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Watching top U.S. intelligence officials present the annual "Worldwide Threat Assessment" before the Senate Intelligence Committee, I found myself wondering if they would depart from the key (if politically delicate) consensus judgment that Iran is NOT working on a nuclear weapon.
In last year's briefing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had stood firm on this key point, despite severe pressure to paint Iran in more pernicious terms. On Tuesday, I was relieved to see in Clapper's testimony a reiteration of the conclusions of a formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of November 2007, issued unanimously by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, including judgments like this:
"We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; ... Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005."
Sadly, this judgment still comes as news to many of those Americans who are malnourished on the low-protein gruel of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) -- even though the NIE was immediately declassified in 2007 and has been in the public domain for more than four years.
Granted, former President George W. Bush did not like it -- not one bit. In an unusually revealing comment in his memoir Decision Points, Bush complained bitterly that "the NIE tied my hands on the military side," preventing him from attacking Iran. That was the course strongly favored by hawkish Vice President Dick Cheney with his PhD summa cum laude in Preventive War.
And, America's FCM consistently ignores the official NIE when writing news stories hyping Iran's nuclear threat. However, if you read the articles very closely you may see references to Iran supposedly working toward the "capacity to build" nuclear weapons, not that Iran is actually working on building a nuclear bomb.
The distinction is important, but it is so subtle as to be misleading. Most casual readers would simply assume that Iran is building a nuclear bomb.
The FCM's rhetorical shift from accusing Iran of "building" nukes to seeking a "capacity to build" them is reminiscent of Bush's sleight of hand when he went from talking about Iraq's supposed WMD "stockpiles" to its WMD "programs" -- after it turned out there were no WMD stockpiles.
Oddly, even when Israeli sources concur with this key point that Iran has NOT decided to build a nuclear bomb -- as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak indicated recently -- the FCM in the United States continues to leave the impression among Americans that Iran is on the verge of having nukes. [See Consortiumnews.com's "US/Israel: Iran NOT Building Nukes."]
You will almost never see in a major U.S. newspaper the assessment -- backed by the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies -- that Iran is NOT building nuclear weapons. At most, you'll see a boilerplate phrase about Iran denying that it is. You're also not likely to see references to the fact that Israel has a sophisticated nuclear arsenal of its own.
Still, it's encouraging to see U.S. intelligence officials resist bending with the prevailing political winds the way the malleable CIA director, George Tenet, and his deputy John McLaughlin did when they orchestrated the fraudulent October 2002 NIE on Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction."
After they left in disgrace (having contributed to the bloody war in Iraq), fresh institutional blood was brought in to manage intelligence estimates. In a professional sense, the two were not a hard act to follow. But courage can still be a rare commodity in the careerist world of Official Washington.
What happened is that the new managers launched a bottom-up assessment of all the evidence on Iran's nuclear development program. They reached conclusions based on what they found, not on what was politically expedient; they spoke truth to power and, in the process, helped prevent yet another disastrous war.
This year, though, there was good reason to worry that the current intelligence managers might succumb to pressure for a more "politically correct" course. One factor has been the rising crescendo in the FCM, echoing the Israeli government's hyperbolic fears regarding a "nuclear threat" from Iran.
The FCM, for example, gave unconscionably inflammatory coverage to a highly misleading November 2011 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran. The FCM ignored available evidence from WikiLeaks documents showing that the new IAEA management was collaborating behind-the-scenes with U.S. and Israeli officials on the Iran issue.
And there was growing concern that National Intelligence Director Clapper might be outmaneuvered by the new CIA Director David Petraeus, the retired four-star general who is always the darling of Congress.
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