NIE on Iran’s Nuclear Program: No Slam Dunk

In an unusual policy pirouette, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence yesterday published the key judgments (pdf) of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons program little more than a month after the DNI issued guidance declaring that “It is the policy of the Director of National Intelligence that KJs [key judgments] should not be declassified.”

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” the new Estimate states dramatically.

Although it goes on to assert “moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” the new Estimate effectively distances the U.S. intelligence community from those who insist that Iran is irrevocably bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

By challenging the prejudices of the Administration rather than reinforcing them, the NIE on Iran does what earlier estimates on Iraq notoriously failed to do.

It also departs from the judgments of the 2005 NIE on Iran, which is why it has now been publicly disclosed, according to Deputy DNI Donald Kerr.

“Since our understanding of Iran’s capabilities has changed, we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available,” he said (pdf).

In fact, however, Congress directed the DNI in the FY 2007 defense authorization act to prepare an unclassified summary of the Estimate.

“Consistent with the protection of intelligence sources and methods, an unclassified summary of the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate should be submitted.” (House Report 109-702, section 1213, Intelligence on Iran).

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