December 17, 2007
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
It's time to update an old joke.
Journalists discover the Earth will explode in 12 hours. How do
they cover it? The New York Times would announce: "World Ends
Tomorrow; Women, Minorities Will Suffer Most." USA Today would
counter with: "We're Outta Here!" Meanwhile The Washington Post
would feature: "Everything's Just Fine, Anonymous CIA Source
It's sad but true that our intelligence community is more
talented at leaking information than at identifying upcoming
threats. So let's consider the latest National Intelligence
Estimate, which says Iran halted its nuclear weapons back in
"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," the NIE says.
But there are big problems with that conclusion. For one thing,
the new NIE defines a "nuclear weapons program" as "Iran's nuclear
weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium
conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work."
But the main stumbling block to a weapons program is having
enough weapons-grade nuclear material to arm a bomb. A country can
follow an ostensibly "civilian" path for years and remain just one
step shy of possessing "weaponized" uranium.
And Iran appears to be within that one step. It has
approximately 3,000 centrifuges enriching uranium that it says will
be used for civilian programs. But these same centrifuges also
can enrich uranium to the higher levels necessary to arm a bomb. If
you trust Iran, there's nothing to worry about.
The NIE also fails to explain why Iran is developing ballistic
missiles. Middle East sources report Iran tested a new, long-range
ballistic missile last month. There's no reason to have such
weapons unless a country plans to put nuclear warheads on them.
Without nukes, they're just flying rockets, difficult to aim and
unlikely to cause much damage.
Finally, the NIE never explains why Iran would want to use
nuclear energy to produce electricity, as Tehran claims. The
country has so much natural gas it burns it off at the well to get
rid of it. It would be cheaper and easier to use that gas to
generate electricity than to run a nuclear power program.
The CIA has crossed a line here. As columnist Jim Hoagland wrote
in The Washington Post, "The intelligence community has made itself
a separate agency of government, answerable essentially to itself.
This NIE makes clear that for better or worse, spy agencies today
make the finished product of policy rather than providing the raw
But we leave policymaking to elected officials for good reason:
Because they must answer to the people through elections. When
President Bush decided to invade Iraq in 2003, he knew he was
taking his political future in his hands. As the war became
unpopular, so did the president. He's paid a big political price
for his decision, from the failure of his plan to reform Social
Security through his party's loss of both houses of congress.
But what price have CIA bureaucrats ever paid for their
Our country was blindsided on Sept. 11. Yet CIA Director George
Tenet remained in charge for years, long enough to (wrongly)
declare it a "slam dunk" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
He then collected the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The CIA was blithely unaware of A.Q. Khan's nuclear cooperation
with Iran for many years. The agency got a clue only when Libya,
frightened by the success of American arms in Iraq, publicly
announced -- and ended -- its Weapons of Mass Destruction program
in 2003. Likewise, the CIA misjudged how quickly the Soviet Union,
China, India, Pakistan and North Korea would be able to build a
Information is nonpartisan. Our intelligence agencies exist to
provide information to our elected leaders, who use that
information to make policy decisions. But wrong information easily
leads to bad decisions. We need better spying from our intelligence
agencies, not unwarranted assertions. Until we get that, we won't
be as safe as we need to be.
Ed Feulner is
president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
It’s sad but true that our intelligence community is more talented at leaking information than at identifying upcoming threats. So let’s consider the latest National Intelligence Estimate, which says Iran halted its nuclear weapons back in 2003.
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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