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Context of 'November 10, 2007: Cheney’s Office Continuing to Delay Release of ‘Unsatisfactory’ NIE on Iran'

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Dr. Muhammed Mosaddeq, or Mossadegh, is democratically elected by the Iranian Parliament. Mosaddeq, who is not a Communist but receives the support of Iran’s Communist Party, intends to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. Opposition from US and Britain is immediate, with the CIA moving to destabilize the Mosaddeq regime and the British imposing an economic embargo on Iran. [Iran Chamber Society, 1/1/2007] (See 1952 and Summer 2004.)

Entity Tags: Muhammad Mosaddeq

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, US-Iran (1952-1953)

UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle.UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle. [Source: CIA]The National Intelligence Council, a board of senior analysts that prepares reports on crucial national security issues, completes a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. The purpose of an NIE is to provide policy-makers with an intelligence assessment that includes all available information on a specific issue so they can make sound policy decisions. The formal document is supposed to be the result of a collaborative effort of the entire intelligence community and is supposed to be untainted by political interests. The decision to produce the assessment on Iraq followed criticisms that the administration had already made a decision to invade Iraq without having thoroughly reviewed all available intelligence on Iraq. Congress wanted the NIE completed prior to voting on a bill authorizing the president to use force against Iraq (see September 5, 2002). NIEs such as this usually take months to prepare, however this document took a mere three weeks. The person in charge of preparing the document was weapons expert Robert Walpole. According to the Independent of London, Walpole has a track record of tailoring his work to support the biases of his superiors. “In 1998, he had come up with an estimate of the missile capabilities of various rogue states that managed to sound considerably more alarming than a previous CIA estimate issued three years earlier,” the newspaper later reports. “On that occasion, he was acting at the behest of a congressional commission anxious to make the case for a missile defense system; the commission chairman was none other than Donald Rumsfeld….” [Independent, 11/3/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
Summary of NIE Conclusions - The NIE says there are potentially links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but uses cautionary language and acknowledges that its sources—Iraqi defectors and captured al-Qaeda members—have provided conflicting reports. The sections dealing with weapons of mass destruction are also filled with caveats and nuanced statements. In the second paragraph of its “key judgment” section, the NIE states that US intelligence lacks “specific information” on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And while the NIE says that Iraq probably has chemical and biological weapons, it also says that US intelligence analysts believe that Saddam Hussein would only launch an attack against the US if he felt a US invasion were inevitable. It also concludes that Saddam would only provide terrorists with chemical or biological agents for use against the United States as a last resort in order to “exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002; Washington Post, 6/22/2003; Agence France-Presse, 11/30/2003]
Reconstituted nuclear weapons programs - According to the NIE, “most” of the US’ six intelligence agencies believe there is “compelling evidence that Saddam [Hussein] is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” The one agency that disagrees with this conclusion is the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which says in its dissenting opinion: “The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment. Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs, INR is unwilling to… project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening.” It is later learned that nuclear scientists in the Department of Energy’s in-house intelligence office were also opposed to the NIE’s conclusion and wanted to endorse the State’s alternative view. However, the person representing the DOE, Thomas Ryder, silenced them and inexplicably voted to support the position that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002). The DOE’s vote was seen as critical, since the department’s assessment was supposed to represent the views of the government’s nuclear experts. [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002; Washington Post, 7/19/2003; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004]
Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa - According to the NIE, Iraq is “vigorously trying” to obtain uranium and “reportedly” is working on a deal to purchase “up to 500 tons” of uranium from Niger. It reads: “A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of ‘pure uranium’ (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement. Reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” But the alternative view—endorsed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)—says that it is doubtful Iraq is trying to procure uranium from Africa. ”(T)he claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious,” it reads. [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002; Washington Post, 7/19/2003]
Iraqi attempts to obtain aluminum tubes - The NIE says that most “agencies believe that Saddam’s personal interest in and Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors—as well as Iraq’s attempts to acquire magnets, high-speed balancing machines, and machine tools—provide compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” To support its analysis of the tubes, it includes a chart which compares the dimensions of the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq with those that would be needed for a “Zippe-type” centrifuge. The chart’s comparison of the tubes makes it appear that the tubes are similar. But the NIE neglects to say that the aluminum tubes are an exact match with those used in Iraq’s 81-millimeter rocket. The estimate also claims that the tubes are not suitable for rockets. The assertion ignores the fact that similar tubes are used in rockets from several countries, including the United States. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 84; New York Times, 10/3/2004] It does note however that the 900 mm tubes ordered by Iraq would have to have been cut in half to make two 400 mm rotors, and that the tubes would have needed other modifications as well in order to be used in centrifuge rotors. [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005] The NIE’s conclusion about the tubes is challenged by two US intelligence agencies, the DOE’s in house intelligence agency, and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In its dissenting opinion, the DOE says, “It is well established in open sources that bare aluminum is resistant to UF6 and anodization is unnecessary for corrosion resistance, either for the aluminum rotors or for the thousands of feet of aluminum piping in a centrifuge facility. Instead, anodization would likely introduce uncertainties into the design that would need to be resolved before a centrifuge could be operated.” The DOE’s dissenting opinion—written mainly by nuclear physicist William Domke at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and nuclear physicist Jeffrey Bedell at the Los Alamos National Laboratory—also notes that anodization is a standard practice in missile construction for environmental protection. The Energy Department’s centrifuge physicists suggested more than a year before that the tubes were meant to serve as casings for conventional rockets (see May 9, 2001), but CIA analysts held fast to their theory. [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; USA Today, 7/31/2003; Washington Post, 10/26/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59] Years later a DOE intelligence analyst will tell two journalists, “[The DOE’s nuclear scientists] are the most boring people. Their whole lives revolve around nuclear technology. They can talk about gas centrifuges until you want to jump out of a window. And maybe once every ten years or longer there comes along an important question about gas centrifuges. That’s when you should really listen to these guys. If they say an aluminum tube is not for a gas centrifuge, it’s like a fish talking about water.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 40] The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, similarly writes in its dissenting footnote: “In INR’s view Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to conclude that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.” [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; USA Today, 7/31/2003]
Chemical and Biological Weapons - On the question of chemical and biological weapons, the NIE says: “We judge Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives.” But the document also highlights the belief that it is unlikely that Iraq has any intention to use these against the US. “… Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW [Chemical/Biological Weapons] against the United States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington with a stronger case for making war.” Iraq would probably only use such weapons against the United States if it “feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002]
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Citing defectors and exiles, the NIE states that Iraq possesses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which can be used to deploy biological and chemical weapons. But the document includes a dissenting opinion by the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center. The center, which controls most of the US military’s UAV fleet, says there is little evidence that Iraq’s drones are related to the country’s suspected biological weapons program. Current intelligence suggests that the drones are not capable of carrying much more than a camera and a video recorder. The Air Force believes that Iraq’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are for reconnaissance, like its counterparts in the US. The dissenting opinion reads: “… The Director, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, US Air Force, does not agree that Iraq is developing UAVs primarily intended to be delivery platforms for chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents. The small size of Iraq’s new UAV strongly suggests a primary role of reconnaissance, although CBW delivery is an inherent capability.” [Associated Press, 8/24/2003; Washington Post, 9/26/2003; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004] Bob Boyd, director of the Air Force Intelligence Analysis Agency, will tell reporters in August 2003 that his department thought the allegation in the NIE “was a little odd,” noting that Air Force assessments “all along” had said that reconnaissance, not weapons delivery, was the purpose of Iraq’s drones. “Everything we discovered strengthened our conviction that the UAVs were to be used for reconnaissance,” he will explain. “What we were thinking was: Why would you purposefully design a vehicle to be an inefficient delivery means? Wouldn’t it make more sense that they were purposefully designing it to be a decent reconnaissance UAV?” [Associated Press, 8/24/2003; Washington Post, 9/26/2003] The NIE also says that Iraq is attempting to obtain commercially available route-planning software that contains topographic data of the United States. According to the NIE, this data could facilitate targeting of US sites. But Air Force analysts were not convinced by the argument, noting that this sort of information could easily be retrieved from the Internet and other highly accessible sources. “We saw nothing sinister about the inclusion of the US maps in route-planning software,” Boyd will tell reporters. [Washington Post, 9/26/2003] Analysts at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency are said to back the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s position. [Associated Press, 8/24/2003]
Appendices - Most of the caveats and dissents in the NIE are relegated to a variety of appendices at the end of the document. [Unger, 2007, pp. 266]
Aftermath - After the completion of the National Intelligence Estimate, the Bush administration will continue to make allegations concerning Iraq’s weapons capabilities and ties to militant Islamic groups, but will include none of the qualifications and nuances that are present in the classified NIE. After excerpts from the classified version of the NIE are published in the press in July of 2003 (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), administration officials will claim that neither Bush, Rice, nor other top officials were informed about the alternative views expressed by the DOE, INR, and the Air Force intelligence agency. They will also assert that the dissenting views did not significantly undermine the overall conclusion of the NIE that Iraq was continuing its banned weapons program despite UN resolutions. [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; New York Times, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 7/27/2003] But this claim is later disputed in an article by the Washington Post, which reports: “One person who has worked with Rice describes as ‘inconceivable’ the claims that she was not more actively involved. Indeed, subsequent to the July 18 briefing, another senior administration official said Rice had been briefed immediately on the NIE—including the doubts about Iraq’s nuclear program—and had ‘skimmed’ the document. The official said that within a couple of weeks, Rice ‘read it all.’” [Washington Post, 7/27/2003] The official’s account, will in fact be confirmed by Rice herself, who reportedly tells Gwen Ifill at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Dallas on August 7, 2003: “I did read everything that the CIA produced for the president on weapons of mass destruction. I read the National Intelligence Estimate cover to cover a couple of times. I read the reports; I was briefed on the reports. This is—after 20 years, as somebody who has read a lot of intelligence reports—this is one of the strongest cases about weapons of mass destruction that I had ever read.” [Daily Howler, 8/11/2003]
Conclusions 'Overstated' - George Bush is also provided with a summary of the NIE’s dissenting views. According to the Robb-Silberman report, released in early 2005, the president’s summary of the NIE notes that “INR and DOE believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapon uses.” [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005] Additionally, senior CIA analyst Stuart Cohen, the acting chairman of the National Intelligence Council at this time, who helped write the document, will tell the Agence France-Presse, “Any reader would have had to read only as far as the second paragraph of the Key Judgments to know that as we said, ‘we lacked specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD program.’” The Key Judgments section is also where INR’s detailed dissent on the aluminum tubes allegation was located. [Agence France-Presse, 11/30/2003] A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation will determine in July 2004 that “most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59] And in 2006, one of the report’s authors, CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar, will admit the NIE had been written with the intent of “strengthen[ing] the case of going to war with the American public.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
NIE 'Distorted' Due to Political Pressures, Author Claims - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write, “At the time, to virtually everyone in Congress, the NIE was still sacrosanct. It was still the last word in American intelligence. Yet it had been distorted thanks to political pressures from the neocons and the White House. If one took it seriously, the Niger documents were real. Curveball had credibility. And the aluminum tubes were part of Saddam’s nuclear program. Only one conclusion could be drawn: Saddam Hussein post an extraordinarily grave threat.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 266]

Entity Tags: Bob Boyd, Condoleezza Rice, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Paul R. Pillar, US Congress, Jeffrey Bedell, Stuart Cohen, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

An Iranian man appears in Turkey with a laptop computer and the phone number of a German intelligence officer. He calls the number, and 24 hours later, CIA analysts are poring over thousands of documents containing information and sketches. The CIA concludes that Iran is trying to retrofit its longest-range missile, the Shahab III, to carry a nuclear payload. The retrofit project is designated Project 1-11, the documents say, and analysts believe that the laptop information confirms their belief that Iran has a viable and active nuclear weapons program. Though the information on the laptop is from 2003 and earlier, it leads to the issuance of a National Intelligence Estimate (see August 2, 2005) that declares “with high confidence” Iran is working on a nuclear bomb, and will give ammunition to the Bush administration’s attempts to pressure Russia, China, and the US’s European allies to sanction Iran if it does not give up its uranium enrichment program. [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Origin of Laptop - The laptop was stolen by the Iranian citizen from an Iranian engineer, who some intelligence sources say may now be dead. The laptop contains designs by a firm called Kimeya Madon for a small facility to produce uranium gas, a substance that could be enriched for fuel or nuclear weapons. The laptop also contains drawings relating to the retrofitting of the Shahab III. The laptop’s information, so extensive that some say it may have been designed by an entire team of engineers, will be given unsubstantiated confirmation from an imprisoned Pakistani arms dealer, who will say that Iran took delivery of several advanced centrifuges that would greatly increase its nuclear knowledge. Although the documents are not verified, US intelligence considers them authentic.
Possible Forgeries - However, analysts admit it is possible that the documents are forgeries, perhaps from internal opponents of the Iranian government, or perhaps from the government itself in an attempt to convince Western intelligence agencies that its nuclear weapons program is still in an embryonic stage. The US denies that the documents were provided through the auspices of any Iranian dissident groups such as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. [New York Times, 11/13/2005; Washington Post, 2/8/2006] The identity of the Iranian “walk-in” may be revealed four years later (see February 2007). By November 2004, administration officials begin to admit that they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 2004 and November 17-18, 2004).

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Kimeya Madon, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Several months after the CIA receives an Iranian laptop computer supposedly containing top-secret information about Iran’s nuclear program (see Summer 2004), US officials admit they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 17-18, 2004). [New York Times, 11/20/2004] Under analysis, the documents begin to lose reliability. Nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis of the New America Foundation will later say that he and fellow experts began disparagingly referring to the computer as “the laptop of death.” One of the biggest warning flags, Lewis will say, is the crude manner in which the documents on the laptop were constructed: “What led many of us to have serious doubts about it was how utterly unconnected from reality some of the information seemed. Some of the reports indicated that some of the view graphs were done in Powerpoint, which suggested to me that the program was not terribly sophisticated.” [Inter Press Service, 12/9/2006; New York Times, 12/4/2007]
IAEA Response - Officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will say that the laptop evidence, like much of the US’s other intelligence on Iran, is unreliable. “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us has proved to be wrong,” a senior diplomat at the IAEA will say. Another IAEA official will describe the agency’s intelligence stream as “very cold now” because “so little panned out.” IAEA officials are suspicious of the documents in part because most of the papers are written in English and not in Persian. “We don’t know. Are they genuine, are they real?” a senior UN official will ask. Another official who was briefed on the documents will describe himself as “very unconvinced.” Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, will call the laptop documents nothing but “fabricated information” and “nonsense.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Lewis, International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Secretary of State Colin Powell tells reporters that the US has intelligence showing Iran’s active pursuit of a nuclear warhead. The evidence, Powell says, documents Iran’s attempt to adapt ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear payloads. He says: “I have seen some information that would suggest that they have been actively working on delivery systems.… You don’t have a weapon until you put it in something that can deliver a weapon.… I’m not talking about uranium or fissile material or the warhead; I’m talking about what one does with a warhead.” Powell does not claim that Iran has the nuclear material—enriched uranium—to actually construct a bomb. “I’m talking about information that says they not only have these missiles, but I am aware of information that suggests that they were working hard as to how to put the two together.… There is no doubt in my mind—and it’s fairly straightforward from what we’ve been saying for years—that they have been interested in a nuclear weapon that has utility, meaning that it is something they would be able to deliver, not just something that sits there.”
Implication - Nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that Powell is implying that Iran is trying to reduce the size of a nuclear warhead to fit on one of its ballistic missiles, a difficult task. “Powell appears to be saying the Iranians are working very hard on this capability,” Cirincione says. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said just days before that it had not seen any information that Iran had conducted weapons-related work, Cirincione notes. The Bush administration is likely to press for sanctions from the UN. Powell says that the US will monitor international verification efforts in Iran “with necessary and deserved caution because for 20 years the Iranians have been trying to hide things from the international community.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2004]
Claims Said to Be Unverified - A day later, US officials say Powell’s claims are unverified, and come from a single, unvetted source that has not yet checked out. The single source is an Iranian citizen who approached US intelligence officials with a laptop computer crammed with documents and sketches purporting to be from Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see Summer 2004). Powell and other senior Cabinet members were briefed on the laptop revelations last week, and though it was stamped “No Foreign,” meaning it was not to be shared with any foreign nations, President Bush decided to share some of the information with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Administration officials tell diplomats from Britain, France, and Germany that Powell misspoke in alluding to the laptop intelligence. Powell’s office says Powell stands by his remarks. [Washington Post, 11/19/2004]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Joseph Cirincione, Tony Blair, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Iranian Shahab III missile on display.Iranian Shahab III missile on display. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org]US intelligence officials meet with the leaders of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and reveal the contents of what they say is a stolen Iranian laptop computer. The laptop contains over a thousand pages of documents describing Iranian computer simulations and results of experimental results that the US officials say show a long-term Iranian effort to design a nuclear weapon (see Summer 2004). The documents do not prove that Iran has a nuclear weapon at this time, the Americans acknowledge, but say that the documents are powerful evidence that Iran, despite its denials, is actively developing a nuclear weapon that can fit atop its Shahab III ballistic missile. That missile can reach Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. The briefing, which includes IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei, is a secret part of a US campaign to bring international pressure to bear on Iran. Some countries, such as Britain, France, and Germany, have known of the documents for over a year, and have been convinced of their accuracy. Other countries unaware of the documents are not so willing to go along with the US campaign. Foreign analysts, unable to peruse the documents for themselves because of the unwillingness of the US to provide the actual documents, have not been willing to conclude that the documents are real. One European diplomat says, “I can fabricate that data. It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt.” However, IAEA analysts find the documents credible evidence of Iran’s progress with nuclear weapons. “They’ve worked problems that you don’t do unless you’re very serious,” says a European arms official. “This stuff is deadly serious.” [New York Times, 11/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Mohamed ElBaradei, Bush administration (43), Joseph Cirincione, Colin Powell, International Atomic Energy Agency, Gary Samore

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is readying a vote on whether to recommend that the UN Security Council impose sanctions against Iran over that nation’s nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration, as part of its campaign to pressure the IAEA to vote for such a recommendation, briefs the president of Ghana, along with officials from Argentina, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Nigeria, all Security Council members, on its findings on Iran’s nuclear program derived from a laptop computer that contains evidence of Iran’s nuclear experiments (see Summer 2004). The briefing, actually a slide show, contains excerpts of the documents contained on the laptop. The US also presents a “white paper” containing summaries of the findings from the documents to another group of nations; the white paper contains no classified evidence and no mention of Iran’s purported attempts to develop a missile capable of deploying a nuclear weapon, but instead uses commercial satellite photos and economic analysis to argue that Iran has no need for nuclear power and has long hidden its nuclear ambitions. The white paper was prepared by analysts from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on behalf of the State Department. The paper does contain extensive details about some of Iran’s previously hidden nuclear sites. Most foreign officials are unimpressed. “Yeah, so what?” says one European expert who heard the briefing. “How do you know what you’re shown on a slide is true given past experience?” Nevertheless, the presentation is effective; on September 24, the IAEA votes 22 to 1 to adopt a resolution against Iran, with 12 countries, including China and Russia, abstaining. The resolution cites Iran for “a long history of concealment and deception” and its repeated failure to live up to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it signed in 1970. The resolution says Iran may now be considered for sanctions by the Security Council. Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, denounces the resolution as “illegal and illogical” and the result of a “planned scenario determined by the United States.” The IAEA will decide whether to send the recommendation to the Security Council in November. It is by no means certain that the Council will adopt the recommendation, as two countries rotating onto the Council, Cuba and Syria, are almost certain to refuse to bow to US pressure. And the IAEA itself is not wholly convinced of the accuracy of the documents, given the US’s refusal to allow the agency to examine the documents. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei says he is bound to “follow due process, which means I need to establish the veracity, consistency, and authenticity of any intelligence, and share it with the country of concern.” In this case, ElBaradei says, “That has not happened.” [New York Times, 11/13/2005]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Bush administration (43), International Atomic Energy Agency, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Mohamed ElBaradei, Manouchehr Mottaki, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The US intelligence community releases a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, the first of its kind since 2001. Its central conclusion is that Iran is about ten years away from manufacturing enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. That doubles the previous estimate of five years. (The “five years away” estimate has been a staple of US assertions about Iran’s nuclear program since 1995.) Even then, the report states, it is unclear whether Iran would have the technology capable of using the uranium in a functional nuclear device. The NIE gives little support for recent statements by Bush administration officials that assert Iran is working hard to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, and that such deployment could happen much sooner than ten or even five years. President Bush has said repeatedly that while he wants to resolve the crisis with Iran diplomatically, “all options are on the table,” meaning a potential military strike is being considered. The NIE says that Iran is conducting clandestine work as part of its nuclear program, but there is no way to know if that work is on nuclear weapons development. Iran is, the report states, acquiring technologies that could be diverted to bomb-making. It is uncertain whether Iran’s ruling mullahs have decided whether to build a nuclear arsenal, the NIE says, but, according to a senior intelligence official, “it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons.” The White House has refrained from attributing its assertions about Iran’s nuclear program to US intelligence, as it did with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion. Instead, it has pointed to Iranian efforts to conceal its activities, and questioned why, since Iran has tremendous oil and natural gas reserves, it would need a nuclear energy program. The administration is riven with infighting and competing viewpoints on Iran’s nuclear program, and this NIE does little to resolve those differences. The NIE also says that the US intelligence community still knows far too little about Iran’s nuclear program. The intelligence community gathers most of its information from communication intercepts, satellite imagery, and reports from the UN inspectors who have been investigating Iran’s nuclear program since 2003. Those inspectors have found facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment, results of plutonium tests, and equipment bought illicitly from Pakistan, all of which raised serious concerns but could be explained by an energy program. Inspectors have found no evidence that Iran possesses a nuclear warhead design or is conducting a nuclear weapons program. Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden says that since the October 2002 NIE, which wrongly concluded Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see October 1, 2002), the rules governing the creation of NIEs have been revamped to mandate “a higher tolerance for ambiguity,” even if NIEs would be less conclusive in the process. [Washington Post, 8/2/2005] In 2007, a new NIE will conclude that Iran actually stopped work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Two former CIA officials directly involved in producing intelligence estimates on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 2, 2005) say that the Bush administration’s policy of threatening to use military force against Iran is a driving force behind that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is fearful of such an attack, the two officials say, and therefore wants nuclear weapons as a way to divert such a threat. Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 through 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, says, “Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons.” Had the US tried to reassure Iran on its security fears, Pillar says, that would have had a significant effect on Iranian policies. Iran has made several diplomatic overtures to the US since 2003 (see May 4, 2003), Pillar says, that have not been reciprocated by the Bush administration. While Iran wishes to be the “dominant regional superpower” in the Middle East, the NIEs state, it is not pursuing that aspiration by means that would jeopardize the possibility of thawed relations with the US. According to Ellen Laipson, who managed several NIEs on Iran as national intelligence officer for the Near East from 1990 through 1993, and closely followed others as vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, says the Iranian fear of a US attack has long been “a standard element” in NIEs on Iran. Laipson is “virtually certain the estimates linked Iran’s threat perceptions to its nuclear program.” The 1991 Gulf War heightened fears of US attacks on Iran, Laipson says, and the recent belligerence of the Bush administration have again agitated Iran’s rulers. Iran’s 2002 listing as one of seven countries that might be targeted by US nuclear weapons, and President Bush’s 2002 naming of Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), further heightened Iranian fears of a US strike. In return, Iran has tried to counterbalance that threat with the threat of its own nuclear weapons as well as attempts to shore up relations with the US. Non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that US attempts to ease Iran’s fears would go a long way to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. “No nation has ever been coerced into giving up a nuclear program,” Cirincione says, “but many have been convinced to do so by the disappearance of the threat.” He cites the examples of three former Soviet republics, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Libya as nations who gave up their nuclear ambitions after fundamental international or internal changes eliminated the security threats that were driving their nuclear weapons programs. [Inter Press Service, 2/10/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Ellen Laipson, Paul R. Pillar, Joseph Cirincione, National Intelligence Council

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Philip Giraldi.Philip Giraldi. [Source: Canal+]Former CIA official Philip Giraldi will later reveal that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney is holding up the internal release of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran starting at this time, because Cheney’s people are not happy with the dissenting views contained within the document. The NIE contains widely differing views on whether or not Iran is trying to create a nuclear weapon. It also says that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is arming Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq. Cheney’s office wants an NIE that bolsters its view of an aggressive, threatening Iran, and is not willing to accept the publication or the current Iran NIE. Giraldi says that the White House has decided not to release the NIE until after the November 2006 Congressional elections. The NIE will not be released until December 2007 (see December 3, 2007). [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Philip Giraldi, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Iran is unlikely to be able to develop a nuclear weapon before 2015, says the head of Germany’s intelligence service. Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) head Ernst Uhrlau tells a security conference, “It is difficult to give an exact estimate of the time,” but “[a]ccording to the current rate of enrichment, the Islamic Republic will not have sufficient amounts of highly enriched uranium with which to build atomic weapons before 2010. For a nuclear bomb we are looking at around 2015.” Uhrlau’s estimate echoes the findings of a recent US intelligence report on Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see August 2, 2005). Iran has long insisted that its nuclear program is strictly for the production of electricity. [Reuters, 10/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Ernst Uhrlau, Bundesnachrichtendienst

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Keith Alexander, Ehud Barak, Don Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ehud Olmert, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Einhorn, National Security Agency, Mike McConnell, Michael Hayden, Stephen Kappes, Thomas Fingar, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

In a press briefing, President Bush says of Iran, “As you know, the Iranians, for example, think they want to have a nuclear weapon. And we’ve convinced other nations to join us to send a clear message, through the United Nations, that that’s unacceptable behavior.” [White House, 1/26/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Ali Reza Asgari.Ali Reza Asgari. [Source: FARS / Reuters]Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense, General Ali Reza Asgari, defects during a visit to Turkey. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] According to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, Asgari is a longtime Western intelligence agent, and is immediately debriefed by Turkish and US intelligence officials. Asgari will be given a new identity; his current whereabouts are unknown to the public. [Guardian, 12/8/2007]
History and Connections - Asgari held the Defense Ministry position from 1997 through 2005, under the regime of reformist Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, and, according to US media reports, was providing the US with intelligence during that time period. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] He is a former intelligence officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and is believed to have considerable knowledge about several IRGC-ordered terrorist attacks, including the October 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983) and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996). He has close ties to Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and presumably can tell US intelligence about Hezbollah’s military command structure, its overseas networks, and perhaps its cells inside the US. [Time, 3/22/2007]
Source for National Intelligence Estimate - Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that Asgari is a “key” source for the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program, currently in development (see August 2, 2005). Asgari’s information helps the intelligence community determine that Iran had ceased work on its nuclear program in 2003. According to Giraldi, Asgari had been recruited by Turkish intelligence in 2003, and defected after learning that Iranian intelligence had become suspicious of him. Asgari defects with “bags of documents,” presumably including information about Iran’s nuclear program. Asgari will provide information crucial to the US’s ability to monitor sensitive communications among senior Iranian military officials (see July 2007), which helps corroborate the finding that Iran had indeed ceased research into nuclear weapons development. Former National Security Council official Gary Sick will say that Asgari’s knowledge of the Iranian military is critical in determining what is and is not important among the communications intercepts. “There are zillions of pieces of evidence, and what you look for is defined by what you know,” Sick will say. “What Asgari gave them was a new way of looking at the evidence.” It is highly likely that President Bush will be made aware of Asgari’s information soon after Asgari’s debriefing, though the White House will claim that Bush knew nothing of the new intelligence on Iran until August 2007 (see December 3-4, 2007). [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, Ali-Reza Asgari, Central Intelligence Agency, Gary G. Sick, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Philip Giraldi

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Mike McConnell.Mike McConnell. [Source: US Defense Department]Retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell is sworn in as the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), replacing John Negroponte. [White House, 2/20/2007] Negroponte will become the Deputy Secretary of State under Condoleezza Rice, a position that has been vacant since July 2006, when the previous deputy, Robert Zoellick, left to take a position with the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs. Negroponte is felt to be a voice of experience in the State Department, and one that will help the oft-faltering Rice in her duties. [Associated Press, 1/5/2007]
Cheney, Negroponte, and the Iran NIE - One of the major factors in the White House’s decision to replace Negroponte is Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence that the administration release a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that supports Cheney’s aggressive policy towards Iran, and does not include any dissenting views. Cheney, who has for months suppressed the draft NIE on Iran because he does not want any views other than his own to be included in the NIE (see November 10, 2007), was displeased with Negroponte; Negroponte angered Cheney and other neoconservatives when, in April 2006, he told reporters that the US intelligence community believes Iran is “a number of years off” from being “likely to have enough fissile material to assemble into or to put into a nuclear weapon, perhaps into the next decade.” Though Negroponte was merely echoing the position of the 2005 NIE on Iran, he came under fierce attack from Cheney allies inside and outside the administration. Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph publicly contradicted Negroponte, calling Iran’s nuclear program near the “point of no return,’ an Israeli concept referring to the mastery of industrial-scale uranium enrichment. And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a protege of former defense adviser Richard Perle, called Negroponte’s position on Iran’s nuclear program “absurd.” Cheney himself approached McConnell about accepting the position. McConnell is far more amenable to White House influence than Negroponte. On February 27, he will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is “comfortable saying it’s probable” that the alleged export of explosively formed penetrators to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq was linked to the highest leadership in Iran. Negroponte, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have refused to go that far. And the 2005 NIE on Iran estimated that it would take Iran five to ten years to produce a nuclear weapon, another position that Cheney opposes. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Robert M. Gates, Robert G. Joseph, Robert B. Zoellick, Richard Perle, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Frank Gaffney, Bush administration (43), Mike McConnell, John Negroponte

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

In a press briefing, President Bush says that Iran is actively working on a nuclear weapon: “Our position is that we would hope that nations would be very careful in dealing with Iran, particularly since Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and a major threat to world peace is if the Iranians had a nuclear weapon.… [We] are deeply concerned about an Iranian government that is in violation of international accords in their attempt to develop a nuclear weapon.” [White House, 3/31/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert.George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert. [Source: White House]During a press briefing with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Bush accuses Iran of actively developing nuclear weapons, and warns of the ramifications of that activity. He warns of the “consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon, such as financial sanctions, or economic sanctions.… Now, whether or not they abandon their nuclear weapons program, we’ll see.” [White House, 6/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Ehud Olmert, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Conversations between Iranian military commanders indicate that Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been shut down for years. The calls are intercepted by the US and lead to the realization that the program was halted in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). However, when they first learn of them, senior White House officials will balk at accepting those calls, with some suggesting that the secretly intercepted calls are part of a clever Iranian disinformation campaign. Intelligence officers will spend months validating the new information before determining it is real. [Washington Post, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

In a press briefing, President Bush says, “The fight in Iraq is part of a broader struggle that’s unfolding across the region. The same region in Iran—the same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map is also providing sophisticated IEDs to extremists in Iraq who are using them to kill American soldiers.” [White House, 7/12/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

President Bush says, “[I]t’s up to Iran to prove to the world that they’re a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon. This is a government that is in defiance of international accord, a government that seems to be willing to thumb its nose at the international community… [T]he burden of proof is on the Iranian government to show us that they’re a positive force. And I must tell you that this current leadership there is a big disappointment to the people of Iran. The people of Iran could be doing a lot better than they are today. But because of the actions of this government, this country is isolated. And we will continue to work to isolate it, because they’re not a force for good, as far as we can see. They’re a destabilizing influence wherever they are.” [White House, 8/6/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

President Bush’s rhetoric towards Iran’s supposed nuclear program shifts from flat assertions that Iran is definitely working for a nuclear bomb (see January 26, 2007, March 31, 2007, June 19, 2007, July 12, 2007, and August 6, 2007) to a more nuanced approach. In a press briefing, Bush now asserts that Iran is taking measures to have a nuclear weapons program: “They have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program. That, in itself, coupled with their stated foreign policy, is very dangerous for world stability.… It’s a very troubling nation right now.” [White House, 8/9/2007] Journalist Dan Froomkin, and others, later believe that Bush was informed a day or two before he made this comment that the US intelligence community has found that Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. But instead of reversing course, Froomkin will write, Bush merely adjusts his rhetoric and continues to insist that Iran is a danger to the Middle East because of its nuclear ambitions (see December 5, 2007). “[I]t certainly didn’t tame the overall message,” Froomkin will observe. [Washington Post, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Dan Froomkin, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

NBC correspondent Howard Fineman says that the US intelligence community will release “three different reports” in upcoming weeks to “slow down” the administration’s push for war with Iran. Fineman says, “The intelligence community over the next few months is going to come out with three different reports on Iran about internal political problems of Iran, about the economy, and about their nuclear capability. Those are going to be key to decide what the Bush administration is going to do, and it’s the intelligence community I think trying to slow down what the president, most particularly the vice president, want to do in Iran.” [MSNBC, 10/7/2007] In fact, the intelligence community will release a National Intelligence Estimate in December that concludes Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003, and is not a danger of having a nuclear weapon until at least 2013 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: Howard Fineman, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

George W. Bush warns that world leaders are risking World War III unless they work to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Bush makes his remarks at the White House, remarks timed to coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran. Russia has in recent weeks warned the US about moving too quickly towards a violent confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program; Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials have responded by escalating their rhetoric towards Iran (see October 21, 2007) and requesting funding for weapons that could be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities (see Mid-October, 2007). “We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” Bush says. “So I’ve told people that, if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” In fact, Putin and Russian officials have repeatedly said that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, Russia has pledged to continue helping Iran develop its nuclear power technology, and Russia has led a coalition of Caspian nations who vow to prevent the US from using that region to launch any attacks against Iran. [Daily Telegraph, 10/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

While the Bush administration claims that Iran is risking “World War III” by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons (see October 20, 2007), an array of experts inside and outside the government quoted in a McClatchy News article say that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is actively pursuing such weapons. The story, and the alleged facts, change depending on which administration official is doing the speaking. President Bush and Vice President Cheney use harsh, bellicose rhetoric reminiscent of the rhetoric used in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but others, such as Bush’s “point man” on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, is attempting to tone down the rhetoric. Burns recently told reporters, “Iran is seeking a nuclear capability… that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability.” Another US official says more directly, “I don’t think that anyone right today thinks [Iran is] working on a bomb.” Iran has the capability to continue working on producing a nuclear weapon, experts note, and could transform its current uranium-enrichment program into a weapons program if it so desired. But as of now, US experts have an amalgamation of circumstantial evidence and supposition, and no real proof; reporter Jonathan Landay observes, “Bush’s rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts.” The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency agrees. With four years of inspections of Iran’s nuclear energy program behind it, the IAEA says it has no information that would show Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. The circumstantial evidence that leads some to assert the reality of Iran’s active nuclear weapons program is extensive, but not always solid. In 2006, the CIA gave the IAEA thousands of pages of computer simulations and documents that it claimed it took from a defector’s laptop; those documents showed that Iranian experts were working on mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, and working on developing nuclear “triggers,” or detonators. The CIA calls all of this Project 111. The Iranians denounced the materials as “politically motivated and baseless,” and have promised to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into the matter. Many Western intelligence officials and outside experts believe the materials are genuine—“I wouldn’t go to war over this, but it’s reason for suspicion,” says one—but Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian defector who has closely monitored Iran’s nuclear program for decades, dismisses the materials as “totally not believable,” observing, “If the laptop did exist, I find it hard to believe that its absence wasn’t noticed for so long that somebody could take it out of Iran.” The IAEA has other questions as well, including a document from the nuclear black-market program of Dr. A. Q. Khan that shows how to form uranium into explosive cores, Iran’s experiments with radioactive materials used primarily in nuclear warheads, Iranian involvement with a uranium mine, and Iran’s claim that it needs large amounts of nuclear energy to feed its energy needs when it sits on such large reserves of oil and gas. Sahimi answers this last point by noting Iran would, in his opinion, do better to sell its petroleum on the global market and rely on nuclear energy for its own needs. [McClatchy News, 11/4/2007] A month after this article is published, the administration will release an intelligence report that concludes Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Bush administration (43), Abdul Qadeer Khan, Central Intelligence Agency, Jonathan Landay, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nicholas Burns, Muhammad Sahimi

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Vice President Cheney’s office has been holding up the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran for over a year, while pressuring the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on Iran’s nuclear program, two former CIA officers now reveal. So far the intelligence community has not bowed to Cheney’s pressure, and the White House has apparently decided to release the “unsatisfactory” draft NIE—but not make its key findings public. NIEs are the product of the 16 US intelligence agencies, and usually focus on a single nation or issue. According to one former CIA officer, the Iran NIE was ready to be published a year ago, but was delayed then because the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, wanted the NIE to reflect a consensus on key conclusions, especially on Iran’s nuclear program (see February 20, 2007). The US intelligence community is split on its view of Iran’s nuclear program, with less independent-minded analysts willing to embrace Cheney’s alarmist positions, and others rejecting that view. The first draft was unacceptable to the White House; according to the former CIA officer, “They refused to come out with a version that had dissenting views in it.” Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi agrees with the unnamed officer’s assessment. “The White House wants a document that it can use as evidence for its Iran policy,” Giraldi says. Giraldi wrote in October 2006 that the Iran NIE was being held up by Cheney’s office, which objected to its findings on both Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s putative role in arming Iraq. The White House then chose to delay any decision on the internal release of the NIE until after the November 2006 Congressional elections (see October 2006). In April 2007, Thomas Fingar, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said that the report would be delayed while the intelligence community evaluated “new reporting” from the International Atomic Energy Agency and other sources, as well as “reexamining old evidence.” According to the two former CIA officers, Fingar’s statement sent a powerful signal to the intelligence community that the White House wanted the NIE to be specific, focused, and alarming in its conclusions. In past weeks, officials involved in producing the NIE have been “throwing their hands up in frustration” over the refusal of the administration to allow the estimate to be released, according to the former intelligence officer. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Thomas Fingar, Central Intelligence Agency, Mike McConnell, Philip Giraldi

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

According to national security director Stephen Hadley (see December 3, 2007) and President Bush himself (see December 3-4, 2007), Bush will not be informed about the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing that Iran stopped work on its nuclear program until November 28. But that may be false. On December 4, journalist Seymour Hersh will tell a CNN reporter, “Israel objects to this report. I’m told that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis—before Annapolis [where Israel and the US engaged in preliminary peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.” If Hersh is correct, then Bush discussed the NIE’s findings with Israel’s Olmert on November 26, two days before he supposedly learns of them. [CNN, 12/4/2007] According to the Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz, “Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” [Ha'aretz, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Shaul Mofaz, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley, Robert M. Gates, Seymour Hersh

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The Iran NIE.The Iran NIE. [Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence]The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iran’s nuclear weapons program concludes that Iran stopped working on nuclear weapons in 2003, and that the program remains on hold today. The Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear arms, and has intimated that it is ready to attack that nation to prevent such an event from happening (see October 20, 2007). Interestingly, the administration has tried to have the NIE rewritten to more suit their view of Iran, an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney (see October 2006). The findings of the NIE are expected to have a large impact on the negotiations between Iran and several Western countries, including the US, aimed at pressuring and cajoling Iran into giving up its nuclear energy program. The NIE, an assessment representing the consensus of the US’s 16 inteligence agencies, finds that while Iran’s ultimate ambitions towards becoming a nuclear-armed power remain unclear, 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 NIE says that even if Iran were to restart development of its nuclear weapons program today, it would be at least two years at a minimum before it would have enough enriched uranium to produce a single bomb. The report says that Iran is more likely to develop a nuclear weapon by no earlier than 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.” The report flatly contradicts the assessment made by a 2005 NIE that concluded Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and was determined to create them as quickly as possible. “We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” says one senior intelligence official. [New York Times, 12/3/2007; Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 pdf file] There is no official word as to why the NIE has been publicly released by the White House when it so transparently contradicts the stance of the Bush administration, but Cheney implies the decision stems from a fear that it would be leaked anyway: “[T]here was a general belief that we all shared that it was important to put it out—that it was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway.” [Politico, 12/5/2007] The NIE is compiled from information gathered since 2004; one of the key intelligence findings is from intercepted phone calls between Iranian military commanders indicating that the nuclear program has been halted (see July 2007).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, says that he does not know of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran has long ago shut down its nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), but he does not believe it. “I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says that they suspended the program and how credible that is versus the news that they actually are expanding it,” he says. “And then I’ve heard the last two weeks supposed reports that say that they are accelerating and could be having a reactor in a much shorter period of time than originally they thought.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/4/2007] Huckabee made light of his ignorance of foreign policy earlier in the day, joking on a radio talk show that he’s “not an expert… but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” [National Journal, 12/4/2007] Conservative pundit Byron York attacks Huckabee: “Beyond doing nothing to resolve doubts about his foreign policy qualifications, the exchange underscores the fact that Huckabee doesn’t really have much of a campaign, in the sense that [fellow Republican presidential candidates Rudolph] Giuliani and [Mitt] Romney have campaigns, with teams of advisers and carefully-thought-out policy positions. In important ways, he has been flying by the seat of his pants, relying on his unequaled talents as a retail campaigner. But now that he is leading in Iowa, and moving up nationally as well, the deficiencies of his campaign might come more and more into the spotlight.” [National Review, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Byron York, Mike Huckabee

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin puts together what he calls a “pattern of deception” in President Bush’s response to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate about Iran (see December 3, 2007). Froomkin writes that, contrary to Bush’s assertions that he knew nothing about the report’s conclusions until late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and December 5-6, 2007), it is evident Bush was told something concrete in August. At that time Bush began to change his rhetoric about Iran, going from explicit assertions about Iran’s nuclear weapons to more vague, yet just as alarming, assertions about Iran’s desire to obtain the knowledge and technology required for building a nuclear weapon. Froomkin writes, “Bush left his listeners with what he likely knew was a fundamentally false impression. And he did so in the pursuit of a more muscular and possibly even military approach to a Middle Eastern country. It’s an oddly familiar pattern of deception.”
Timeline of Deception - Froomkin provides a timeline of Bush’s statements against Iran, from early January 2007, where Bush said Iran “want[s] to have a nuclear weapon” (see January 26, 2007), to late March, when he asserted Iran was actively working on a nuclear bomb (see March 31, 2007). In mid-June, Bush warned that there would be “consequences” towards Iran if it continued working on a nuclear bomb (see June 19, 2007). A month later, Bush tied the Iranian nuclear program into what he called a “broader struggle” in the Middle East (see July 12, 2007). On August 6, Bush said that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a “destabilizing” force in the Middle East (see August 6, 2007). But on August 9, Bush’s rhetoric shifted: while not backing down from his threats and warnings about Iran’s nuclear program, he began talking about Iran’s enrichment of uranium and its “step[s] toward having a nuclear weapons program” (see August 9, 2007). Bush continued with that particular parsing until the NIE was made public in early December. [Washington Post, 12/5/2007]
Olbermann Denounces Bush's Rhetorical Shift - MSNBC host Keith Olbermann uses Froomkin’s carefully constructed timeline of presidential pronouncements about Iran to launch a fiery denunciation of Bush’s deceptions. Olbermann says, “We have either a president who is too dishonest to restrain himself from invoking World War III about Iran at least six weeks after he had to have known that the analogy would be fantastic, irresponsible hyperbole, or we have a president too transcendently stupid not to have asked, at what now appears to have been a series of opportunities to do so, whether the fairy tales he either created or was fed were still even remotely plausible. A pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief.” Bush’s parsing might be technically true, Olbermann notes: “Legally, it might save you from some war crimes trial, but ethically it is a lie. It is indefensible.… You, Mr. Bush, are a bald-faced liar.… You not only knew all of this about Iran in early August, but you also knew it was accurate. And instead of sharing this good news with the people you have obviously forgotten you represent, you merely fine-tuned your terrorizing of those people, to legally cover your own backside.” [MSNBC, 12/6/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dan Froomkin, Keith Olbermann

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, joining the attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), asks about the likelihood of political gamesmanship inside the administration. Limbaugh tells his listeners, “I guarantee there’s more sabotage coming out of that place regarding the Bush administration.” [Fox News, 12/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

As part of the conservative backlash against the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that concluded Iran had halted work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007 and December 3-6, 2007), some Senate Republicans intend to call for a Congressional commission to investigate the conclusions and the intelligence that went into it, with an eye to discrediting the NIE and its producers. John Ensign (R-NV) says he will propose a “bipartisan” commission to review the NIE, saying, “Iran is one of the greatest threats in the world today. Getting the intelligence right is absolutely critical, not only on Iran’s capability but its intent. So now there is a huge question raised, and instead of politicizing that report, let’s have a fresh set of eyes—objective, yes—look at it.… There are a lot of people out there who do question [the NIE]. There is a huge difference between the 2005 and 2007 estimates.” The 2005 NIE concluded, apparently erroneously, that Iran was an imminent threat for developing a nuclear weapon (see August 2, 2005). Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) adds, “If [the NIE is] inaccurate, it could result in very serious damage to legitimate American policy.” As late as July 2007, Sessions notes, intelligence officials testified before Congress that they believed Iran was hard at work developing a nuclear weapon. “We need to update our conclusions,” Sessions says, “but this is a substantial change.” The proposed commission would take its cue from a commission that examined a 1995 NIE on the ballistic missile threat faced by the US. [Washington Post, 12/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Jeff Sessions, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, John Ensign

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Jon Wolfstahl.Jon Wolfstahl. [Source: Washington Note]Jon Wolfstahl, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, speaks out in favor of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Wolfstahl says: “The last thing we need is more political input into intelligence matters. The facts are the facts, and it’s time conservatives began to deal with the facts on the ground.… The days of Doug Feith and Steve Cambone creating intelligence to suit their ideology are thankfully behind us.” [Inter Press Service, 12/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Douglas Feith, Jon Wolfstahl, Stephen A. Cambone, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Israel has no “smoking gun” intelligence it can use to force the US to reassess its recent National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). But even if it did have such a piece of evidence, a diplomatic official says it would be either “very arrogant” or “naive” to think that all Israel needs to do is provide one piece of information to the US intelligence community and have it “take it all back and follow Israel’s line.” The US knows what Israel knows, the official says, but the two nations’ intelligence communities have different interpretations. “If we had information that we held back, then we have only ourselves to blame for the US report,” the official says. Israel continues to insist that Iran is a major threat to Israel, in large part because of its nuclear weapons program. “Israel can’t take the risk that Iran will be nuclear,” the official adds. [Jerusalem Post, 12/18/2007]

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

PBS political commentator Bill Moyers hosts a wide-ranging discussion of the media’s role in legitimizing the Bush administration’s military interventionism in the Middle East (see June 6, 2008). Joining Moyers are John Walcott, the Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay; and Greg Mitchell, the purveyor of the media watchdog site Editor & Publisher. The four spend a good part of their time discussing the US’s attempt to “sell” a war with Iran. Moyers says the administration is having trouble pushing such a war because the American public is leery of more dire administration warnings, “given how we were misled about Iraq.” Walcott points out that Iran is a more imminent threat than Iraq, “a much tougher problem than Iraq ever was,” and notes that while Iraq never supported terrorists or had WMD, Iran supports terrorist groups “with a fair amount of enthusiasm” and has a nuclear energy program with the potential to cause grave harm. Landay notes that one big difference in the way the administration is handling Iran as opposed to how it handled Iraq is the fact that the administration is now working with the UN Security Council and even the International Atomic Energy Agency, whereas with Iraq the administration displayed a belligerent, “go it alone” attitude.
They're a Bunch of Crazy Shi'ites - Walcott notes that he finds one argument about Iran particularly disturbing: “[T]hat’s the one that says the Iranians would use nuclear weapons against us or against Israel. Well, both Israel and the United States have the capability to turn Iran into a skating rink. When you explode a nuclear weapon over sand, it turns into glass. And the counter to that from some quarters has been as crazy as anything I’ve heard, which is, well, that we can’t deter the Iranians because they’re Shi’ites and they’re all eager to commit suicide to hasten the arrival of the 12th Imam. So deterrents won’t work against Iran because they’re a bunch of crazy Shi’ites. That to me is as crazy as anything we heard about Saddam [Hussein] and his ties to al-Qaeda. That one, the fact that that one’s out there concerns me.”
Military Strike against Iran? - Walcott says he knows for a fact that there is a large and influential faction within the Bush administration that is determined to force a military strike against Iraq before Bush’s term of office ends. This faction has the support of influential Israeli government officials, even hints of support from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “[T]hat issue’s gonna be on the table until January 20th [2009, when the next US president is inaugurated] because one of the things we’ve learned is these people don’t go away,” Walcott says. “They’re still out there. They’re still advocating.” Landay notes that many of the same people who advocated for the invasion of Iraq are the ones pushing for a strike against Iran, “[a]nd yet they keep being brought on television and quoted in newspaper stories, when their, you know, now, after this horrendous track record they had in Iraq. So you wonder how it is that there are people who have been fanning the flames for going after Iran. Some of them the very same people.” Mitchell notes that the questions that should have been asked and re-asked by the media before the Iraq invasion—will military force neutralize the threats, what will be the aftereffects and ramifications of military strikes, how many will die—are not yet being asked about Iran. Walcott notes how easily Iran could retaliate for US strikes: “sink one oil tanker in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz, just one, and the insurance rates will take care of the rest. And you’ll have $200, $250 a barrel oil. So that’s one thing to think about.”
Iran and the NIE - Moyers asks why it was so easy for President Bush to simply disavow the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons (see December 3, 2007) just by saying that, in essence, “the NIE’s conclusions don’t reflect his own views, that there is an ongoing threat.” Moyers says that Bush does not care “what the facts are, this is [his] reality.” Mitchell notes that NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw called it more of a matter of “theology” (see May 29, 2008). But Landay says that just as interesting is the fact that, if Iran indeed is building nuclear weapons, which it well may be, “the administration’s having a really hard time getting traction for its case. Why? Because it’s lost its credibility on Iraq.” Mitchell adds, “And the media has lost credibility.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]

Entity Tags: John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, McClatchy News, Public Broadcasting System, Bill Moyers, Editor & Publisher, Greg Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate for Iran, and its conclusion that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, is still valid (see December 3, 2007). Administration officials have issued contradictory opinions in the days before Blair’s testimony (see March 1, 2009 and March 1, 2009). Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asks Blair: “In 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran said that ‘the intelligence community judges with high confidence that in the fall of 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’ Is the position of the intelligence community the same as it was back in October of ‘07? Has that changed?” Blair answers: “Mr. Chairman, the nuclear weapons program is one of the three components required for deliverable system, including the delivery system and the uranium. But as for the nuclear weapons program, the current position is the same, that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not—has not started them again, at least as of mid-2007.” [Think Progress, 3/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, Dennis C. Blair

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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