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NYT Leaks Details Of NIE Shift On Iran

From New York Times:

Iran’s Astan Qods Razavi museum chief holds up a sample of enriched uranium in the holy city of Mashhad.

Details in Military Notes Led to Shift on Iran, U.S. Says

December 6, 2007

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 — American intelligence agencies reversed their view about the status of Iran’s nuclear weapons program after they obtained notes last summer from the deliberations of Iranian military officials involved in the weapons development program, senior intelligence and government officials said on Wednesday.

The notes included conversations and deliberations in which some of the military officials complained bitterly about what they termed a decision by their superiors in late 2003 to shut down a complex engineering effort to design nuclear weapons, including a warhead that could fit atop Iranian missiles.

The newly obtained notes contradicted public assertions by American intelligence officials that the nuclear weapons design effort was still active. But according to the intelligence and government officials, they give no hint of why Iran’s leadership decided to halt the covert effort.

Ultimately, the notes and deliberations were corroborated by other intelligence, the officials said, including intercepted conversations among Iranian officials, collected in recent months. It is not clear if those conversations involved the same officers and others whose deliberations were recounted in the notes, or if they included their superiors.

The American officials who described the highly classified operation, which led to one of the biggest reversals in the history of American nuclear intelligence, declined to describe how the notes were obtained.

But they said that the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies had organized a “red team” to determine if the new information might have been part of an elaborate disinformation campaign mounted by Iran to derail the effort to impose sanctions against it.

In the end, American intelligence officials rejected that theory, though they were challenged to defend that conclusion in a meeting two weeks ago in the White House situation room, in which the notes and deliberations were described to the most senior members of President Bush’s national security team, including Vice President Dick Cheney.

“It was a pretty vivid exchange,” said one participant in the conversation.

The officials said they were confident that the notes confirmed the existence, up to 2003, of a weapons programs that American officials first learned about from a laptop computer, belonging to an Iranian engineer, that came into the hands of the C.I.A. in 2004

In fact, some in the intelligence agencies appear to be not fully convinced that the notes of the deliberations indicated that all aspects of the weapons program had been shut down.

The crucial judgments released on Monday said that while “we judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years,” it also included the warning that “intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate” led both the Department of Energy and the National Intelligence Council “to assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program.”

Several news organizations have reported that the reversal was prompted in part by intercepts of conversations involving Iranian officials. In an article published on Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times said another main ingredient in the reversal was what it called a journal from an Iranian source that documented decisions to shut down the nuclear program.

The senior intelligence and government officials said a more precise description of that intelligence would be exchanges among members of a large group, one responsible for both designing weapons and integrating them into delivery vehicles.

The discovery led officials to revisit intelligence mined in 2004 and 2005 from the laptop obtained from the Iranian engineer. The documents on that laptop described two programs, termed L-101 and L-102 by the Iranians, describing designs and computer simulations that appeared to be related to weapons work.

Information from the laptop became one of the chief pieces of evidence cited in the 2005 intelligence estimate that concluded, “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons.”

The newly obtained notes of the deliberations did not precisely match up with the programs described in the laptop, according to officials who have examined both sets of data, but they said they were closely related

This would appear to be yet another instance of the New York Times revealing highly classified material which will harm our intelligence agencies and national security. For it speaks directly to sources and methods.

But putting that aside for the moment, this information does not help burnish the credibility of the NIE and our intel community as a whole, if they are leaning upon such few and thin reeds as a laptop, some intercepted conversations for their surmises.

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, December 6th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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