The intelligence community’s incorrect assessment of whether or to what extent Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction led to an outcry from the left that the intelligence process had been politicized. This charge was leveled even though the intelligence services of our allies, where the politics of going to war with Iraq were quite different from here, all made basically the same incorrect assessment our intelligence community did.
The outcry from the left — and especially from liberal politicians embarrassed about having supported gong to war — spawned various hearings and other forms of investigation by various bodies. The result, in all cases, was no finding that the intelligence process had been politicized. The incorrect assessments, it turned out, reflected the honest views of our intelligence community.
Now we know about another intelligence failure pertaining to the same basic issue. In 2007, our intelligence services “assessed” that any secret uranium enrichment activities by Iran “were probably halted” in 2003 and, albeit with less confidence, that these activities had not restarted thereafter. In fact, however, Iran had built bunkers into the side of a mountain at a military base near Qom almost certainly, our intelligence officials now say, for the purpose of making highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
Yet neither the left nor the MSM has, to my knowledge, questioned the motives (much less, called for an investigation) of those in our intelligence services who foisted the 2007 assessment upon policy makers and into the public consciousness. For example, this story in today’s Washington Post by Joby Warrick, which purports to track the evolution of thinking in the intelligence community about Iran’s nuclear activities, assumes the absence of any political agenda and suggests that the error was simply the result of Iran picking “a perfect hiding spot for a nuclear facility.”
In reality, the erroneous report about Iranian WMD developments should raise more suspicions of bad faith than the corresponding error regarding Iraq. For one thing, the erroneous assessment of Iraqi activity was shared by other foreign intelligence services. To my knowledge, the sanguine assessment regarding Iran was not; certainly it was not the view of the intelligence service of Israel, the nation with the most at stake.
Moreover, during the previous U.S. administration, which had no real desire to attack Iraq, our intelligence community was also of the view that Iraq had WMD on a relatively large scale. And Iraq had an undisputed history of working to develop WMD. This history raised a presumption that, since the regime hadn’t changed, the policy had continued. Nor was Saddam Hussein able (or, more precisely as it turns out, willing) to demonstrate that things had changed.
The 2007 assessment of the situation in Iran, on the other hand, posited a shift in policy by the same regime. It thus raised the question of why that shift would have occurred. A plausible reason existed for why Iran’s policy might have shifted in 2003 – the successful U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that success was not sustained, and Iran’s fear of ending up at war with the U.S. presumably began quickly to diminish. Thus, by 2007 it was most implausible to suppose that Iran had walked from its nuclear program based on fear of U.S. power; nor was there any other plausible basis for reaching this conclusion.
Indeed, the 2007 assessment never passed the straight face test. This is clear from the fact that Barack Obama did not embrace it as a presidential candidate. During the campaign, Obama treated the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program as a serious one that he was committed to dealing with. He didn’t argue that Iran had abandoned its nuclear program; indeed, to my knowledge he never discussed this as a possibility, even though that was the conclusion of our intelligence community. Obama knew he would lose his credibility as a presidential candidate, and perhaps be laughed off the stage, if he argued that Iran had voluntarily given up on its nuclear weapons program.
By contrast, the intelligence community’s view that Iraq had WMD was extremely plausible. Nearly everyone who opposed going to war with Iraq based their opposition on reasons other than a claim that Iraq did not possess WMD.
Finally, the three authors of the 2007 NIE assessment — Tom Fingar, Vann Van Diepin and Kenneth Brill — are, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials with their own distinct policy preferences.” One of those preferences, it seems clear, is that the U.S. not conduct, sponsor, or support an attack on Iran. Thus, the authors had an obvious motive to provide a less than objective assessment of Iran’s nuclear program — to decrease the likelihood that the U.S would conduct, sponsor, or support such an attack.
In sum, If ever an investigation into the politicization of intelligence were warranted, it would be warranted here. The three authors of the 2007 NIE report — Fingar, Van Diepin, and Brill — and anyone else responsible for the production of this false, absurd assessment should be called on to explain, as officials were with respect to Iraq, why they erred. And their explanations should not be taken at face value.
No such investigation will occur, of course. The Democrats who would have to launch it share the same objective as the authors – protection of Iran from attack – and probably regard the authors as heroes.
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