Michael McConnell started his first two months on the job with a solid record for candor and accuracy. He avoided political doublespeak. And then something strange happened. He became a shameless and irresponsible political propagandist.
With that background, it should come as no surprise that McConnell now plans to keep America in the dark as to the national intelligence estimate (NIE) on Iranian nuclear programs. Pam Hess of AP reports:
National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has reversed the recent practice of declassifying and releasing summaries of national intelligence estimates, a top intelligence official said Friday. Knowing their words may be scrutinized outside the U.S. government chills analysts’ willingness to provide unvarnished opinions and information, said David Shedd, a deputy to McConnell.
He told congressional aides and reporters that McConnell recently issued a directive making it more difficult to declassify the key judgments of national intelligence estimates, which are forward-looking analyses prepared for the White House and Congress that represent the consensus of the nation’s 16 spy agencies on a single issue. The analysis comes from various sources including the CIA, the military and intelligence agencies inside federal departments.
Now we know that the NIE has been done and gathering dust for more than three months. We also know that Vice President Cheney’s office, which promptly leaks NIEs when it finds them useful, absolutely hates this NIE and has been doing everything it can think to do to put it off. Why might that be?
Sources close to the NIE tell me that it would work at cross-purposes with the Administration’s fall roll-out of its new war effort against Iran. The NIE will apparently conclude that Iran is diligently pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and that Iran is pursuing a delivery system. It will also conclude that even on the fastest possible track it is still a couple of years away from having anything meaningful. Which means this threat does not become an acute one until some time after Bush and Cheney leave office. In other words, it’s an NIE that the Vice President badly wants to drop somewhere behind a filing cabinet. And the best way to do that is to declare it’s so super secret that no one can have a copy of that particular decoder ring.
Honestly, the last two NIEs did seem shaded for political reasons, so I suspect unclassified Key Judgments would be in any case. But the last several NIEs on the subject have shown that Iran is nowhere near getting nukes. And if Cheney wants to bury the latest version of "not yet," then it begins to piss me off.
Meanwhile, there are two new additions to the discussion about the scary satellite pictures that may--or may not--prove that Syria was trying to build nukes. First, via Noah Shachtman, the news from the NYT that the Syria location is at least four years old.
The mystery surrounding the construction of what might have been a nuclear reactor in Syria deepened yesterday, when a company released a satellite photo showing that the main building was well under way in September 2003 — four years before Israeli jets bombed it.
Of course, glued-to-Judy's-hip William Broad concludes from this that the nuclear program (and North Korea's purported cooperation with Syria on it) dates back to 2001. And even, perhaps, that this may exonerate John Bolton's warmongering from 2006 (the picture in question was taken on precisely the same day that Bolton testified that Syria was trying to get nukes--testimony he leaked pre-emptively to his buddy Judy Miller). While Jeffrey Lewis notes laconically for the article that it's surprising how little progress was made in the interim four years...
Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the New America Foundation in Washington, said it was surprising from the photos how little progress had been made at the site between 2003 and 2007.
,,, No one seems to consider whether the inactivity at the site reveals ... inactivity.
And then there's Arms Control Wonk, comparing the story leaked to Martha Raddatz about the Syrian site with the story arising from the images.
ABC’s Martha Raddatz has some detail about the Syrian nuclear facility that suggests to me that she and her sources are confused about nuclear reactors:
But the hardest evidence of all was the photographs.
The official described the pictures as showing a big cylindrical structure, with very thick walls all well-reinforced. The photos show rebar hanging out of the cement used to reinforce the structure, which was still under construction.
There was also a secondary structure and a pump station, with trucks around it. But there was no fissionable material found because the facility was not yet operating.
The official said there was a larger structure just north of a small pump station; a nuclear reactor would need a constant source of water to keep it cool.
The official said the facility was a North Korean design in its construction, the technology present and the ability to put it all together.
It was North Korean “expertise,” said the official, meaning the Syrians must have had “human” help from North Korea.
A light water reactor designed by North Koreans could be constructed to specifically produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
The problem here is that North Korea’s reactors are gas-cooled. You see, if there is a pump , the reactor can not be, as David Sanger and Mark Mazzetti reported, “modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons.” (A careful reader in the comments points out that the pump could be for a secondary cooling tower like the one at Yongbyon, a possibility that I neglected.)
So, one of the two stories is dead wrong. It either is either water-cooled or it resembles the reactor at Yongbyon, which is gas-cooled.
So let's see. We have Dick Cheney refusing to allow the information that refutes his warmongering to be declassified. We have these curious stories that both clash and happen to coincide with some of John Bolton's earlier warmongering. And we have Israel's and the US' choice to bomb this site rather than allow the IAEA to inspect it and tell us what it really was.
Also from ACW, the IAEA sounds a lot less sure this is a nuclear reactor than all the people leaking to glued-to-Judy's-hip William Broad.
AP’s George Jahn, by the way, reports that the IAEA is now looking at commerical imagery but hasn’t seen anything that screams nuclear reactor:
Two other diplomats said initial examination of the material found no evidence the target was a nuclear installation, but emphasized it was too early to draw definitive conclusions.
Yup, it's all beginning to look familiar.