Monday, December 03, 2007

The Bureau that Says, "NIE"!

Somewhere, Norman Podhoretz is wringing his hands:

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years ago that Tehran was working inexorably toward building a bomb. [...]

...The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran’s ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but that Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”

“Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might — if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible — prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program,” the estimate states.

That last part is of particular significance in that it speaks to some of the more strident calls for war with Iran: the claim that Iran's leadership is markedly irrational, and motivated by a messianic view such that it would willingly accept the complete annihilation of Iran in order to detonate a nuclear weapon in Israel and/or the United States.

The N.I.E. concludes that if Iran were to end the freeze of its weapons program, it would still be at least two years before Tehran would have enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear bomb. But it says it is still “very unlikely” Iran could produce enough of the material by then.

Instead, today’s report concludes it is more likely Iran could have a bomb by the early part to the middle of the next decade. The report states that the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this goal before 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.”

Worth noting, State's intel shop had the best track record of all the agencies in terms of their respective assessments of Iraq's WMD capacity (particularly on the issue of nuclear program/weapons). Which leads me to given their prediction a bit more weight.

Funny, as far back as February 2006, right wing pundits and bloggers (including former Israeli intelligence chiefs) were claiming that Iran had nuclear weapons already. I wonder if the latest NIE will change any minds?

[UPDATE: The always interesting Brad Plumer has more.]

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