CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb program

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CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb program

Postby Thanas » 2012-02-25 11:04pm

NYTimes

U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb

WASHINGTON — Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.

Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

At the center of the debate is the murky question of the ultimate ambitions of the leaders in Tehran. There is no dispute among American, Israeli and European intelligence officials that Iran has been enriching nuclear fuel and developing some necessary infrastructure to become a nuclear power. But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies believe that Iran has yet to decide whether to resume a parallel program to design a nuclear warhead — a program they believe was essentially halted in 2003 and which would be necessary for Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Iranian officials maintain that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes.

In Senate testimony on Jan. 31, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, stated explicitly that American officials believe that Iran is preserving its options for a nuclear weapon, but said there was no evidence that it had made a decision on making a concerted push to build a weapon. David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director, concurred with that view at the same hearing. Other senior United States officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made similar statements in recent television appearances.

“They are certainly moving on that path, but we don’t believe they have actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.


Critics of the American assessment in Jerusalem and some European capitals point out that Iran has made great strides in the most difficult step toward building a nuclear weapon, enriching uranium. That has also been the conclusion of a series of reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspectors, who on Friday presented new evidence that the Iranians have begun enriching uranium in an underground facility.

Once Iran takes further steps to actually enrich weapons grade fuel — a feat that the United States does not believe Iran has yet accomplished — the critics believe that it would be relatively easy for Iran to engineer a warhead and then have a bomb in short order. They also criticize the C.I.A. for being overly cautious in its assessments of Iran, suggesting that it is perhaps overcompensating for its faulty intelligence assessments in 2002 about Iraq’s purported weapons programs, which turned out not to exist. In addition, Israeli officials have challenged the very premise of the 2007 intelligence assessment, saying they do not believe that Iran ever fully halted its work on a weapons program.

Yet some intelligence officials and outside analysts believe there is another possible explanation for Iran’s enrichment activity, besides a headlong race to build a bomb as quickly as possible. They say that Iran could be seeking to enhance its influence in the region by creating what some analysts call “strategic ambiguity.” Rather than building a bomb now, Iran may want to increase its power by sowing doubt among other nations about its nuclear ambitions. Some point to the examples of Pakistan and India, both of which had clandestine nuclear weapons programs for decades before they actually decided to build bombs and test their weapons in 1998.

“I think the Iranians want the capability, but not a stockpile,” said Kenneth C. Brill, a former United States ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency who also served as director of the intelligence community’s National Counterproliferation Center from 2005 until 2009. Added a former intelligence official: “The Indians were a screwdriver turn away from having a bomb for many years. The Iranians are not that close.”

To be sure, American analysts acknowledge that understanding the intentions of Iran’s leadership is extremely difficult, and that their assessments are based on limited information. David A. Kay, who was head of the C.I.A.’s team that searched for Iraq’s weapons programs after the United States invasion, was cautious about the quality of the intelligence underlying the current American assessment.

“They don’t have evidence that Iran has made a decision to build a bomb, and that reflects a real gap in the intelligence,” Mr. Kay said. “It’s true the evidence hasn’t changed very much” since 2007, he added. “But that reflects a lack of access and a lack of intelligence as much as anything.”

Divining the intentions of closed societies is one of the most difficult tasks for American intelligence analysts, and the C.I.A. for decades has had little success penetrating regimes like Iran and North Korea to learn how their leaders make decisions.

Amid the ugly aftermath of the botched Iraq intelligence assessments, American spy agencies in 2006 put new analytical procedures in place to avoid repeating the failures. Analysts now have access to raw information about the sources behind intelligence reports, to help better determine the credibility of the sources and prevent another episode like the one in which the C.I.A. based much of its conclusions about Iraq’s purported biological weapons on an Iraqi exile who turned out to be lying.

Analysts are also required to include in their reports more information about the chain of logic that has led them to their conclusions, and differing judgments are featured prominently in classified reports, rather than buried in footnotes.

When an unclassified summary of the 2007 intelligence estimate on Iran’s nuclear program was made public, stating that it had abandoned work on a bomb, it stunned the Bush administration and the world. It represented a sharp reversal from the intelligence community’s 2005 estimate, and drew criticism of the C.I.A. from European and Israeli officials, as well as conservative pundits. They argued that it was part of a larger effort by the C.I.A. to prevent American military action against Iran.

The report was so controversial that many outside analysts expected that the intelligence community would be forced to revise and repudiate the estimate after new evidence emerged about Iran’s program, notably from the United Nations’ inspectors. Yet analysts now say that while there has been mounting evidence of Iranian work on enrichment facilities, there has been far less clear evidence of a weapons program.


Still, Iran’s enrichment activities have raised suspicions, even among skeptics.

“What has been driving the discussion has been the enrichment activity,” said one former intelligence official. “That’s made everybody nervous. So the Iranians continue to contribute to the suspicions about what they are trying to do.”

Iran’s efforts to hide its nuclear facilities and to deceive the West about its activities have also intensified doubts. But some American analysts warn that such behavior is not necessarily proof of a weapons program. They say that one mistake the C.I.A. made before the war in Iraq was to assume that because Saddam Hussein resisted weapons inspections — acting as if he were hiding something — it meant that he had a weapons program.

As Mr. Kay explained, “The amount of evidence that you were willing to go with in 2002 is not the same evidence you are willing to accept today.”
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Dalton » 2012-02-25 11:21pm

I had a whole redneck skit written out but deleted it as being too accurate. I'll just say that I expect certain candidates to pull the ol' "theorize before you have data" trick.
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Stark » 2012-02-25 11:24pm

Its interesting that they talk about Iran's attempts to hide their program; obviously motivated by direct American or Israeli threats to their plans, its interpreted as evidence of whatever anybody wants to prove.

If they weren't evil, why would they fear the constant threats made against them? :V

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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Thanas » 2012-02-25 11:28pm

Every nation should totally have an obligation to disclose all of its things to the master of the world, don't you know? +


That being said, I find it quite interesting how Obama and Israel state with a straight face that Iran is moving for a bomb when the CIA is essentially saying there is no evidence for it and that Iran may even have shut down its bomb program earlier.
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Simon_Jester » 2012-02-25 11:57pm

Any country that had a nuclear program would be trying to keep it as secret as possible. Not knowing how good the CIA is at gathering intelligence inside Iran, I have no idea whether they'd be able to tell whether or not some of that enriched fissile material we know the Iranians have is going towards a bomb program.

Personally, I think the Iranians would be fools not to have a nuclear program, and if the CIA thinks they don't, then I'm actually more inclined to believe that the CIA has missed something. They're not perfect; they're not even all that good compared to the stereotypical movie image of them. So if the UN thinks the Iranians have a nuclear bomb program, and the CIA doesn't, I would actually be surprised to find out that the CIA was right and the UN was wrong.

For the record, I'd like to point out for the record (again) that I don't think it's wise or right to attack Iran to put a stop to their nuclear program, even though I'd be happier if the Iranians didn't have one.


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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Mr Bean » 2012-02-26 12:05am

Nuclear programs are hard things to hide. What you need in order to set up and test devices are unmistakeable. Anyone can acquire nuclear material and strap that to a bomb to make one of the infamous dirty bombs and keep that totally secret. But to get actual weaponized nuclear fission requires very specific items. As well you need experts who you can also track. One can not stumble towards a nuclear weapon by yourself covertly. To many tests need to be done underground and even then are not exactly subtle. Iran has lots of resources watching it moves since lets be honest the Iraq officers got folded into bigger offices and since Iran was the next big thing every single officer looking to climb the ladder would be trying to get assigned and trying to find a smoking gun that earns directorships.

And the unanimous opinion is... they got nothing. Keep in mind the CIA is very good at tracking things they are actually paying attention to. South Africa could be building walking nuclear battle tanks and we'd never know because the resources are not focused their. We might get the reports but there would not be the people to piece things together. As people would probably mean person. If the CIA had the budget to have at least twenty people per all 184 countries in the world we'd have a better handle on things. But thing is some countries get 200 people and some get 2.

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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Simon_Jester » 2012-02-26 12:58am

OK, maybe the CIA couldn't overlook an Iranian nuclear program. I'd still be surprised as hell to learn they don't have such a program. But then, I've been surprised before.

Stark wrote:Where do you think the UN gets its information from?
If they're getting it from the CIA, you'd think they'd agree with the CIA.

My impression was that the UN report in question came from the IAEA, though. The IAEA has inspectors actually on the ground in Iran, and the CIA probably does not share all its information with them, since they like to keep things classified.

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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Grumman » 2012-02-26 01:17am

It's opposite day, isn't it? First we had Bush and the CIA saying Iraq was developing nuclear weapons while everyone else said they weren't, and now we've got Obama and the IAEA saying Iran is developing nuclear weapons and the CIA saying they aren't.

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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Haruko » 2012-02-26 01:21am

This article raises the obvious question: Why do CIA analysts hate America, and love Iran? Erin Burnett, who plays a journalist on CNN, made a convincing (to her) case that "no one buys Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes." That is, excerpt for low-level turncoats like those CIA analysts, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Israeli officials.
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Patrick Degan » 2012-02-26 02:03am

The CIA had plenty of information that Iraq actually had no WMD programme or arsenals according to a 2007 Salon.com article, but the Iraqi Operations Group which had been formed within the Agency squelched all such reports as they were on a mission to prove the case of the Bush Maladministration for war; squelching as well every indication that their prime source, Curveball, was nothing but a fraud. Back in 2002, it was a situation where the IOG were warping the evidence to fit predetermined conclusions or tossing out all evidence which contradicted those conclusions outright. Today, the Agency is not operating under such constraints, so the analysis they're presenting is more or less what they've actually got, without prior "editing" of the IOG variety involved. This is not to dismiss considerations regarding possible inaccuracies in their Iran intel today, but basing a conclusion that because they were "wrong" in 2002 their reports are suspect today would be rash and ill-considered.
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Simon_Jester » 2012-02-26 03:11am

I don't think it's that so much as the irony- a sign of how much things have changed politically in the last ten years.

To be honest, I don't think Obama has the slightest desire to fight a war in Iran over the nuclear program. The country is pretty sick of foreign wars, the budget's in terrible shape, and the political structure is hopelessly divided. So while he may make noise about Iran "giving up its nuclear ambitions" or whatever, he's not going to try a systematic campaign to pull the US into war, the way Bush did.

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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Zaune » 2012-02-26 03:19am

Simon_Jester wrote:To be honest, I don't think Obama has the slightest desire to fight a war in Iran over the nuclear program. The country is pretty sick of foreign wars, the budget's in terrible shape, and the political structure is hopelessly divided. So while he may make noise about Iran "giving up its nuclear ambitions" or whatever, he's not going to try a systematic campaign to pull the US into war, the way Bush did.


Oh, I dunno. There is an election coming up, and killing a shitload of brown people in the name of Truth, Justice and Cheap Gasoline might give him a much needed boost in the polls.
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Shroom Man 777 » 2012-02-26 03:23am

Panetta: Iran undecided over nuclear bomb wrote:Leon Panetta, the United States defence secretary, has told US legislators that while Iran is enriching uranium for its nuclear programme, there are currently no indications that Tehran has decided to develop atomic weapons.

Panetta and other top US intelligence officials offered insights and observations into Iran's disputed nuclear programme during separate congressional hearings in Washington on Thursday.

Their testimony came as Iran boasted of major advances in producing nuclear fuel and threatened an oil embargo in retaliation for a raft of economic and diplomatic sanctions being imposed by the United States and the European Union.

Israel, meanwhile, has accused Iran of being responsible for recent attacks on Israeli diplomats in Thailand, Georgia and India, and has threatened military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

"We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon," Panetta told the House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee on Thursday.

"We will not allow Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz. And in addition to that, obviously, we have expressed serious concerns to Iran about the spread of violence and the fact that they continue to support terrorism and they continue to try to undermine other countries."

The Pentagon chief reiterated, as US President Barack Obama often has in recent months, that the US keeps "all options on the table".

Panetta, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said that US intelligence showed that Iran was continuing its uranium enrichment programme.

"But the intelligence does not show that they've made the decision to proceed with developing a nuclear weapon. That is the red line that would concern us and that would ensure that the international community, hopefully together, would respond," he said.

Speaking in front of the US Senate's Armed Services Committee, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said that the decision to pursue nuclear weapons would be made by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.

"[Khamenei] would base that on a cost-benefit analysis in terms of, I don't think he'd want a nuclear weapon at any price," Clapper said. "So that I think plays to the value of sanctions, particularly the recent ratcheting up of more sanctions and anticipation that that will induce a change in their policy and behaviour."

Clapper said that it was "technically feasible" that Tehran could produce a nuclear weapon in one or two years, if its leaders decide to build one, but that it was "not likely", in practical terms.

Fresh sanctions

The United States imposed new sanctions on Iran's central bank, the latest round of penalties that have won widespread bipartisan support in the US Congress.

The Treasury Department announced on Thursday that it was imposing sanctions on Iran's ministry of intelligence and security, asserting that it supported global terrorism and had committed human rights abuses against Iranians and participated in ongoing repression in Syria.

The new sanctions freeze any assets the ministry may have in US jurisdiction, bars US citizens from doing business with it and ban employees of the ministry from travelling to the United States.

It is unclear what effect the ban will have, as the ministry is not known to have holdings in the United States.

Panetta and legislators have insisted that the sanctions as a whole are taking an economic toll on Iran.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, meanwhile, has said that the sanctions have not been effective, though some of his cabinet ministers have dissented from this opinion.

Despite the tough talk from Netanyahu on Israel, Clapper and Defence Intelligence Agency chief Lieutenant-General Ronald Burgess said on Thursday that they did not believe that Israel had made the decision to strike at Iran.

If Iran is attacked, however, Burgess said that it could "close the Strait of Hormuz, at least temporarily, and may launch missiles against United States forces and our allies in the region".

"Iran could also attempt to employ terrorists' surrogates worldwide. However, the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict," he said.


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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Sky Captain » 2012-02-26 03:42am

Is there much difference between uranium enrichment facilities meant to produce reactor fuel and facilities to make highly enriched uranium for bomb? As I understand if you have sufficient amounts of weapons grade uranium then making a crude gun type bomb is relatively easy. If the same nuclear infrastructure used for civilian purposes can be quickly repurposed for military applications then it would make lots of sense for any country that wants nuclear weapons to develop civilian nuclear program they can show to IAEA without causing suspicion and when need arises then make quick push for the bomb.

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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Grumman » 2012-02-26 04:21am

Sky Captain wrote:Is there much difference between uranium enrichment facilities meant to produce reactor fuel and facilities to make highly enriched uranium for bomb?

Not as far as I know. I'm no nuclear scientist, but I believe the enrichment process is a multi-stage process anyway. Unless there was some mechanism that counteracted the enrichment process as the proportion of U-235 increased (and I don't believe there is), it would just be a question of sending your low-enriched uranium through the process over and over again until it's pure enough.

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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby irishmick79 » 2012-02-26 06:40am

I read an article in Foreign Affairs (sorry, hard copy magazine, no internet link) that basically suggested that if Iran's main objective for pursuing a nuclear program is regime security, then they could achieve that deterrence by building the indigenous capability to build and deploy a nuclear weapon, but not actually taking those steps. This track would allow them to legitimately deny having any ambitions for possessing nuclear weapons while at the same time fielding the deterrence factor that nuclear weapons provide.

Of course, it would be hard for Iran to demonstrate that they have the capability to produce nukes without some sort of test, which would completely undermine their rhetoric about not wanting nuclear weapons.
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Grumman » 2012-02-26 07:32am

irishmick79 wrote:I read an article in Foreign Affairs (sorry, hard copy magazine, no internet link) that basically suggested that if Iran's main objective for pursuing a nuclear program is regime security, then they could achieve that deterrence by building the indigenous capability to build and deploy a nuclear weapon, but not actually taking those steps. This track would allow them to legitimately deny having any ambitions for possessing nuclear weapons while at the same time fielding the deterrence factor that nuclear weapons provide.

I think the article is fundamentally wrong. A nuclear program is not a deterrent unless it can translate into working weapons fast enough to be an effective counter-attack - if it can't, it would actually encourage attacks from anyone who didn't like you and wanted to get in before the opportunity was lost forever. But if it can be built and deployed fast enough, how is it any different than just building the things and keeping them "on tap"?

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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby MKSheppard » 2012-02-26 08:11am

irishmick79 wrote:I read an article in Foreign Affairs (sorry, hard copy magazine, no internet link) that basically suggested that if Iran's main objective for pursuing a nuclear program is regime security.


That's easily obtained by spending the money they've been blowing on the bomb program the last decade or so on buying several battalions of S-300s a year from teh Russians.

With no bomb program, there's no reason for a military embargo, and thus Russia sells them S-300s.

Thus it is now impossible to attack Iran feasibly by anyone; as several years of S-300 battalion buys would assemble a force that even the US woudl have a tough time penetrating.
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Shroom Man 777 » 2012-02-26 09:13am

How effective would SAM sites be? How effective in deterring or discouraging enemy attacks would a purely defensive SAM-based strategy be?
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Sarevok » 2012-02-26 09:40am

Shroom Man 777 wrote:How effective would SAM sites be? How effective in deterring or discouraging enemy attacks would a purely defensive SAM-based strategy be?


I don't know about the quality of Russian SAMs but Syria has one of the worst track records in the world in terms of air defense. Unless the people running their military have improved it is hard to expect a different result regardless of what equipment they are using.
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Shroom Man 777 » 2012-02-26 10:02am

That's nice of the Syrians but we're talking about Iran?
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Broken » 2012-02-26 10:18am

Grumman wrote:
irishmick79 wrote:I read an article in Foreign Affairs (sorry, hard copy magazine, no internet link) that basically suggested that if Iran's main objective for pursuing a nuclear program is regime security, then they could achieve that deterrence by building the indigenous capability to build and deploy a nuclear weapon, but not actually taking those steps. This track would allow them to legitimately deny having any ambitions for possessing nuclear weapons while at the same time fielding the deterrence factor that nuclear weapons provide.

I think the article is fundamentally wrong. A nuclear program is not a deterrent unless it can translate into working weapons fast enough to be an effective counter-attack - if it can't, it would actually encourage attacks from anyone who didn't like you and wanted to get in before the opportunity was lost forever. But if it can be built and deployed fast enough, how is it any different than just building the things and keeping them "on tap"?


As the New York Times article states, the purpose of the Iranian nuclear program may be "strategic ambiguity" where no one is quite sure if Iran has a set of working nukes or not. It gives them a little more weight in dealing with other nations and clouds the waters for warmongers. And if, for some unforeseen reason, they are forced to totally come clean and let inspectors run through anywhere and everywhere they want, they get to beat their chests and declare to the heavens (and the rest of the world) about how wronged they have been while not having any actual illicit program running. Assuming they avoid Saddam's mistake of not having WMD programs while acting as if they did.
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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Simon_Jester » 2012-02-26 11:31am

Zaune wrote:Oh, I dunno. There is an election coming up, and killing a shitload of brown people in the name of Truth, Justice and Cheap Gasoline might give him a much needed boost in the polls.
I think you've misgauged the mood and mindset of the American people.

I would argue that the US isn't always jingoistic and ready to rally behind a president who fights random wars. The idea that a "short victorious war" will make your regime popular depends on careful timing and choice of opponent- doing it at a random time is worse than useless.

During the 1980s, Americans were totally uninterested in major foreign wars, because of Vietnam. Reagan could have deployed a hundred thousand troops to some war zone, it was within his power, but he'd have been crucified by the media of the time. In the '90s we became a bit more willing, but not intensely willing- I suspect this was one of the reasons Bush Sr. didn't try to occupy Iraq in 1991; he wasn't sure that the average voter would support a prolonged occupation and guerilla war, only twenty years after Vietnam.

After 9/11, Bush could get away with nearly anything- but he used that political capital very heavily, to fight wars that almost everyone in the country could tell were pointless. Except for a residuum of mindless cheerleaders, everyone was happy when we started pulling out of Iraq. War is less popular to Americans today than it was ten years ago.

Now, with the budget in terrible shape, and most of the mindless war-cheerleaders already being totally loyal to his political opponents no matter what he does, Obama has no incentive at all to provoke a new war. Entering one that's already started, to defend another country against aggression (think Gulf War I) might work for him, but starting a war that would have to end in yet another Iraqistan-style occupation would be a disaster.

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Re: CIA analysts: No convincing evidence for atom bomb progr

Postby Ryan Thunder » 2012-02-26 12:44pm

Well, that's good that they aren't trying to get a bomb, but what I don't understand is why they wouldn't just save themselves the trouble and buy the reactors and fuel they need, instead of this nonsense with the bunker and the entire international community breathing down their necks.

I can't imagine that this is somehow cheaper. It certainly isn't easier.
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