Intelligence, Flamb&#233ed

The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report on Iran continues to distort public debate and understanding. As Emanuele points out in discussing a Times of London article on Iran’s progress toward a weapon, the 2007 NIE was designed to make the 2003 suspension of Iran’s weaponization program its memorable point. Little else that it said made an impression on the public — either its slip to “moderate confidence” on whether Iran had resumed weaponization activity since 2003 or its assessment that Iran suspended the weaponization effort “in response to international pressure . . . guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.” The intelligence community may consider itself fortunate that this analysis was so forgettable. Shortly after its release, John Bolton wrote a comprehensive takedown of it from a uniquely relevant perspective, which included this passage:

[The NIE] implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point.

“Moreover,” Bolton continued, “the risks and returns of pursuing a diplomatic strategy are policy calculations, not intelligence judgments.” That truth has been at the heart of the public confusion over Iran’s nuclear programs. The character of what we know about them has not, in fact, changed significantly over the past eight years. Rather, the orientation of the U.S. intelligence community to administration policy has shifted.

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Intelligence, Flamb&#233ed

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