The Wall Street Journal has run a lengthy account this morning of how the latest controversial National Intelligence Estimate reporting a 2003 shutdown of the Iran’s nuclear-weapons program came to be written. It suggests that charges of political manipulation by conservative critics are overblown, possibly even absurd:
Hundreds of officials were involved and thousands of documents were drawn upon in this report, according to the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], making it impossible for any official to overly sway it. Intelligence sources were vetted and questioned in ways they weren’t ahead of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Thomas Fingar, a former State Department official now with the National Intelligence Counsel, one of the leading figures in drafting the NIE, mocks reports of politicization. “A lot of it is just nonsense,” he says. “The idea that this thing was written by a bunch of nonprofessional renegades or refugees is just silly.”
Connecting the Dots has not seen the classified version of the NIE, but it is inclined to agree with Fingar that it would be very difficult to tailor-make a NIE for political ends. This is perhaps one reason why President Bush, as he traveled across the Middle East and met allied governments that were confused by the document, declined to disavow it.
So why the controversy?
The NIE may be perfectly sound, but the declassified summary of it, produced at the last minute after the White House decided to release the document, is something else. By relegating to a footnote the fact that Iran has a continuing uranium-enrichment program, and by declaring flatly that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, without so much of an indication that a crucial aspect of that program — the development of fuel for a nuclear-bomb core — continues apace, the public — including America’s allies and adversaries — were baldly misled. The NIE summary is about as deceptive as the headline of this post.
Compounding the scandal here is the fact, as the Journal reports, that Fingar and other architects of the NIE, were in their previous assignments in the State Department bitter opponents of the administration’s tough line on Iraq. The Bush administration has been lambasted for politicizing intelligence; but in this instance at least it can be faulted for something equally bad: tolerating the naked politicization of intelligence by bureaucratic opponents of its policies.
Connecting the Dots still wants to know when a housecleaning of U.S. intelligence, badly overdue, will take place.