I'm a sceptic about American intelligence. And one of the reasons is that it's not that intelligent. It's particularly obtuse about nuclear matters. It didn't know about the Iraqi capacity in 1981. (Yes, as far back as that.) It didn't know about India and Pakistan and their atomic bombs even though they were, more or less, our allies. And really more. It got the whole story wrong in 2003, again about Iraq, which it had been scrutinizing from up close since 1990.
American intelligence also didn't know about the Indian bomb or the Pakistani one until the two countries announced that they had them in 1996.
American intelligence was caught by surprise when the North Koreans demonstrated their nuclear capacity for all to see.
Who knows how many other intricate and widely disbursed efforts by other countries go undetected, which means also that the whole marketplace for necessary materials to build a bomb -- dirty or "clean" -- is not really understood or adequately under scrutiny?
The last evidence of American (and IAEA) ignorance about the making of nuclear weapons was exposed when Israel bombed a nuclear facility in Syria just a few months ago. Do you think that Syria would have remained docile and almost entirely silent if Israel had entered its air space with several planes and completely rubbed out an "innocent" installation? By the way, Syria has cleansed, since the Israeli Air Force operation, all of the evidence of there ever having been anything there. Poof. Gone. And no real complaints to international authorities.
So, as I said in the beginning, I am a sceptic.
But, maybe, just maybe, American intelligence is right. It could, for once, be so. There is a date which sticks in my mind from the National Intelligence Estimate, and that is 2003. That's the date the N.I.E. tells us that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program. So why is that date so vital to the narrative?
Because the U.S. and a few allies went to war against the Baghdad regime in 2003 which we thought had MWD. Maybe, Iran didn't want to get caught in another military initiative from Washington. 2003 is a vital date, if indeed anything happened to slow down Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Or to pursue another line: Why would the president of Iran, A'jad, try to persuade everyone that his country was on its way to atomic capacity if it wasn't? Was he inviting an American military "shock and awe" intervention for nothing? He may be nuts. But he's not that nuts.
And now we have even Mohamed El-Baradei, the director-general of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, being skeptical of this latest American report. And Szarkosy also. Plus Angela Merkel.
This morning, the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Donald Kerr, told a congressional hearing, according to news agencies, "there was reason to believe that Iran still wanted an ability to make nuclear weapons." This is as strong a dissent as a top insider can allow himself. But the thought vitiates the meaning of the report which is: "don't worry, folks. The Persians ain't gonna have a bomb soon." So it all depends on what is is. Or what soon means.