Dec 03 2007

Iran Halted Nuclear Weapons Production in 2003? How Convenient!

Published by at 1:52 pm under All General Discussions,Iran

Major Addendum Below – Must Read!

The NY Times and some of our Intelligence outfits are now calling Iran’s Dear Leader Ahmedinejad a liar for claiming his nuclear processing efforts have been successful and on going. Not long ago this is what Ahmedinejad announced to the world:

Iran has achieved a landmark with 3,000 centrifuges fully working in its controversial uranium enrichment program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday.

…

Centrifuges are used in enriching uranium, a process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead.

It seems the modern Napoleon was lying? How about the UN Nations IAEA’s recent claims about Iran’s nuclear ambitions – also from a few weeks ago:

Iran has installed 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium – enough to begin industrial-scale production of nuclear fuel and build a warhead within a year, the UN’s nuclear watchdog reported last night.

The report by Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will intensify US and European pressure for tighter sanctions and increase speculation of a potential military conflict.

So why am I bringing these recent public proclamations up and pointing an inquisitive finger at the NY Times and our intelligence assets? Simple – they claim today none of these recent proclamations are true!

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years ago that Tehran was working inexorably toward building a bomb.

The new assessment upends a judgment made about Iran’s nuclear capabilities in 2005. At the time, intelligence agencies assessed with “high confidence” that Iran is determined to have nuclear weapons and concluded that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program.

Since then, officials said they have obtained new information leading them to conclude that international pressure, including tough economic sanctions, had been successful in bringing about a halt to Iran’s secret program.

“We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” said one senior intelligence official during a telephone interview, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The new assessment upends a judgment made about Iran’s nuclear capabilities in 2005. At the time, intelligence agencies assessed with “high confidence” that Iran is determined to have nuclear weapons and concluded that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program.

So in 2005 (and supposedly 2003, etc) the intel claimed Iran was building up the capability to produce nuclear weapons material. But now all that intelligence (and the UN and the blustering Ahmedinejad) were wrong? Something is happening here. This smells like another leak by forces in our intel community trying to – once again – influence our national elections. The NY Times even goes out of its way to hint this news is all about our upcoming Presidential elections:

The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to be major factor in the tense international negotiations aimed at getting Iran to halt its nuclear energy program, and they come in the middle of a presidential campaign during which a possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear program has been discussed.

Emphasis mine. But why would this impact the Presidential election? First off the news is clearly, as the NY Times notes, a dramatic NEW shift in the opinion of the intel community – a new view that opposes the views held up until this point and outlined in the 2005 NIE. So any decisions or views held prior to this change in assessment are valid based on what was known prior to be true.

Second point: Bush is not up for election next year so what he does based on the intel given him has little bearing on where the future will go. A nuclear armed Iran is a threat. I mean maybe this is just a face saving way for Iran to climb down off the nuclear limb they are on. But Iran with nukes is something the world cannot abide. I am sure Bush would take some snide remarks from the far left if it meant he could get verifiable assurance from Iran it is dropping its dreams of the bomb.

In the end even this newly leaked NIE notes Iran is not really dropping its dreams of the atomic bomb:

The estimate does say that Iran’s ultimate goal is still to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapon.

The new report concludes that if Iran were to end the freeze of its weapons program, it would still be at least two years before Tehran would have enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear bomb. But it says it is still “very unlikely” Iran could produce enough of the material by then.

Instead, the N.I.E. concludes it is more likely Iran could have a bomb by the early part to the middle of the next decade. The report states that the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this goal before 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.”

Well, this is good news if true. Sadly it is intelligence and therefore fraught with potential errors. The question is whether this situation can be verified by independent inspectors! That will be the real test. I hope Iran has come to its senses. And my guess is there may be a lot of classified aspects of this we will not know for decades to come. It seems awfully convenient that we get a big “never mind” as Iran is working to get out from under all that international pressure!

For those interested here is the actual report (well caveated). H/T Kevin Drum.

Major Addendum – Must Read!: There is a reason people outside of government should realize that they cannot simply glance at a government report and pretend to grasp it. Government jargon is as complex and nuanced as that in any scientific field. It takes years to truly master. So why am I not surprised all the amateurs are misreading the report? Here is what is said about the three levels of confidence in the reported findings:

• High confidence generally indicates that our judgments are based on high-quality information, and/or that the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgment. A “high confidence” judgment is not a fact or a certainty, however, and such judgments still carry a risk of being wrong.

• Moderate confidence generally means that the information is credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence.

• Low confidence generally means that the information’s credibility and/or plausibility is questionable, or that the information is too fragmented or poorly corroborated to make solid analytic inferences, or that we have significant concerns or problems with the sources.

Read these VERY CAREFULLY to understand the conclusions. They basically fall into (1) Highly probably but small chance it could be wrong; (2) Who the hell knows, its possible and some hints are there; and (3) Not likely. With only three levels this is all you get. So anything in the Medium Confidence category is really a guess.

Now look at the report’s conclusions and it has two flavors. First is whether Iran stepped down from developing nuclear weapons in 2003 (after we invaded Iraq [hint, hint]):

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program;

• We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.

• We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years.

OK, we spooked them by taking out Saddam so damn fast they stood back for a while from building their bombs. But are they STILL suspended in their activities (given Ahmedinejad’s and the UN’s IAEA’s recent statements this is an important question!). Apparently we do not know!

We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

The NIE is quite clear. We know they stopped, we have no intel on whether they are still stopped or not. The reporting that Iran has stopped as of now is not accurate. Here is the scary part – Iran is still processing fuel! They don’t NEED to process fuel for Nuclear Energy. Russia has offered to SELL THEM fuel if they return the spent fuel so it cannot be used to make weapons. Note this when reading this next finding:

C. We assess centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it decides to do so. Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006, despite the continued halt in the nuclear weapons program. Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz, but we judge with moderate confidence it still faces significant technical problems operating them.

And there are more indicators Iran has simply decided to proceed with technology that is dual use – civilian and military – as a way to hide their intentions. Note that the NIE concludes with confidence Iran wants nuclear weapons. And one way to proceed is to do so under the cover of dual use programs:

D. 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, Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications—some of which would also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.

The fact is this is not the slam-dunk assessment it is reported to be. The centrifuges are the key. With Russia’s offer on the table to provide civil energy ready fuel the centrifuges are not needed for Iran’s civil energy needs. But the NIE is confident this unnecessary effort is continuing? Why is it continuing? Folks, they just don’t know for sure and that is the bottom line. They know it was stopped in 2003, but they don’t know if it has been restarted under dual use cover.

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Iran Halted Nuclear Weapons Production in 2003? How Convenient!”

  1. NIE Report: Iran Halted Nuclear Weapons Project Years Ago…

    I hope this intelligence is correct.
    The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran’s ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but that…

  2. How Shelved is “Shelved”?…

    ABC and the lefty-wing blogs are huffing and puffing about a newly unclassified NIE about Iran supposedly shelving it’s nuclear problem over four years ago.

    “ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, Jonathan Karl, Luis Martinez and Kirit Radia Rep…

  3. kathie says:

    This is good intel but Iraq was bad. From one closed society to the other………we, the US knows very little intel lets just face it!

  4. S says:

    Intel community doesn’t have a good track record and has shown themselves to be wrong on all the big issues and moreover risk averse? This is totally ocnsisitent with Fallon’s statement recently in the Gulf (which got no airplay?) that military actions was off the table. Another end run…

    The time line of this suspension is beyond belief. Makes completly no sense. One needs to think about this in the contrext of the economy. why is the fed and the treas sec racing around like chickens with heads cut off trying to figure a way to calm markets (discussiojn of credit market turmoil can be found everywhere)? Why the desperation. I am sure Treas Sec is whispering in Bush ear that a run on iran would take oil to 150 and threaten the very foundation (debt) of the new economy. The risk is simply too great and that is what this is about. If nothing else one has to applaud the realism for a change.

    A far greater threat right now is the emerging sovereigns and the crushing debt load snowing under the Atlanstic Alliance. This ramifications of lost dollar hegemy are chilling – think gov’t debt market.

    This seems nothing mroe than a very p[ublic handoff to Israel; probably makes more sense to explore the joint training operations in the guld with US / Israeli Air Force?

  5. Klimt says:

    Been reading the blog for about a week now, I just wanted to say: please keep the updates on middle east coming!

  6. Terry Gain says:

    Obviously we should proceed on the assumption that the intelligence agencies are wrong.

    And President Bush should let it be known -through back channels -that he will only bomb Iran as a last resort. And that given the uncertainty he would prefer to leave the issue to a Republican successor but if he is forced to deal with the issue to protect America- i.e. if the country elects the harridan as his successor -then he will deal with the problem as best as he is able.

  7. Right Voices says:

    Did Iran Halt Their Nuclear Weapons Program?…

    Based on the links found at Memeorandum to this NYT’s article, this is the story of the moment. The New York Times looks to be inputing their own hopes into the article and trying to get a dif in at The POTUS. According to the Times, Iran ended…

  8. dave m says:

    My take on this is plausable deniability for the USA.
    I don’t think WE intended to START a war against Iran.
    We are engaged in a world war against jihadists that we
    intend to win. Starting a pre-emptive war against Iran would cause
    such political blowback in both the USA and europe that our
    abilities to prosecute the coming future jihad wars might end,
    and we might choose some sort of pre-emptive surrender.
    Therefore, I think we had two possibilities, firstly to allow
    Iran the first strike, even granting the terrible consequences
    of losing one or two of our major cities – secondly to give the
    baton to Israel and let their first strike be seen in the West
    as acting out of desperate necessity. Iran’s counter-attack
    would draw us in but we would have that plausable deniability.
    I thought there might be a small chance of the USA conducting
    a pre-emtive attack during the Bush administration’s lame
    duck period, but I think the President has now ruled that out.
    So I think this is a formal diplomatic note to Israel that they
    will need to act first at a time of their choosing.
    I note that once again we have returned three carrier groups to
    that area and the British are sending a carrier group out in
    January. Still seems a lot of buildup if nothing’s happening.

  9. Terrye says:

    This might be true, but like Saddam the Iranians want to have it both ways. They do not want to lose face, but they do not want to be attacked either.

    I think it is possible that they stopped on the bomb itself back in 2003 and decided to sit on that and keep on enriching uranium until the day when they could push forward.

    Has anyone heard anything about what Iran has to say about this?

  10. [...] wrote about the misrepresented and misreported NIE many times (here, here, here, here, to name a few). The last one is very enlightening, given the shocking news [...]

  11. [...] Iran Halted Nuclear Weapons Production in 2003? How Convenient! [...]