Wednesday, December 5, 2007

National Intelligence Estimate, and Truth

As I noted in the previous post, sometimes it is possible to know what's happening even in a fog-enveloped war zone. And sometimes, it's equally clear, it is not possible to know crucial things even where there is no war. Take, for example, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. Media outlets the world over put it on the top of their pages, websites, or the beginning of their broadcasts yesterday, and many of them continue to do so today. Not to mention the blogosphere, which is all agog. Predictably, everyone is spinning the story the way you'd expect them to. (Sometimes, making predictions, even about the future, is no problem at all).

My suggestion is that people read the damn thing, for crying out loud. Here, I'll link to it again. It's all of nine (9) pages long, the first one with ten words. You can read it in ten minutes, and many of the commentators either haven't, or they know we won't, or they're fools, or all of the above.

Top quality military intelligence enables its owner to destroy all the air forces of it's enemies, on the ground, in one swoop, while not bombing the decoy planes parked on the same runways. Top quality military intelligence enables its owners to kill or arrest almost the entire command structure of terrorist organizations deeply embedded in their society, and to do so uninterrupted for a number of years, so that each time a commander disappears the life expectancy of his replacement is weeks, no more, until finally the violence dies down and lives are saved on all sides. Top quality military intelligence enables its owners to destroy an entire mid-range ballistic missile system aimed at civilians in one attack. That's what top quality military intelligence can do.

Now, go read the NIE (it's right here), and weep:
We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons
program1; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is
keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence
that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium
enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing
international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously
undeclared nuclear work.
• 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. (Because of
intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC
assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt
to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.)
• 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.
• We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently
have a nuclear weapon.
• Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined
to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment
that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure
suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged
B. We continue to assess with low confidence that Iran probably has imported at least
some weapons-usable fissile material, but still judge with moderate-to-high confidence it
has not obtained enough for a nuclear weapon. We cannot rule out that Iran has acquired
from abroad—or will acquire in the future—a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material
for a weapon. Barring such acquisitions, if Iran wants to have nuclear weapons it would
need to produce sufficient amounts of fissile material indigenously—which we judge
with high confidence it has not yet done.
No-where does the document say anything along the line of "This is what we know for fact". The whole thing is an exercise in obfuscation of the simple fact that it's authors don't know what they're talking about. They don't really know, so they're guessing. On the one hand, they're trying to guess intelligently, on the other they don't want any politicians to be able to cite them as having irrefutably said anything.

1 comment:

Lydia McGrew said...

There's something kind of odd about the timing of the release of this.

You're right; it doesn't sound like they actually know. And of course we have absolutely no idea what evidence they are basing anything on, or what has come to light *just now* that has prompted a reassessment.

In short, the possibility still seems open that this is a political move rather than being based on good evidence.