As I was saying // Ben FrankelIran accelerates march toward the bomb

Published 10 April 2008

The Bush administration December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate asserted that Iran had “halted” its nuclear weapons plans; that assertion did not impress the Iranians, as their effort to acquire nuclear bombs, far from having been “halted,” is now accelerating

The Bush administration has made many mistakes as a result of a puzzling, and deeply troubling, lack of foresight and planning — the exceedingly poor planning for post-war Iraq, the utter lack of planning for Hurricane Katrina, the most known, predictable, and anticipated storm in history (known, predictable, and anticipated by FEMA’s own studies in the months leading to the disaster). Historians will add many other items to this sorry list. Our candidate for the most ill-conceived piece of planning document to be used by the administration as a basis for policy is the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which claimed that Iran had “halted” its nuclear weapons activities. Back in February we wrote that this document was “strange, misleading, and poorly timed.” Since the Daily Wire is a family-oriented publication, we abstained from using more colorful, if more accurate, adjectives to describe the quality of the NIE. We were gratified to see that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell admitted, in a March testimony in Congress, that the “wording” of the December NIE was poor, and that inferences drawn from it that Iran had stopped its relentless march toward the bomb were wrong. Talking about a coherent administration position on the question of the Iranian bomb, how is this for coherence: “CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said Sunday that he believes Iran is still pursuing a nuclear bomb, even though the U.S. intelligence community, including his own agency, reached a consensus judgment last year that the Islamic Republic had halted its nuclear weapons work in 2003” (Los Angeles Times, 31 March 2008). Some position. Some coherence.

This meditation on how worry we should all be if we have to rely on documents of the quality of the December NIE for our security are the result of the announcement by Iran on Tuesday that it was significantly expanding its plans to enrich uranium despite the UN Security Council’s demand that it halt the program. The New York Times’s Nazila Fathi and William Broad write that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a visit to Iran’s main enrichment complex at Natanz that the country had started installing 6,000 centrifuges at the site, in addition to the existing 3,000 centrifuges. Western experts cautioned that Iran’s technical claims often exceeded its grasp, and in the past they have greeted such pronouncements by Iran with skepticism. They have confirmed that Iran has 3,000 operating centrifuges, but there was no confirmation of the latest claims. If Iran carries out its plans, it will triple the size of its industrial base and produce a major expansion in its uranium enrichment program. Enrichment can make fuel for civilian nuclear reactors or, if taken to higher levels, nuclear warheads. The United States and other Western countries have accused Iran of having a clandestine nuclear arms program, but Iran says its program is peaceful and for civilian purposes only. Ahmadinejad made the announcement on the anniversary of Iran’s first production of enriched uranium, in 2006, when it boasted of joining the world’s “nuclear club.” David Albright, a former arms inspector and the president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which tracks nuclear proliferation, said that based on information from international inspectors, the 3,000 existing centrifuges appeared to be running poorly and that Iran’s expansion might be more about political posturing than technical advance. “They really haven’t run much uranium through them successfully,” he told the New York Times. Albright added, however, that if Iran could master the difficult task of getting 9,000 centrifuges to run smoothly without breaking down periodically, that would, theoretically, expand its ability to make bomb fuel for one to three or so nuclear weapons a year.