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Tilting at Windmills

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December 3, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WHY WAS THE NIE RELEASED?....A couple of random thoughts on the newly released NIE concluding that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003:

  • This NIE was apparently finished a year ago, and its basic parameters were almost certainly common knowledge in the White House well before that. This means that all the leaks, all the World War III stuff, all the blustering about the IAEA — all of it was approved for public consumption after Cheney/Bush/Rice/etc. knew perfectly well it was mostly baseless.

  • Why were the key judgments finally released? Cheney didn't want them released, Bush surely didn't want them released, and DNI Mike McConnell told Congress a few weeks ago that he didn't want them released. So who did?

All I've got is speculation on the second question, but here it is: it was congressional pressure. Democratic members of the various intelligence committees saw the NIE (or a summary or a verbal report or something) and went ballistic. Footnotes and dissents are one thing, but withholding a report whose primary conclusion is 180 degrees contrary to years of administration innuendo produced a rebellion. Somebody who got briefed must have threatened something pretty serious if the NIE didn't see the light of day.

Like I said, just a guess. But who else has the clout to force Bush, Cheney, and McConnell to change course?

By the way, Stephen Hadley will be on TV furiously providing the Bush administration's spin on all this at 3:15 Eastern time. Should be good for some laughs.

Kevin Drum 1:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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Harry Reid?

I just haven't seen Harman or Rockefeller playing hardball, um, ever.

Posted by: gaucho on December 3, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

"Democratic members of the various intelligence committees saw the NIE (or a summary or a verbal report or something) and went ballistic."

Funny stuff, Kevin. Who on the various committees isn't completely in the tank for the neocon vision of the Middle East?

Posted by: F. Frederson on December 3, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Karl Rove would declare that it was the Democratic leadership that did not want the report to be released, as they don't want national security to be the issue in 2008. It would be a lie, but everyone in the media will eat up the effluvium.

Posted by: gregor on December 3, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK
But who else has the clout to force Bush, Cheney, and McConnell to change course?

Anyone who would have been familiar with the NIE from the executive branch that's left the administration recently?

Posted by: cmdicely on December 3, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Spencer at TMMuckraker thinks McConnell changed his mind and decided to ignore the nondisclosure policy.

Posted by: Swift Loris on December 3, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Can anybody spell Chuck Hagel?

Posted by: Carol on December 3, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Well if we did attack Iran and the NIE came after, then Cheney a al would look dishonest. Oh, wait that already happened.

Posted by: The fake fake al on December 3, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

But, but, but...awww, Clinton's wiener!

Cheney needs a huntin' trip, stat!

Posted by: trollhattan on December 3, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

I completely don't know. But I have this fantasy that Bush himself ordered it released in a feeble attempt to disentangle himself from the evil clutches of the dark lord Cheney and do the right thing in the end.

I know...pretty stupid, but I can't stop viewing this administration in anything other than an overwrought opera.

Posted by: LA Dave on December 3, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

If we aren't currently in a recession or about to enter one, the last thing that Corporate America wants is for a stupid military action to shove us into a really nasty one. Especially so early in the election season. The strategy is to keep the economy on life-support through next year. If we attack Iran and oil goes through the roof-gas prices go through the roof-nobody will have any money to spend. Recession guaranteed! Methinks that key players representing the neo-cons (nuke em!) and Corporate America are in an arm wrestling match. CA is winning.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 3, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

What exactly makes you think anybody in Congress has that kind of clout? Gates or the Joint Chiefs strike me as more likely candidates. Heck, Fallon could probably have made this happen all by himself if he really really wanted it. And if I were him I would want it pretty damn bad.

Besides which there's no guarantee that McConnell was telling the truth when he said he didn't want it released. It's not like you can get in trouble for lying to Congress.

Posted by: radish on December 3, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Have no idea why the NIE has been released...but it does explain why bush will have a press conference tomorrow.

Posted by: tin foil on December 3, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

But who else has the clout to force Bush, Cheney, and McConnell to change course?

Maybe Gates? He could have threatened to resign and spill the beans, then they'd be royally screwed.

Posted by: cervantes on December 3, 2007 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

I think Dot at the Radar Station offers the best guess. Corporate America wins most of the arm-wrestling matches.

Posted by: Model 62 on December 3, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

I think it was Cheney himself. Tis the season, Cheney's heart grew 3 sizes that day and Cheney, yes Cheney himself, released the NIE.

Posted by: ckelly on December 3, 2007 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Administration spin will focus on nuclear know-how.

Plans are now being drawn up in the Cheneybunker for precision air-strikes on everyone who ever read Richard' Rhodes' books, or John McPhee's The Curve of Binding Energy

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 3, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Hemlock -- recognizing that Hadley was Condi "never met a PDB she didn't ignore" Rice's deputy -- is proud to present tonight's BushCo Talking Points (c):

1) The NIE covers mostly historical information;

2) That estimate was for 2003 -- we don't know what they're up to NOW;

3) The press is misrepresenting the conclusions of the report based only upon an unclassified executive summary;

4) That estimate was for 2003 -- we don't know what they're up to NOW;

5) Other intelligence sources from our allies (i.e., the American Enterprise Institute and AIPAC) paint a different picture;

6) That estimate was for 2003 -- we don't know what they're up to NOW;

And if you buy these Talking Points (c) in the next 24 hours, we'll send you one of our patented Rhetorical Questions (tm) at No Extra Charge!

7) If they're not pursuing a weapon, why do they keep enriching uranium and ignoring the will of the International Community (R)?

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on December 3, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Stephen Hadley will be on TV furiously providing the Bush administration's spin on all this at 3:15 Eastern time

There's a lot of TV out there Kevin,any specifics?

Posted by: TJM on December 3, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

2) That estimate was for 2003 -- we don't know what they're up to NOW;

From Associated Press.

This national intelligence estimate was originally due in the spring of 2007 but was delayed because the agencies wanted more confidence their findings were accurate, given the problems with a 2002 intelligence estimate of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. They also got a late influx of new data that caused changes in their findings.

Elsewhere I've read that data through October 31, 2007 was considered. I'm looking for cite now...

Oh, and note AP's headline: US Officials: Iran Has Nuke Capability.

What does that mean to the average reader? And does the guy who writes the headlines ever read the story?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 3, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

One would think that if a politician, any politician of any persuasion, was behind the release of this NIE, they would make sure everyone knew who they were.

My guess is it came from the intelligence or military community, and that someone risked their career.

Posted by: Brojo on December 3, 2007 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

It could be that Dick Cheney might turn out to have a wider stance than Larry Craig! Of course, Dick could only have homosexual encounters in men's rooms when he wasn't taking those heart pills that make him limp as a wet noodle or when he isn't so shit-faced drunk he is shooting Harry Whittington's face off. Granted, this would be rare.

With Trent Lott close to being accused of playing "hide the salami" with a page boy and Denny (Preparation H) Hastert helping hide Tom Foley's pedophilial instincts, these GOP slimeballs are rolling over faster than an overloaded Haitian refugee boat!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on December 3, 2007 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

I think to the extent it was the result of internal pressure, it would have come from Gates. I think he's the only thing standing between us and teh bomb. Oddly, both Negroponte and Rice are standing with him, according to Gareth Porter.

Plus the report is well over a year overdue and the intelligence community has stood its ground and refused to 'fix' the intelligence around the policy this time around. It appears no amount of pressure was going to change that. You have to think at some point, it's more of a political liability to withhold it and let people speculate on the motives for doing so than it is to release it and hope people forget what it said by the time they come up with a casus belli to go forward.

Since the IAEA already issued their disclaimer recently, it seems like a good time to get it over with.

In any event, I tend to doubt it has much to do with congressional pressure.

Posted by: Libby Spencer on December 3, 2007 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

My guess is it came from the intelligence or military community, and that someone risked their career.
Posted by: Brojo on December 3, 2007 at 3:35 PM

And if Brojo is right, and I suspect he might be, someone out there deserves a medal that will probably never get one.

Posted by: thersites on December 3, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Bob Gates has to be prime suspect.

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig on December 3, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Well, my money says that it may have something to do with Annapolis, which is the last desperate gamble of this Administration to achieve something, anything to avoid being remembered as the most incompetent, corrupt, dangerous and dishonest Administration in US history. Taking the pressure off Iran, while pretending that their strategy worked, may buy Bush and friends a little negotiatiing time. Annapolis will still fail, publicly and obviously, but Bush has never been good at picking the right gamble.

Posted by: nick on December 3, 2007 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Why was the NIE released today?

Pale Rider thinks it's because of a GAO report that was released on Friday.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 3, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's educated guess that an angered Congressional Dem or Dems forced the NIE release is quite plausible. But I think another primary motivation may be that Condi has won the battle with Cheney and convinced Bush that bombing Iran would be lunacy, and especially detrimental for whatever hopes Republicans may have of holding onto the White House next year.

Posted by: Bob C on December 3, 2007 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

I'll echo and amplify Bob C a bit: I suspect that the administration decided that they probably couldn't get enough cooperation from Congress (or military forces, for that matter) for an attack on Iran before next November, so they've decided to sheath their swords for the next 11 months or so in the hopes that the GOP can keep the White House. *After* the election, in their plan, the casus belli can be put back into production...

Posted by: Alex R on December 3, 2007 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

My guess is blackmail. Somebody caught somebody else in the wrong bathroom. Or something.

Posted by: Delia on December 3, 2007 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kevin that a response to pressure from Congressional Democrats is one possibility. But posters upthread who note that such pressure has not frequently been forthcoming from Democrats on the relevant committees are correct.

The other possibility is that this NIE was released because it was expected to leak anyway. This seems more likely to me. My guess, and it is only that, is that in any event the release is not aimed at supporting a specific administration initiative with respect to Iran, but rather at sticking a fork in what most people outside the Office of the Vice President regard as Cheney's unhealthy influence in this area. Hadley's spin on this will be interesting to hear.

Posted by: Zathras on December 3, 2007 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Any member of Congress who publicly released a classified NIE would be in violation of their secrecy oath and subject to censure or removal from office.

Posted by: Patty on December 3, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Nobody seems to have mentioned the most likely and simple explanation: somebody had already leaked the document. Admin officials had already been contacted privately for responses, so decided to leak on their own to give some control over how the story was spun.

This seems more likely by far than anything coming from the Senate Intel committee, which is only slightly less supine now than it was under Pat Roberts. I suppose somebody in the House might have been less cooperative.

Posted by: Alex F on December 3, 2007 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Any chance the administration was keeping the NIE info in their vest pocket, and used it as a bargaining chip to broker some back room deal with Iran?

Posted by: Alan on December 3, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe they have Stacy Peterson located, and know that they can release that info, and keep the NIE off the evening news that way. Missing White woman trumps political shenanigans any day, and thrice on a Sunday.

Posted by: bigTom on December 3, 2007 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

What will be Lieberman's spin on this;hmmmm?

This report is a year old, lets not underestimate what Iran can do in a year, we must keep the Iran War goal alive.

Posted by: Anthony Look on December 3, 2007 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

note AP's headline: US Officials: Iran Has Nuke Capability.

Now changed to "US: Iran still able to develop nukes."

Posted by: Swift Loris on December 3, 2007 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,
I think you're right. Just having the Senate and House under the control of the Democrats forced some measure of honesty in this process.

Posted by: Larry Johnson on December 3, 2007 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if it may not have been a potential general revolt from the intelligence community that lay behind the release. I'm sure that they absolutely did not want to be perceived as taking on the role of justifying still another mindless war.

God only knows what might have been threatened -- resignations that were both prominent and very hard to explain away would be one possibility.

Posted by: frankly0 on December 3, 2007 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, but I briefly noticed Stephen Hadley twice on C-Span over the weekend and that's plenty. The dog is still under the bed.

Posted by: Rula Lenska on December 3, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

My first reaction is this was a White House "leak" that allows the hawks to save face without bombing Tehran outright and claim victory ("they stopped because they could see we meant business") anyhow. Basically, I suspect that any and all intelligence has a political agenda now.

Posted by: wingnut#2 on December 3, 2007 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

The ONLY leverage anybody has over Bush is his concern about his "legacy." And the only way anyone got him to do something, or not, was to threaten it. And what is the greatest threat to his legacy? Impeachment, clearly. Anything short of that will have no historical significance.

So the Congress got together and told Cheney and Bush they would impeach both of them if they tried to use the Iraq war lies model on Iran. They had the smoking gun in the NIE. (That could also explain the year gap. Always give your enemy enough rope to hang himself.) And you can bet it was bipartisan. Republican law makers must know if Bush attacks Iran, they would be facing a Democratic landslide. And they probably told him that Nancy Pelosi would be president, at least for a short time. (That sealed it. He would be replaced by a woman?)

It also explains, to my satisfaction, why the Congress ruled out impeachment. Congress, like Barney Fife, only has one bullet. If you shoot and miss, oh God. But if you keep your foe at gunpoint . . . . I get it now.

Posted by: Village on December 3, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

One of my main concerns: what did Hillary Clinton know of this NIE and when did she know it? Did she know when she voted for the Kyl/Lieberman bill? And now that I mention it, did Kyl/Lieberman know the contents of the NIE when they wrote the legislation? We might as well have no Congress at all, for all the good they do and for all the truth they tell us in trying to justify their votes.

Posted by: Ann in AZ on December 3, 2007 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Delayed Intelligence Report On Iran to Be Finished Soon
By Walter Pincus
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Posted by: Bill W on December 3, 2007 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

There will be many interesting follow-up questions to this NIE story, but the ones raised by Ann in AZ are particularly delicious...

Posted by: Bob C on December 3, 2007 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

this comes from the military end: Gates, Fallon, etc.

Posted by: Cap and Gown on December 3, 2007 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

This NIE was apparently finished a year ago, and its basic parameters were almost certainly common knowledge in the White House well before that. This means that all the leaks, all the World War III stuff, all the blustering about the IAEA — all of it was approved for public consumption after Cheney/Bush/Rice/etc. knew perfectly well it was mostly baseless.

So what does Hadley say? "They stopped? Gee, that's good news, innit?"

Kevin, you have put your finger right on what should be the story here. I ain't holding my breath for the press corps to pursue it.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on December 3, 2007 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Why should we believe that Iran EVER had a nuclear weapons program at all?

From IranAffairs.com:

Iran NIE report: Are you lying now, or were you lying then?

If the 2005 NIE report was wrong when it claimed with "high confidence" that Iran had a active nuclear weapons program, why should the 2007 NIE be any more credible when it claims that Iran had a nuclear weapons program until 2003? If Iran really had a nuclear weapons program until 2003 as the new report claims, then why has the IAEA found no evidence of it?

Posted by: hass on December 3, 2007 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

Cheney had a NDE [near death experince] when they shocked his heart back to a normal state and he saw the being of light, the final judge of his soul.

Posted by: Ya Know.. on December 3, 2007 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

This NIE was not finished "a year ago." It was completed within the last couple of weeks.

The key evidence wasn't obtained until late last summer - intercepts of communications between Iranian generals about the shut down nuke program. That SIGINT was then put through the ringer because it was properly suspected of being disinformation.

Posted by: Rick Moran on December 4, 2007 at 6:36 AM | PERMALINK

Wasn't Valerie Plame working on the intel for Iran's nuclear program? Could be retaliation from her peers.

Posted by: WMD on December 4, 2007 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

I think they're trying to save face and save the election, what of it they can. Distancing themselves from the lunacy of striking Iran will go a long way towards that. I think they have put the ball in Israel's court. As it should be. They are ground zero if Iran does get the bomb and everyone knows it. There's no "threat to the region"- it's only a threat to Israel, every neocon's darling.

Posted by: Dana on December 4, 2007 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

I am inclined to think Gates. Bush looked like a silly fool during his press conference today.

There was been too much crap going on re: Nukes on a Plane, Nukes on a Submarine, Nukes in Pakistan...by the way no one is asking where Pakistan received it's supplies to even create nukes...and so on. Someone put Bush/Cheney's tits in a ringer...and it sounds like a trade off to me.

I don't know maybe Saudi's re this current Peace initiative at Annapolis...because Israel looks really pissed. You guys are right...always think of the corporate repercussions. Recession, recession, recession...Bush doesn't want that legacy. I'm afraid it's gonna happen...... Treasury doesn't have enough cash to float everyone now do they?

Posted by: avahome on December 4, 2007 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

http://www.lahaine.org/petras/b2-img/petras_iran.pdf

The military brass led by Admiral Fallon are refusing to take orders from foreign agents (israel) who control US president.

Posted by: ForKucinich on December 6, 2007 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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