Sunday, December 9, 2007

Second Guessing the Iran NIE

Gary Hart, Chairman of the Center’s sister organization, Council for a Livable World, recently wrote an interesting piece in the Huffington Post comparing Alan Dershowitz’s second guessing of the new NIE on Iran to the Right’s derision of any Cold War intelligence that challenged the notion that “the Russians are coming and they're 30 feet tall." As he sardonically notes, “Intelligence is good when it tells you what you want to hear. Otherwise, it is dangerously flawed if not sinister.” Click here for the full piece.

Council Board Member
Jim Walsh also had a great piece in the Boston Globe in which he asks and answers whether, given the intelligence community's recent failures, the Iran NIE is credible. In outlining why he believes the NIE on Iran is on target, Walsh argues:

First, the idea that Iran suspended nuclear weapons activities in fall 2003 is consistent with how countries typically behave. Throughout the nuclear age, governments have been reluctant to carry on clandestine nuclear programs when inspectors are on the ground. Saddam Hussein, for example, shut down his WMD programs in the early 1990s, because he feared inspectors might uncover his efforts. In fall 2003, Iran was under intense scrutiny regarding its nuclear program. As a consequence, Tehran agreed to join an upgraded inspections regime called the Additional Protocol. From an Iranian perspective, it would have been foolhardy to invite inspectors in only to get caught with an active program.

Second, it is consistent with what we know about Iran. This new intelligence estimate reverses a 2005 conclusion that Tehran was determined to get the bomb no matter what. That earlier conclusion always seemed at odds with the history of Iran's nuclear efforts, which could be called inconsistent at best. Though Tehran showed an interest in nuclear technology under the shah and again beginning in the mid-1980s, the program was slow to make progress, even though it was receiving help from Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's secret nuclear network. For a country that was "determined" to become a nuclear weapons state, Iran was taking its time.

Third, the fact that this intelligence estimate contradicts a previous report is itself a healthy development. When graduate students at MIT present their research, I often ask if they were surprised by anything. I always worry about the ones who say they found exactly what they expected. A good intelligence process is one that is open to being wrong and not afraid to report it.

Finally, this intelligence estimate offers its new conclusions despite the political consequences. The vice president and those of like mind are probably pretty upset right now. And the president, who can still make a case against enrichment in Iran, nevertheless finds himself on the defensive about his past statements. As for policy, the intelligence estimate makes it less likely that the United States will use military force, which is good, but that it may also have the effect of taking the pressure off or even emboldening Iran, which is bad.

Click here for the full piece.


Anonymous said...

And what do you think of Obadiah Shoher's arguments against the peace process ( )?

Jeff Lindemyer said...

The piece you referenced seems largely to be a thoughtless rant that has little to no connection to this post.