Understanding Dennis Blair

Fresh off his spirited but unsuccessful defense of Chas Freeman, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran has not decided whether to pursue the production of weapons grade uranium and the parallel ability to load it onto a ballistic missile. Blair also said that “the minimum time at which Iran could technically produce the amount of highly enriched uranium for a single weapon is 2010 to 2015.” This spread — a significant one, especially since 2010 is next year — is the result of differences of opinion within the intelligence community about how quickly Iran could develop a weapon if it decided to start up the weapons program it allegedly suspended in 2003.

Blair acknowledged that Israeli intelligence takes a different view. And, in fact, Israel’s chief of military intelligence recently told cabinet ministers that “Iran continues to stockpile hundreds of kilograms of low-level enriched uranium and hopes to use the dialogue with the West to buy the time it requires in order to move towards an ability to manufacture a nuclear bomb.

Thus, the U.S. has concluded that Iran is not producing enriched uranium and hasn’t decided whether to do so in the future. Israel has concluded that Iran is stocking enriched uranium and has decided to use it to manufacture a nuclear bomb.

Blair’s explanation of these differing assessments is quite interesting. According to Blair, the U.S. and Israel are working from the same facts, but have drawn different conclusions. Blair attributes the difference to the fact that “the Israelis are far more concerned about it, and they take more of a worst-case approach to these things from their point of view.”

If I understand Blair’s less than lucid explanation correctly, he is saying that Israel draws different conclusions than the U.S. from the same facts because they are more fearful of the consequences of Iran developing a nuclear bomb. Although Blair may be suggesting that Israel is paranoid, one could just as easily infer that the more sanguine U.S. view of Iran’s progress and intentions stems from lack of deep concern about what it would mean for Iran to have a nuclear bomb.

Either way, Blair seems to be questioning the possibility of objective intelligence assessments. This cynicism provides additional context in which to understand his selection of Chas Freeman.

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