(Hat tip to Eric H) CIA Director nominee Leon Panetta, the self-described “creature of congress,” appears to have brushed aside the collective findings of the intelligence community regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program. At his Senate confirmation hearings yesterday, fellow democrat, Senator Evan Bayh asked: “Is it your belief that Iran is seeking a nuclear military capability? Or are their interests solely limited to the civilian sphere?”
Panetta then replied, “From all the information that I’ve seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.”
By contrast, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, issuing the collective view of 16 different US intelligence agencies, found that,
“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program…. We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007.”
For all of the problems of the intelligence community, a veteran insider wisely warned me 20 years ago that, “the worst thing that can happen to the intelligence process is if analysts tailor their reports to please perceived wishes of their political masters. Former DIA chief Pat Lang famously called it, “drinking the koolaid.”
If I were a Senator in follow-up hearings, I’d want to press Congressman Panetta to see what he really meant. Does he know something about Iran’s nuclear programs since 2007? Was he misunderstanding a leading question? Does he come into office disagreeing with the considered understanding not just of the CIA, but of the entire intelligence community? Does he intend to require those he would supervise to re-write their reports to match pre-formed conclusions?