M Pomper on J Schlesinger on Iran

A few days ago, James Schlesinger had a “piece”:http://opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110011011 in the _WSJ_ about the Iran NIE. I particularly liked this part:

Exclusive reliance on hard evidence not infrequently results in deliberately blinding oneself to the most obvious explanation of what has occurred. The classic example of this failing occurred during the Vietnam War, when intelligence analysts stubbornly refused to accept that enemy supplies were pouring through Sihanoukville ostensibly on the grounds that there was no hard evidence. (Actually, there was an agent’s report that revealed the activity, but it was dismissed as insufficient.) Intelligence based on hard evidence requires supplementation by other forms of intelligence.

“Failures of imagination,” to which the 9-11 Commission referred, can come in a variety of modes.

Personally, I can’t think of anything bad that could happen from the IC engaging in speculation about another country’s nuclear program.

My babbling aside, _ACT_ editor Miles Pomper composed a more thoughtful response, which you can read below. I plan to feature more of Miles’ work in the near future.

I agree with much of the thrust of what James Schlesinger wrote in his column (“Stupid Intelligence on Iran,” Dec. 19). The recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear programs—and even more so the press coverage of that assessment— did not give sufficient weight to the danger posed by Iran’s uranium enrichment program (nor its missile programs I would add) in its narrow emphasis on an apparent 2003 halt in Iran’s weaponization activities.

However, Secretary Schlesinger is inaccurate and misleading in his analysis of the factors that may have led to Iran’s 2003 decision.

First of all, it is highly unlikely that Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s decision to abandon Libya’s nuclear program would have affected a 2003 Iranian decision to halt weaponization activities. The Libyan decision was not announced until late December 2003. Even less credible is the possibility that Iran’s decision could have been affected by the exposure of A.Q. Khan’s nuclear technology network and his subsequent confession. After all, Khan’s confession occurred in February 2004.

At the same time, Schlesinger ignores a crucial factor that likely proved more important to the 2003 Iranian decision—international inspections of Iran’s previously secret enrichment facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been informed of Iran’s fuel cycle intentions in September 2002 and their existence was first publicly disclosed by a U.S. non-governmental organization in December 2002. IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaredei first toured those facilities in February 2003 and the subsequent agency inspections led to a torrent of damaging disclosures about Iran’s program and to Iran’s reluctant agreement to grant the agency the power to conduct broader inspections beyond declared nuclear facilities.

Under these circumstances, it would have been surprising if Iran had not taken steps to hide its nuclear weapons activities most uniquely suited to weapons production. After all, discovering such activities—unlike the continuation of the dual-use enrichment program—would have represented a clear and unambiguous violation of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and required a swift referral to the UN Security Council.

Therefore, rather than attributing the Iranian decision solely to “the successes of American policy and arms” during that period, Schlesinger might have considered giving at least some credit to the international agency that may, in fact, have been more influential.

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