Tuesday, December 04, 2007

National Intelligence Estimate 2007

That darn National Intelligence Estimate. This time it says that the Iranian nuclear weapons program ended in 2003.

For the last year, the White House has been warning us that Iran is on the verge of building nuclear weapons and that they must be stopped by any means necessary. The Administration has had the basic conclusions of the National Intelligence Estimate since August 2007 at the latest. During that time, the administration’s behaved as if the declassified version of the NIE was going to say exactly the opposite. Somehow it hasn’t mattered that Pakistan has nuclear weapons and that it’s semi-president for life has been jailing opposition leaders or that North Korea and perhaps even more critically Israel already appear to have bombs. Ever since, Iraq was rescued into chaos, they’ve wanted to give the impression that if only we could do to Tehran what we did to Baghdad, all our problems would be solved.

The President in particular likes to stress the danger by saying as he did on October 17, 2007 “People "interested in avoiding World War III" should be working to prevent Iran from having the knowledge needed to make a nuclear weapon.”

This is the kind of nuanced statement that often goes uncommented upon. First, it seems that no one remembers the story some thirty years ago that a student at Princeton designed a nuclear weapon for his master’s thesis. Princeton’s a fine school, but the truth is that virtually any advanced physics student has the knowledge necessary to design a nuclear weapon. There are probably several dozen engineers and scientists in Iran who already know how to do it. I wouldn’t say it’s simple, but it’s not “rocket science” :}.

Second, no one seems to be paying attention to what the 2005 National Intelligence Estimate actually said. If you look on the last page of the public portion of the 2007 NIE, you’ll find a graph that notes the differences between the 2005-2007 versions. The second box on the left says that in 2005 the NIE projected that Iran could realistically acquire a nuclear weapon by the middle of the next decade. That’s six to ten years. Consider the fact that the Soviets started more or less from scratch after World War 2 and had a working bomb early in the 1950’s. Basically, if a big enough country sets its collective mind to it, you can build a bomb in about ten years or less from nothing. So, the 2005 report may have been really saying that Iran wanted to, but they honestly weren't far along at all. 2007's actually not that different.

The main difference between 2005 and 2007 is that the NIE two years ago believed (reading the thing is like reading a weather report. Everything’s measured in likelihoods) that the Iranians were “trying” to build a bomb. The 2007 version believes that it’s highly likely that they stopped back in 2003. In the meantime, our administration has been insisting that the Iranians were accelerating their program, a fact which virtually every other intelligence agency in the world had refuted.

President Bush this morning insisted that it makes no difference, because Iran is still dangerous and that the NIE still says that the Iranians are interested in building a bomb. He just failed to mention that they haven’t been pursuing it actively for the last four years. And this from a a man who once said, “One reason I like to highlight reading is, reading is the beginnings of the ability to be a good student.”

It’s nice that the Administration is so concerned about the future. It’s odd that they’ve never shown similar foresight when it comes to either global warming or fuel standards. The talk is that the President wants to veto the most recent attempt to require American car makers to improve fuel economy by forty percent by 2020. Not all weapons of mass destruction explode.

Condi's take on the NIE



At 12/09/2007 09:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The horror the horror.

It would be a boon if Sicker Dick couldn't now pull the June Surprise and bomb Iran.

If George were't such a pipsqueak, it would all be only odious not also excruciatingly embarrassing that this dogcatcher is president.

At 12/10/2007 02:20:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I don't think people understand that all large countries are 6-10 years from having a bomb. It's just not that hard. That excludes the possibility of just buying one or the key materials on the black market. After the collapse of the Soviet Union large amounts of fissible material and several warheads supposedly went unaccounted for.


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