August 2007 PDB: Iran Not Determined to Get Nukes

ThinkProgress reports Stephen Hadley’s claim that George Bush only learned of the Iran intelligence–judging they have had no nuclear weapon program since 2003–"a few months ago."

QUESTION: Steve, what is the first time the president was given the inkling that something? I’m not clear on this. Was it months ago, when the first information started to become available to intelligence agencies? […]

HADLEY: [W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October — August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.

TP is right: Bush almost certainly continued to war-monger against Iran after learning his war-mongering claims were not true. But I’m equally troubled by the timing of when Bush is purported to have learned this news.

As I noted yesterday, the NIE states that the key piece of intelligence–verifying that Iran had no active nuke program–dates to "mid-2007."

We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons. [my emphasis]

That suggests the most recent intelligence on Iran’s nuke program (or lack thereof) dates to some time in June or July. Yet Stephen Hadley claims Bush only learned of that intelligence "a few months" ago, August at the earliest, presumably a month or more after this piece of intelligence came in.

Now maybe the NIE is just being inexact; maybe some Cheney-loving analyst used such wormy language to allow the Administration to obscure precisely this issue.

But if not, it suggests one of three possibilities.

Perhaps Hadley is lying when he says Bush only learned of this a few months ago. While Bush has continued to war-monger in the last two months, his war-mongering was much worse earlier, such as around the Petraeus testimony. By claiming Bush has only known for two months, you put his knowledge after the time of the worst war-mongering.

Then there’s the possibility that Bush was told about the intelligence but that he didn’t really listen to it–sort of like the PDB he got on August 6, 2001 that said "Bin Laden determined to strike in US." Maybe his briefer read him that intelligence and Bush simply responded, "All right. You’ve covered your ass, now," and then went out to clear brush.

More troubling, though, is the possibility that intelligence came in in June or thereabouts. It was intelligence that clearly addressed an issue of great concern to the Vice President, at least, if not the President. Heck, perhaps the Vice President had even asked his morning briefer for an update–I hear he does that. In any case, this intelligence would have answered one of the most burning intelligence questions of the day.

But the intelligence did not make it to the President, at least not for another month or two.

It’s just a possibility, this last scenario. But given what we know about the way Dick Cheney controls the information that makes it to George Bush, given what we know about how intelligence that doesn’t suit Cheney’s fancy just disappears in this Administration, it’s a real possibility.

It also raises one more possibility. While Bush continued to war-monger, the Administration seemed to move away from its plans to start a war with Iran "a few months" ago. If my third scenario is correct and Cheney or politicized briefers were trying to prevent this intelligence from getting to Bush, did the change in plans occur when someone–perhaps Bush, or perhaps Condi or Bob Gates–got the information? In other words, did someone scuttle Cheney’s war plans simply by eliminating Bush’s plausible deniability about Iran’s nukes?

Update: Oh Jeebus. This looks precisely like the intelligence games that got us into Iraq. First, it’s clear that the "mid-2007" intelligence consisted of intercepts of Iranian conversations about their nukes (or lack thereof):

Senior officials said the latest conclusions grew out of a stream of information, beginning with a set of Iranian drawings obtained in 2004 and ending with the intercepted calls between Iranian military commanders, that steadily chipped away at the earlier assessment.

In one intercept, a senior Iranian military official was specifically overheard complaining that the nuclear program had been shuttered years earlier, according to a source familiar with the intelligence.

And it appears clear that Bush’s top advisors (read: Dick and Hadley) got the contents of the intercepts in July (therefore, a full month before, according to Hadley, Bush got them).

Several of those involved in preparing the new assessment said that when intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration on the intercepts, beginning in July, the policymakers expressed skepticism. [my emphasis]

And then, the war-mongers used precisely the same excuse to dismiss these intercepts that they used to dismiss doubts about the Iraqi aluminum tubes and mobile bioweapons labs: The intercepts that refuted Cheney’s doubts, the war-mongers insisted, were just an elaborate ruse designed to hide an active WMD program.

Several of the president’s top advisers suggested the intercepts were part of a clever Iranian deception campaign, the officials said.

Intelligence officers then spent months examining whether the new information was part of a well-orchestrated ruse. Their effort included "Red Team" exercises in which groups of intelligence officers tried to punch holes in the new evidence, substantially delaying publication of the NIE.

I’m glad that, this time, such games didn’t work. But it’s mighty troubling that they still appear to be possible.

Update: Now that Matt Yglesias has raised Kyl-Lieberman, here’s another question about timing.  Did Bush’s knowledge of this Iran intell "a few months" ago precede the vote on Kyl-Lieberman, which took place on September 27 (right on the borderline, conveniently, of a "few months")? In other words, did Bush have the Senate all but authorize a war, knowing full well that there was no evidence to support the war?

  1. AZ Matt says:

    Ya Hadley, you twit, when did Cheney first know this info? You know he has massaging this stuff to make it fit his vision all the while beating the drums of war.

  2. alank says:

    As in summer of 2001, Dumbya doesn’t read NIE reports. He delegates reading to his staffers. He never learned how to read, as you can tell from his speechifying.

  3. biffdiggerence says:

    It follows that President Goofball has had several months to prepare for today’s Stenography Session.

  4. biffdiggerence says:

    Intelligence officers then spent months examining whether the new information was part of a well-orchestrated ruse. Their effort included “Red Team” exercises in which groups of intelligence officers tried to punch holes in the new evidence, substantially delaying publication of the NIE.

    (we really miss Valerie)

  5. MarkC says:

    But it fits a pattern consistent with the more sinister interpretation of the Plame outing.

    The issue is whether the motivation was to neutralize Wilson and potential future whistleblowers, or to neutralize the CIA’s intelligence gathering in Iran.

    Many don’t really want to talk about the second motive, since it is more clearly treasonous in intent. But was it a part of the deliberations?

    If Cheney knew about this PDB even as he orchestrated the percussion section’s drumbeats for a strike on Iran, this makes it seem like he is indeed willing to do anything for war with Iran.

    Keep that in mind, and return to the Plame outing. Remember, the outing happened as the CIA and Cheney were at odds over the false claims in the State of the Union. At that time, CIA was relatively (!) circumspect. So decapitating the CIA’s network by exposing Plame’s cover company and everyone who talked with them was entirely in Cheney’s interests, and, like this past month, he could then pretend Iran’s program was continuing full bore.

  6. klynn says:

    Which puts the August 30 “lost nukes” story into an interesting time frame…Even though it is not related to any of this REALLY…

      • klynn says:

        “Ta da!” Indeed! I left a BIG thank you at TNH last night. Thank you so much. I am smiling today and finding my brain clicking with EW thought provoking news…Yeah!

        Have a great day MadDog (a little change there in your name).

  7. biffdiggerence says:

    Cheney was successful in stifling the Wilsons.

    But even he could not replace the career CPD veterans en masse.

  8. der1 says:

    and more importantly as Atrios writes: “It must be understood that since our intelligence agencies don’t believe Iran has a nuclear weapons program, it also means that they don’t know where such a program would be physically located if it did exist. This means that any desires of Dick Cheney and his people to bomb Iran simply involve… bombing the shit out of Iran.”

  9. Smgumby says:

    Wonderful discussion EW, but does this news decrease the chance of us going to war with Iran, or just mean that when we DO go to war with Iran it will be because of the “terrist attacks on our troops” in Iraq, or possibly to defend some un-named middle east country who provokes an attack (or more likely provokes a counter-attack)…

    • emptywheel says:

      Check out this piece from Laura Rozen. In it, a Dem staffer explains that this report makes it less likely the UN will approve more sanctions, and therefore likely that the hawks will then say diplomacy doesn’t work.

  10. alank says:

    Revising on the lost weapons:

    This last point raises the question of what were the nuclear weapons meant for? In this context, Stomrer puts forth the following list of important questions to which he demands an answer:

    1. Why, and for what ostensible purpose, were these nuclear weapons taken to Barksdale?
    2. How long was it before the error was discovered?
    3. How many mistakes and errors were made, and how many needed to be made, for this to happen?
    4. How many and which security protocols were overlooked?
    5. How many and which safety procedures were bypassed or ignored?
    6. How many other nuclear command and control non-observations of procedure have there been?
    7. What is Congress going to do to better oversee U.S. nuclear command and control?
    8. How does this incident relate to concern for reliability of control over nuclear weapons and nuclear materials in Russia, Pakistan and elsewhere?
    9. Does the Bush administration, as some news reports suggest, have plans to attack Iran with nuclear weapons?

    It is a matter of perception, whether it is “clear” or “unclear”, as to why the nuclear warheads had not been removed beforehand from the missiles.

    For those who have been observing these series of “unclear” events it is becoming “clear” that a criminal government is at the helm of the United States. There was no way that the six nuclear missiles could have been “mistakenly” loaded, especially when their separate warheads had to be affixed to the missiles by individuals specialized in such a momentous task.

    It is also being claimed that military teams in both U.S.A.F. Base Minot and U.S.A.F. Base Barksdale made major “procedural errors”. What are the probabilities of this occurring simultaneously in two locations?

    It is also worth noting that original reports from military sources talked about only five of the six nuclear warheads from Minot being accounted for in Barksdale.[11] Nuclear warheads are also kept in specialized storage areas or bunkers. Moreover, nuclear weapons are not being decommissioned at Barksdale.

    So, the missing warhead: maybe, it’s under the desk in the Oval Office.

  11. burnspbesq says:

    Marcy, your use of the word “games” to describe Red Team exercises is, IMO, way off base. Red Team exercises are an essential part of good QA, and not just in the intelligence business. Virtually every professional services firm does a similar thing with every client deliverable before it goes out the door, whether they call it “red team,” “second reader,” “opinions committee,” or something else.

    Having data, analysis, and tentative conclusions reviewed by a new set of eyeballs helps to spot holes in the analysis that can develop when the blue team gets too heavily invested in their initial thoughts, or falls victim to groupthink.

    In this case, I think the simplest explanation for the delay is most likely to be correct: the CIA knew that these findings would get a hostile reception across the river, and they did everything reasonably possible to make them bullet-proof.

    Conspiracy theories are fun, to be sure, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    • emptywheel says:

      You’re addressing a different issue than I am. My point is that–as happened during the lead-up to war in Iraq–every single piece of countervailing evidence was dismissed as a ruse. Now I’m all for vetting intelligence closely before you make a final determination on its value. But, first of all, the intelligence that Cheney had based his warlike claims on wasn’t vetted (check out the “Laptop of Death” if you want details–there were intell officers refuting it in the press, even while BushCo was pimping it in Vienna). And, second of all, either you get everyone who will speak publicly all sides of the intelligence (pro and con) so they can temper their statements, or your prevent them from addressing a subject. Particularly when there is evidence, not yet vetted, that seems to refute everything being publicly stated.

      Sometimes, observing patterns of behaviors among key players is not a conspiracy theory; it’s a sound way to analyze events.

      • Leen says:

        The biggest conspiracy of all was that Iraq posessed WMD’s, and we know who pulled that off.

        What we are witnessing is that the lying, cheating, manipulative intelligence “stovepipe” is still in place. They are not going to back down.

        When you think about the articles that Justin Raimando at wrote before the invasion of Iraq, the endless efforts by Scott Ritter, Iaea’s Elbaradei, retired CIA analyst, Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brezinski the millions around the world who marched to stop the illegal, unnecessary and immoral invasion of Iraq, it is simply astounding that those who started this war are still in power pushing for a pre-emptive attack on Iran.

        Where is the complete Phase II of the SSCI? Why in the hell are Douglas Feith, Wolfowitz, Cheney, Wurmser, Bolton, Fleisher, still running around free? Where is the Justice? I am not willing to wait for them to end up in the west wing of hell, Karma, or whatever form of justice people believe in. I want Justice Now!

        Give Impeachment a chance. Call your Reps

      • FormerFed says:

        I think you may be getting a little paranoid here. I agree with burnspbesq @19. The vetting of any proposed conclusion is a vital part of any high risk effort and certainly for matters impacting national policy of this scope.

        My take, and my fervent hope, is that the steadfast professionals in the Intelligence Community have risen to the task and their higher ups have finally found the backbone that they lacked under the Tenet regime.

    • bmaz says:

      “Conspiracy theories are fun, to be sure, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

      Yes, and sometimes the cigar is really a fake that explodes upon lighting. The evidence behind this NIE, by all appearances, had been coming in for years. It had been being tested and analyzed all along, both as pieces and as whatever whole existed at the moment. What you describe as “everything reasonably possible to make them bullet-proof.” was done in November 2006, by February 2007 at the latest. Here is the timeline:

      November 2006: NIE “completed.”

      January 5, 2007: John Negroponte resigns as DNI, reportedly because of fight over NIE.

      February 2007: NIE completed; Cheney objecting to content.

      April 26, 2007: Thomas Fingar announces NIE will be delayed due to Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery.

      June (?) 2007: Information collected that supports claim Iran’s nuclear program remains suspended.

      Early October 2007: BushCo considers spiking the NIE.

      The intelligence community was already satisfied the conclusions were “bulletproof”. It was Cheney who was playing games trying to find some way, any way, to tank the NIE that was not in keeping with his war plan. “Games” was an appropriate term here by EW. Sick, demented games by Cheney and the Iran War Cabal. And they will keep playing them; you watch. Ah, I see Leen at 8:04 has some initial reports of just that surfacing already.

  12. phred says:

    EW, I’m curious about your closing statement “I’m glad that, this time, such games didn’t work. But it’s mighty troubling that they still appear to be possible. “

    Why would it NOT be possible? In what way have Cheney and Bush been brought to heel regarding their abuse of power? Just yesterday I read where one of Bush’s more recent signing statements says he gets to decide where he spends the money appropriated by Congress. So much for the “power of the purse” I hear so much about. Not too long ago the WH cut in half the testimony (was it someone from NIH?) that was to be given to Congress about the public health ramifications of climate change. The WH has made a habit of rewriting any document that does not support its ideological agenda, throughout the Executive Branch. To date I have seen nothing to suggest that they are changing their ways. As long as impeachment remains off the table, it appears to me they will continue in their old bad habits.

    However, I am hopeful that external forces (whether pressure from the Baker faction, or an internal rebellion from the intelligence community tired of having aspersions cast on their competence) may keep Bush and Cheney in check. Lets face it, if there is serious consideration being given to installing Wolfowitz at State, then BushCo isn’t really turning over a new leaf are they?

  13. Leen says:

    Not the first time Stephen Hadley has lied.

    EW I was thinking about Condi Rice and the possibility that she may give Paul Wolfowitz this new appointment. I know you are aware that John Dean wrote several articles about the IMPEACHMENT OF LOWER LEVEL OFFICIALS IN THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION so that they can not roll back into future administrations. Who the hell would have thought that Condi Rice would be willing to go along with reappointing one of the main architects of the war during this administration.


  14. JohnJ says:

    You have to wonder if re-installing Wolfy wasn’t in anticipation of Darth being successful in suppressing the NIE and starting the war with Iran? If Darth had been succeeded in moving us to war, the timing would be perfect.

    Curiosity #2; why was Iran able to resist the Brits and our attempts (wondering into disputed territory, grabbing their diplomats, etc) to goad them into firing the first shot? Their public leadership isn’t all that mature, yet they acting more mature than Darth. If Iran had pulled the same stunts on us, they would be a smoldering pile of nuclear waste by now. I suspect there may be some back-channel communication by sensible people with Iran. Did someone say “watch out for Darth, he is going to try to get you to shoot back, don’t fall for it”?

    • Leen says:

      Flynt Leveret who “quit” the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq has written that Iran has tried to negotiate with several US administrations. Flynt is at the New America Foundation.

      Listening to NPR Bush just said that the NIE report is a “warning signal” that Iran had the program under way and could start it back up anytime. Then NPR reported that Israel’s Barak just completely contradicted the report and said that Iran currently has a Nuclear weapons program.

      These crazies are not going to back down…facts do not matter.

  15. JohnJ says:

    Ouch; I should have proof read that last post. Please excuse the errors. I have been programming in “C” all day. English and “C” are not all that similar.

  16. alank says:

    You would think that Buying the War would be an object lesson for the fourth estate:


    MICHAEL MASSING: THE NEW YORK TIMES remains immensely influential. People in the TV world read it every morning, and it’s amazing how often you’ll see a story go from the front page of the day’s paper in the morning to the evening news cast at night. People in government, of course, read it, think tanks, and so on.

    JONATHAN LANDAY: There were some red flags that the NEW YORK TIMES story threw out immediately, which caught our eye, immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd – the enemy of Saddam – had been allowed into his most top secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.

    WARREN STROBEL: The first rule of being an intelligence agent, or a journalist, and they’re really not that different, is you’re skeptical of defectors, because they have a reason to exaggerate. They want to increase their value to you. They probably want something from you. Doesn’t mean they’re lying, but you should be — journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right? And I’m afraid the NEW YORK TIMES reporter in that case and a lot of other reporters were just not skeptical of what these defectors were saying. Nor was the Administration…

  17. klynn says:


    How does the Israeli Lobby spy case come into this? I would be interested. With the fact that the accused received the right to subpoena 15 members of the administration to show they were not engaging in spying but a “back channel” of information flow between 1999-2004.

    “US officials alleged that between 1999 and 2004 Franklin passed secrets to Israel using AIPAC as the conduit; at the time Rosen was the lobby’s policy director and Weissman an analyst on Iran.”

    This is all too close for comfort.

    Additionally, there has been a question about whether AIPAC may have helped draft Kly-Lieberman. Members of congress and the administration claim they have no idea if the lobby knew about Kly-Lieberman. How could one of the most powerful lobby group in the US not have a say on US policy in the ME?

    • Leen says:

      Not sure how to link here. But there are several articles over at Breaking News at the JTA’s website (Jewish Telegraphic Agency). One on how an Israeli official is spinning this report and one on Aipac’s spin. Go check it out.

  18. Ishmael says:

    This is interesting – Bush at his presser this morning claims he was only briefed on the NIE “last week” – but that he had been told a few months earlier that there was new intelligence that had to be verified first. Uh huh.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Yeah, Ishmael, I had some video running in another browser window and watched from the corner of my eye. I ran it several times; the first two without sound just to see whether any body language was odd enough to catch my attention. I haven’t watched Bush for awhile, and I was quite struck at how terrible he looks. (Watch with the sound off; he looks labored in his body language when he speaks, repeatedly. He also has a staccato quality that is much more pronounced that I recall from a year or so ago.) Weirdly, I had an odd thought – mostly from not really watching with attention, but out of one corner of my eye, I thought, “Is that guy well enough to make it through 2008…?”

      Not wanting to spread malice, and maybe I’m seeing amiss, but there’s something about just watching that guy without sound on that is just… out of synch or something.

      Then, I replayed parts with the sound on — on that presser, at about 4:30 into it, David Gregory asks a question. You see Bush’s mouth twist in aggravation as Gregory finishes the question. (What’s that about? Last that I remember Gregory, he was ‘rappin’ with MC Rove.’ So why does Bush so dislike Gregory?) Then Gregory asks a (rather pointed) question, and Bush literally turns his body away from Gregory before he turns back to the podium to answer the question. How bizarre is that…?!

      God, I adore digital video. But that’s OT.

      Bush’s words and actions seldom align. Reading the body language, it looks almost as if Bush is in deep defense/denial mode; I wouldn’t put much stock in what he actually says. But he sure wasn’t making much sincere eye contact, which raises questions about how deeply he actually believes whatever words he used. His body language is… just somehow not right.

      Am I nuts?
      Anyone else see this weirdness…?

      • bmaz says:

        I have always seen that in Bush in those kind of situations to some extent; but, you are right, it has gotten markedly worse. I think he has been on a good downward slope since that Jackson Square speech in New Orleans. Lately, he has been almost vacant; like an automaton mouthing words without any self context, but a lot of inner petulance and anger.

  19. MadDog says:

    Whether the Iran NIE’s “outing” was deliberate attempt by honorable insiders to tell Junya and Deadeye to STFU, or something less conspiratorial, all I can say is “Blogtender, the drinks are on me!”

    And wrt to Junya’s rant presser, the poor ol’ boy has only known lemons all of his stunted life, so the continual attempts to make lemonade should come as no surprise.

    Hey Junya, did someone squeeze your lemon?

  20. klynn says:

    EW, thanks for the heads up. Still catching up from yesterday.

    Here’s another question for P. B.–

    How does the leader of our country talk tough about military action towards another country for the last year and then state, “I just learned this intell,”?

    If he led our country towards war without calling for deep intelligence analysis, he should be out of a job for questionable decision making. Obviously, the other option is that he has known all along and he has lied to the public. Playing, the “I just found out” card makes him out to be incapable of carrying out his oath of office. Likewise, the same goes for VP. Congress needs to act on both VP and Prz.

    This all puts a new light on Brit pull-out of Iraq announcements in February and the beginning of the military pull-out before August. It also puts light on the minor country military support pulling out by August. Many cannot afford to be linked to another US invasion. These pull-outs are as much a diplomatic statement to the US and less for the need of Iraq independence. At least in regards to this NIE and its’ timing…

  21. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    bmaz, at least two of us are ‘nuts’, then. Nice to have company 8-0

    But your words ‘vacant’ and ‘automaton’ synch with parts of what I saw. In all honesty, watching without the sound was more informative than having it on. (Although his speech pattern is so eerily flat that having it on does provide other… ‘information’. But it’s just so…. profoundly, eerily sad…)


  22. CanuckStuckinMuck says:

    EW. Nice place you have here…
    On POTUS’s recent dissembling about Iran and nukes. I can only remember one for certain, the one about WWIII. In that comment, GWB was (I’m guessing) careful to say that we couldn’t afford to let Iran
    have the knowledge to make nucular weapons
    . It’s subtle, but if Deadeye is writing the script, not outside the realm of possibility.

  23. Ishmael says:

    Bmaz and ROTL –

    Make it three of us! The Press Corpse was unusually persistent with W this morning, and I think they sensed the same level of discomfort that we have noted – rather than a docile press gallery which doesn’t want to push issues, I would love to see Bush cross-examined by someone like Pat Fitz who knows what he is doing!

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Ishmael, Okay, so far three of us are nuts.
      But I do see a different tone in the press.
      I still think the Brits are far ahead of us — any president should have to defend his/her policies before Congress, not simply before the press. The parliamentary system would have revealed Bush’s smallness and limitations much earlier, and perhaps things would not have spun this far out of control.

      Watching Bush really made me uncomfortable. Something’s unraveling. Ick!!!

  24. radiofreewill says:

    The Wilsons were the ‘fact’ that Cheney needed ‘fixed’ to fit the policy of the “State-Sponsors of Terror pursuing Nuclear Weapons Ambitions within the Axis of Evil.”

    Iraq was only a stepping-stone in BushCo’s Neocon World-Dominance plan, which called for rolling-up the Middle East militarily and taking control of the Oil Resources of Other Sovereign Nations on a ‘pretext’ of Fighting the Global War on Terror.

    To keep the War Wagon rolling on into Iran, Cheney wouldn’t tolerate any ‘exculpatory’ information coming from the IC – Truth-telling wasn’t appreciated if it went Counter to the Policy.

    Hence, if Joe determined that Iraq didn’t buy Uranium from Niger, thereby exposing Bush’s primary rationale for Pre-Emptive, Aggressive War was Wrong, and if, in addition, Valerie’s CPD Group also determined that Iran had shut-down its Nuclear Weapons Program in 2003, then one can be certain that Cheney saw the Wilsons as Enemies of the Agenda.

    The Wilsons sin was Telling the Truth, contrary to Bush and Cheney’s Lies.