DO YOU BELIEVE IRAN SUSPENDED IT’S NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM?
Several current and former high-level government officials familiar with the authors of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran described the report as a politically motivated document written by anti-Bush former State Department officials, who opposed sanctioning foreign governments and businesses.
A Republican senator plans to introduce a bill next week that would create a commission of policy experts to examine whether the new report on Iran is accurate, a spokesman said today.
“Let’s make sure this new report is right,” said Tory Mazzola, spokesman for Sen. John Ensign, Arizona Republican.
Mr. Ensign’s proposal will be joined by “a small group of bipartisan senators” and is motivated by a belief that intelligence reports such as the NIE are “becoming very politicized.”
The bill would create a commission of three Democrats and three Republicans, who would then bring in policy experts to examine the NIE and the broader scope of U.S. intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program.
The report released this week said Iran once had a covert nuclear weapons program, but shut it down in 2003.
The authors’ aim is to undercut the White House effort to increase pressure for sanctions on Iran and to argue that Iran dropped its nuclear-weapons program in 2003 because of diplomatic efforts in which the authors had participated, the officials said.
“One has to look at the agendas of the primary movers of this report, to judge how much it can really be banked on,” said David Wurmser, a former Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, who has worked with the report authors.
Several of the current and former government officials interviewed say that if Iran suspended its covert program in 2003, it did so because the U.S. and its allies had invaded and taken control of neighboring Iraq.
The argument this week over how to confront Iran is a continuation, carried out by many of the same players, of the battles during Mr. Bush’s first term between Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John R. Bolton.
The three former State officials primarily responsible for the National Intelligence Estimate clashed regularly from 2001 to 2004 with a team of hard-line conservatives led by Mr. Bolton, who later served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
All three are now at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence: C. Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Vann H. Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; and Kenneth C. Brill, director of the national counterproliferation center.
One U.S. official who has worked with the three men in the past said the NIE is “a political exercise to torpedo the threat that this administration would pose to their desired policy outcomes on Iran, which is some kind of accommodation with an Iranian nuclear program.”
Officials interviewed say that during the Bush administration, the State officials blocked sanctions against foreign countries involved in shipping weapons to Iran, sabotaged threats of sanctions to foreign governments and undercut U.S. efforts to impose international pressure on Iran.
They were brought to the director’s office by the first director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, who is considered a strong Powell ally.
Mr. Van Diepen — who was described by a director of national intelligence spokesman as one of two primary contributors, along with Mr. Fingar, to the National Intelligence Estimate — was most harshly criticized by the officials, who spoke on the condition that their names not be used.
For 14 years, Mr. Van Diepen oversaw the State Department office tasked with stopping proliferation of chemical and biological weapons.
When Mr. Bolton came to the State Department in 2001, he hired several people to help him take a tougher stance on companies shipping weapons to countries that might use them to deliver nuclear warheads or chemical and biological agents.
Mr. Van Diepen quickly became one of the Bolton team’s chief adversaries.
“There was never a sanction that Van Diepen liked, never,” said one official. “It was a point of religion for him. He thought anything we did outside of tea-cup diplomacy was counterproductive and wrong.”
Mr. Van Diepen, who declined to be interviewed for this article, often argued against the need for sanctions by saying that the burden of proof to determine proliferation activities should be as high as in an average U.S. courtroom.
But one official who worked against Mr. Van Diepen scoffed at that standard.
“We were using intelligence information. It’s ‘intel,’ so you never have absolutely locked down,” said one senior official.
Another official said that if a representative of NORINCO, China’s chief military builder, was meeting with Iranian officials, “it’s a fair guess they’re not there to discuss teddy bears.”
Mr. Bolton’s staff brought in Stephen A. Elliott, a U.S. Navy lawyer, to counter Mr. Van Diepen’s legal arguments.
“That was his job: to fight Van Diepen,” one official said.
Mr. Van Diepen also tried to sabotage Mr. Bolton’s communications, these officials said. Mr. Van Diepen changed the wording of a 2002 cable that was sent to a foreign embassy warning of sanctions for proliferation activities.
“It was a substantial change,” an official said. “It’s just one of the many incidents where this guy was running around conducting his own foreign policy.”
But during Mr. Bush’s first term, Mr. Bolton’s team raised the number of sanctions from Mr. Van Diepen’s average of eight per year to 37 per year, and Mr. Van Diepen asked to be transferred.
Mr. Fingar, meanwhile, was described as a “smooth operator” as the deputy in charge of intelligence and research. Mr. Fingar was just as averse as Mr. Van Diepen was in pursuing a tough line on proliferation, officials said, but he avoided intra-agency confrontation.
When one of his analysts in 2002 changed an intelligence finding about Cuba, Mr. Fingar wrote Mr. Bolton an e-mail saying the analyst had “acted inappropriately.”
But Mr. Fingar, who also declined to be interviewed, later reversed himself during the 2005 hearing on Mr. Bolton’s nomination to the U.N. post, telling Senate staffers that he was “trying to get the incident closed.”
Mr. Brill, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency from 2001 to 2004, was described by one official as “extremely close” to the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, who is viewed by many in the U.S. government as an apologist for Iran.
Mr. Bolton wrote in his recent memoir that Mr. Brill repeatedly undermined efforts to get the IAEA to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council in 2003.
Another official said that Mr. Brill was “known not just for resisting his instruction cables but also for making political comments criticizing officials at State and Bush policy to his staff. He was quite nasty.”