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Iran’s Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities

What is Iran really up to?

Here is a well-informed guess, codified in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) produced by the the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Two of its key findings:

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

• We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. (INR judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.) All agencies recognize the possibility that this capability may not be attained until after 2015.

How is “moderate confidence” defined in NIE-speak? Moderate confidence “generally means that the information is credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence. “

How is “high confidence” defined? On the one hand, it “generally indicates that our judgments are based on high-quality information, and/or that the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgment.” On the other hand, it “is not a fact or a certainty . . . and such judgments still carry a risk of being wrong.”

In other words, the latest NIE is not a rock-solid judgment, and as we have already seen in a number of other dramatic instances, even the intelligence community’s rock-solid judgments might not be solid at all.


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