I missed this when it came out a couple of weeks ago.
Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte “told NPR”:http://www.dni.gov/interviews/20060901_interview.pdf that the IC’s estimate regarding Iran’s nuclear program is the same as it was a year ago.
MR. SIEGEL: …According to U.S. intelligence
agencies, how soon will Iran have a nuclear weapon given its present program? Well, Negroponte says the US made its estimate a year ago.
AMB. NEGROPONTE: These are estimates. These are judgments. Theyâ€™re not hard and cold simple facts. But our best estimate at the time, and it continues to be the judgment of the Intelligence Community, is that sometime beginning in the next decade, perhaps out to the middle of the next decade would be a good time frame, a good estimate of when they might have such a capability.
*MR. SIEGEL: Sometime between four and 10 years from now you would assume they could achieve a nuclear weapon.
AMB. NEGROPONTE: Five to 10 years from now.*
MR. SIEGEL: The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on its inspections this week. They reported on rather little progress by the Iranians. Does that conform to U.S. intelligence or does it in any way alter your estimate?
AMB. NEGROPONTE: This is a judgment that was formed over a period of time based on all sources of intelligence that we have, and I think those basic pieces remain in place today, both the determination to acquire such a capability, and the efforts that are under way to achieve that. Now mind you . and this was why I was careful to say at the outset that these are estimates and judgments, because you donâ€™t know what you donâ€™t know. And Iran is by definition, from the point of view of the Intelligence Community, a hard target. They engage in denial and deception. They donâ€™t want us to necessarily know everything that theyâ€™re doing. So we donâ€™t, for example, know whether thereâ€™s a secret military program and to what extent that program has made progress.
Negroponte also discussed Israeli estimates regarding Iran:
MR. SIEGEL: When Americans hear of, or read of, say, an Israeli estimate that the Iranians are two years away from a nuclear weapon, do you think the Israelis are just making different inferences from the same evidence you see .
AMB. NEGROPONTE: No .
MR. SIEGEL: or they know differently?
AMB. NEGROPONTE: No, I donâ€™t . I think that we basically operate from the same knowledge base. We also happen to consult with the Israelis quite closely. We have intelligence-sharing arrangements, procedures.
I think that sometimes what the Israelis will do. and I think that perhaps because itâ€™s a more existential issue for them, they will give you the worst-case assessment.
We would agree that perhaps an equally valid assessment would be the same one that we put forward.
MR. SIEGEL: But youâ€™re talking about differences in assessment and analysis of information.
AMB. NEGROPONTE: Correct.
MR. SIEGEL: . not differences in information?
AMB. NEGROPONTE: That . I would say that, yes. I think thatâ€™s fair.
Obviously, I don’t know what sources the US IC has on Iran, but I would point out that Iran’s diminished cooperation with the IAEA during the past few months has made the program a lot more of a black box, both to the public and (I bet) the US IC.
That’s why Tehran should resume implementing its additional protocol ASAP – the lack of public information, I think, hurts Iran at least as much as anyone else. That lack makes it tough for the public to resolve “debates”:http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/15529884.htm concerning Iran’s nuclear capabilities – especially when there’s no neutral third party to investigate “claims”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/14/AR2006091401533_pf.html that Tehran has secret nuclear programs, etc.
That’s a problem. I think that the pace of Iran’s program gives us time for international diplomacy can work. But absent more Iranian cooperation, advocates for diplomacy will be increasingly hard-pressed to point to reliable public estimates of the program.