An “oh, by the way” detail buried in a long Times piece about recent setbacks to Iran’s nuclear program. This isn’t really a secret — officials as high up as Panetta were mumbling about weaponization as far back as February and the U.S. intel community generally has been inching away from the document for months — but after all the leftist screeching about warmongering and politicized intelligence when the NIE came out and declared Iran’s weapons program dead since ’03, it deserves a little extra attention.

Mr. Obama’s top advisers say they no longer believe the key finding of a much disputed National Intelligence Estimate about Iran, published a year before President George W. Bush left office, which said that Iranian scientists ended all work on designing a nuclear warhead in late 2003.

After reviewing new documents that have leaked out of Iran and debriefing defectors lured to the West, Mr. Obama’s advisers say they believe the work on weapons design is continuing on a smaller scale — the same assessment reached by Britain, France, Germany and Israel…

The administration’s current view of Iran’s nuclear program was provided by six senior administration officials advising Mr. Obama on his strategy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject. The administration’s review of Iran’s program, which they said was based on intelligence reports, information from allies, and their own analysis, did not amount to a new formal intelligence assessment.

In interviews, those officials as well as European officials engaged in the Iran issue and private experts described Iran’s nuclear program as being in some disarray.

What they neglect to admit: The NIE was a sham from the day it came out. The CIA knew about the secret Qom enrichment facility, which has no logical peaceful purpose, even before the document was written, and a classified portion explicitly mentioned the possibility of up to 15 secret nuclear sites. And yet Iran was still given the benefit of the doubt, obviously as a way of tying Bush’s hands lest he take the cowboy route on their reactors. Only a few weeks ago were we finally informed that Iran’s been working on a bomb trigger since — ta da — 2007, the very year that the NIE appeared. I wonder how much Bush’s pals in the intel community knew about that. Perhaps congressional hearings might find out.

Your homework assignment: Take five minutes and read the entire Times piece, as there’s so much provocative info in there about the current state of Iran’s program — rickety (possibly sabotaged) centrifuges, a now-useless facility at Qom, and a new regime susceptibility to sanctions given the unrest in Tehran — that I just can’t blockquote it all. Israeli intel seems sufficiently impressed by it to give sanctions a shot, so there may be something to it. Or there may not: Iran’s newly announced reply to The One’s New Year’s deadline for making a deal is to, um, issue a deadline of its own. The million-dollar exit question: Given the way intel officials suppressed damning info to craft the NIE to their political liking, why on earth should anyone give credence to this convenient new intel assessment about Iran not being quite as close to the bomb as we thought?