Commentary Magazine


Am I Missing Something?

The Washington Post offers a lengthy recounting this morning of how the intelligence community went about gathering the intelligence behind its new estimate that Iran shut down its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. The story is particularly notable for three details.

First, it confirms what Dick Cheney has already said about the decision to make a summary of the NIE public. Initially, reports the Post, “Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, [had] decided to keep the new findings secret, but reluctantly reversed course in a flurry of discussions last weekend out of fear of leaks and charges of a cover-up.”

Second, with the decision to make the NIE public taken only last weekend, the story makes plain that the summary of the document, as opposed to the NIE itself, was produced in a mad rush: “analysts scrambled over the weekend,” the Post reports, “to draft a declassified version.”

This is crucial, because it leaves unclear whether the White House was ever shown or ever had a chance to sign off on the unclassified summary as opposed to the NIE itself. Perhaps the full NIE is a well-drafted and well-qualified document that makes it clear that, because of the “civilian” uranium-enrichment project at Natanz, the time-line on which Iran might obtain enough fuel to build a bomb is virtually unchanged from the supposedly discredited 2005 NIE.

But the declassified summary itself is anything but well-drafted and well-qualified. It leaves the misleading impression that all Iranian efforts to build nuclear weapons came to a halt in 2003. The differences between the summary and the full document on this score might explain why the White House was so blindsided by its own decision to make the NIE public.

Third, the Washington Post story takes note of the controversy within the government about whether the intelligence underpinning the new NIE is accurate. But it nowhere mentions the more crucial fact that Iran has an ongoing “civilian” nuclear program that was downplayed in the NIE summary, relegated to a footnote. Failing to mention this is deeply disingenuous, even mendacious. The Post is complicit with the drafters of the NIE summary in promoting the false impression that Iran has completely changed course and there is nothing to worry about.

What is behind this striking omission? The Post story was written by Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer. Walter Pincus, Joby Warrick, and Robin Wright contributed to it. A team of editors undoubtedly also read it and made changes and suggestions as editors do. What are we dealing with here? Laziness, deliberate deception, a desire to please sources within the intelligence world, a blinding world-view? Connecting the Dots would like to know.

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