Agency defends estimate on Iran
By Jon Ward
December 8, 2007
The federal agency responsible for national intelligence estimates yesterday defended its report on Iran against charges that it was crafted primarily by former State Department officials who infused their personal politics into the report to undercut the Bush administration.
"It's not as if there are two or three people who craft this and then it's just put out there," said Vanee Vines, spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).
The response came after The Washington Times reported yesterday that the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was heavily influenced by three former State Department officials who dislike President Bush and have in the past opposed and obstructed efforts to sanction foreign governments and companies involved in weapons trafficking.
Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, thinks the report was "politicized" and plans to introduce a bill next week that would create a bipartisan commission to investigate the NIE's accuracy.
Ms. Vines defended the report, saying that each NIE is a "group exercise" involving the "entire intelligence community."
However, another DNI spokesman said earlier this week that two individuals in particular played a significant role in drafting the report.
"Many analysts worked this issue, but Tom Fingar, our deputy director of national intelligence of analysis, and Vann Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for WMD and proliferation, had a major part in it," spokesman Ross Feinstein said in an e-mail.
A third DNI official, Kenneth C. Brill, also was reported to be a chief contributor.
Ms. Vines insisted, however, that "to try to characterize these estimates as the product of one or two individuals is just entirely inaccurate."
She pointed out that a NIE is compiled using intelligence from the CIA and the other 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, and then reviewed by the National Intelligence Board, whose chairman is Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.
The NIE released this week said Iran once had a covert nuclear-weapons program, but shut it down in 2003. That conclusion reversed a finding from 2005 that Iran was working full speed toward making a weapon.
The White House yesterday said it stands "by the work of the intelligence community."
Mr. Ensign said his bill would create a panel of three Democrats and three Republicans, who would recruit policy analysts to examine the accuracy of the report.
"Let's make sure this new report is right," Ensign spokesman Tory Mazzola said.
He said Mr. Ensign's proposal is supported by "a small group of bipartisan senators," including Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, and is motivated by a conviction that intelligence reports such as the NIE are "becoming very politicized."
Several current and former government officials who worked with Mr. Fingar, Mr. Van Diepen and Mr. Brill said the three men consistently obstructed and opposed efforts to impose sanctions on rogue nations by John R. Bolton when he was undersecretary of state for arms control during Mr. Bush's first term.
None of the three report contributors accepted multiple offers to be interviewed.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, said yesterday the NIE has had no impact on its planning.
"There has been no course correction, slowdown, speedup given to us inside the Joint Staff based on the NIE," said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Sattler, director for strategic plans and policy on the U.S. military's Joint Staff, according to Reuters news agency.
Many authorities note that despite the news Iran may have frozen a weapons program in 2003, the NIE reports only "moderate confidence" that Persian state has not restarted the covert program.
In addition, Iran is still enriching uranium in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the NIE acknowledges that Iran's capability of building a nuclear bomb has not changed substantively from the 2005 report.
Iran could have a nuclear weapon as early as 2009, the report said, but more likely will not be able to build one until around 2013.
Only 18 percent of 800 likely voters polled by Rasmussen Reports think Iran ceased its nuclear weapons program, the polling firm announced yesterday.