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September 19, 2006

Outrageous and Dishonest


by Gordon Prather

Last year our intelligence community produced – at the request of Congress – a National Intelligence Estimate, which, inter alia, addressed Iran's nuclear programs. Although that 2005 NIE was highly classified, Dafna Linzer reported,

"A major U.S. intelligence review has projected that Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years, according to government sources with firsthand knowledge of the new analysis.

"The carefully hedged assessments, which represent consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies, contrast with forceful public statements by the White House. Administration officials have asserted, but have not offered proof, that Tehran is moving determinedly toward a nuclear arsenal."

Linzer didn't say whether the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear programs was based – as it should have been – on the quarterly reports the International Atomic Energy Agency had been making to the IAEA Board of Governors and to the UN Security Council.

Notwithstanding Linzer's devastating report of the 2005 NIE "assessments," coupled with the "null" findings included in IAEA quarterly reports, members of the Cheney Cabal have continued to forcefully assert – without offering any proof whatsoever – that Iran has a nuclear weapons program that has already "reached a point of no return."

Then, last month, Linzer told us:

"A key House committee issued a stinging critique of U.S. intelligence on Iran [.pdf] yesterday, charging that the CIA and other agencies lack 'the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments' on Tehran's nuclear program, its intentions or even its ties to terrorism.

"The 29-page report, principally written by a Republican staff member on the House intelligence committee who holds a hard-line view on Iran, fully backs the White House position that the Islamic republic is moving forward with a nuclear weapons program and that it poses a significant danger to the United States. But it chides the intelligence community for not providing enough direct evidence to support that assertion."

That "critique" was soon made public.

In his cover letter, Subcommittee on Intelligence Policy Chairman Mike Rogers noted that "the authors could not discuss in an unclassified document the specifics of the significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the various areas of concern about Iran," but assured us that the report reflected "committee staff" reviews of "classified and unclassified material" and consultations "with experts both in the United States and abroad."

If that is the case, how could the committee staff have possibly led off with a statement that "America's intelligence agencies" have "assessed" that "Iran has conducted a clandestine uranium enrichment program for nearly two decades in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement" and that "despite its claims to the contrary, Iran is seeking nuclear weapons"?

If "America's intelligence agencies" have actually made such assessments in highly classified reports to which committee staff had access, then America and its intelligence community really are in a heap of trouble.

In the first place, it is not up to America to assess whether Iran's safeguarded programs are being conducted in consonance with Iran's Safeguards Agreement. That is up to the IAEA Secretariat, and some disputes between the Iranians and IAEA inspectors about the conduct of such programs have been decided in Iran's favor.

In any case, the American assessment is wrong, because the Iranians were under no obligation to inform the IAEA of its attempt to achieve a uranium-enrichment capability – including the acquisition, however clandestinely, of gas centrifuges – until six months before actually introducing "special nuclear materials" into those centrifuges.

As the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons makes clear, a "violation" of the NPT-IAEA Safeguards Agreement could only occur if the IAEA verifies the "diversion" of "source or special nuclear materials" to the "furtherance of a military purpose." For years now, the IAEA has been reporting there is not even an "indication" that Iran has ever done that.

Now comes Linzer to report:

"UN inspectors investigating Iran's nuclear program angrily complained to the Bush administration and to a Republican congressman yesterday about a recent House committee report on Iran's capabilities, calling parts of the document 'outrageous and dishonest' and offering evidence to refute its central claims."

In particular, the IAEA formal complaint refutes the report's assertion that Iran is producing "weapons-grade" enriched uranium.

The IAEA also charges the report's description of certain of Iran's activities – in particular, the reported "covert" production of polonium-210 – are misleading since Iran was under no obligation under its Safeguards Agreement to report such activities.

"Outrageous and dishonest"?

You bet!


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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