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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Will the real NIE please stand up?

"They make the bombs, they make them not. They make the bombs, they make them not. They make the bombs, they make them not. "
Shortly after insisting with "high confidence" that Iran no longer had a nuclear weapons program in place, the US National Intelligence Service insists with equally high confidence that there was reason to believe Iran still wanted an ability to make nuclear weapons.
We are now in a situation where the NIS published an intelligence estimate, but its officials are insisting that the estimate is wrong. Can anyone be expected to believe anything they say?
Ami Isseroff  
U.S. spy official says Iran ambitions not "benign"
Thu Dec 6, 2007 7:25pm GMT
By Randall Mikkelsen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran retains key nuclear capabilities despite having frozen weapons development in 2003, and its ambitions cannot be considered benign, a senior U.S. spy official told Congress on Thursday.
The deputy director of National Intelligence, Donald Kerr, told a House of Representatives Intelligence subcommittee that there was reason to believe Iran still wanted an ability to make nuclear weapons.
He was responding to a Republican lawmaker who questioned the accuracy of an official National Intelligence Estimate this week that said U.S. agencies did not know whether Iran intended to develop a nuclear weapon.
The report has forced President George W. Bush to defend his assertions that Iran represented a potential nuclear threat. It backed off a 2005 conclusion that Iran was determined to develop such a weapon and said Iran had abandoned weapon design and covert enrichment in 2003.
But Iran still had the "most important" component of a future program, a uranium-enrichment plant, Kerr told the panel. That and Iran's civil nuclear power program can provide important expertise. Iran also was working on ballistic missiles, he said.
"We did not in any way suggest that Iran was benign for the future," Kerr told the panel. "What we had to do was address the evidence we had, that at least a part of their program (was) suspended in 2003."
Kerr noted the estimate also concluded with "moderate confidence" that Iran still wants a future weapons capability.
Iran has consistently denied pursuing a nuclear weapon. But it has asserted a right to develop its own civil nuclear capability.
U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican, told Kerr he was puzzled by the new intelligence estimate. "We have this sort of dichotomy, the words and actions from Iran seem to be offset by the National Intelligence Estimate," Tiahrt said.
He suggested U.S. intelligence agencies had gotten too big at their headquarters and not put enough agents in the field.
Kerr responded that the new report was one of the most comprehensive National Intelligence Estimates ever, with more than 1,000 "source notes."
He also said it had benefited from reforms and restructurings in U.S. intelligence agencies since the September 11 attacks and a flawed pre-war estimate on Iraqi weapons. The estimate's findings were subjected to rigorous challenges and tests of alternative explanations, he said.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that notes obtained last summer from deliberations of Iranian military officials involved in weapons development had played a significant role in the change of views about Iran's nuclear activities.
The newspaper report, citing senior intelligence and government officials, said the notes included bitter complaints by military officers over a decision to shut down Iran's weapon-design program.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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