In what some critics describe as a replay of the
run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence
Committee of the House of Representatives has released a report suggesting Iran
may acquire nuclear weapons much more quickly than U.S. intelligence agencies
The 29-page report, authored by a former henchman of Washington's hard-line
ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, charged that the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) and other agencies lack "the ability to acquire essential
information necessary to make judgments" about Tehran's nuclear program.
In addition, the report, "Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat,"
warned that the intelligence community remains woefully ignorant about alleged
ties between Tehran and al-Qaeda or even its role, if any, in the recent war
between Israel and Hezbollah.
The report was released in the wake of Tuesday's reply by Iran to the U.N.
Security Council's demand that it immediately cease its enrichment of uranium
as a first step toward resuming negotiations with the EU-3 Germany, Britain
and France over the future of its nuclear program.
The timing appeared designed to take maximum advantage of the media attention
generated by Iran's response, which rejected the demand for immediate suspension
but called for additional negotiations. Normally, a report of this kind is reviewed
by the entire Intelligence Committee before it is published.
Critics charged that the new report, which was carried out under the auspices
of the Committee chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, appeared designed mainly to
cast doubt on estimates by the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community
that Iran was unlikely to develop a nuclear weapon until at least 2010.
That assessment is far too optimistic for Israel-centered neoconservatives
and other hawks who favor a policy of confrontation with Iran and have denounced
Washington's possible participation in negotiations between the EU3 and Tehran
"The intelligence community is dedicated to predicting the least-dangerous
world possible," complained former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last
month argued that the U.S. is already engaged knowingly or not
in a "Third World War" against the "irreconcilable wing of Islam...
with Iran at the epicenter."
Gingrich's complaint recalled attacks on the intelligence community before
the Iraq war when he and other hawks repeatedly assailed the State Department
and the CIA for questioning claims by Iraqi exiles regarding the advanced state
of Baghdad's alleged nuclear arms program and its ties to al-Qaeda. Those claims,
both of which proved unfounded, became the two main justifications for President
George W. Bush's decision to launch the war against Iraq.
"(T)his is a chilling reminder," according to the New York Times'
lead editorial Friday in reference to the new report, "of what happened
when intelligence analysts told Vice President Dick Cheney they could not prove
that Iraq was building a nuclear weapon or had ties with al-Qaeda."
"He kept asking if they really meant it until the CIA took the
hint," the Times noted in a reference to then-CIA director George
Tenet's reported assurances to Bush that the case that Iraq was indeed building
a nuclear weapon was a "slam dunk."
In fact, antagonism between hawks and the intelligence community dates back
to the mid-1970s when the former questioned what they charged was the CIA's
over-optimistic estimates about the Soviet Union's strategic intentions against
At that time, they persuaded President Gerald Ford to form a group of hand-picked
"independent" experts, called "Team B," to review the CIA's
data and come up with their own conclusions an exercise which predictably
came up with a far gloomier and, in retrospect, highly exaggerated assessment
of Moscow's designs that effectively ended the détente policies pursued
by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
The new study, according to Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University
who served on the National Security Council under former President Jimmy Carter,
"is really intended as a sort of Team B report of what at least one (Congressional)
staffer believes the intelligence community should be reporting on Iran."
The fact that Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA officer, was the report's main
author, however, suggests that his effort to undermine confidence in the intelligence
community's estimates regarding Iran is part of a larger campaign that includes
many of the same hawks who led the drive to war in Iraq.
In addition to working for Hoekstra, a staunch administration loyalist, Fleitz
served as Bolton's special assistant during Bush's first term.
Bolton, then undersecretary of state for International Security and Arms Control,
worked particularly closely with neoconservatives in Cheney's office and the
Pentagon to undermine efforts by his nominal boss at the time, former secretary
of state Colin Powell, to engage Iran, North Korea and Syria on a range of issues.
Bolton was also repeatedly accused, including by the State Department's own
intelligence analysts, of putting pressure on them sometimes through Fleitz
to exaggerate the weapons capabilities of all of these countries, as well
as those of Cuba.
In the view of John Prados, a national security expert, the latest report
both its provenance and timing "should be read as fresh politicization
of intelligence" designed to "send the message" to the intelligence
community that any new estimates on Iran that take "a less alarming view
(of the threat posed by Iran) will be deemed suspect."
"More and more it appears that the pattern of manipulation and misuse
of intelligence that served the Bush administration in the drive to start a
war with Iraq is being repeated today for its neighbor Iran," wrote
Prados in Tompaine.com Friday.
Indeed, Sick found glaring flaws in both the report's factual assertions and
analysis, all of which was based on public sources. For example, Fleitz asserted
at one point that the 164 centrifuges that Tehran has said are operating at
its Natanz enrichment plant are "currently enriching uranium to weapons
grade" an assertion for which, according to Sick, there is "no
Similarly, the study claimed that Iran has "the largest inventory of ballistic
missiles in the Middle East," a statement that appears to ignore entirely
Israel's and Saudi Arabia's larger arsenals of missiles capable of carrying
larger warheads than those known to be in Iran's inventory.
"If you are going to take on the entire U.S. Intelligence community, it
is a very good idea to at least get your basic facts straight," said Sick,
who also noted that Fleitz neglected to "talk to any of the intelligence
organizations that he was indicting" or to take into account extensive
findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about Iran's nuclear
"It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another 'slam-dunk' judgement
and a potential rush to war," he added. "It deserves to be recognized
for what it is."
(Inter Press Service)