US Spies Concoct a
Potent Iran Brew
KAVEH L AFRASIABI / Asia Times (Hong Kong) 5dec2007
Two years after the last National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that claimed "with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure", the 2007 NIE by the US's 16 spy agencies claims otherwise. That is, that Iran "halted" its secret weapons program in the autumn of 2003. Crediting this to pressure by the international community, the new report is clearly geared to sustain the crumbling United Nations coalition on Iran.
As expected, Washington, which released the report with much fan-fare, has been quick to frame it with the appropriate nuance, by letting National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley do the talking, "It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons," Hadley said. "It tells us that we have made progress in trying to ensure that this does not happen. But the intelligence also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem."
In other words, let's not have a let-up with the sanctions that the new report proves are effectively working.
The new NIE reports with "high confidence" that the military-run program was shut in 2003, and it concludes with "moderate confidence" that the program had not restarted as of mid-2007.
The timing of the report's release is curious, coinciding both with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's crucial meeting with the heads of states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, where Ahmadinejad has made substantial progress in confidence-building by advancing the idea of security and economic cooperation in the region, and with critical discussions with the so-called "Five plus One" countries regarding the next United Nations steps against Iran. The Five plus One includes the five permanent members of the UN security Council - United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China - plus Germany.
Irrespective of Hadley's comments, the new NIE actually undermines much of the rationale behind the US-led push for a third round of US sanctions on Iran, by flatly contradicting what until now has been held as an article of faith by US politicians and much of the media. That is, the notion that Iran has been pursuing an open weapons program via its uranium-enrichment and reprocessing activities.
Casting heavy doubt on that flawed theory or "truth paradigm" , the new NIE simultaneously recycles the previous reports's air of certainty and lack of minutest doubt and presents its new findings, which are in stark contrast, if not flagrant contradiction, to the previous report's. Such intelligence flip-flops on Iran simply reduce the credibility of any information on that country from Washington and raise international doubts about its real intentions.
Thus, given the credibility gaps in US information on Iran, the real question is whether or not the new report actually helps or harms the US's bid to escalate sanctions on Iran? This is an important question since reports indicate strong reservations on the part of China and Russia to go along with further sanctions imposed either unilaterally or multilaterally.
To open a caveat, former US national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has written an article in the US media claiming that China, depicted as a "geopolitically status-quo power", is inclined to come on board more sanctions and even the "revisionist" Russians can be persuaded with the right "patient diplomacy".
Brzezinski does not mention the China-Russia alliance within the anti-North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has accorded Iran observer status, conveniently relying on a caricature of China's evolving global power projections and intentions.
Cultivating partners against Iran by benign analyses or dubious intelligence reports will not cut it and the US is today in dire need of a serious rethinking of its long-term policies and intentions in the Middle East, nowadays featuring a "rising Iran".
In the absence of such a rethinking, the unrealistic expectation of "zero centrifuges" will persist. Instead, the US could contemplate the utility of an alternative, coercion-free Iran diplomacy centered on shared and parallel interests with the US, that is, both nations' vested interest in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' oil flowing from the Persian Gulf to the international market, as well as on an internationally monitored Iranian nuclear program. In other words, it is time for "realism, not idealism" in the US's policy regarding Iran's nuclear program. 
To open another caveat, this author's past exposure to Iran's nuclear decision-makers, particularly in 2004 and 2005, leaves no doubt the new US report's claim that Iran "halted" certain nuclear activities due to external pressure should be taken with a grain of salt. This is in view of the fact that all exhaustive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections have produced no such conclusions and, on the contrary, have actually reinforced the Iranian claim that Iran has never diverted to military development.
The various programs that Iran halted in 2004-2005, as a result of intense negotiations with the European troika of Germany, France and Britain, were "voluntary, non-legally binding" confidence-building measures, and not any illicit, military activities, such as those alluded to in the US's new intelligence report. If the latter were true, then the world community needs to know what specific activities were involved and why the US has until now failed to share them, for example, with the IAEA. After all, IAEA chief Mohamad ElBaradei has been quite forthcoming in his latest press interviews regarding the lack of any knowledge of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
What is troubling about the new NIE is that top US intelligence officials have been going on record, for instance in their congressional testimony, promising no repetition of past errors put on full display with respect to Iraq, no "cherry picking" intelligence on Iran, and even threatening to resign if selective intelligence were to be misused for military adventures against Iran.
With the US intelligence community on the defensive since the post-Iraq-invasion revelations still plaguing the George W Bush administration, the latter may have managed a mini-coup with the intelligence community by procuring a new report that confirms an Iranian nuclear weapons program, albeit one that it claims has been "halted".
If complemented by a follow-up report that Iran is now poised to change course and resurrect its halted activities, then theoretically speaking, that gives ample justification for Washington's planned "pre-emptive strikes" on Iran, not to mention added sanctions. Yet, even short of such a follow-up, the present state of mind on Iran fueled by the new intelligence report is sufficiently paranoid to warrant tough new actions against Tehran.
But, does this new report really represent an improvement in the US's intelligence on Iran? Or is it the same attitude that continuously falls shy of acknowledging Iran's legitimate nuclear rights, and needs for peaceful purposes, and the viability of existing mechanisms, for verification, by the IAEA, not to mention the proposed additional "objective guarantees" that Iran has put on the table?
This aside, the US has for now taken a qualitative step away from the military option by releasing this new report that states unequivocally an Iranian freeze on its proliferation impulse, while simultaneously giving that military option a new lease of life by the related allegation of past proliferation activities.
On the whole however, this puts the US behavior with regard to Iran in a thick cloud of uncertainty, let alone credibility gap, with the pendulum capable of swinging in wildly different directions almost at will. The bottom line, thanks to its vast cadre of intelligence "alchemists" is that the US and its even more gullible politicians, has now pre-positioned itself for yet another disastrous gambit in the volatile Middle East.
The temporary freeze on the military option by the new intelligence report has nested within it its exact opposite, and may be calculated as part and parcel of a roundabout way of dealing with Iran's "nuclear menace". This is, indeed, a menacing development.
2. Realism, not idealism, Harvard International Review, May 2007.
US Intelligence Report Shows
War Drive Against Iran Based on Lies
BILL van AUKEN / WSWS 5dec2007
President Bush used a White House press conference Tuesday to defend his administration’s policy of aggression towards Iran. He insisted that new findings by US intelligence agencies that Teheran has no active nuclear weapons program would not change his policy in the slightest.
The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was issued on Monday, reflecting the assessments made by 16 US spy agencies, reversed the conclusion made two years earlier that Iran was seeking to develop nuclear weapons and instead claimed the country had “halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.”
It also expressed the opinion that Iran would be unable to produce a nuclear weapon, if it were to attempt to do so, before the year 2015.
These findings constitute a damning indictment of the Bush administration’s relentless fear-mongering in relation to an alleged nuclear threat from Iran. They demonstrate that just as in the buildup to the war against Iraq five years ago, the White House has been engaged in a systematic campaign to drag the American people into another war based on lies.
Nonetheless, Bush seized upon the claims made in the document about a previous arms program to argue that Iran could revive it at any time, using its civilian program to develop fuel for atomic power plants to speed up the building of a bomb.
“What’s to say that they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program?” he asked.
Based upon this pretext, he laid out—in terms that directly echoed the rhetoric preceding the unprovoked 2003 US invasion of Iraq—the case for preventive war.
In a heated response to a reporter’s question about the administration’s “credibility gap,” Bush declared at the end of his press conference: “If Iran shows up with a nuclear weapon at some point in time, the world is going to say, ‘What happened to them in 2007? How come they couldn’t see the impending danger? What caused them not to understand that a country that once had a weapons program could reconstitute the weapons program?’”
Asked specifically whether the new intelligence findings meant that Washington would refrain from utilizing a “military option” against Iran, Bush insisted that “all options are on the table.”
While Bush insisted that the NIE bolstered his case for an aggressive policy against Iran and confirmed that policy’s effectiveness, the document had the effect internationally of a political bombshell.
In the first instance, it has apparently scuttled Washington’s attempts to push another round of punishing anti-Iranian sanctions through the United Nations Security Council. “Officially, we will study the document carefully; unofficially, our efforts to build up momentum for another resolution are gone,” a European official involved in sanctions negotiations told the New York Times.
China, which had reportedly bowed to US pressure at a meeting of Security Council members in Paris, now indicated that its position had changed in light of the NIE. Asked whether sanctions were now less likely, China’s ambassador to the UN, Guangya Wang, responded, “I think the council members will have to consider that, because I think we all start from the presumption that now things have changed.”
The ambassador of Russia, which has opposed stepped-up sanctions, said that the NIE vindicated Moscow’s position. “We have always been saying there is no proof they are pursuing nuclear weapons,” said Vitaly Churkin.
More significant is the way in which the document serves to discredit not only the White House, but the entire political establishment in America. Just as in the run-up to the Iraq war, when the Democratic leadership and the mass media echoed the administration’s lies about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction,” the media and the Democrats have joined with the Bush administration in attempting to cast a non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons program as an imminent threat.
In presenting the NIE to the media Monday, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley acknowledged that Bush had been informed about the existence of new intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program as early as last August.
Bush confirmed this account, declaring at his press conference: “In August, I think it was, [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was.”
While the American president is famous for his lack of intellectual curiosity, the claim that he was informed in August by his intelligence director that there was new information about Iran’s nuclear program, but was content to wait until it came out in a published report four months later, is simply not credible.
The reality is that in August the administration was engaged in a major propaganda campaign against Iran, with Bush delivering speeches containing unsubstantiated charges that Iran was responsible for attacks on US occupation forces in Iraq and was threatening the world with a “nuclear holocaust.” At the same time, the US was staging provocations against Iran, with the arrest of its diplomatic officials in Iraq. It was then that the White House first announced its threat to brand the country’s largest uniformed security force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as a “terrorist organization.”
In light of the well-known campaign by the administration to obtain any intelligence report—including demonstratively false ones—to justify its war against Iraq, it is unimaginable that Bush and Vice President Cheney would not have demanded to know what new information had been uncovered regarding their latest target for aggression.
In short, Bush and Cheney were delivering speeches invoking a “nuclear holocaust” and, in the case of Bush’s October 16 press conference, threatening “World War III,” all the while knowing that the nuclear weapons program that they were warning against did not even exist.
Presenting the official response of the Democratic Party to Bush’s press conference, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois was asked by a reporter whether he believed Bush had deliberately misled the American people over the alleged Iranian threat.
“No, I don’t think the president tried to do that deliberately...I’m not going to get into his motivations; I don’t know him well enough to do that,” Emanuel replied.
A prominent Democratic supporter of an aggressive policy against Iran, the House Democratic leader cannot state the simple and obvious fact that Bush lied, because he knows that he and his party are fully implicated in the same attempt to deceive the American people on the crucial question of war.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton stated that the report exposed the Bush administration’s attempt “to distort intelligence to pursue its ideological ends,” while claiming it “vindicates” the New York senator’s own position, which he described as “vigorous American-led diplomacy.”
Clinton has repeatedly expressed her support for keeping the “military option” on the table against Iran, and voted with Republicans last September for a non-binding resolution declaring the IRGC a terrorist organization.
The findings of the National Intelligence Estimate are the product of a protracted struggle within the administration and particularly its military and intelligence apparatus. The document’s release had been delayed for over a year, reportedly because of attempts by Bush and Cheney to force the intelligence agencies to withdraw findings that exposed as fabrications the administration’s charges regarding Iran’s supposed weapons program and its alleged support for attacks on US forces in Iraq.
That the final draft not only failed to provide the administration with “intelligence” supporting its claims of an imminent Iranian threat, but directly repudiated the claims made about an Iranian weapons program in the 2005 NIE, is a measure of the extreme tensions and unease within both the military command and the CIA about the prospects of launching a US war against Iran.
Director of National Security McConnell indicated earlier this year that the NIE on Iranian nuclear activities would not be declassified, a position apparently supported by Bush and Cheney. The decision to release some of its findings may have been prompted by knowledge that it would otherwise be leaked to the media, perhaps from within the intelligence apparatus itself.
A number of media reports have stated that the NIE is consistent with the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN watchdog group that has conducted extensive inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities. The agency’s director general Mohamed ElBaradei welcomed the report, saying that it would help to defuse the mounting international crisis.
The differences between the US intelligence estimate and the UN agency’s findings, however, were made clear in a statement by an IAEA official to the Times:
“Despite repeated smear campaigns, the IAEA has stood its ground and concluded time and again that since 2002 there was no evidence of an undeclared nuclear weapons program in Iran. It also validates the assessment of the director general that what the IAEA inspectors have seen in Iran represented no imminent danger.”
In other words, the UN agency found no evidence that the nuclear weapons program the NIE now claims was in operation until 2003 ever existed.
In this sense, the shift by the US intelligence agencies from expressing “high confidence” in 2005 that Iran was engaged in an attempt “to develop nuclear weapons,” to asserting with the same “high confidence” two years later that the Iranians had halted such a program in 2003 may represent the substitution of one phony pretext for war for another.
No evidence has ever been presented to substantiate the existence of a nuclear weapons program. And no description is offered in the current NIE of precisely what activities were halted in 2003.
Agreements by Teheran to curtail parts of their nuclear program in 2004 and 2005, after negotiations with the major European powers, involved activities that were wholly related to the country’s civilian atomic energy program and did not violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Yet, as Tuesday’s White House press conference demonstrated, the Bush White House can now claim on the basis of the new NIE that Iran attempted to build nuclear weapons before and can at any moment do so again, necessitating the maintenance of drastic sanctions and the preparation of military intervention.
The release of the NIE was met by sanguine assertions in the media that its findings had essentially defused the danger of war. The Washington Post reported that the document’s findings could “take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his [Bush’s] presidency.” The New York Times speculated that “the zeal for another military conflict has diminished.”
But Bush’s statements Tuesday followed National Security Adviser Hadley’s reiteration Monday of the US president’s threat of World War III. “The international community has to understand that if we want to avoid a situation where we either have to accept Iran on the road to a nuclear weapon, with a path to a nuclear weapon, or the possibility of having to use force to stop it, with all the connotations of World War III, then we need to step up the diplomacy,” the national security advisor stated.
The threat of another, bloodier war remains real and present. Its source lies not in a non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons program, but in mounting inter-imperialist conflicts and, above all, the predatory drive by American capitalism to offset its economic decline by utilizing military force.
Washington remains determined to assert its hegemony over the vast energy resources of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. It has launched two wars in the last six years to realize this goal, and there is every reason to believe that it is still preparing a third.
The link between a threatened US attack on Iran and the potential for a third world war is based not on the alleged spread of nuclear weapons, but rather the increasing tensions generated by the US attempts to establish a stranglehold over a region upon which its principal economic rivals—Western Europe, China and Japan—depend for energy resources.
Iran Still Defiant Over Nuclear Programme:
Agence France Presse 6dec2007
LONDON — Iran must still answer international concerns about its nuclear ambitions or face tougher sanctions, Britain's foreign secretary on Wednesday said after talks with his Chinese counterpart.
Responding to a new US intelligence report which said Iran had halted a nuclear weapons drive four years ago, David Miliband said Tehran was not yet off the hook and urged it to end its "defiance" of the United Nations.
"That defiance remains the case," he told reporters after talks in London with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
The five permanent United Nations Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - plus Germany have been leading the international effort to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear arsenal.
Miliband said Britain and China were committed to non-proliferation and that goal "remains at the heart of our efforts".
"We will continue to work very closely together, secure in the knowledge that we are pursuing the shared goal of a more stable and peaceful world," he said.
The US National Intelligence Estimate released on Monday said Iran had halted a drive for atomic weapons in 2003 but retained the capability to make a nuclear weapon by 2015.
It said previous intelligence analyses, the basis of Western fears that Iran is secretly working on a nuclear arsenal, had overestimated the Islamic republic's activities.
The report was hailed as a "great victory" in Tehran, but US President George W Bush said Iran's nuclear programme remained "a problem that must be addressed by the international community."
U.S. Intelligence Report a Victory for Iran
Tehran Times (Iran) 6dec2007
TEHRAN (Agencies) — A new U.S. intelligence review concluding Iran has no atomic weapons program is a ""declaration of victory"" for the Iranian nation, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday as carried by the Associated Press.
Russia's foreign minister, meanwhile, indicated that the U.S. report's findings undermined Washington's push for a new set of UN sanctions against Iran.
The U.S. intelligence report released Monday concluded that Iran had no nuclear weapons program, representing a sharp turnaround from a previous intelligence assessment in 2005.
""This is a declaration of victory for the Iranian nation against the world powers over the nuclear issue,"" Ahmadinejad told thousands of people during a visit to Ilam province in western Iran.
""This was a final shot to those who, in the past several years, spread a sense of threat and concern in the world through lies of nuclear weapons,"" Ahmadinejad said, drawing celebratory whistles from the crowd.
“Today is the day of victory for the Iranian nation and thank God all plots hatched by the enemies of Iran have failed,” IRNA quoted the president as saying.
The pride of the enemies will never let them confess to their mistakes, he said.
They should be well aware that the Iranian nation has chosen its path and will not back down one iota from its position and will proceed the path under the wise guidance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
In its nuclear standoff, the Iranian nation realized that any retreat would be the last one and if it gave up even one iota they would have continued their threats until depriving the nation of its legitimate rights, said the president.
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, called the report a ""sigh of relief"" because its conclusions also jibe with the agency's own findings.
""Iran obviously has been somewhat vindicated in saying they have not been working on a weapons program, at least for the last few years,"" ElBaradei told reporters in Brazil's capital, Brasilia.
The intelligence estimate was released Monday — two days after the world's major powers met in Paris and indicated that a compromise text on a third sanctions resolution could be circulated at the UN as early as Friday by the six countries — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany.
Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, said Wednesday there was no proof that Iran has ever run a nuclear weapons program.
""We will assess the situation regarding a new UN Security Council resolution taking into account all these facts, including the U.S. confirmation that it has no information about the existence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran,"" Lavrov said.
Russia and China, another veto-wielding council member, have grudgingly approved two sets of limited UN sanctions against Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. But the Kremlin has bristled at the U.S. push for tougher measures, saying they would only widen the rift.
China had said Tuesday the U.S. report raised second thoughts about new sanctions.
Iran has rejected the two UN Security Council resolutions demanding that it halt uranium enrichment.
Some analysts said it may be hard to maintain support for a swift new UN resolution that would further restrict trade with Iran.
""An enormous effort has been invested to date in trying to bring the Russians, Chinese, and Europeans on board with the current sanctions...and this report doesn't appear to have been widely anticipated among our allies,"" said Suzanne Maloney, a foreign policy senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the new U.S. intelligence report meant that Washington's push to refer the case over Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council in 2006 was ""illegal"".
""One of the consequences of this report is that referring Iran's nuclear issue to the UN Security Council was illegal because, based on the report by U.S. intelligence agencies, Iran had no nuclear weapons program when the issue was referred to the UN Security Council in 2006,"" Hosseini said in a statement Tuesday.