Dec 04 2007

Pollyannish Intelligence Is Dangerous, The NIE Is Flawed

Published by at 2:45 pm under All General Discussions,Iran

I am wondering if the same mental fog and political ambition that blinded the Intel Community to 9-11 (and the fall of the Soviet Union, the WMDs Iraq (both the nukes NOT being there in the 1990’s and then the nukes being there in 2002) is at work again in this questionably timed leak of the NIE on Iran. Something just doesn’t smell write about it – mainly because the conclusions are so contradictory as to make me wonder if the folks watching our borders are idiots or partisan zealots who are going to get more of us killed.

Norman Podhoretz outlines a lot of the questions behind this news breaking piece:

These findings are startling, not least because in key respects they represent a 180-degree turn from the conclusions of the last NIE on Iran’s nuclear program. For that one, issued in May 2005, assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons” and to press on “despite its international obligations and international pressure.”

In other words, a full two years after Iran supposedly called a halt to its nuclear program, the intelligence community was still as sure as it ever is about anything that Iran was determined to build a nuclear arsenal. Why then should we believe it when it now tells us, and with the same “high confidence,” that Iran had already called a halt to its nuclear-weapons program in 2003?

How better, then, to stop Bush in his tracks than by telling him and the world that such pressures have already been effective and that keeping them up could well bring about “a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program”—especially if the negotiations and sanctions were combined with a goodly dose of appeasement or, in the NIE’s own euphemistic formulation, “with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways.”

It is no coincidence, as I noted in my first post, that the prime subtext of this news is how it will effect the Presidential elections next year. Or that seems to be the hope. It was also interesting that the leftside of the internet (news outlets and blogs alike) commented immediately and in mass when the news came out. I just happened to have done a serendipitous Google search at the time the news broke so I could also digest and comment on the news pretty quickly. But the subtext was “Bush screwed on Iran” as if realizing all the pressure we have been bringing may have worked was somehow a failure???

But this is all speculation and strange patterns. Some have taken me to task for pointing out the obvious – why continue on with centrifuge development if the sole purpose is to generate electrical energy for civilian use? Rick Moran was one of those who too easily dismissed the point I made that Iran can get fuel right now from Russia without the need for the centrifuges:

For different reasons, that’s exactly the argument being made by AJ Strata:

The NIE is quite clear. We know they stopped, we have no intel on whether they are still stopped or not. The reporting that Iran has stopped as of now is not accurate. Here is the scary part – Iran is still processing fuel! They don’t NEED to process fuel for Nuclear Energy. Russia has offered to SELL THEM fuel if they return the spent fuel so it cannot be used to make weapons.

While AJ is right, that Russian offer was conditional on the Iranians halting their enrichment program – something that Ahmadinejad has now made (for largely domestic reasons) a national sovereignty issue and therefore, non negotiable.

I guess I need to be a little more clear – the gas centrifuge approach is in complete conflict with one of the key findings in the NIE report itself!

E. We do not have sufficient intelligence to judge confidently whether Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program indefinitely while it weighs its options, or whether it will or already has set specific deadlines or criteria that will prompt it to restart the program.

• Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.

OK, the entire premise that they remain stood down from the weapons program is because of a cost-benefit trade. Well here is where continuing with the centrifuge program makes no sense. Centrifuges are used to create enriched uranium for either reactor fuels or weapons. The difference in the product is the purity of the uranium, which is determined by how many times you cycle the uranium through the centrifuges (or layers of centrifuges in a cascade configuration). This is why the technology is dual use for civil and military use.

Now some may not be aware of this but Iran is looking to nuclear energy production because they do not have the processing facilities built to use oil based products. Basically they are woefully behind on their building of oil refineries. Another little known fact is Iran HAS the nuclear reactors for power generation ready to go! So why wait until 2015 (which is when the NIE claims the centrifuge approach will be ready for production of weapons grade material, which is also the same used for reactor grade material) to supply its reactors? Why spend the money and risk on centrifuges and instead invest in oil refineries?

A solid cost benefit analysis would demonstrate producing nuclear fuel by centrifuge cascade for the power needs of a small country like Iran is not cost effective. Iran could produce enough reactor fuel in a couple of years to run their reactors for a many more years using 54,000 centrifuges (their target capacity)!

[Note: this is my off-the-head estimate – it is a SWAG. Here is a table on reactor requirements and I would gather unprocessed uranium ore. Some data is available here on nuclear fuel markets].

So why build all that capacity just to shut it down again when you have the fuel for a couple of decades? There is plenty of reactor fuel production capability in the world right now – more than required to supply the reactors out there. This is not a money making endeavor.

The gas centrifuge program – in light of the cost, risk and schedule it implies in order to produce the small amount of fuel Iran would consume – proves this NIE is a sham of some form or another. The cost effective approach to getting nuclear energy on-line in Iran as rapidly as possible is to buy fuel from Russia. Then Iran could take all the money going into centrifuges and us it for building oil refinery capacity – which WOULD be a huge money maker/saver for Iran.

What worries me is this product of our national defense looks to be pretty damn crappy. It was either not thought out or rushed for political and PR purposes. It has happened before with government reports. The problem lies in the mentality of the civil servants working for the government – they have no idea what a cost-benefit trade is because they just spend money sent to them. So I can see a possible avenue where this is just lack of experience producing a lousy product. But I have more concerns since I have heard WHY it was coming out and what changed the view of the community.

USA Today claims it was news media pictures that turned the world upside down this week! God help us if we are basing our defenses in more staged photographs from the SurrenderMedia! I read somewhere (sorry, lost the link) it was one frustrated conversation by an Iranian overheard by the NSA or some such. I guess you get some good actors and an open com-line (gee wonder how that happened?) and you can pull one over on our CIA.

What I will note is Israel is not buying it at all – they are the ones under the strike zone if Iran gets nukes. The NIE can only say with confidence Iran stopped for a while. The Israelis believe they started up again. And as I pointed out in my original post even the IAEA confirmed Iran could generate enough material for two small nukes in a year with the centrifuges they have now. It is simply a matter of how many times you run the material through the process.

If the entire NIE is based on Iran using cost benefit trades to do the best thing for civilian power, then that centrifuge capability should have ALSO been abandoned by now. Bottom line – is anything in the NIE verifiable? If not it is useless speculation. Check out on the internal battles over this NIE:

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Pollyannish Intelligence Is Dangerous, The NIE Is Flawed”

  1. sashal says:

    if our intelligence agencies don’t believe Iran has a nuclear weapons program, it also means that they don’t know where such a program would be physically located if it did exist. This means that any desires of Dick Cheney and his people to bomb Iran simply involve… bombing the shit out of Iran.

  2. AJStrata says:

    Welcome to the Strata-Sphere Atrios (er, Sashal).

  3. kathie says:

    AJ read this at “Newsmax”
    Ken Timmerman
    Print Page | Forward Page | E-mail Us

    U.S. Intel Possibly Duped by Iran

    Tuesday, December 4, 2007 9:38 AM

    By: Kenneth R. Timmerman

    A highly controversial, 150 page National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear programs was coordinated and written by former State Department political and intelligence analysts — not by more seasoned members of the U.S. intelligence community, Newsmax has learned.

    Its most dramatic conclusion — that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 in response to international pressure — is based on a single, unvetted source who provided information to a foreign intelligence service and has not been interviewed directly by the United States.

    Newsmax sources in Tehran believe that Washington has fallen for “a deliberate disinformation campaign” cooked up by the Revolutionary Guards, who laundered fake information and fed it to the United States through Revolutionary Guards intelligence officers posing as senior diplomats in Europe.

  4. VinceP1974 says:

    I am so dismayed by the lack of info the West has.

    If you want to know why Iran stopped it’s “nuclear weapon” program yet continued on with the nuclear technology development (in my mind there is no difference) all you have to do is watch Iranian TV.

    The Iranians have already told anyone who cares to listen why they “stoppped”.


    “Chief Iranian Negotiator on the Nuclear Issue Hosein Musavian: The Negotiations with Europe Bought Us Time to Complete the Esfahan UCF Project and the Work on the Centrifuges in Natanz ”


    The following are excerpts from an interview withIranian chief negotiator on nuclear affairs, and member of the Iranian Supreme Council for National Security Hosein Musavian, which aired on Iranian Channel 2 on August 4, 2005

    Musavian: Those (in Iran) who criticize us and claim that we should have only worked with the IAEA do not know that at that stage – that is, in August 2003 – we needed another year to complete the Esfahan (UCF) project, so it could be operational. They say that because of that 50-day (ultimatum), we should have kept (the UCF) in Esfahan incomplete, and that we needed to comply with the IAEA’s demands and shut down the facilities.

    The regime adopted a twofold policy here: It worked intensively with the IAEA, and it also conducted negotiations on international and political levels. The IAEA gave us a 50-day extension to suspend the enrichment and all related activities. But thanks to the negotiations with Europe we gained another year, in which we completed (the UCF) in Esfahan.


    There was a time when we said we would not work with Europe, the world, or the IAEA, and that we would not comply with any of their demands. There were very clear consequences: After 50 days, the IAEA Board of Governors would have undoubtedly handed the Iranian dossier over to the (U.N.) Security Council. There is no doubt about it. As for those who say we should have worked only with the IAEA – this would have meant depriving Iran of the opportunity to complete the Esfahan project in the one-year extension.

    Esfahan’s (UCF) was completed during that year. Even in Natanz, we needed six to twelve months to complete the work on the centrifuges. Within that year, the Natanz project reached a stage where the small number of centrifuges required for the preliminary stage, could operate. In Esfahan, we have reached UF4 and UF6 production stages.


    We suspended the UCF in Esfahan in October 2004, although we were required to do so in October 2003. If we had suspended it then, (the UCF) in Esfahan would have never been completed. Today we are in a position of power: (The UCF) in Esfahan is complete and UF4 and UF6 gasses are being produced. We have a stockpile of products, and during this period, we have managed to convert 36 tons of Yellow Cake into gas and store it. In Natanz, much of the work has been completed.


    Thanks to our dealings with Europe, even when we got a 50-day ultimatum, we managed to continue the work for two years. This way we completed (the UCF) in Esfahan. This way we carried out the work to complete Natanz, and on top of that, we even gained benefits. For 10 years, America prevented Iran from joining the WTO. This obstacle was removed, and Iran began talks in order to join the WTO. In the past, the world did not accept Iran as a member of the group of countries with a nuclear fuel cycle. In these two years, and thanks to the Paris Agreement, we entered the international game of the nuclear fuel cycle, and Iran was recognized as one of the countries with a nuclear fuel cycle. An Iranian delegate even participated in the relevant talks. We gained other benefits during these two years as well.


    Host: Mr. Musavian, there is a point that our viewers might find interesting – the comparison between Iran’s nuclear activity dossier and North Korea’s.


    There is a belief that if we adopted the North Korean model, we could have stood much stronger against the excessive demands of America and Europe.


    Musavian: During these two years of negotiations, we managed to make far greater progress than North Korea. North Korea’s most important achievement had to do with security guarantees. We achieved the same thing a year ago in the negotiations with the Europeans. They agreed to give us international guarantees for Iran’s security, its national rule, its independence, non-intervention in its internal affairs, its national security, and not invading it.

  5. VinceP1974 says:

    I posted a long message, so I’m not sure if it gets suppressed, so I’m writing this very small one…. sorry if it’s duplicate.

    If anyone wants to know the reason why Iran “stopped” in 2003 see this:

    “Chief Iranian Negotiator on the Nuclear Issue Hosein Musavian: The Negotiations with Europe Bought Us Time to Complete the Esfahan UCF Project and the Work on the Centrifuges in Natanz ”



  6. CatoRenasci says:

    I can’t help thinking there is a deeper game going on here – the administration has been pretty forthcoming with this NIE. Perhaps this is as much about our own disinformation campaign – letting the Iranians think we’ve fallen for theirs? – as it is a real reevaluation. Or, perhaps, we’re giving the Iranians some rope with which to hang themselves by their own subsequent behavior.

    Given that the people in ultimate charge in the IC are not anti-Bush per se, I just don’t see that they would let the sorts of vendettas against the administration everyone suspects go on to the detriment of national security. Incompetent, they may sometimes be, actively willing to risk nuclear war, they’re almost certainly not.

  7. Terrye says:

    No one is saying that Iran does not have a nuke program. They are saying that they stopped trying to build a bomb right now. This is a lot like Saddam and NK.

    However, if the US were to bomb Iran and it turned out they had stalled the program….it would be a disaster. Don’t think it would not. The American people do not want another war and if there was a mistake made again, it would be a disaster for the administration.

    BTW, it is obvious why they would stall the program, they want the pressure off.

  8. sashal says:

    Thanks, AJ.
    I am just having fun.
    BTW, good for you reading Atrios.
    I always considered you and CapEd
    the best conservative bloggers out there.
    Not prone to hysterics and exaggerations, reasonable most of the time, intelligent even though you guys are still on the dark side . And biased. But who isn’t in our days and times?

  9. AJStrata says:

    Hey thanks for the comments! Being in the same league as Capt Ed is quite a compliment. You are welcome of course to stop by and keep me honest (or try ;0) all you wish.

    I will try to stop by your site more often to keep myself from sitting in the echo chamber too much.

    Cheers and good luck.

  10. […] wrote about the misrepresented and misreported NIE many times (here, here, here, here, to name a few). The last one is very enlightening, given the shocking news  dumped […]