In 2007, the CIA published the now-notorious National Intelligence Estimate that reversed its earlier position and claimed that Iran had stopped working on nuclear weapons after the exposure of its program and the AQ Khan network. At the time, many accused the CIA of producing a political document rather than an honest assessment, attempting to derail George Bush’s efforts to rally other nations into tougher sanctions against the mullahs in Tehran. Western allies such as Britain and Germany openly mocked the findings, but the CIA insisted that they had addressed all of their latest intelligence on the subject.
When it comes to politicized intelligence in the Bush years, the critics may finally have a point. Perhaps the work of America’s intelligence agencies was manipulated to suit the convenience of a small group of willful officials, intent on getting their way against the better judgment of their colleagues.
Except the intelligence was about Iran, not Iraq, and the manipulators weren’t conniving neocons but rather the Administration’s internal critics on the left.
That’s one way to look at last month’s revelation that Iran is building a secret second site to enrich uranium, among other emerging intelligence details. The Qom site—too small for civilian purposes but ideal for producing weapons-grade uranium—is supervised by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and was only declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency after Tehran got wind that the nuclear watchdogs knew about it.
But the more telling detail, as a recent White House “guidance paper” acknowledges, is that the U.S. has been “carefully observing and analyzing this facility for several years.” That timeline is significant, because it was less than two years ago, in December 2007, that a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear programs asserted with “high confidence” that Tehran had “halted its nuclear weapons program” in the fall of 2003.
This cannot be explained merely by incompetence. The facility at Qom had not been declared by Iran as part of its “peaceful” nuclear program in 2007 when the NIE was written. It is, as the Journal notes, too small for commercial purposes, but perfectly suited for military purposes, which is probably why the elite Revolutionary Guard secures it to this day. No one with this information could possibly have concluded anything except that the Iranians had hidden its military applications of uranium enrichment in Qom.
As Glenn Reynolds says, the NIE has been exposed as an effort by a handful of people at the CIA to kneecap Bush on national security. It deliberately misled Congress and the nation on the threat posed by Iran, a lie that has cost us valuable time in stopping the nuclear threat. If Iran gets the bomb, we can thank Tom Fingar and his colleagues for distracting the US long enough to allow them to do so.
Congress needs to investigate what happened with the 2007 NIE and pursue this politicization of intelligence with the same fervor that they did with the Iraq War intel a few years ago. In that case, our intel matched that of our allies, although they had different policies in how to handle Iraq. In this case, we undermined ourselves and our allies and made the world a more dangerous place.