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Tilting at Windmills

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December 4, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WHY WAS THE NIE RELEASED?....PART 3....A couple more theories on why yesterday's NIE on Iran was released just weeks after Mike McConnell said it wasn't going to be. First, there's this brief aside tossed in at the tail end of a Wall Street Journal piece:

Officials at U.S. spy agencies came to believe after their 2005 report was issued that Iran had suspended its weapons program. The differences between this assessment and the administration's public comments prompted them to make the report public, officials say.

So the intelligence community was directly responding to the fact that Bush and Cheney were continuing to make hawkish statements even when they knew the evidence didn't back it up. Interesting. Over at Mother Jones, though, Laura Rozen suggests something different:

The NIE released today had been held up for more than a year. At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on global threats this summer, the CIA's top intel analyst indicated to Mother Jones during a break that the delay was due in part to new intelligence that the United States had obtained. The source of that intelligence has not been revealed, but comments by national security advisor Stephen Hadley today suggested the United States had received new information a few months ago and that a conclusion on the NIE's findings was reached only last Tuesday.

If this is true, McConnell changed his mind because the reporting from Iran changed, first over the summer and then more definitively within the last couple of weeks. "The primary, number one judgment — that military efforts have apparently been discontinued in 2003 and still discontinued as of middle of this year, it is impossible for the community to sit on a judgment like that," said Paul Pillar, a former top National Intelligence Council officer for the Middle East. "That they have high confidence suggests they have some fairly good reporting. That is pretty significant."

I expect considerably more speculation on this subject over the next few days. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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new intelligence that the United States had obtained.

Remember that Iranian general who defected/was kidnapped a few months back to much rightwing crowing?

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig on December 4, 2007 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

The differences between this assessment and the administration's public comments prompted them to make the report public, officials say.

Not suprising Kevin. The NIE report was controlled by anti-Bush zealots who wanted to publish a partisan anti-Bush document as an attack on our Commander-in-Chief and his policy of preemption against terrorism and WMDs. This was reported by the Corner.

corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NzFhODljOWI4YTIyMzlmOGM5YjBlNDE5MmQ2NDU4NTU=

"These KJs [Key Judgments] have too much political spin. This assessment was strongly influenced by two hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials who oversaw it, both former State officials who fought tooth and nail against Bush WMD policies, especially Iran."

Posted by: Al on December 4, 2007 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Come on Kevin, get to the really important stuff like Hillary's bad joke about Obama....Oh wait....

Posted by: Keith G on December 4, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

And this moment of brilliance from Bush's presser this morning concerning the NIE:

"I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program," Bush said. "The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."

The jokes write themselves these days.

Posted by: Simp on December 4, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I am just more confused than ever. Did Iran close down its Manhattan Project or just put Los Alamos on ice while it works at Oak Ridge and Hanford?

Posted by: DF on December 4, 2007 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I keep seeing mention that the NIE was held up over a year.
But if you read the report (which things, I understand, do not get written quickly), you see mention of 'now' being "mid-2007".

It was, apparently, not held for a year. It seems to have been completed quite recently.

Posted by: editor on December 4, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

I guess both arguments are true, they are not exculsionary, after all. But the first one carries more weight. Remember that both after 9/11 and the WMD diesaster the Bush administration successfully managed to put most of the public blame on the agencies. So, the intelligence community already has been fooled twice, and they certainly don't want to be the scapegoat if the warmonergers start an Iraq adventure and it turns out that suspicions about the nuclear program havew been vastly unfounded. Coming out publicly with good, real intelligence to the contrary is the best way for the spooks to prevent them from becoming messed around for the third time.

Posted by: Gray on December 4, 2007 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

The NIE report was controlled by anti-Bush zealots who wanted to publish a partisan anti-Bush document as an attack on our Commander-in-Chief

Al, shut the fuck up you partisan loon. If you are not serving in any branch of the military he is not your "Commander in Chief," you fascist dipshit.

In fact, that jackass still owes the Guard a couple of years. Recall his ass and ship him out!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 4, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

The spin coming off the release of that document could generate it's own gravitational field. And for whose mollification? The chickenhawks, 27%-ers and Lieber-loons? Just shoot me...

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 4, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

"That they have high confidence suggests they have some fairly good reporting."

Wow, the CIA is now doing the press's job. Good thing somebody is.

Posted by: Kenji on December 4, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Could the "new information" just be routine data flow? The Intelligence Agencies clearly wanted to release the assessment, but may have invented the new-info thing in order to give the administration some cover.

Posted by: bigTom on December 4, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

What percentage of your posts conclude with the phrase "stay tuned"?

Posted by: Jonny Shabadoo on December 4, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

It could be that the NIE had already been leaked and the administration was just trying to get out ahead of the story.

Posted by: Th on December 4, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

I'm surprised that Cheney's pacemaker survived this leak... must have some sort of industrial-capacity surge protector built in.

No matter, though. Normie Podhoretz says it's all a CIA plot to protect the Iranians:
"I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations."

Any day now NPod will be waving a list of 50 dedicated Islamofacists in the State Department.
"Podhoretzism" just doesn't roll off the tongue like "McCarthyism," though. We need a substitute.

Posted by: bluestatedon on December 4, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Without any discussion about the accuracy of the latest NIE as opposed to previous reports, one might consider how Middle East circumstances changed in 2003 and how those changed circumstances might have affected Iranian nuclear plans.

Posted by: Trashhauler on December 4, 2007 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

It seems plausible to me that an NIE suggesting the possibility that the Iranian program was on hold, but with numerous caveats and lower confidence, had been on the shelf for a while. Then when the Iranian defector told them recently that it was ended, it was the 'new information' that led them to have higher confidence, and overcome the opposition to releasing it.

Posted by: biggerbox on December 4, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

That dog won't hunt, Trashy -- an intellectually honest person -- which excludes yourself, of course -- would then consider how changes circumstances since 2003, such as an army overextended and weakened by Bush's incompetence, might also have affected Iranian nuclear plans.

Posted by: Gregory on December 4, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Al, shut the fuck up you partisan loon.

It's worse than it seems -- This incarnation of Al is echoing premiere neocon loon Norman Podhoretz.

Even then, it doesn't change the fact that this NIE is a smoking gun -- this time, obtained before the fact -- that Bush and Cheney tried to mislead the nation in the direction of yet another war.

Posted by: Gregory on December 4, 2007 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

nPod: I entertain an even darker suspicion....

We can't go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can't build our dreams
On suspicious minds

Posted by: Bob M on December 4, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory wrote:

"[A]n intellectually honest person...would then consider how changes circumstances since 2003, such as an army overextended and weakened by Bush's incompetence,might also have affected Iranian nuclear plans."
_______________________

But if this version of the NIE is to be believed, what happened subsequently apparently hasn't altered the Iranian nuclear decision made in 2003.

So, what might have caused them to suspend their nuclear operations in 2003? Come on, brainiac, dazzle us.

Posted by: Trashhauler on December 4, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

But if this version of the NIE is to be believed, what happened subsequently apparently hasn't altered the Iranian nuclear decision made in 2003.

Exactly, Trashy, which is why your attribution of the Iranian's decision to events in 2003 in particular is the dog that won't hunt.

Posted by: Gregory on December 4, 2007 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

It's also why your insistence on attributing it to eventis in 2003 despite the change in circumstances since marks you as lacking in intellectual honesty, Trashy. But then, we knew that.

Posted by: Gregory on December 4, 2007 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

But Gregory, I didn't insist on anything. I said "one might consider how Middle East circumstances changed in 2003 and how those changed circumstances might have affected Iranian nuclear plans."

You can say white is black all you want, Gregory, but according to the NIE there was a decision made in 2003 to suspend their nuclear weapons program. Presumably, that decision was based on something, either internal or external to Iran. Giving consideration to how external events might have affected their decision isn't dishonest, Gregory. Refusing to consider the possibility that something might have affected their decision, now, that's not just being intellectually dishonest - it's just plain stupid.

Posted by: Trashhauler on December 4, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

My guess is that the NIE was about to become front page news anyway so the white house decided to get out in front of the story.

Posted by: JerseyMissouri on December 4, 2007 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

Trashhauler -- There are several obvious things that may have influenced Iran's decision. However, the story doesn't start in the Fall of 2003, but in the Fall of 2002, when Iran started making some surprising declarations, scheduling inspections, and plans were made for subjecting additional facilities to IAEA safeguards (e.g., Natanz and Arak among others).

Iran must have known when they started down that path that they were going to get spanked for undeclared activities, that there would be some very pointed questions about other current and past activities, and that additional items would be uncovered and have to be addressed. Maybe they thought they could contain things and continue with a covert program. Maybe they waited until it was clear Iraq wasn't a threat. Maybe they were shocked and awed out of it.

In any case, there's much more to this than what transpired in the Fall of 2003.

Posted by: has407 on December 4, 2007 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

"In any case, there's much more to this than what transpired in the Fall of 2003."
________________

Almost certainly true, has407. It probably included your ideas. It might have been a strange confluence of harmonic convergence and the accumulated effect of Congolese butterfly wings. The Iranians could even have seen the error of their ways. Whatever the factors, the decision surely could not have been affected by the invasion of yet another neighboring country by the world's only superpower. To even consider that would be "intellectually dishonest."

Posted by: trashhauler on December 4, 2007 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Trashhauler -- I'm sure the US's invasion of Iraq was a factor. However, that alone is insufficient to explain Iran's actions.

Posted by: has407 on December 4, 2007 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK
.... what might have caused them to suspend their nuclear operations in 2003? Come on, brainiac, dazzle us. Trashhauler at 4:00 PM
The success of European diplomacy

...The signal event of that period was the agreement in Tehran on Oct. 21, 2003 between the foreign ministers of Iran and the three European states.
In the agreement, Iran renounced nuclear weapons, pledged to sign and begin ratification of the Additional Protocol, and "voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA".
The three European foreign ministers pledged, in turn, to "co-operate with Iran to promote security and stability in the region, including the establishment of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East in accordance with the objectives of the United Nations."
The Bush administration had opposed the initiative of the European three in offering a political agreement with Iran that would offer security and other concessions as part of a broader deal. The administration wanted to bring Iran quickly before the United Nations Security Council so that it would be subject to international sanctions. ....

Sufficiently dazzled, dumbass?

Posted by: Mike on December 4, 2007 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, the October agreement could have been one result of the Iranian decision, rather than the cause of it. Diplomacy always has its role, naturally. But if the Europeans thought they had ended the problem in 2003, then they expended extraordinarily large amounts of additional diplomatic effort for years afterward, apparently trying to solve a problem they had already solved, reporting lack of progress all the way.

Nope, not quite dazzled, yet, Mike.

Posted by: trashhauler on December 5, 2007 at 7:02 AM | PERMALINK

The new NIE is definitely welcome news, for as long as it remains valid. It could clear the way for a more substantive engagement on other real differences with Iran, including funding and arming Hezbollah, Hamas, and others, including Shiite militias in Iraq.

I don't think for a minute that the President was actually contemplating attacking Iran. But to the extent that the NIE clarifies the actual situation, it is good news. What comes next is also important. It's probable that this President could not make headway with Iran even if he were so inclined. That will leave it up to the next President Let us also hope that, if Iran restarts its weapons program, it doesn't take four years to find out.

Posted by: trashhauler on December 5, 2007 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

However, the story doesn't start in the Fall of 2003, but in the Fall of 2002

Actually, the story probably starts in the fall of 2001, when Iran made overtures to the US in the wake of 9/11 -- overtures which the incompetent and bloodthirsty Bush Administrations whose water Trashy carries -- see 8:14, 7:02 and 7:35 -- rejected.

Whatever the factors, the decision surely could not have been affected by the invasion of yet another neighboring country by the world's only superpower. To even consider that would be "intellectually dishonest."

What's intellectually dishonest, Trashy, is to presume that Bush's idiotic invasion incluenced Iran to drop its weapons program, rather than to accelerate it, which is at least an equally rational outcome. And as I pointed out, it's also intellectually dishonest to credit Bush's invasion without considering why Iran didn't then recverse course given the quagmire Bush and the neocons got us into, since any threat of invasion would have been drastically reduced.

So, Trashy, the proper thing to do is to consider Bush's criminal folly as a cause for about a fraction of a second, and to immediately reject it as the kind of post hoc, ergo prompter hoc fallacy only a bloodthirsty neocon, deluded fool or dishonest Bush apologist -- oh, hi, Trashy! -- would cling to.

Posted by: Gregory on December 5, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK
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