The latest assessment from the American intelligence community on Iran has been declassified, at least in part, and the directorate of national intelligence would have one believe that in 2003 "Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program". It's advancing a line that could be described with the word astounding if it didn't come from the same intelligence bureaucrats that so famously failed to foresee the attacks of September 11, 2001.
One doesn't have to be privy to our country's secret sources to know that this last statement strains credulity. Iran has been enriching uranium, or nuclear fuel, for nearly two years despite two Security Council resolutions urging them to suspend. To believe the Mullahs have halted their nuclear weapons program, one has to believe that all of those spinning centrifuges in Natanz are to fuel power plants in a country that is the world's third leading exporter of petroleum and natural gas.
That is precisely how Iran's diplomats defend their enrichment. They spin their centrifuges in blatant violation of their prior agreements, but they say they are within their rights because they are pursuing alternative energy and not atomic bombs. The reactor in Natanz, they insist, is for peaceful purposes only. The document released yesterday buys into this line, but contains so much hedging that it will take months to sort out what the analysts are implying in the way of policy.
Take this beauty: We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough (Highly Enriched Uranium) for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. The paragraph goes on to note that the State Department believes they won't enrich the uranium until after 2013, but that all agencies recognize the possibility that this capability may not be attained until after 2015.
As one former senior intelligence officer told our Eli Lake yesterday, this is like submitting a report saying the sun will come up tomorrow unless it doesn't. There is also the problem that the intelligence estimate mentions the nuclear weapons program prior to 2003 but fails to give an indication of how advanced the weapons program was at the time.
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The proper way to read this report is through the lens of the long struggle the professional intelligence community has been waging against the elected civilian administration in Washington. They have opposed President Bush on nearly every major policy decision. They were against the Iraqi National Congress. They were against elections in Iraq. They were against I. Lewis Libby. They are against a tough line on Iran.
One could call all this revenge of the bureaucrats. Vann Van Diepen, one of the estimate's main authors, has spent the last five years trying to get America to accept Iran's right to enrich uranium. Mr. Van Diepen no doubt reckons that in helping push the estimate through the system, he has succeeded in influencing the policy debate in Washington. The bureaucrats may even think they are stopping another war.
It's a dangerous game that may boomerang, making a war with Iran more likely. Our diplomats, after all, hoped to seal this month a deal to pass a third Security Council resolution against Iran. Already on Monday the Chinese delegation at Turtle Bay has started making noises about dropping their tepid support for such a document. Call it the Van Diepen Demarche, since the Chinese camarilla can boast that even America's intelligence estimate concludes the mullahs shuttered their nuclear weapons program more than four years ago.
So much for diplomatic pressure in the run up before the mullahs have their bomb. And so the options for preventing the Islamic Republic from going nuclear get progressively more narrow. What it means is that when the historians look back on this period, they will see that by sabotaging our diplomacy, our intelligence analysts have clarified the choice before the free world — appeasement or war.