Monthly Archives: May 2020

P.Pillar on 2007 Iran NIE

While looking for something else, I came across this piece by Gareth Porter, which has some good primary source material on the Iran NIE.

For example, this section has some material based on interviews with Paul Pillar:

Robert D. Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs and formerly a weapons analyst in WINPAC’s predecessor, the [CIA Nonproliferation Center], had the lead in the 2001 estimate. That meant that he would determine what would be included in the first draft, as Pillar observed.13 WINPAC’s technical analysts dominated the process, writing not only about Iran’s capabilities in regard to possible nuclear weapons but also the crucial section on Iran’s nuclear intentions, according to Pillar, even though that was not their expertise.14 Those analysts who had the expertise to assess Iran’s intent in light of the full range of evidence were again sidelined.

Pillar recalled that the basis for the [2001 NIE’s] conclusion that Iran intended to go to nuclear weapons was “a matter of inference, not direct evidence.”15 Pillar and other analysts believed that the Iranian regime had not made a decision to build nuclear weapons and that Iran’s decision on manufacturing nuclear weapons would be especially influenced by United States policy — particularly whether the United States pursued an aggressive policy toward Iran or was willing to offer security assurances to Tehran. Citing pragmatic arguments made by Iranian officials against possession of nuclear weapons, among other indications, they argued that Iran was pursuing a “hedging strategy” aimed at having the technical know-how and capability to acquire nuclear weapons but refraining from a decision to proceed with a nuclear program for the indefinite future. But the WINPAC analysts tended to be uninterested in such arguments, according to Pillar: “Some of them would say, ‘Don’t give me that Iranian-decision-yet-to-be-made approach. They’ve already decided!'”16

Because two dramatically different points of view had been expressed during the discussion of the draft, the participants either had to agree on compromise language or to register fundamental disagreement on the conclusions. The negotiations focused on the order of key sentences representing the two competing conclusions. The side that prevailed got its conclusions into the very first two sentences, Pillar said, whereas the competing conclusion might only appear in the third paragraph.17 


Essentially the same dynamics were repeated in the 2005 NIE on Iran’s nuclear program. WINPAC analysts reaffirmed their previous assessments about the Iranian nuclear program. And Pillar and other country and regional analysts again argued that Iran had not made any decision to weaponize and was engaging in a “hedging” strategy. The first sentence of the key conclusions in the 2005 estimate assessed “[w]ith high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that Iran is immovable.”20 Despite the “high confidence” claimed in that conclusion, however, no evidence had come to light of any Iranian nuclear-weapons design work, according to Pillar.21

P. Pillar on 2002 NIE

Paul Pillar spoke to PBS in 2006 about the 2002 NIE on Iraqi WMD:

What was your take on the weapons-of-mass-destruction program of Saddam Hussein at that time in 2002?

The take was the same as everyone else’s take. When I say everyone else, I mean every intelligence service on the globe, and reflecting a general consensus that there was something there in terms of programs and, [in] the case at least of chemical weapons, probably of stockpiles. There was no strong reason from an analyst’s point of view to call into basic question the idea that there was something there.

What do you mean?

There were huge collection gaps; there’s no question about it. … There was not a basis for anyone to stick his or her head up and say, “Wait a minute; analytically there might not be anything there,” because the prima facie case was yes, there was something there. …

Nuclear, too?

Nuclear, too. … And there, the consensus judgment of the community, as is well known, is that Iraq was probably several years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Nuclear, too. … And there, the consensus judgment of the community, as is well known, is that Iraq was probably several years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon.


Tell me the story of the 2002 NIE. How does it get started? How does it get written? … Why is it requested? …

It was requested by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. This was already the autumn of 2002, so there was going to be a vote in Congress, as everyone knew, on what became known as the Iraq war resolution. The senators wanted a separate input on the issue of weapons of mass destruction from the intelligence community before they reached their vote. The schedule was very compressed. There was only three weeks in which the estimate was done, although it was based, of course, on previously done work. …

Do you think it was a good document?

Well, in retrospect, there were certainly significant flaws in it, or it reflected significant flaws in the tradecraft, which mainly had to do with insufficient checking of the credibility of sources, which later were revealed. …

Specifically what happened?

A lot of intelligence analysts were caught up in several things: a previous consensus against which there just wasn’t enough intelligence to challenge it; the consensus being that yes, there were programs. The atmosphere in which they were working, in which a policy decision clearly had already been made, in which intelligence was being looked to to support that decision rather to inform decisions yet to be made, was a very important part of the atmosphere.

Exactly how that may have affected the individual judgments of particular analysts, it’s impossible to say. It probably had some effect, particularly since most of the shortcomings of the analysis we’re talking about come down to matters of nuance, caveat — whether the language is too strong, that sort of thing. There were many, many opportunities for things to be shaded in the preferred direction rather than in another direction.

Even if they weren’t shaded in a sense of being directly politicized, what the analysts knew was we were going to war, so there might have been an erring in the direction of warning. … The last thing any intelligence officer would want to have happen is American armies invade and they are caught by surprise by something like chemical weapons or biological weapons, so quite possibly, there might have been a bias for that reason as well. …

USG Sanctions May 2020 Advisory

The Departments of State and Treasury, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, recently issued a Sanctions Advisory for the Maritime Industry, Energy and Metals Sectors, and Related Communities.

The advisory has lots of weedy stuff about sanctions evasion, as this excerpt indicates:

This advisory discusses sanctions risks and contains information on common deceptive shipping practices and general approaches to aid in further tailoring due diligence and sanctions compliance policies and procedures. It is intended primarily to provide guidance to the following: ship owners, managers, operators, brokers, ship chandlers, flag registries, port operators, shipping companies, freight forwarders, classification service providers, commodity traders, insurance companies, and financial institutions.1,2 This advisory includes both updated information on the deceptive practices used to evade sanctions and policies and procedures that entities operating in the specific maritime sectors enumerated above may wish to consider adopting as part of a risk-based sanctions compliance program.

There’s also specific information about sanctions and Iran, North Korea, and Syria. There’s also this interesting NK graphic:

Blix and Bastards

This was a rare moment of levity back when:

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian from his 31st floor office at the UN in New York, Mr Blix said: “I have my detractors in Washington. There are bastards who spread things around, of course, who planted nasty things in the media. Not that I cared very much.”

DOD on Soviet TNWs, 1991

I suspect that many nerds already know this, but here’s a data point from the document about which I blogged yesterday:

The Soviets have a wide variety of tactical nuclear weapons. The number of nuclear capable and potentially nuclear-capable artillery cannons has increased by well over a factor of ten in the last decade.

Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda place the number of Soviet TNWs at “13,000–22,000 in the late-1980s.”

S Rice in 2019 on Iran and Warhead Development

Ambassador Susan Rice writes the following in Tough Love:

The IAEA reported [n 2009] that Iran had enriched some uranium to 20 percent (close to bomb-grade quality) and continued working on warhead designs far longer than previously suspected.

I didn’t understand this reference, so I consulted the the IAEA DG reports from 2009:

November, August, June, February.

Having done so, I still don’t understand the reference. The IAEA was investigating possible Iranian work on RV’s in 2009, but it had been doing so since at least 2005. Even if her claim were true, it seems irrelevant…Rice doesn’t explain whether and to what extent this information impacted the IC’s 2007 assessment that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program.