Monday, December 03, 2007

What Happened To Trust But Verify?

The US says that Iran has stopped work on its nuclear program.

Trust and verify?

Nope, this is the latest NIE which is going in the opposite of the Iraq NIE that showed Iraq to possess WMD:
The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran’s ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but that Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”

“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,” the estimate states.

The new report comes out just over five years after a deeply flawed N.I.E. concluded that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons programs and was determined to restart its nuclear program. The report led to congressional authorization for a military invasion of Iraq, although most of the N.I.E.’s conclusions turned out to be wrong. The estimate does say that Iran’s ultimate goal is still to develop nuclear weapons.
From overestimating the threat, we're going in the polar opposite direction, and being wrong in underestimating the situation is just as dangerous - if not more so.

If you read the Times article, you'll find that no one knows what Iran's end game is. However, if they restart their program, they'd be two years away from a nuclear weapon because that's how long it might take to have sufficient weapons grade materials.

The Times also claims the report states that international efforts at stopping Iran's nuclear intentions have worked.
The new assessment upends a judgment made about Iran’s nuclear capabilities in 2005. At the time, intelligence agencies assessed with “high confidence” that Iran is determined to have nuclear weapons.

Since then, officials said they have obtained new information leading them to conclude that international pressure, including tough economic sanctions, had been successful in bringing about a halt to Iran’s secret program.

“We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” said one senior intelligence official during a telephone interview, speaking on condition of anonymity.
So, what does the NIE actually say? Well, the intel community consensus opinion is that there's good reason to believe Iran stopped its nuclear program, but that it can restart it at a moment's notice. The NIE also admits that there are gaps in the intel relating to the nuclear program (page 6):
We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were
working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.

• We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.)
• We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons
program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop
nuclear weapons.
• We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently
have a nuclear weapon.
• Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.
The NIE goes on to note that enrichment at Natanz is likely to continue, but the amount of weapons grade material isn't likely to be sufficient for a nuclear weapon until the first half of the next decade.

It would be nice to trust this, but US intel has been shaky on determining what is going on in the Iranian regime, and if there are covert facilities, Iran's technical capabilities would be far more difficult to gauge.

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