Tigerhawk points out an article in the Telegraph quoting British government sources who think that American intelligence agencies have been fooled by Iran into thinking their nuclear program has been suspended.
British spy chiefs have grave doubts that Iran has mothballed its nuclear weapons programme, as a US intelligence report claimed last week, and believe the CIA has been hoodwinked by Teheran.
The timing of the CIA report has also provoked fury in the British Government, where officials believe it has undermined efforts to impose tough new sanctions on Iran and made an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities more likely.
'Undermined sanctions' undermined by the NIE? As I wrote in Good cop, good cop, the liberals were congratulating themselves too soon about getting their point of view endorsed by the Intelligence Community. "Iran had an incentive to meet with the European and UN "good cops" only for as long as it feared the "bad cop". Once the "bad cop" sits it out the "good cop" will be laughed at to his face.". Another interesting facet of the Telegraph article is that it offers a different perspective on the "politicization of the intelligence process".
The report used new evidence - including human sources, wireless intercepts and evidence from an Iranian defector - to conclude that Teheran suspended the bomb-making side of its nuclear programme in 2003. But British intelligence is concerned that US spy chiefs were so determined to avoid giving President Bush a reason to go to war - as their reports on Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes did in Iraq - that they got it wrong this time.
Corrupting the intelligence process has become a bipartisan process. As I wrote in Now You See It, Now You Don't a week ago the relentless partisanship in Washington means that any change to an intelligence estimate is a prima facie scandal, even though it is nature of estimates to change. This means analysts must worry about how politicians will react to their assessments rather than worrying about what is true.
Leaving aside questions of intelligence corruption, failure etc, partisan politics by looking for consistency in estimates has damaged the way the public should look at intelligence. The intelligence picture changes all the time. Any student of military history knows that grease pencils are used on map overlays because information is constantly updated. Initial reports are often inaccurate. Corrections are messaged in. If battle maps were treated like NIEs they would be inked into the map itself instead of marked in grease pencil on plastic overlays. A politician's idea of a battlefield situation map would be one with enemy formations already typeset into the printing plates before being issued to the troops.
The Telegraph describes how "new" sources of intelligence might also be new sources of disinformation.
The source said British analysts believed that Iranian nuclear staff, knowing their phones were tapped, deliberately gave misinformation. "We are sceptical. We want to know what the basis of it is, where did it come from? Was it on the basis of the defector? Was it on the basis of the intercept material? They say things on the phone because they know we are up on the phones. They say black is white. They will say anything to throw us off.
Even before the source of the new information was identified, it was obvious that the estimate was based on changes to a very few key indicators. Otherwise the reversals would not be so extreme. I wrote in the comments section of "Now You See It, Now You Don't" that the changes implied that a small number of new intel sources had come online and that meant the conclusions were bound to be narrowly based:
I'll deduce from the structure of the result that the NIE estimate was sensitive to a very few variables, none of them easily observable. If the estimate were founded on a large number of relevant datapoints you could never have a 180 flip unless the universe changed. ... So I'm guessing that a big swing like this means they now have a source they didn't have on certain subjects that are absolutely critical to making the estimate. Read it one way and the Iranians "are go" read it another way and the Iranians are "no go". I don't want to make too much of it, but following that line of reasoning you would really start to worry because your intel is therefore narrowly based. What you want right away is collateral. But what if you can't get collateral because of the data depends on one or two things, like what the leadership decided or didn't decide in secret? Then you are at the mercy of the accuracy of your narrow source.
The reason I'm reminding readers of the points of similarity between "British intelligence" and the points made on this blog is not to toot my own horn. On the contrary, all of these are elementary observations which anybody with half a brain could anticipate. It doesn't take James Bond to figure it out.
So the question is why the real life James Bonds have been "hoodwinked", as the British now claim. Or have they? Is there some deep game?