By Ewen MacAskill
The Guardian UK
Saturday 08 December 2007
Report has torpedoed plans for military action and brought "howls" from
The intelligence came from an exotic variety of sources: there was
the so-called Laptop of Death; there was the Iranian commander who
mysteriously disappeared in Turkey. Also in the mix was video footage of
a nuclear plant in central Iran and intercepts of Iranian telephone
calls by the British listening station GCHQ.
But pivotal to the US investigation into Iran's suspect nuclear
weapons programme was the work of a little-known intelligence
specialist, Thomas Fingar. He was the principal author of an
intelligence report published on Monday that concluded Iran, contrary to
previous US claims, had halted its covert programme four years ago and
had not restarted it. Almost single-handedly he has stopped - or, at the
very least, postponed - any US military action against Iran.
neoconservatives and Washington's foreign policy and intelligence
professionals - between ideologues and pragmatists. It provided an
unexpected victory for those opposed to the neocon plans for a military
The report, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which
represents the consensus of the 16 US intelligence agencies, gave
President George Bush one of his most difficult weeks since taking
office in January 2001.
Fingar's findings were met in many Washington offices occupied by
foreign policy and intelligence professionals not only with relief but
with rejoicing. They had lost out in the run-up to the war in Iraq in
2003, but they are winning this one.
A backlash is under way; with the neocons being joined by even
moderate foreign policy specialists who claim the report seriously
underestimates the threat posed by Iran. Senate Republicans are planning
to call next week for a congressional commission to investigate the report.
Senator John Ensign, a Republican, said: "Iran is one of the
greatest threats in the world today. Getting the intelligence right is
Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst and former National Security
Council adviser in the Bush administration, was among those celebrating
this week, and praised Fingar and his colleagues. "We seem to have
lucked out and have individuals who resist back-channel politics and
tell it how it is," he said. "That is what the CIA and other agencies
are supposed to do."
He continued that Fingar and one of his co-authors, Vann Van Diepen,
national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction, had
opposed the war in Iraq. "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," Leverett said. "It is not mutiny
for intelligence officers to state their honest views."
Fingar, Van Diepen and Kenneth Brill, a former US ambassador to the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), were able to put out what
they regard as an objective assessment because those occupying senior
roles in the Bush administration had changed. Paul Wolfowitz, John
Bolton, Douglas Feith and Donald Rumsfeld have given way to those who
oppose war with Iran, including Robert Gates, the defence secretary and
former CIA director, and the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.
Only the vice-president, Dick Cheney, remains to advocate military
strikes against Iran. Wolfowitz, out of work since resigning from the
World Bank earlier this year, has been invited back into the
administration by Rice as an adviser on WMD, but that is an act of pity
for an old mentor, not a shift in power to the neocons.
Joseph Cirincione, author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of
Nuclear Weapons, also welcomed the report, saying: "What is happening is
that foreign policy has swung back to the grown-ups. We are watching the
collapse of the Bush doctrine in real time. The neoconservatives are
howling because they know their influence is waning."
The report is a disaster for Bush's Iranian policy. Although he
still refuses to take the military option off the table, it is harder to
give the order to go to war. It also makes it harder for the US to
persuade Russia and China to back tougher economic sanctions against Iran.
Bush and Cheney might have tried to block publication but feared it
would leak, leading to damaging charges of cover-up and the manipulation
of intelligence. "It was not likely to stay classified for long,
anyway," Cheney told Politico, the Washington daily devoted to politics.
The "howling" of the neocons that Cirincione spoke about began
within hours of the report's publication. Bolton, who remains close to
Cheney, appeared on CNN complaining about the authors without naming
them. In the comment section of the Washington Post on Thursday he
wrote: "Many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not
intelligence professionals but refugees from the state department." He
accused the officials, who he said had held benign views of Iran's
nuclear intentions five or six years ago, of presenting these same
policy biases as "intelligence judgements".
The Wall Street Journal, the editorial pages of which have long been
aligned with the neocon agenda, went straight on to the attack within a
day of the report's publication, expressing doubt in the officials and
their conclusions. It quoted an intelligence source describing Fingar,
Van Diepen and Brill as having reputations as "hyper-partisan anti-Bush
Bush has said repeatedly that the US will not allow Iran to secure a
nuclear weapons capability. Air strikes were becoming an increasingly
likely option, even though opposed by the US state department, the
Pentagon and the intelligence agencies. As of last spring, American
deployments in the Gulf had been completed, ready should the order be given.
A European official close to the discussions, who is copied in to
key memos relating to Iran, spoke in the summer as if an attack was a
given. He said that the war was containable only as long as the Iranians
did not strike back.
Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA head of counter-terrorism, said
Bush had been building up the anti-Iran rhetoric to justify the military
option: "There was a set of contingency plans updated over the last year
and a half. The intent was air strikes to destroy the nuclear programme
to the extent that it could be done. Is it possible to destroy 100%
underground nuclear facilities? No, it is not. Could they set it back 10
Iran's covert programme can be traced back to the mid-1980s when the
country was at war with Iraq and fearful that the then Iraqi leader,
Saddam Hussein, might secure a nuclear weapon. The programme involved
design, ballistic delivery systems and uranium enrichment; the NIE
concluded in 2005 that it was continuing. In July that year US
intelligence officials showed IAEA officials an alleged stolen Iranian
laptop with thousands of pages relating to nuclear weapons experiments.
It was nicknamed the Laptop of Death - it is still not clear whether it
Fingar and his colleagues have gone back over the material and
subjected it to a higher level of scrutiny. They took the same data but
reached different conclusions. They also had some new material.
Cannistraro said everyone was pointing towards General Ali-Reza
Asgari, a former deputy defence minister, who disappeared in Turkey in
February. But he insisted Asgari had been a long-term agent run by the
West who has since been debriefed and given a new identity.
"It is not a single source," said Cannistraro. "It is multiple:
technical, documents, electronic."
Cheney, though his position is weakened by the NIE report, is due
tomorrow to give a TV interview in which he will insist that the danger
posed by Iran has not diminished. He told Politico the cause for concern
was Iran's civilian development of highly enriched uranium, which would
be relatively easy at a later date to switch to making a nuclear weapon.
Foreign policy pragmatists are pressing for the US to open direct
talks with Iran. This is unlikely, but what this week has meant is that
Bush has lost one of the pretexts for launching a new war in the 13
months he has left in office.
Go to Original
Pentagon Plans Unchanged by Iran Report: General
Friday 07 December 2007
Washington - A U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran halted its
nuclear weapons program in 2003 has had no effect on Pentagon planning,
a senior U.S. military officer said on Friday.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Sattler, director for strategic plans and
policy on the U.S. military's Joint Staff, said officials were still
digesting the National Intelligence Estimate released on Monday.
Sattler told reporters at the Pentagon he would not talk publicly
about any U.S. military contingency plans but he said: "There has been
no course correction, slowdown, speedup given to us inside the Joint
Staff based on the NIE."
The Bush administration has insisted that it wants to resolve its
dispute with Tehran over Iran's nuclear program through diplomacy but
will not rule out military action.
Analysts have said the intelligence estimate, which reversed
previous assessments, makes it much less likely that the United States
would attack Iran.
Following the release of the estimate, President George W. Bush said
Iran remained dangerous and would be dangerous in the future if it had
the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon. Iran say its nuclear program is
purely for energy generation.
In Kansas City on Friday, Vice President Dick Cheney restated the
administration's stance on Iran.
"We're dealing with a country that is still enriching uranium and
remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism. That is a cause of great
concern to the United States," he said.
"Not everyone understands the threat of nuclear proliferation in
Iran or elsewhere but we and our allies do understand the threat and we
have a duty to prevent it," Cheney said in remarks delivered at the
National World War I Museum.
At the Pentagon, Sattler declined to say if he believed the NIE's
findings meant Iran was now less of a threat.
"That is a strategy question and a policy question and we are in the
process of discussing it," he said.
"I'd rather wait and let us sort our way through it than give you a
Reporting by Andrew Gray in Washington and Carey Gillam in Kansas City.