Worldwidestandard.com, December 3, 2007 06:53 PM
The story dominating the news cycle right now is the public release of "Key Judgments" from an NIE on Iran's nuclear program. In particular, the first sentence of the NIE is drawing the press's intention: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003,
First, what intelligence is this assessment based upon?
Any student, or even casual observer, of the
Reading the latest NIE does not provide, of course, any clues as to how the IC came to these conclusions. If the IC does have good sources inside the Iranian regime and its putative nuclear program, then quite naturally it would want to protect them. And we wouldn't expect to see any information about sources in a declassified "Key Judgments" such as this.
However, there are good reasons to suspect that the IC does not have good intelligence inside
Thus, we should not be confident, at all, that the IC has the type of intelligence that would allow it to make a definitive assessment one way or another. This is true no matter what conclusions the IC publishes. Who or what are the sources cited by IC? How do we know they are telling the truth? If they are members of the Iranian regime, have their so-called bona fides been established? Are they in a position to know what they claim to know? Do they have any motives to lie, or distort the truth? We should be mindful of all of these questions and more.
Second, what has changed since 2005?
As this latest NIE notes, its conclusions are at odds with what the IC believed in 2005. The last page of the declassified Key Judgments notes significant differences between what the IC believed in 2005 and what it is saying now. In 2005, the IC noted: "[We] assess with high confidence that
What is the basis for this flip-flop? What has been learned in the meantime to warrant such an about-face?
Third, how did the IC draw its line between a "civilian" nuclear program and a military one?
In the very first footnote the authors of the NIE explain: "For the purposes of this Estimate, by 'nuclear weapons program' we mean
So, is the IC then assuming that
Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example,
So, then, the NIE's conclusions apply strictly to
Fourth, how does the IC know that
Returning to the first footnote of the NIE's Key Judgments, the IC argues that, in 2003,
Note that the IC argues that
Fifth, how does the IC know what motivated
The NIE claims that "
We are left with a number of important questions. And without knowing the answers to these questions, the IC's opinions are best viewed with a skeptical eye.
Thomas Joscelyn is a terrorism researcher, writer and economist living in
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