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Spy report exposes Bush lies on Iran

By Nicole Colson | December 14, 2007 | Page 1

THE BUSH administration has been caught in another war lie--this time, before it was able to launch an attack.

A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in unclassified form in early December states unequivocally that Iran's government doesn't possess nuclear weapons or the capacity to create them, and stopped pursuing its weapons program in 2003--just as Iranian officials have said.

In October, in one of many similar statements, George Bush declared, "I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon...So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

The report, a consensus view written with input from all 16 U.S. spy agencies, says almost the exact opposite.

The NIE concludes "with high confidence" that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and that, if restarted, Iran would be unlikely to produce any weapons before 2015. The report also expresses doubt about whether Iran "currently intends to develop nuclear weapons," saying that Iran's "decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005."

Predictably, in a press conference following the release of the NIE, Bush attempted to spin the report as support for increasing pressure on Iran. "Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," he told reporters.

Calling on U.S. allies to up the pressure, Bush added, "The best way to ensure that the world is peaceful in the future is for the international community to continue to work together to say to the Iranians: We are going to isolate you."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed the report provided a "recommitment to our two-track approach"--supposedly sanctions and "diplomacy."

But all the attempts to spin the NIE in the administration's favor are just that--spin.

"The new NIE is a devastating, humiliating blow to Bush, Dick Cheney and the neocons who have been fulminating for war against Iran," wrote Toronto Sun columist Eric Margolis. "Only two months ago, Bush warned Americans that Iran's secret nuclear program threatened to ignite World War III.

"A 2005 NIE report that billed Iran as a major nuclear threat was based on fabricated evidence supplied to the CIA, just like the bogus Niger uranium story used to justify war against Iraq. Who, one wonders, is behind this disinformation?"

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NOW, THE question is when the White House heard the spy agencies' updated conclusions about Iran.

According to the Washington Post, administration officials were told as early as July that the new NIE would state that the Iranian government had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, but the White House challenged the evidence. According to the Post, "Several of the president's top advisers" argued that electronic intercepts of Iranian military officers discussing the lack of a weapons program was part of a "clever Iranian deception campaign."

The White House forced intelligence analysts to go through months of defending their interpretation of the new data, according to Post reporters Dafna Linzer and Joby Warrick.

According to a November report from Inter Press Service, the NIE was originally completed in the autumn of 2006, but was rewritten three times due to pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney.

As Margolis wrote, "Bush was given the new NIE on Iran last August. But for the past four months, Bush, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice have been beating the war drums over Iran when their own massed intelligence agencies have been telling them there was no danger from that country. The White House hid its own intelligence community's findings from the public until the spooks threatened to leak the report."

The NIE findings look bad for some Democrats as well--particularly Hillary Clinton, who has taken the lead in Iran-bashing on the presidential campaign trail. Clinton voted in favor of a Senate resolution labeling Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

Even after the NIE was released, Clinton defended her position. She claimed that designating "the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, we've actually seen some changes in their behavior." Of course, the NIE makes it clear that Iran halted its nuclear program years ago.

For his part, Barack Obama chided Clinton and others for joining in the "saber rattling" against Iran, but didn't bother to explain his own earlier declaration that he would consider missile strikes against a country he previously called "a threat to all of us."

While the NIE report makes military action against Iran more unlikely for the Bush administration to carry out in the near term, the White House has signaled its willingness to press forward for new and tougher sanctions against Iran.

French President and Bush ally Nicolas Sarkozy is pushing for new sanctions through the European Union--on top of an existing boycott of Iran's banking industry--if efforts at the UN Security Council led by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad fail to produce a new measure against Iran.

As the Wall Street Journal noted, however, "Spain, Italy and Germany all enjoy robust trading relationships with Iran and are seen as reluctant to push Tehran. Germany's exports and imports from Iran totaled $5 billion last year. 'For us, it will be more difficult to exert due pressure on our partners,' said a European diplomat working on the sanctions issue."

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