NIE Turnabout Based on Captured Notes

The New York Times details how the turnabout in assesssment of Iran’s Nuclear Weapons program came from one set of captured notes. The notes were from deliberations among Iranian military officials over nuclear programs, with some expressing regrets over the program being suspended in 2003.

This doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy — while they vetted the notes themselves in the CIA and had a red opposition team question the conclusion unsuccessfully, it’s still just one source, the conclusion is still based on human judgement from an agency that seems more political than analytical, and it’s still based on just one set of notes and some secondary corrobation from recorded conversations. The conversations could be the same military officials, and they could be misinformed either on purpose or out of ignorance.

The notes and the conversations could be a plant, or the notes and conversations could still be real and be wrong.  This doesn’t make me more comfortable about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, nor does it make it less likely that Iran could have nuclear capabilities in two years if they decided to unsuspend tomorrow.

Story at New York Times:

The notes included conversations and deliberations in which some of the military officials complained bitterly about what they termed a decision by their superiors in late 2003 to shut down a complex engineering effort to design nuclear weapons, including a warhead that could fit atop Iranian missiles.

The newly obtained notes contradicted public assertions by American intelligence officials that the nuclear weapons design effort was still active. But according to the intelligence and government officials, they give no hint of why Iran’s leadership decided to halt the covert effort.

Ultimately, the notes and deliberations were corroborated by other intelligence, the officials said, including intercepted conversations among Iranian officials, collected in recent months. It is not clear if those conversations involved the same officers and others whose deliberations were recounted in the notes, or if they included their superiors.

The American officials who described the highly classified operation, which led to one of the biggest reversals in the history of American nuclear intelligence, declined to describe how the notes were obtained.