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Sunday, February 28, 2010

New NIE on Iran unlikely to include a declassified version

In the next couple of weeks, the Obama administration is likely to release a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which will essentially gut the clearly mistaken conclusion of the 2007 estimate and bring the US into line with its allies and with the IAEA report that was released earlier this month. All of the other reports conclude that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The 2007 NIE concluded that Iran had abandoned nuclear weapons development in 2003. Unfortunately, unlike the 2007 report, which had a declassified version that gave it wide publicity, the new report is likely to have only a classified version, leaving ordinary citizens in the dark.
David Albright, a nuclear-weapons expert and president of the Institute of Science and International Security, said that the administration might want to avoid a lengthy and complicated public debate about the new estimate's conclusions, seeking to prevent the fractious debate that followed the release of the older estimate.

He said the nature of the estimate, which seeks to find consensus between all of the various intelligence agencies, makes it tough to give out enough information to make it bulletproof. Regardless, he lamented that the administration might not provide some of the information in a public way.

"They owe it to us to provide clarification of their position publicly," he said. "Speaking just as a citizen, I want my government to be transparent about something that could potentially involve military strikes."

Any clarification would bring the U.S. position more in line with that of with key allies like France and Germany, who have been long arguing for a stronger public position on Iran's nuclear program, according to Albright. A clarification would also help square the U.S. conclusions with the recent IAEA report on Iran that went further than previous reports in expressing concerns about weaponization, he added.

"The 2007 NIE really hurt things politically for getting sanctions and building momentum and they had to relook at this," Albright said. "Who knows if was really a mistake? It may be what they honestly believed at the time."
Albright only hints at the real issue here: Who ordered the issue of the 2007 report, which was so clearly mistaken that many parties disputed it immediately upon its release? And why?

If, as many on the Right suspect, the report was issued in a bid to take a military option out of President Bush's hands during his last year in office, history will not look kindly on those who were responsible.

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