a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

…and when did they know they didn’t know it?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on December 4th, 2007

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.
Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities
National Intelligence Estimate, November 2007
released December 3, 2007

Well, well, well.

Given the amount of saber rattling about Iran over the past year and more by Bush, Cheney, Rice, Hadley, et al, the questions are what did they know they didn’t know, and when did they know they didn’t know it… and are we ever talking about the President of the United States as we discuss this?

Today, Bush said (incredibly) that he was made aware of the NIE last week,”* adding that Mike McConnell told him “in August, I think it was” that there was “new information” about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, [h]e didn’t tell me what the information was.” You’d like to hear President “catapult the propaganda.”  Bush was mildly curious about the information, but that doesn’t seem to fit his view of his job description.

Moreover, it appears this particular estimate was ready quite a bit earlier than “last week.” The Washington Post’s Dafna Linzer and Joby Warrick write that “The report was drafted after an extended internal debate over the reliability of communications intercepts of Iranian conversations this past summer that suggested the program had been suspended. […] when intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration on the intercepts, beginning in July, the policymakers expressed skepticism.

But apparently even the “past summer” date is being generous — if you’re interested in knowing when the administration should have stopped beating its war drums. Last month Gareth Porter of IPS reported that “A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear programme.” Yet given what’s been released — no nuclear program now, ability to produce even a HEU (highly enriched uranium) atomic weapon by 2013 at earliest — the problem must have been finding any affirming judgments.

Yet here’s National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on November 10, 2007:

There’s clearly a recognition that we may need to put more pressure on the Iranian regime, so that they would change a set of policies that are having the effect of isolating the Iranian people … at the same time keeping open the — as we have from the very beginning — the option of negotiating a successful outcome […] …the problem is not a civilian nuclear program for Iran, the problem is a program that seems designed to achieve a nuclear weapon capability. That’s the problem; and that once that problem is removed, then there is a positive way forward for Iran on the table that involves easing pressure on the regime and also a civilian nuclear program. (*)

And here’s Bush on August 28, 2007:

Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late. (*)

And again on October 18, 2007:

…I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously. (*)

So Bush was banging the alarm bell well after August — but that’s cool, because of course he hadn’t bothered to find out what that new information was back then, and wasn’t briefed on the NIE until last week! “Need to know” and all that.

Given our strange new American political system, Vice President Cheney’s threats loom the largest of all, perhaps most memorably the one issued aboard the U.S.S. Stennis in the Persian Gulf on May 11, 2007:

With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. […] We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region. (*)

While that was before the summer’s developments, this statement, given on October 21, 2007, was not:

The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. (*)

ThinkProgress has its own “greatest Iran the nuclear threat hits,” if you’re looking for more. At this point, I think Josh Marshall gets the last word on this administration:

But it shows us once again, for anyone who needed showing, that everything this administration says on national security matters should be considered presumptively not only false, but actually the opposite of what is in fact true, until clear evidence to the contrary becomes available. They’re big liars. And actually being serious about the country’s security means doing everything possible to limit the amount of damage they can do over the next fourteen months while they still control the US military and the rest of the nation’s foreign policy apparatus.

* All emphases added. Asterisk links lead to full text of remarks at

UPDATE, 12/4: Scott Horton (“No Comment”) quotes an intelligence community source who says “The NIE has been in substantially the form in which it was finally submitted for more than six months,” i.e., since at least early June, 2007 or so.
UPDATE, 12/5: Greg Mitchell (Editor & Publisher) provides quotes by our nation’s pundits on Iran’s inactive nuclear weapons program; David Brooks, Jim Hoagland, Tom Friedman, Bill Kristol, Richard Cohen, and Ken Pollack are featured. Glenn Greenwald (Salon) focuses on Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post; see particularly the September 5, 2007 lead editorial “Rogue Regulator” attacking IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei — a skeptic about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. They’re never wrong — so they never learn.
UPDATE, 12/6: Dan Froomkin (, “A Pattern of Deception“; emptywheel (firedoglake), NIE Timeline.

8 Responses to “…and when did they know they didn’t know it?”

  1. mullah cimoc Says:

    mullah cimoc say ameriki intel agencies the mass insubordiantion against him president bush for to stop the WWIII.
    israeli spy neocons and israel intel agent him try to start WWIII base on one more big lying but usa bureaucracy not accept. now pres. bush not have the power because leave office soon. bureaucrat not the fear of president bush regime.
    this example of israeli spy in whitehouse and pentagon control usa but instead silent revolution?. this the very import develop for usa people the live free of control by master in tel aviv.
    google: mighty wurlitzer +cia
    is true: usa media most biggest enemy of ameriki people.

  2. Paul Says:

    Well, that was good for a laugh.

  3. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Mr. cimoc seems to pop up more often — at least he gets complained about more often — at sites tending more right wing than mine.
    Broken English, but why he writes “ameriki” in particular (it seems to be a signature move) I couldn’t say. Maybe he’s just some Brad Smith on Elm Street who likes being a provacateur. Subtract out the neocon=israeli=subversive/traitor element (or perhaps just my discomfort that there’s a hidden “=jew” in there), and the analysis that there’s a change going on with the Bushies, the intelligence community, Pentagon etc. isn’t that far out.

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