Stupid Intelligence?

When even the New York Times editorial writers say, “…an official close to the [United Nations nuclear] inspection agency told The Times yesterday that the new American assessment might be too generous to Iran,” there is good reason to be skeptical.

The Wall Street Journal lays out the case for further skepticism:

As recently as 2005, the consensus estimate of our spooks was that “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons” and do so “despite its international obligations and international pressure.” This was a “high confidence” judgment. The new NIE says Iran abandoned its nuclear program in 2003 “in response to increasing international scrutiny.” This too is a “high confidence” conclusion. One of the two conclusions is wrong, and casts considerable doubt on the entire process by which these “estimates”–the consensus of 16 intelligence bureaucracies–are conducted and accorded gospel status.

Our own “confidence” is not heightened by the fact that the NIE’s main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as “hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials,” according to an intelligence source. They are Tom Fingar, formerly of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Vann Van Diepen, the National Intelligence Officer for WMD; and Kenneth Brill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

For a flavor of their political outlook, former Bush Administration antiproliferation official John Bolton recalls in his recent memoir that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage “described Brill’s efforts in Vienna, or lack thereof, as ‘bull–.'” Mr. Brill was “retired” from the State Department by Colin Powell before being rehired, over considerable internal and public protest, as head of the National Counter-Proliferation Center by then-National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

Melanie Phillips weighs in.

Finally, there’s the view of the Israelis, for whom Iran’s getting the bomb is an existential issue:

Israeli intelligence believes Iran is still trying to develop a nuclear weapon, Israel’s defense minister said Tuesday, disputing a U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran has halted its program. ‘It’s apparently true that in 2003 Iran stopped pursuing its military nuclear program for a time. But in our opinion, since then it has apparently continued that program,’ Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio.

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