Sources and Methods
The New York Times reports:
American intelligence agencies reversed their view about the status of Iran’s nuclear weapons program after they obtained notes last summer from the deliberations of Iranian military officials involved in the weapons development program, senior intelligence and government officials said on Wednesday.
Hmmm. The US has a source who has access to the minutes of meetings by Iranian military officials "involved in the weapons development program". How many persons had this access? Thousands, hundreds? Or maybe a half dozen whose names are on an Iranian counterintelligence list now?
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. ...
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.
Hmmm ... So communications channels over which weapons engineering questions were discussed were vulnerable to interception. You guys in Teheran, please take note. Make sure you use these channels again.
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.
But they said that the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies had organized a “red team” to determine if the new information might have been part of an elaborate disinformation campaign mounted by Iran to derail the effort to impose sanctions against it.
In the end, American intelligence officials rejected that theory, though they were challenged to defend that conclusion in a meeting two weeks ago in the White House situation room, in which the notes and deliberations were described to the most senior members of President Bush’s national security team, including Vice President Dick Cheney. “It was a pretty vivid exchange,” said one participant in the conversation.
I'll bet it was. Still not convinced?
The officials said they were confident that the notes confirmed the existence, up to 2003, of a weapons programs that American officials first learned about from a laptop computer, belonging to an Iranian engineer, that came into the hands of the C.I.A. in 2004. ...
In an article published on Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times said another main ingredient in the reversal was what it called a journal from an Iranian source that documented decisions to shut down the nuclear program.
The discovery led officials to revisit intelligence mined in 2004 and 2005 from the laptop obtained from the Iranian engineer. The documents on that laptop described two programs, termed L-101 and L-102 by the Iranians, describing designs and computer simulations that appeared to be related to weapons work.
Information from the laptop became one of the chief pieces of evidence cited in the 2005 intelligence estimate that concluded, “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons.”
The newly obtained notes of the deliberations did not precisely match up with the programs described in the laptop, according to officials who have examined both sets of data, but they said they were closely related.
What purpose does the revelation of all this detail serve? It serves to sell the public on the authenticity of the intelligence finding that the Iranians have stopped their nuclear weapons program. Why is it necessary to sell the finding by releasing this detail? Maybe because not everyone is buying it. But what is there to buy into really?
The crucial judgments released on Monday said that while “we judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years,” it also included the warning that “intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate” led both the Department of Energy and the National Intelligence Council “to assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program.”
"Moderate confidence". And it's cleared by the "red team" as not being disinformation. So it must be ... what? Wow. Yet for some, the issue is settled.
“Bush has made a big mistake, and he’s not responding in a way that gives confidence that he’s on top of this,” said David Albright, a former weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency and president of the Institute for Science and International Security. “He isn’t able to respond because he’s not able to say he’s wrong.”
The longer I look at what is presented, the less confidence I have that anybody can answer the requisite question with sufficient accuracy. What's your risk profile? Suppose you had to bet that the revolver you were going to put to your head did not have a bullet in the chamber right before the hammer. What level of proof would you require to snap the barrel to your temple and squeeze? Is it "high confidence", "moderate confidence"? If five dollars were at stake instead of a life, a lot of people would chance it. But with the stakes this high, what is a reasonable level of confidence you will require?