A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran
has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence
community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear program, and
thus make the document more supportive of US Vice President Dick Cheney's
militarily aggressive policy toward Iran, according to accounts of the process
provided by participants to two former Central Intelligence Agency officers.
But this pressure on intelligence analysts, obviously instigated by Cheney
himself, has not produced a draft estimate without those dissenting views, these
sources say. The White House has now apparently decided to release the unsatisfactory
draft NIE, but without making its key findings public.
A former CIA intelligence officer who has asked not to be identified told IPS
that an official involved in the NIE process says the Iran estimate was ready
to be published a year ago but has been delayed because the director of national
intelligence wanted a draft reflecting a consensus on key conclusions – particularly
on Iran's nuclear program.
The NIE coordinates the judgments of 16 intelligence agencies on a specific
country or issue.
There is a split in the intelligence community on how much of a threat the
Iranian nuclear program poses, according to the intelligence official's account.
Some analysts who are less independent are willing to give the benefit of the
doubt to the alarmist view coming from Cheney's office, but others have rejected
The draft NIE first completed a year ago, which had included the dissenting
views, was not acceptable to the White House, according to the former intelligence
officer. "They refused to come out with a version that had dissenting views
in it," he says.
As recently as early October, the official involved in the process was said
to be unclear about whether an NIE would be circulated and, if so, what it would
Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi provided a similar account, based on his
own sources in the intelligence community. He told IPS that intelligence analysts
have had to review and rewrite their findings three times, because of pressure
from the White House.
"The White House wants a document that it can use as evidence for its
Iran policy," says Giraldi. Despite pressures on them to change their dissenting
conclusions, however, Giraldi says some analysts have refused to go along with
conclusions that they believe are not supported by the evidence.
In February 2007, Giraldi
wrote in The American Conservative that the NIE on Iran had already
been completed, but that Cheney's office had objected to its findings on both
the Iranian nuclear program. and Iran's role in Iraq. The draft NIE did not
conclude that there was confirming evidence that Iran was arming the Shi'ite
insurgents in Iraq, according to Giraldi.
Giraldi said the White House had decided to postpone any decision on the internal
release of the NIE until after the November 2006 elections.
Cheney's desire for a "clean" NIE that could be used to support his
aggressive policy toward Iran was apparently a major factor in the replacement
of John Negroponte as director of national intelligence in early 2007.
Negroponte had angered the neoconservatives in the administration by telling
the press in April 2006 that the intelligence community believed that it would
still be "a number of years off" before Iran would be "likely
to have enough fissile material to assemble into or to put into a nuclear weapon,
perhaps into the next decade."
Neoconservatives immediately attacked Negroponte for the statement, which merely
reflected the existing NIE on Iran issued in Spring 2005. Robert G. Joseph,
the undersecretary of state for arms control and an ally of Cheney, contradicted
Negroponte the following day. He suggested that Iran's nuclear program. was
nearing the "point of no return" – an Israeli concept referring to
the mastery of industrial-scale uranium enrichment.
Frank J. Gaffney, a protégé of neoconservative heavyweight Richard
Perle, complained that Negroponte was "absurdly declaring the Iranian regime
to be years away from having nuclear weapons."
On Jan. 5, 2007, Pres. George W. Bush announced the nomination of retired Vice
Admiral John Michael "Mike" McConnell to be director of national intelligence.
McConnell was approached by Cheney himself about accepting the position, according
McConnell was far more amenable to White House influence than his predecessor.
On Feb. 27, one week after his confirmation, he told the Senate Armed Services
Committee he was "comfortable saying it's probable" that the alleged
export of explosively formed penetrators to Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq was linked
to the highest leadership in Iran.
Cheney had been making that charge, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, as well as Negroponte, had opposed
A public event last spring indicated that White House had ordered a reconsideration
of the draft NIE's conclusion on how many years it would take Iran to produce
a nuclear weapon. The previous Iran estimate completed in spring 2005 had estimated
it as 2010 to 2015.
Two weeks after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced in mid-April
that Iran would begin producing nuclear fuel on an industrial scale, the chairman
of the National Intelligence Council, Thomas Fingar, said in an interview with
National Public Radio that the completion of the NIE on Iran had been delayed
while the intelligence community determined whether its judgment on the time
frame within which Iran might produce a nuclear weapon needed to be amended.
Fingar said the estimate "might change," citing "new reporting"
from the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as "some other new
information we have." And then he added, "We are serious about reexamining
That extraordinary revelation about the NIE process, which was obviously ordered
by McConnell, was an unsubtle signal to the intelligence community that the
White House was determined to obtain a more alarmist conclusion on the Iranian
A decision announced in late October indicated, however, that Cheney did not
get the consensus findings on the nuclear program and Iran's role in Iraq that
he had wanted. On Oct. 27, David Shedd, a deputy to McConnell, told a congressional
briefing that McConnell had issued a directive making it more difficult to declassify
the key judgments of national intelligence estimates.
That reversed a Bush administration practice of releasing summaries of "key
judgments" in NIEs that began when the White House made public the key
judgments from the controversial 2002 NIE on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass
destruction program in July 2003.
The decision to withhold key judgments on Iran from the public was apparently
part of a White House strategy for reducing the potential damage of publishing
the estimate with the inclusion of dissenting views.
As of early October, officials involved in the NIE were "throwing their
hands up in frustration" over the refusal of the administration to allow
the estimate to be released, according to the former intelligence officer. But
the Iran NIE is now expected to be circulated within the administration in late
November, says Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and founder of the antiwar group
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
The release of the Iran NIE would certainly intensify the bureaucratic political
struggle over Iran policy. If the NIE includes both dissenting views on key
issues, a campaign of selective leaking to news media of language from the NIE
that supports Cheney's line on Iran will soon follow, as well as leaks of the
dissenting views by his opponents.
Both sides may be anticipating another effort by Cheney to win Bush's approval
of a significant escalation of military pressure on Iran in early 2008.
(Inter Press Service)