Tenet joined in Bush’s hyping of the WMD evidence
about Iraq – famously telling the President that the case was a “slam
dunk.” But Negroponte is defying hardliners who want a worst-case
scenario on Iran’s capabilities. Instead, he is citing Iran’s limited
progress in refining uranium and their use of a cascade of only 164
“According to the experts that I consult, achieving
— getting 164 centrifuges to work is still a long way from having the
capacity to manufacture sufficient fissile material for a nuclear
weapon,” Negroponte said in an interview with NBC News on April 20.
“Our assessment is that the prospects of an Iranian
weapon are still a number of years off, and probably into the next
decade,” said Negroponte, who was appointed last year as the Director of
National Intelligence, a new post that supplanted the traditional
primacy of the CIA director as the head of the U.S. intelligence
Expressing a similar view about Iran’s nuclear program in
a speech at the National Press Club, Negroponte said, “I think it’s
important that this issue be kept in perspective.”
In effect, the Director of National Intelligence was splashing cold
water on the fevered assessment of Iran’s nuclear progress favored by
the neoconservatives. Some Bush supporters are now complaining that
Negroponte has shown disloyalty to the President by siding with
intelligence analysts who reject the direst predictions on Iran.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. an original signer of the
neoconservative Project for the New American Century, even called for
Negroponte’s firing because of the Iran assessment and his “abysmal
personnel decisions” in hiring senior intelligence analysts who were
skeptics about Bush’s Iraqi WMD claims, too.
an article for Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times, Gaffney
attacked Negroponte for giving top analytical jobs to Thomas Fingar, who
had served as assistant secretary of state for intelligence and
research, and Kenneth Brill, who was U.S. ambassador to the
International Atomic Energy Agency, which debunked some of the U.S. and
British claims about Iraq seeking enriched uranium from Africa.
The State Department’s Office of Intelligence and
Research led the dissent against the Iraq WMD case, especially over what
turned out to be false claims that Iraq was developing a nuclear bomb.
Gaffney specifically faulted Fingar for his testimony against
neoconservative favorite John Bolton to become U.S. ambassador to the
“Given this background, is it any wonder that
Messrs. Negroponte, Fingar and Brill … gave us the spectacle of absurdly
declaring the Iranian regime to be years away from having nuclear
weapons?” wrote Gaffney, who was a senior Pentagon official during the
Gaffney accused Negroponte of giving promotions to
“government officials in sensitive positions who actively subvert the
President’s policies,” an apparent reference to Fingar and Brill. The
neoconservatives have long believed that U.S. intelligence should fit
administration policies, rather than inform them. [See Robert Parry's
Secrecy & Privilege.]
When Negroponte was appointed last year, the former
ambassador to Honduras and Iraq was expected to be more of a team
player. Known as an old Cold Warrior, Negroponte had overseen the U.S.
Embassy in Honduras in the early 1980s when the CIA was organizing the
contra paramilitary force to attack Nicaragua.
Negroponte also was U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations when the Bush administration made the false case that Iraq was
concealing large WMD stockpiles. Negroponte – along with CIA Director
Tenet – sat behind Secretary of State Colin Powell when he made his
infamous speech to the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003.
While some observers expected Negroponte to stay a
yes-man for Bush as Director of National Intelligence, others who knew
Negroponte suspected that he was too smart and too proud to follow the
path of Tenet, who is widely disdained inside the intelligence community
for letting the analytic product be thoroughly politicized and
Having demonstrated a measure of independence on
Iran, Negroponte also is under attack for allegedly creating a bloated
bureaucracy around his new office, which was established to address
shortcomings exposed by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as well as
the Iraq WMD intelligence failures.
Richard Posner, a
well-known advocate of “preemptive” wars who once
wrote that “the essence of self-defense is striking the first blow
against your assailant,” denounced Negroponte’s office as “a
bureaucratic layer” that causes “delay and loss of information from the
bottom up [and] delay and misunderstanding of commands from the top
The Republican-controlled House
Intelligence Committee also has criticized Negroponte’s office for its
spending. Chairman Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, said in
March that he was concerned that the new office was “putting in more
layers and slowing down the process.”
While some of that
criticism may be valid, it’s typical of Washington’s infighting to see
politicians pursuing one line of attack when they’re really upset about
The mounting criticism of
Negroponte comes as the Bush administration seeks to make the most of a
mixed report by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which
stated on April 28 that the lack of clarity around Iran’s nuclear
program remains “a matter of concern” as do Iran’s intentions.
While Bush cited the
critical aspects of the IAEA report as evidence that a tougher line must
be taken against Iran, the report also bolsters Negroponte’s assessment
that the Iranians are still far away from having the capacity to build a
The IAEA said it took
samples of Iran’s enriched uranium and confirmed that it was processed
only to an enrichment level of about 3.6 percent, when a level of at
least 90 percent is needed to make a nuclear bomb. The low level of
enrichment would fit better for production of nuclear energy, which is
all the Iranians say they want.
But Bush and his
neoconservative advisers may believe that their window for forcing
regime change in Iran is closing. The November 2006 elections could
bring Republican reversals and leave Bush with less flexibility for
launching bombing raids against Iran should he opt for a military attack
as many experts believe he will.
So, to make the case with
the American people, the neoconservatives first need to secure a more
frightening assessment of Iran’s nuclear weapons potential from
Negroponte and the U.S. intelligence community.
As long as the
intelligence analysts judge that Iran is years away from even the
possibility of nuclear weapons, the argument for another “preemptive”
war against a Muslim nation would be a hard sell.
The Bush administration
is still reeling from disclosures that it fixed the WMD intelligence to
justify the Iraq War, which so far has claimed the lives of about 2,400
U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
The latest former CIA
officer to speak out against the bogus intelligence was Tyler Drumheller,
the chief of CIA covert operations in Europe.
“It just sticks in my
craw every time I hear them say it’s an intelligence failure,”
Drumheller told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in an interview broadcast April 23,
2006. “This was a policy failure. … The idea of going after Iraq was
U.S. policy. It was going to happen one way or the other.”
Drumheller said the White
House even ignored intelligence that the CIA got from Saddam Hussein’s
foreign minister, Naji Sabri. The information was rebuffed because Sabri
said Iraq didn’t have WMD.
“The policy was set,”
Drumheller said. “The war in Iraq was coming. And they [White House
officials] were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to
justify the policy.”
Now, the first battle in
a prospective “preemptive” war with Iran may be fought over ousting or
intimidating Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte – which
would then be followed by a whole new round of making the intelligence
fit the policy.