Not that anyone is surprised by irresponsible pro-war journalism from the Washington Times, but yesterday’s Bill Gertz story — run under a headline screaming “CIA: IRAN CAPABLE OF PRODUCING NUKES” — was a particularly vivid shade of yellow. Gertz wrote that “Iran is poised to begin producing nuclear weapons after its uranium program expansion in 2009, even though it has had problems with thousands of its centrifuges, according to a newly released CIA report.”
“Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so,” the annual report to Congress states.
A U.S. official involved in countering weapons proliferation said the Iranians are “keeping the door open to the possibility of building a nuclear weapon.”
Is this new or newsworthy? No, and not particularly. Gertz’s attempt to sex up the CIA’s report (pdf) through the clever deployment of the phrase “poised to begin…” notwithstanding, the report’s conclusions are precisely the same as that contained in the intelligence community’s annual threat assessment (pdf), delivered by DNI Dennis Blair to Congress in February:
We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that bring it closer to being able to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.
Indeed, a few grafs down Gertz himself acknowledges that the report “reflects the published conclusion of a controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that stated Iran had halted work on nuclear weapons in 2003.” How could the report reflect those conclusions while at the same time assert that Iran is both “capable” of producing nuclear weapons, and “poised” to do so? Simple: It couldn’t.
While the upcoming National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is expected to revise some of conclusions of the 2007 NIE, today’s news that the U.S. has had custody since last June of a key Iranian nuclear scientist suggests that those revisions might be less than the 180 degree reversal that some conservatives are hoping for. ABC reports that the scientist, Shahram Amiri “has been extensively debriefed since his defection by the CIA, according to the people briefed on the situation. They say Amiri helped to confirm U.S. intelligence assessments about the Iranian nuclear program.”