The NIE's Iran finding was based on...an old laptop and the word of Rafsanjani?

We shovel billions of dollars per year into our intelligence agencies, in the apparently vain hope that they’ll gather intelligence. And they do. At Washington parties, apparently, according to this Washington Post story that I missed when it hit on Dec 8.

With Bush pressing for more information, the intelligence community finally came up with something new — a series of communications intercepts, including snippets of conversations between key Iranian officials, one of them a military officer whose name appeared on the laptop. Two sources said the Iranians complained that the nuclear weapons program had been shuttered four years earlier and argued about whether it would ever be restarted.

There had been clues for those willing to see them. For one thing, the laptop contained no new drawings on its hard drive after February 2003, said officials familiar with it. And during a dinner in Tehran with visiting American experts in 2005, Iranian leaders Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rowhani flatly declared that the country’s nuclear weapons research had been halted because Iran felt it did not need the actual bombs, only the ability to show the world it could.

“Look, as long as we can enrich uranium and master the [nuclear] fuel cycle, we don’t need anything else,” Rafsanjani said at the dinner, according to George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Our neighbors will be able to draw the proper conclusions.”

The phrase “Are you kidding me?” comes quickly to mind. Surely it occurred to some of these deep thinkers of ours that the Iranian officials could be lying. Surely? Head over to the Corner to see why Rafsanjani’s word isn’t the first or last that we ought to trust on Iran’s benign intentions.

For a long time, I was among those who mocked Joseph Wilson’s intel gathering in Niger, which he described in his book as sitting with local officials, sipping drinks and asking them if they’d spotted any Iraqis trying to buy yellowcake. Who knew Wilson’s methods met the IC’s gold standard?