Since the NIE came out, I have argued that the unbridled glee demonstrated by many in the media (see Chris Matthews) was unwarranted and the uncritical coverage reflected the relief felt in the media that war was now averted. The NIE, inconclusive regarding even the very specific aspect of the Iranian nuclear project upon which it commented, becomes even more suspect when one considers who constructed it and what their motives were. John Bolton, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, adamantly echoes this position.
The 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate, as well as the skewed reporting around it, is a sign of the “illegitimate politicization” of the American intelligence establishment, according to former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
The document reportedly said Iran stopped its nuclear weapons production program in 2003.
While “Iran’s nuclear program is continuing and expanding,” Bolton told The Jerusalem Post at a book-signing in a Tel Aviv Steimatzky on Sunday, “the NIE has had a devastating impact on our global efforts to try and constrain Iran.”
“I know the people who wrote this intelligence estimate,” Bolton continued. “They are not from our intelligence community. They’re from our State Department. It was a highly politicized document written by people who had a very clear policy objective.”
The former ambassador decried the lack of separation between “intelligence and policy.””Generating intelligence should be separated from policy-makers, but it should also be separated from intelligence analysts who impose their own policy views on the intelligence they generate,” insisted Bolton, who is in the country to attend the Herzliya Conference this week.
Furthermore, said Bolton, the NIE “doesn’t say what you probably think it says. Once you get past the first sentence or two, it doesn’t come out that different from the 2005 NIE. All of the attention was focused on the one finding that [Iran halted the weapons-building] aspect of the weapons program, even though later they say that they only have ‘moderate confidence’ that this suspension has continued. That’s a polite way of saying they don’t have a clue what the situation is.”
The document also defines the weapons program as “actual weaponization, that is, fabrication – only a tiny sliver of the total activity required for a country to have a nuclear weapons program. It still remains entirely within Iran’s discretion when and under what circumstances it proceeds to a nuclear weapons capability.”
The release of such a politicized report by those responsible for American intelligence analysis was possible, Bolton believes, because “there is still no effective supervision over the intelligence community. It’s been a problem for a long time. The [newly-established] director of national intelligence position didn’t solve it. So it remains and will be a significant challenge for the next president to get under control.”
Bolton calls the NIE “a quasi-coup by the intelligence services,” which was “intended to have a political and policy effect. I think that’s illegitimate [for] the bureaucracy [to have done]. In our system, constitutional legitimacy flows from the president, who was elected, through his officials. It’s not like a European system, where the foreign policy establishment really does develop foreign policy. Too much policy is developed by the bureaucracy independent of political control. It’s a longstanding cultural problem, and it will take a long time to fix it.”