The evidence of a major expansion of Iran’s nuclear program is a matter of record as far as the CIA is concerned, but the spy agency is still claiming Tehran hasn’t decided to build a bomb. Yesterday, COMMENTARY contributor Bill Gertz wrote in the Washington Free Beacon about the CIA’s official report to Congress on arms proliferation which was delivered in February but which hasn’t come to the attention of the public until now. The report states the bare facts about Iran’s program that are by now a matter of public knowledge since the International Atomic Energy Agency has been putting out regular bulletins about their damning findings.
The acknowledged facts are these: the Iranians have expanded their nuclear infrastructure and continued nuclear enrichment. They have constructed advanced nuclear centrifuges and bringing them online. Even more ominously, a new underground nuclear facility at Fordow has begun production of “near-20 percent enriched uranium,” the material that can be used to produce bombs. But as Gertz noted, the CIA’s report did not note the questions raised by the IAEA about weaponization research that is believed to be going on in Iran.
That omission is a crucial point in evaluating the CIA’s stance on Iran’s nuclear program. The agency has grudgingly noted the way Iran has proceeded with its nuclear build-up. But it is still sticking to its largely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that claims the Iranians are not building a bomb. In order to maintain that stance, it must ignore or downplay any evidence that points to weaponization.
As even the New York Times noted last month, American intelligence is still recovering from the black eye it received from its mistakes about Iraq’s weapons stockpile. But the agency’s decision to try to avoid making the same mistake on Iran has led them to buy into an equally fallacious mindset. Moreover, criticisms that the Iraq intelligence was influenced by the politics of the Bush administration is more than matched by the pressure coming from the Obama White House to downplay worries over Iran’s nukes that lend weight to calls for more action and less talk about the threat.
While American intelligence may have been guilty of overselling the threat from Iraq, it now appears to be doing everything possible to avoid taking the blame for a confrontation with Iran. But what the spooks seem to be forgetting is that as bad as the spanking over its Iraq errors was, it will be nothing compared to the anger that will come down on them should their optimistic assessments about Iran be proven false. Moreover, as bare bones as the CIA’s latest report may be, it contains enough to be someday thrown in their faces as proof that they knew the nature of the Iranian threat but refused for political or institutional reasons to draw the right conclusions.