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Profile: Thomas Fingar
Thomas Fingar was a participant or observer in the following events:
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
Admiral Mike McConnell, the new director of national intelligence. [Source: Salon]Saudi Arabia is funding the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, according to Congressional testimony by the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. The Sunni insurgency is considered far more dangerous, at this point, to US troops than are the Shi’ite insurgents of the Mahdi Army and other groups, some of whom are funded by Iran. McConnell’s testimony highlights government worries that Iraq’s civil war could turn into a direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, by Iraqi proxies, with US troops caught in the middle. Brian Jenkins, a military expert with the Rand Corporation, says, "What we already are seeing in Iraq is an emerging proxy war between Saudi-backed Sunnis and Iranian-backed Shia." While Iran has been considered, in recent years, an opponent of the US in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has had a long and close relationship with both the US government and the Bush family. In his testimony before Congress, McConnell is reluctant to identify the Saudis as the source of funding for the Sunni insurgents and only does so after tough questioning from Carl Levin (D-MI). McConnell and his deputy, Thomas Fingar, later qualify McConnell’s Senate testimony by saying that they cannot be sure whether the Saudi money is actually coming from the Saudi government. They also refuse to clarify whether the Saudis are supporting al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq (al-Qaeda being a Sunni organization) or homegrown Iraqi Sunni insurgents. A largely ignored section of the December 2006 report by the Iraq Study Group noted, "Funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States even as those governments help facilitate US military operations in Iraq by providing basing and overflight rights and by cooperating on intelligence issues." Steven Simon, a senior member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, says Saudi funding of the Sunni insurgency "is one of those things that we dare not speak its name." He continues, "There is a renewed desire to protect the US-Saudi bilateral relationship. So you don’t want to draw public attention to things they are doing that many observers might regard as counter to American interests." [Hearst News, 3/4/2007]
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]
Joining the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page questions the motives of the three former State Department officials who helped compile the NIE, Thomas Fingar, Vann Van Diepin, and Kenneth Brill. The Journal writes, “Our own ‘confidence’ is not heightened by the fact that the NIE’s main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as ‘hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.’” [Fox News, 12/6/2007] Former UN ambassador and influential neoconservative John Bolton agrees. Bolton, who has already accused the intelligence community of deliberately politicizing its report (see December 4, 2007), tells a reporter: “I would also say many of the people who wrote this are former State Department employees who, during their career at the State Department, never gave much attention to the threat of the Iranian program. Now they are writing as members of the intelligence community, the same opinions that they have had four and five years ago.” [CNN, 12/4/2007]
Thomas Fingar. [Source: Office of Personnel Management]Some Bush administration members and supporters accuse three former State Department officials of deliberately writing the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (NIE) (see December 3, 2007) in an inaccurate and partisan manner. The three former State Department officials are Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Vann Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; and Kenneth Brill, director of the national counterproliferation center. All three currently work at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill helped compile the information in the NIE, and helped write the final draft, but none of them actually produced or analyzed the intelligence used in the report. A spokesman for Senator John Ensign (R-NV) says that intelligence reports such as the recent Iran NIE are “becoming very politicized.” David Wurmser, the former chief Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney, says, “One has to look at the agendas of the primary movers of this report, to judge how much it can really be banked on.” The officials say that when the three DNI officials worked in the State Department under then-Secretary Colin Powell, they supported Powell’s belief that diplomacy, not confrontation and belligerence, would best address the threat from Iran’s nuclear program. On the other side was then-Undersecretary John Bolton, who, like his fellow neoconservatives in the White House, believed that the only way to handle Iran’s nuclear threat was by confrontation. Unnamed officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of trying to “torpedo the threat that this administration would pose to their desired policy outcomes on Iran, which is some kind of accommodation with an Iranian nuclear program.” The officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of working to block economic and military sanctions against Iran and “sabotag[ing]” the administration’s attempt to pressure foreign allies to impose sanctions. The three former State officials were brought to the DNI by then-director John Negroponte, considered a strong Powell ally. Van Diepen is particular criticized and accused of having a personal animosity towards Bolton, and of opposing anything towards Iran except what they call “tea-cup diplomacy.” Brill is accused of being “extremely close” to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an agency which these officials view as an Iran apologist. [Washington Times, 12/7/2007] The anonymous officials’ charges are refuted by, among others, Vice President Dick Cheney (see December 6, 2007).
Entity Tags: John Negroponte, George W. Bush, David Wurmser, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), John Ensign, Vann Van Diepen, Mohamed ElBaradei, Thomas Fingar, John R. Bolton, Kenneth Brill, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Former CIA analyst and National Security Council adviser Flynt Leverett, who worked in George W. Bush’s administration, praises the authors of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007), saying: “We seem to have lucked out and have individuals who resist back-channel politics and tell it how it is. That is what the CIA and other agencies are supposed to do.” Speaking of two of the authors of the NIE, Thomas Fingar and Vann Van Diepen (see December 7, 2007), Leverett says: “They both felt the intelligence was misused in the run-up to the Iraq war. The conservatives are now attacking them, saying they are taking their revenge. It is not mutiny for intelligence officers to state their honest views.” [Guardian, 12/8/2007]
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