Monthly Archives: June 2020

CIA on Cuban Missile Crisis in USSR, 1966

I found an article in a 1994 edition of Studies in Intelligence (p. 105) based on U.S. military attaches’ observations about their time in Moscow during the Cuban missile crisis. Obviously, historians and other experts have written much about this issue since the article originally appeared in 1966, but I think it’s worth reading what observers had to say at the time. Here’s a decent summary of the article:

Read the whole thing, but here’s the conclusion:

I very much like this anecdote concerning the post-crisis diplomatic environment;


This 2017 report titled WNTI Standard for UF6 Cylinder Identification has a wealth of information about that topic, the complexity of which, in my opinion, this portion captures:

Facilities that regularly use model 30B and 48Y cylinders include conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication and depleted UF6 (DUF6) conversion facilities. Since these facilities are typically not at the same location, the process for handling, processing, tracking and reporting on the nuclear material contained in these cylinders can be rather complex. Today, there are approximately 20,000 cylinders in active circulation and greater than 100,000 cylinders in long-term storage.

Here’s a useful chart:

T Fingar on “Nuclear Explosive Device”

In the excerpt from the speech about which I wrote here, Thomas Fingar describes how the IC defined a nuclear explosive device:

DR. FINGAR: The judgment in the estimate – and I’m not going beyond what’s sort of in the unclassified, if you actually read it and understand what you’re reading here – we didn’t change the timeline on how long they would have fissile material. We didn’t change our timeline on how long it would take them to have a device – a device is something like the North Koreans have; it will go bang underground; it will go bang someplace; harder to make it deliverable and to get it small. But though there is a lot that we do not know about how far along they were in this process

Yes, I know he didn’t use that exact phrase, but I think mine is a reasonable interpretation.

T Fingar on Iran NIE

From the same transcript I posted yesterday. This part is long, but worth a read. The whole transcript is great for details about intel community changes circa 2008.

I will start with this portion. I always thought that the personality-driven explanations behind the NIE were shallow:

The characterization of me as the author – I know exactly where it came from. I won’t share that with you tonight, but it got repeated and repeated and repeated. It was part of a very conscious – no need to deal with the substance of the product if you can have ad hominem attack that discredits the product.

In this portion, Fingar addresses the question of political pressure:

MS. DUFFY: There are a number of comments from attendees about the way that the Iraq WMD report might have been read or ignored or shaped by political agendas and so on. And there is another question: were there pressures from the White House or elsewhere in the government to suppress or modify the assessment of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the most recent one?

DR. FINGAR: That I can say categorically, there was absolutely no pressure, interference from the White House or anywhere else in the administration. That’s not meant to try and inbound it. I’ve been at this quite a while. And one of the things that is sort of deeply ingrained in analysts is to have alarm bells go off and start acting like a wild man when they think somebody is improperly trying to exert political influence on his or her judgments. I have an ombudsman who is available and who – we tried to fireproof this estimate every way we could. I had my evaluations standards people go over it. I had the ombudsman sort of reach out. No is the short answer; the administration did not interfere in this.

The rest of this is about process and substance:

But as it became clear we needed to do this, we did it, and the lessons of Iraq – we went back to scrub everything. No prior judgment was allowed to stand unchallenged. No previously examined piece of evidence was taken automatically to have the same meaning as it has been given earlier. The context here of the war in Iraq, the context of the intensive politicization of that war. And even though I had learned long ago in Washington, there are only two possibilities. There are policy successes and intelligence failures. You have never heard anybody claim the opposite: The intelligence was brilliant and the policymaker screwed it up, and you probably never will.

That meant that what we produced on Iran’s nuclear program was going to be scrutinized by the congressional oversight committees that had scrutinized – it took them more than a year to do their post-mortem of analysis of the estimate that had been written in two weeks. They were ready to go to look at the next one that we did. Actually, the next one we did was on Korea – didn’t get that kind of scrutiny. There was a conviction in the minds of some that we were preparing to invade Iran. So get this estimate to us right away; we want to know if this is going to be another excuse for political action.

We worked harder on this, I think, than we, as a community, worked on any. I’m not the author of it. By the end of this, there were in excess of a hundred people who worked on this estimate. There were principal drafters. For reasons I hope were more or less obvious, we never reveal the names of individuals – they pay me big bucks to be the guy that takes the bayonet, but I didn’t write this thing. It was done by people who really know the subject.

I read what I thought was the final draft in June. We were finishing it up to deliver, as promised, during the summer. It was a pretty good estimate. Basically, it confirmed what we had said in 2005 and 2002. There was some detail. We answered some new questions, but basically it hadn’t changed anything. Right at that point, we got new information, incredible new information. So this guidance I mentioned earlier to – you know, what is it that you want, what is it you need, what will give you the – the collectors did a fantastic job.

And it wasn’t one source; it was multiple sources, and it was voluminous information. And we went all the way back to the beginning and said how do we look at this new stuff in light of what we already knew? How do we validate the new stuff against what we thought we knew? Where  here are differences, which one do you come down on? Hundreds of names. Incredible technical detail in this. Bringing in specialists at the weapons labs to do this.

A couple of months into it, we realized that depending on how we came out on the reliability of the information, we could be changing a critical judgment, and we began to alert people that we had not made a decision yet. The jury is still out, but it might change an important judgment about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Well, fast forward, we reached the conclusions that we did.

One of them was to nail with much greater certainty than we had before the existence and the scope of a secret weapons program that Iran has never admitted to, and continues to deny. We identified that Iran continued to press ahead with two of the three critical elements of it: production of fissile material – if you don’t have fissile material, you can’t have a nuclear weapon – in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and continued to move ahead with a missile program to deliver a weapon.

What the estimate found was that in 2003, the Iranians halted the weaponization program and some other covert activities in response to international scrutiny and pressure. That’s the way we wrote it up in the summary of this. Also went through another – timelines, how long it would take them, and so forth, that really were corroboration of things that were – but what got attention, when this was released – and that’s another story here. We wrote this and said this should not be released. Sourcing is too sensitive, the arguments are too sophisticated. It was written for people who worked the issue, have the background.

The fact that we had changed a critical judgment posed an integrity dilemma. Since two directors of national intelligence in 2007 were on record with Iran is determined to have a nuclear weapon, and I was on record – I was the last one to have testified last summer on threat hearings on this – said, given the role of the American judgment in the international political debate, doesn’t integrity sort of require sort of telling the world we changed our mind on some thing? We changed our mind because we had new information. It wasn’t sort of a whim – that we had new information that led us to that conclusion, in a process that had looked at almost a dozen alternative ways of explaining what we had. 


MS. DUFFY: So Iran is a political decision away from nuclear weapons. Can you – obviously from an open-source perspective – can you talk about that a little bit more? What does that mean? And how long would it take them to implement such a political decision?

DR. FINGAR: The judgment in the estimate – and I’m not going beyond what’s sort of in the unclassified, if you actually read it and understand what you’re reading here – we didn’t change the timeline on how long they would have fissile material. We didn’t change our timeline on how long it would take them to have a device – a device is something like the North Koreans have; it will go bang underground; it will go bang someplace; harder to make it deliverable and to get it small. But though there is a lot that we do not know about how far along they were in this process.

Unfortunately, the technology to make simple nuclear weapons is now 70 years old and it’s pretty readily understood, widely available. The key is fissile material. And the hard part is the miniaturization for development. So it wouldn’t take long in our judgment. 

T Fingar on Iraq WMD NIE

From a 2008 speech:

And the Iraq WMD estimate falls in that category. It was requested. We were given a two-week period in which to produce it. And it was bad. It was really bad.


[T]he Iraq WMD estimate. I think of this as having your year-book photo taken on the worst bad hair day ever. The community was never as bad as that estimate. The percentage of analysts who participated in the production of that hurry-up, get- it-out-the-door-in-two-weeks product was tiny compared to the larger set, all of whom were tarred with the same brush of incompetence.


DR. FINGAR: I’ll try to simplify this because it’s a different answer for each of the parts. The worst was the nuclear, but the nuclear was the one that was pointed to, quotations about can’t have the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud kind of thing. There was what I regard as a rather blatant disregard for expertise on this one.

There were some judgments made about aluminum tubes and what they could be used for and the Department of Energy specialists who build centrifuges said wouldn’t work. We at INR went to the company that makes the type of centrifuge that was being – said wouldn’t work. We went to the Brits who build these things – said it wouldn’t work.

There was evidence on certain types of magnets – magnets that were ordered, ring magnets that could be used in this. But they have many, many applications. If you didn’t assume they were for centrifuges, you could have judged them to be used in many other – in fact, we know now they were ordered for a part of the missile program.

The keeping of nuclear scientists together – an assertion that was made in there, and it was extrapolated from a very small number of people – keeping the nuclear. But again, because of the U.N. investigations, the IAEA investigations, work the DOE did, we had the names of hundreds of people who had been involved in the program up until 1990. And we knew where most of them worked. And most of them actually had important day jobs in military industries. So there was an easier explanation.

So there were a lot of things that in the end were sloppy analysis, truly sloppy analysis. And this will sound harsh, but the terrible NIE that is blamed for having such a deleterious impact in fact was read by almost nobody. It’s really quite striking – because of its classification, it had to be signed out. We know that hundreds of people claim that they were misled by something they hadn’t read. I haven’t figured out the explanation for that yet. But so, there’s a gap between effect and quality.

Finally, one generalized problem is there was a bias that was more like a lawyer than an analyst. And we’ve translated it in the training programs. With a lawyer, it’s got a bottom line; go get it; find the precedence; build the argument that makes the case. Saddam was evil. He’d had chemical weapons. He’d had biological programs. He’d had a nuclear program. He had a missile program. He had it once. He must have it. If we’re not finding it, it’s because he’s good at hiding it. So evidence was systematically interpreted to make the case, not looked at to say what are the alternative ways in which you could account for this observed phenomenon. That’s the biggest flaw in it.

Now, the chemical weapons was a bad source. The biological one was grab-bag that he’d had this; he’d had that, so he might still have it all, even though – the missile one turned out to be mostly right on this. So it was an uneven performance. But fundamentally, it was failure to consider alternative hypothese