Iran’s program is currently geared toward weapons-fuel production. There was an obvious synergy here. Moreover, if Iran does develop enough fissionable uranium (rather than plutonium), then assembling a fission bomb is a comparatively low-tech operation.

Third, this NIE could have been written for domestic consumption. The brief may simply be another way of saying that Bush will leave Iran for his successor to deal with.


chsw on December 3, 2007 at 8:41 PM

From Rick Moran at Rigtwing Nuthouse

For those disposed to disbelieve or reject this NIE, it would be well to remember that if a consensus about something this vital to our security was found among such a fractious, quarrelling, multi-agenda driven group of spooks, you can bet the information it’s based on is pretty solid.

Now we come to the distasteful question of what in God’s name the Bush Administration has been doing sitting on this damn thing for year? And beyond that, is there any Bush supporter out there who believes anything this president says about national security anymore?

We have been treated to the most bombastic rhetoric emanating from this White House for the last year especially – all the while they were sitting on this NIE and its conclusions about the Iranian bomb program. How do you square Bush’s “World War III” comment with what’s in the NIE? Or any other dire warning we’ve heard coming from the White House?

I understand the need for regime change in Iran. I am not naive enough to believe that the Iranian government doesn’t represent a threat to our friends, allies, and interests in the region – nukes or no nukes. But this Administration has made a nasty habit for 7 years now of employing rhetoric on national security matters that doesn’t match what the situation actually is.

MB4 on December 4, 2007 at 2:46 AM


“We don’t know anything about what Iran is doing. Iran is opaque to us. We are deaf, dumb, blind AND stupid when it comes to Iran, the way we were to the nuclear programs of Pakistan, India, North Korea, and Iraq. In every case, we were taken completely by surprise. And that’s the only thing you can ‘take to the bank’ about his report”

The dilemma: We accept as truth the claim that Iran is not building nukes. Then we’re proven wrong and Israel, NYC and DC disappear in a big KA-BOOM.

No matter what the CIA or the “consensus opinion” says, the President must assume that the CIA, et. al., has it wrong, and that Iran is continuing to develop nukes.

Any other posture risks a nuclear Pearl Harbor or nuclear 9/11 scenario. There are millions of lives at stake. and it is beyond irresponsible to not prepare as if Iran is, in fact, arming itself with nuclear weapons, unless we can prove beyond a shadow of doubt tht they have finally and totally given up nuclear weapons.

georgej on December 4, 2007 at 2:54 AM

Can anyone point me to a pdf of the NIE itself.

davod on December 4, 2007 at 5:15 AM

This is what the left wants to hear. I don’t believe the report as there are loads of intelligence operatives suffering from BDS. The left will continue to stick their collective heads in the sand till the mushroom clouds go up over their very populated cities. I guess it could be viewed a a different kind of welfare reform.

BobJones-77 on December 4, 2007 at 8:14 AM

Can anyone point me to a pdf of the NIE itself.

davod on December 4, 2007 at 5:15 AM

If I could, I would have been killed (I’m not in a position to be on the killing end of that equation). However, I can point you to the executive summary.

steveegg on December 4, 2007 at 9:23 AM

It would be good to remember that our intelligence services are staffed by Liberals. This is exactly what they want to hear: Iran stopped developing the bomb and Bush is warmonger for wanting to stop them. PLEASE. Berlin Wall, 9/11 — I wouldn’t believe these folks if they told me the sky was blue.

Spitfire9 on December 4, 2007 at 1:23 PM