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An intelligent assessment of the National Intelligence Estimate

By J.B. Williams
web posted December 10, 2007

Upon watching the politically motivated reaction to the recent so-called "intelligence" update concerning Iran's nuclear ambitions, I couldn't sit idle as one more report becomes just another campaign tool used to mislead American voters as well as friends and foes around the world.

News agencies around the globe are gushing over the latest U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) issued on Iran and its nuclear proliferation program. Time reports "Europe Relieved by Iran Finding", the Chicago Tribune say's "Twice now, Bush has confronted faulty intelligence" and the Telegraph UK announces "Iran president hails nuclear report as 'victory'".

Unfortunately, it appears that none of these reporters bothered to actually read the NIE before rushing to their politically motivated headlines which do nothing less than mislead the public on the subject. Those who really want to know what the report actually says must read the report themselves, because the press is once again reporting less than the truth on the matter.

First things first, proper context…

Let's keep in mind that the intelligence community that issued this report is the same intelligence community that said WMD in Iraq was a "slam dunk." The same agencies that wrote the NIE report on Iran's nuclear ambitions in 2005, wrote this report in 2007.

Let's also keep in mind that when these reports say something the press doesn't like, the press works around the clock to remind you of just how unreliable the U.S. intelligence community really is and only when these intelligent folks write a report which supports the political agenda of the leftist press, will the press gush over the highly enlightened wisdom of these same agencies.

In short, three things must be kept in mind when reading anything about U.S. intelligence estimates.

  • It's an "estimate." Collecting, accumulating, coalescing, assessing and reporting on international intelligence is an imperfect art of attempting to learn accurately that which the other side is working just as hard to conceal, by omission or disinformation for the purpose of misdirection.
  • Too often, intelligence reports are driven by the political agendas of the people working in these agencies (Plame and Wilson being a grand example), rather than political policies being driven by honest and accurate intelligence gathering and reporting.
  • The press is after the most sensational headlines, usually driven by its own political agenda, rather than any effort at accurately reporting the collective sum of facts.


What the 2007 NIE actually says

The report opens with this general statement, "This NIE is an extensive reexamination of the issues in the May 2005 assessment" almost immediately followed by this statement, "This Estimate does assume that the strategic goals and basic structure of Iran's senior leadership
and government will remain similar to those that have endured since the death of Ayatollah
Khomeini in 1989."

As an opening, the report says in sum that the report is an update of the 2005 NIE and in general terms, nothing has dramatically changed in the overall political structure or subsequent strategic goals of the Iranian government since 1989….

Then the report very carefully gives an "explanation of estimative language" designed to help readers understand the report, while providing a certain level of CYA protections for the authors of the report, similar to defining what the meaning of "is" is…

Under the segment titled "Key Judgments," the press is reporting only this half of the opening statement, "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program;" The unreported balance of that opening statement says, "we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons."

Here, the report offers no real news if you read the entire statement in proper context, instead of how the press has presented the report, ideologically parsed for public consumption.

An important statement follows next…

"We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years."

The first problem with this statement is that "several years" have not passed since 2003, only a few have. The second problem is the words "at least", which means, we don't know. So far, all statements are very consistent with the 2005 estimate, reported by the press to be opposite this 2007 report.

The press was all too happy to report this non-revelation to the public, but they left out the footnote attached directly to this statement, "Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.")

Next, the report claims "We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon." (Note the moderate-to-high rating of this assumption and refer to the "explanation of estimative language") In short, this statement say's "we think, but don't know."

Now, here's the punch line that no news agency is reporting…

"We continue to assess with low confidence that Iran probably has imported at least some weapons-usable fissile material, but still judge with moderate-to-high confidence it has not obtained enough for a nuclear weapon. We cannot rule out that Iran has acquired from abroad—or will acquire in the future—a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material for a weapon."


Would any of these statements be made concerning any nation not still in the business of pursuing nuclear weapons technologies? To help out all mental midgets, especially those running for president, the answer is NO!

And then, here's the most important statement in the entire report

"We assess centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it decides to do so. Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006, despite the continued halt in the nuclear weapons program. Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz, but we judge with moderate confidence it still faces significant technical problems operating them.

We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon is late 2009, but that this is very unlikely."

2009… a little more than one year from today folks and six years sooner than predicted in the 2005 NIE!

Is "very unlikely" the opposite of a "slam dunk?"

And if they are able to predict with "moderate confidence" the date of 2009, doesn't this mean that Iran's centrifuge enrichment program is indeed making headway towards nuclear weapons capability at a pace faster than predicted in the 2005 NIE which predicted 2015?

How can anyone view this report as some grand reversal from the 2005 NIE which essentially said the same thing?

Let's highlight the only real substantive change in the 2007 report

In the 2005 NIE, our intelligence community estimated that Iran could not develop nuclear weapons grade materials before, and I quote, "early-to-mid next decade" – which means around 2015, give or take a decade or two, unless they just buy some from one of their friends, in which case they can have it delivered via FedEx in a couple days.

In this new 2007 NIE report; that date has now been moved UP to 2009!

Yet, on the basis of press reports, Europe is "relieved," U.S. citizens breathe easier and Democrat presidential candidates stumbled over each other in a blind sprint for the nearest campaign microphone…

"It was like watching a rerun of his statements on Iraq five years earlier," Biden said. "Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America. Iran should be dealt with directly, with the rest of the world at our side. But we've made it more difficult now, because who is going to trust us?"

"I vehemently disagree with the president that nothing's changed and therefore nothing in American policy has to change," said New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Democrats couldn't jump on the story fast enough, united in the position laid out by presidential candidate Dodd, "As was the case with Iraq, the latest NIE makes it clear that this President is offering another false bill of goods to Congress and the American people in an attempt to build the case for war with Iran."

Of course, never mind the fact that the report says no such thing, or that the report was written by the same people who wrote the 2002 NIE on Iraq WMD or the 2005 NIE on Iran, or that all Democrat presidential candidates except Dennis Kucinich read all the same NIE reports as Bush, authored then by Clinton Administration agency heads, and voted the same way Bush did on the basis of those reports.

Now that the press told the public and these candidates who are supposed to read these reports themselves, that there was never anything to worry about in Iran, this wonderful news has become the newest hammer in the campaign to win the White House by further degrading Bush, who authored none of these reports.

No wonder Iran president hails nuclear report as 'victory'. The massive international mis-reporting on U.S. Intelligence and specifically, the 2007 NIE report is a HUGE victory for Teheran and Democrats are as anxious as Ahmadinejad to cash in on the propaganda.

The question is this. Are average American voters as stupid as the average Democrat politician or as politically myopic as the anti-American press?

I've linked the 2007 NIE twice in this column already and now I'll give it to you a third time in the hope that you will take a few minutes to go read it yourself… Here!  http://www.dni.gov/press_releases/20071203_release.pdf

The ONLY substantive difference between the 2005 NIE and the 2007 NIE is that in 2005, U.S. intelligence concluded that Iran could not have nuclear weapons grade materials before about 2015 and now they conclude that they can have those materials as early as 2009. Go read it!

Yet the press, the politicians and European nations hoping to keep their profitable weapons trade with Iran intact, are telling you something quite different.

You were convinced by the press that these same intelligence agencies were wrong on Iraq's WMD, wrong on North Korea which now has nuclear weapons, wrong on Pakistan and China which also gained nuclear technologies during the Clinton years and wrong on the 2005 Iran NIE report. Now the press tells you that these same people are suddenly right in the 2007 NIE report, which doesn't quite say what the press told you it says?

God help the American people if they are too ignorant or too lazy to do their own homework on such vital matters. The press won't help you and neither will politicians hoping to capitalize on these reports. It's time to take personal responsibility for knowing the facts on your own.

Where in the report does it say the Iranian government is no longer extreme in its view of the west or its plans to level Israel? I have linked the 2007 NIE report three times in this column now. God help us all if you don't go read it yourself…

The press and their leftist politicians should be lynched on the White House lawn for their collective massive effort to mislead voters on a whole host of subjects today. These are matters of life and death, not politics. America's entire future hangs in the balance.

Politicians don't care, but the voters had better! ESR

© 2007 J.B. Williams


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