When the American intelligence community reversed itself in 2007 and announced that Iran had quit working on nuclear weapons in 2003, jaws dropped around the world. George Bush’s political opponents at home and enemies around the world used it to buffalo the administration into reducing its effort to corner Tehran, but European intelligence agencies did not fall for the political kneecapping performed on Bush. At the time, British intel rejected that conclusion, and now the Wall Street Journal reports that the Germans have thoroughly debunked it:
The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, has amassed evidence of a sophisticated Iranian nuclear weapons program that continued beyond 2003. This usually classified information comes courtesy of Germany’s highest state-security court. In a 30-page legal opinion on March 26 and a May 27 press release in a case about possible illegal trading with Iran, a special national security panel of the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe cites from a May 2008 BND report, saying the agency “showed comprehensively” that “development work on nuclear weapons can be observed in Iran even after 2003.”
According to the judges, the BND supplemented its findings on August 28, 2008, showing “the development of a new missile launcher and the similarities between Iran’s acquisition efforts and those of countries with already known nuclear weapons programs, such as Pakistan and North Korea.”
It’s important to point out that this was no ordinary agency report, the kind that often consists just of open source material, hearsay and speculation. Rather, the BND submitted an “office testimony,” which consists of factual statements about the Iranian program that can be proved in a court of law. This is why, in their March 26 opinion, the judges wrote that “a preliminary assessment of the available evidence suggests that at the time of the crime [April to November 2007] nuclear weapons were being developed in Iran.” In their May press release, the judges come out even more clear, stating unequivocally that “Iran in 2007 worked on the development of nuclear weapons.”
This rises far above the level of evidence provided in the 2007 NIE. The court had to determine whether evidence presented by the German government could convict a defendant in an espionage trial, and the case rested in large part on whether the Iranians had continued to develop nuclear weapons. A lower-court ruling had tossed out the indictment, ruling that the US NIE showed that Iran had not done work on its nuclear-weapons programs during the time that the defendant had allegedly traded illegally and conducted espionage on behalf of their program. In response, the BND showed the court their evidence of continued work on the weapons program — which the court ruled sufficient to use at trial.
As the authors note, this decision calls into question yet again how the US intelligence service could have concluded otherwise. Did they not coordinate with the Germans, who have much better access to Iran than either the US or even the British? The BND says they shared these findings with the Americans prior to the publication of the NIE, but that they were ignored. Why?
It’s really not difficult to conclude that the higher echelons of American intelligence had gone to war with the Bush administration early in his presidency. The 2007 NIE was their coup de grace, making Bush impotent and giving them control over American foreign policy. It also let vital time slip past while Iran continued to develop nuclear weapons, although in the event, Europe simply rejected the NIE as faulty and proceeded along the same path that Bush had demanded. The NIE gave Russia and China political cover to block the West’s attempts to rein in the Iranians, although that would have happened anyway with other rationalizations.
Democrats are demanding a reckoning with the CIA over a program that never proceeded past the spitball stage. Republicans ought to demand a reckoning, too — over the NIE and the wool that got pulled over the eyes of Congress.