Kenneth R. Timmerman assesses Iran’s nuclear capabilities in the Washington Times :
Just how far is Iran from the bomb? The short and honest answer is: No one knows. Not the United States, despite an intelligence community that swallows up $40 billion a year in taxpayer money. Not the Israelis, who fear they will be on the receiving end. And least of all, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is only allowed to see those facilities in Iran that the Iranian government chooses to let it see, and has no mandate to investigative weapons programs.
The uncertainties and gray areas are so many that virtually any answer about Iranian nuclear weapons development has supporters within the U.S. intelligence community. Therein lies a grave danger to our national security.
A recently completed National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, leaked to a reporter hostile to the administration before its key policy-makers saw it Tuesday, appears to take issue with statements by President Bush and other administration officials who have warned of a coming nuclear showdown with Iran.
The published account of the NIE is headlined “Iran is judged 10 years from nuclear bomb” and suggests the intelligence community is backing off earlier, much nearer-term estimates. But the NIE doesn’t say that, according to a senior intelligence official and others familiar with the highly classified report.
The NIE judged Iran will not be able to produce enough fissile material to make a weapon before “early to mid-next decade,” these sources said. “That’s virtually identical to earlier timelines” of Iran’s nuclear weapons development, they added.
The vagueness of that answer, however, reveals how little insight the U.S. intelligence community has into the inner workings of Iran’s Islamic regime. It also shows how skittish the intelligence community has become in the wake of errors made in pre-war intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs.
Rather than look at Iranian capabilities and warn policymakers of their potential security risks to the United States, there seems to be an emphasis now on finding “creative” explanations why those capabilities might be entirely innocent. That is a deadly approach to national security.