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July 23, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Controversial Iran intel estimate revisted
One of the enduring questions about Iran’s nuclear program, which could be answered under the nuclear deal reached in Vienna this month, is whether a highly debated 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Tehran’s nuclear program was accurate or off the mark.

The controversial NIE concluded that Iran had halted all work on nuclear arms in 2003. The report marked a dramatic and surprising shift by intelligence analysts. Two years earlier, another NIE report said Iran was building enriched uranium-based nuclear arms with help from the covert Pakistani nuclear supplier network headed by A.Q. Khan.

The 2007 estimate concluded, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

That analytic position then became one of the central canons among analysts at CIA and other agencies, which stubbornly continue to insist Iran ended its nuclear program in 2003, despite evidence to the contrary.

Critics note that the refusal to revise the NIE bolsters the observation that the CIA’s motto should be: “We may not always be right, but we’re never wrong.”

The 2007 estimate was widely discredited as a “politicization” of intelligence from an intelligence community reeling from an earlier failure to properly assess Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War.

According to both intelligence and policy officials familiar with the fashioning of the 2007 NIE, senior intelligence bureaucrats seemed more intent on using the intelligence analysis to dissuade what they regarded as trigger-happy officials in the George W. Bush administration from going to war with Iran.

The late James Schlesinger, a former CIA director, skewered the NIE in a 2007 Wall Street Journal article, stating that “the crucial decision, hidden in a footnote, was to define the ‘nuclear weapons program’ which had been halted to mean only ‘Iran’s weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium enrichment-related work.’” The NIE excluded the overt enrichment program.

Mr. Schlesinger noted fissile material production is widely regarded as the “long pole in the tent” of nuclear arms programs, and “thus the NIE defines away what has been the main element stirring international alarm regarding Iran’s nuclear activity.”

Similarly, the new Vienna accord signed July 14 also excludes Iran’s past, covert nuclear weapons work, by addressing it in a separate, secret pact between Tehran and the IAEA.

Asked about the issue, Olli Heinonen, former IAEA deputy director, also said the NIE failed to properly define Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Activities that continued past 2003 were masked as “dual-use” — civilian nuclear activities that also were useful for weapons, he said.

Mr. Heinonen said it appears the NIE relied on Iranian nuclear arms specialists who had produced “final reports” that U.S. intelligence incorrectly assessed as signaling an end to the arms program.

“But when you make a final report, you don’t write it for the history books. I think it’s for further use,” he said. “Why would you otherwise document it?”

That was reflected in the IAEA’s Nov. 2011 report, the baseline for the current Iran deal, that also refutes the 2007 NIE.

“There are also indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing,” the report said.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who led the agency at the time the NIE was rolled out, told Inside the Ring the 2007 NIE tried to be narrowly focused.

“It says, rather inartfully, that Iran had stopped work on the nuclear weapon itself and whatever secret enrichment was being done at military facilities,” Mr. Hayden said. “That judgment was based on the evidence of absence, not the absence of evidence. Of course, hidden in that conclusion was the reality that, until 2003, Iran was indeed doing all those things. They lied about it then, and they are lying about it now.”

As to weapons work after 2003, “we assessed that was limited, peripheral and dual-use,” Mr. Hayden said.

“But I would hesitate signing an agreement without confidence as to what they had done, before and after 2003,” he added. “My sense is, despite the current agreement, we will not know much more by the end of the year” when the IAEA must report on Iran’s past weapons activities.

New START visit confirms SLBM warheads
U.S. weapons inspectors in May were given the first look underneath the nose cone of one of Russia’s newest ballistic missiles — the submarine-launched SSN-32 missile. According to defense sources, the secret inspection visit confirmed the new SSN-32, dubbed the Bulava (Mace) by the Russians, is armed with six multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs.

The new missile was declared under the New START Treaty as having six warheads, but the May inspection was the first confirmation.

The SSN-32 had a rocky development as six of 13 flight tests were failures prior to 2009.

The missile is a key element of a major strategic nuclear forces buildup by Moscow that also includes a new submarine to launch it — the Borey-class — and two new land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Topol M Variant 2, and Yars, modernized Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers, and a new strategic bomber.

Other new strategic forces include a new long-range nuclear cruise missile called Raduga, a new road-mobile ICBM, called Rubezh, and a new rail-mobile ICBM known as Barguzin.

Another new very large ICBM is also in development called Sarmat that will have MIRVs, and a new fifth-generation missile submarine to be armed with ballistic and cruise missiles is also being built.

The new bomber will be used to deliver both cruise missiles and reportedly ultra-high-speed maneuvering hypersonic missiles.

“Russia is embarked on a massive strategic modernization program to deploy new nuclear weapons and delivery systems,” a recent report by Virginia-based think tank National Institute for Public Policy states. “While many in the West believe that the end of the Cold War has meant the end of a confrontational and adversarial relationship with Russia, recent events suggest this hoped-for outcome is more the result of wishful thinking than of a sober and realistic assessment of the current geostrategic environment.

“Under these circumstances, the possibility that Russia may trigger events leading to their actual use of nuclear weapons cannot be dismissed out of hand.”

Islamic State targets Baghdad
A private security assessment of Iraq is warning that Baghdad is increasingly under threat of attack by Islamic State (IS) militants following a recent deadly car bombing 22 miles from the capital.

According to the Falcon Group’s Iraqi Daily Security review, the car bombing on July 17 in a crowded market at Khan Bani Saad, killing at least 80 people, has forced the Iraqi government to move additional security forces out of Baghdad.

“The Iraqi government is experiencing competing pressures from dispersed IS attacks which have strained the capacity of both the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the ‘Popular Mobilization,’” the security contractor report said.

Because of the extremely high number of casualties from the bombing at Khan Bani Saad, the head of the Diyala provincial security committee announced that half of Diyala province’s resident security forces were forward-deployed to priority fronts against the Islamic State in Anbar and Salah ad-Din provinces. As a result, the forces have left “vast areas close to Baghdad unprotected.”

“This security gap may have enabled IS to expand in Diyala Province, not only in northern Diyala, but also in historic support zones such as Baquba and towns like Khan Bani Saad situated northeast of Baghdad,” the report said.

According to the latest security report, which is closely read by the Defense Intelligence Agency because of its comprehensive assessments of Iraqi security, it appears the Khan Bani Saad attack was meant to force the Iraqi government to divert security forces toward eastern Baghdad and away from other fronts, such as Anbar province, where the Islamic State is on the defensive.

“IS may also be attempting to divert attention from other targets, such as western Baghdad, where the [Iraqi security forces] interdicted multiple [vehicle bombs] over the reporting period,” the report said.

According to the report, the Islamic State is likely planning the seizure of territory in Diyala province, adjacent to Baghdad in the northeast, where Islamic State forces are making gains.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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