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Context of 'December 3-4, 2007: Bush Claims to Have Only Learned About Iran NIE Findings Several Days Before NIE Was Released'

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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

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

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

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

George W. Bush, apparently taken somewhat aback by the US intelligence community’s findings released on December 3, 2007, that Iran halted its work on a nuclear bomb four years ago (see December 3, 2007), claims that he only learned about the findings on November 28. The intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been in production for some 18 months. According to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were first given initial briefings in either August or September. [White House, 11/28/2007; Washington Post, 12/4/2007] Bush tells reporters he wasn’t even aware of the evidence showing Iran had halted its nuclear program, “I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell [who] came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.… And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.” A clearly incredulous reporter follows up by asking, “I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation—at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, ‘Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?’” Bush answers, “No—I’ve never—nobody ever told me that.” [CNN, 12/4/2007] From Hadley’s words, the date that Bush knew of the NIE findings may be much earlier. Hadley tells reporters attempting to pin him down on the exact date when Bush was told of the findings, “[W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October—August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.” All told, Hadley says that Bush was told of the findings within “the last few months” five different times during the press conference. [Think Progress, 12/3/2007] By December 5, the White House will begin refusing to answer the question at all. White House spokesman Tony Fratto will tell reporters, “I don’t have anything on that.… I can’t give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the President.” [White House, 12/5/2007]
Bush Either 'Lying' or 'Stupid' - Many find Bush’s claim hard to accept. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) notes that he and ranking committee member Kit Bond (R-MO) received a briefing on the NIE’s intelligence “several months ago,” and says, “I was really struck when the president said that he only got the final judgments on Tuesday.” He cannot imagine that he and Bond received information months in advance of Bush. Rockefeller says he “can’t believe” that McConnell’s indication of new information didn’t prevent Bush from “talking about a nuclear holocaust.” [PBS, 12/4/2007] Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says the White House is probably being dishonest about what Bush knew and when he knew it. “I can’t imagine that McConnell… would tell the president about this and not tell him what the information actually said,” Leverett observes. [CNN, 12/5/2007] Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says, “What’s shocking today is that apparently he knew about this estimate a month or more before he made those statements. I don’t think that shows a responsible use of intelligence.” [Reuters, 12/5/2007] And MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman, says flatly, “We are left with only two options here. Either the President of the United States is lying to the American people about what happened during that meeting, or the President of the United States is stupid.” [MSNBC, 12/5/2007]
Cheney Not Hampered by Lack of Intelligence - If Bush was indeed ignorant of the intelligence findings, as he asserts, it is not likely that his vice president labored under the same lack of information, judging from the fact that Cheney’s office has been involved in trying to suppress the NIE for over a year (see October 2006).

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Joseph Scarborough, Stephen J. Hadley, John D. Rockefeller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jack Reed, Bush administration (43), Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Tony Fratto

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that President Bush deliberately misled the American people over the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that if Bush initiates an attack on Iran without the approval of Congress, he will call for Bush’s impeachment. Biden tells reporters, “After all we’ve been through, for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about an issue of war and peace, I find outrageous.” Biden is referring to the faulty and deceptive intelligence presented by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq. The US intelligence community recently released a National Intelligence Estimate (see December 3, 2007) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003, and Bush has asserted that he himself only learned about the shutdown in late November (see December 3-4, 2007). Biden doesn’t believe Bush’s tale of ignorance: “Are you telling me a president who’s briefed every single morning, who’s fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies of the United States government said [Iran] had abandoned their effort for nuclear weapons in 2003?” Biden says if Bush’s assertion of ignorance is true, then he and his staff are thoroughly incompetent. “You cannot trust this president,” Biden states. [ABC News, 12/4/2007] Biden is joined by other Democratic presidential candidates, although they use less “heated rhetoric” than Biden. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says, “I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.” And Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) notes that Bush “continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology.… They should have stopped the saber rattling; should have never started it. And they need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.” [CNN, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph Biden, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Republican National Committee, Hillary Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” [CNN, 12/5/2007] Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. [Huffington Post, 12/5/2007] A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Bruce Riedel, Stephen J. Hadley, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mike McConnell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Larry C. Johnson, Joseph Biden, Condoleezza Rice, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Melvin A. Goodman

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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