Thursday, February 09, 2006

Like Clockwork: What do agenda-driven hawks do when U.S. intelligence is already on record with an estimate that Iran is a decade...


What do agenda-driven hawks do when U.S. intelligence is already on record with an estimate that Iran is a decade away from the ability to build a nuclear weapon? They get busy intimating, intoning, and leaking. Anonymously, of course---and preferably to the same reporter, WaPo's Dafna Linzer, who first wrote about that estimate of a decade. Excerpts from a longer WaPo piece by Linzer (my bolds):
Iranian engineers have completed sophisticated drawings of a deep subterranean shaft, according to officials who have examined classified documents in the hands of U.S. intelligence for more than 20 months.Complete with remote-controlled sensors to measure pressure and heat, the plans for the 400-meter tunnel appear designed for an underground atomic test that might one day announce Tehran's arrival as a nuclear power, the officials said.By the estimates of U.S. and allied intelligence analysts, that day remains as much as a decade away -- assuming that Iran applies the full measure of its scientific and industrial resources to the project and encounters no major technical hurdles. But whether Iran's leaders have reached that decision and what concrete progress the effort has made remain divisive questions among government analysts and U.N. inspectors.Drawings of the unbuilt test site, not disclosed publicly before, appear to U.S. officials to signal at least the ambition to test a nuclear explosive. But U.S. and U.N. experts who have studied them said the undated drawings do not clearly fit into a larger picture. Nowhere, for example, does the word "nuclear" appear on them. The authorship is unknown, and there is no evidence of an associated program to acquire, assemble and construct the components of such a site.Other suggestive evidence is cloaked in similar uncertainty. Contained in a laptop computer stolen by an Iranian citizen in 2004 are designs by a firm called Kimeya Madon for a small-scale facility to produce uranium gas, the construction of which would give Iran a secret stock that could be enriched for fuel or for bombs. Also on the laptop -- obtained by U.S. intelligence -- were drawings on modifying Iran's ballistic missiles in ways that might accommodate a nuclear warhead. Beyond the computer files, an imprisoned Pakistani arms dealer recently offered uncorroborated statements that Iran received several advanced centrifuges, equipment that would vastly improve its nuclear knowledge.U.S. intelligence considers the laptop documents authentic but cannot prove it. Analysts cannot completely rule out the possibility that internal opponents of the Iranian leadership could have forged them to implicate the government, or that the documents were planted by Tehran itself to convince the West that its program remains at an immature stage.CIA analysts, some of whom had been involved only a year earlier on the flawed assessments of Iraq's weapons programs, initially speculated that a third country, such as Israel, may have fabricated the evidence. But they eventually discounted that theory."There is always a chance this could be the biggest scam perpetrated on U.S. intelligence," one U.S. source acknowledged. "But it's such a large body of documents and such strong indications of nuclear weapons intent, and nothing seems so inconsistent."Bush administration officials, convinced that Iran has a weapons program, believe that the body of documentation is the nearest anyone can expect to "smoking gun" evidence. But even in the U.S. government, the predominant interpretation is more complex. And any step toward uranium enrichment, experts said, is consistent with three competing explanations -- that Iran's program is peaceful, that it aims for a weapon, or that the Tehran government is still keeping its options open.In a brightly lighted office at police headquarters in the Malaysian capital, Bukhary Syed Tahir sat down recently for his second round of talks with CIA officers since his arrest 20 months ago on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.Tahir is held in a high-security prison, without charges, for his alleged role as a manufacturer, salesman and partner in Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear network, which supplied materials to Libya, Iran and North Korea. After more than a year of denials about shipments to Iran in the 1990s, Tahir has changed his story and now claims to have recalled a previously forgotten sale, according to U.S. sources.Two sources with direct knowledge of Tahir's recent claims said they did not know what led him to offer a new account. They had no information on whether his new claims were made under duress or came after promises of release.Undated drawings of an unbuilt tunnel, authorship unknown. More drawings on a "laptop stolen by an Iranian citizen." A Pakistani arms dealer imprisoned in Malaysia---no, you couldn't make this up---graciously helping out with newly-recalled details. Dark claims on background from Bush administration officials that it all adds up to a slam-dunk-redux "smoking gun."If I find myself at a bad movie, I have no qualms about walking out. But I'm beginning to sympathize with the character Alex in A Clockwork Orange, tied to a chair with continuous eyedrops for his pinned-open lids, forced to watch the same bad flick again and again.

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