A long-awaited update to the U.S. intelligence community's controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear ambitions has been kicked down the road yet again, Declassified has learned.
The NIE update, expected to bring U.S. spy agencies more into line with their European and Israeli counterparts, was originally supposed to be completed at the end of last year. The target date then slipped to the end of February. But three U.S. national-security officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing the intelligence process, said the document has now been further delayed, at least until the end of March and conceivably further.
The reasons behind the latest delay are murky; two of the officials said the precise reasons for the latest delay are classified. But it is likely that the various intel agencies are still reviewing, revising, and debating the document to reach an agreement about what it should say. In the past, this has been a long and sometimes contentious process. The final product is supposed to reflect the consensus view of U.S. intelligence as a whole, though dissents often pepper the footnotes.
A spokesman for National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, whose office is responsible for drafting and issuing NIE-related papers, declined to comment, citing the office's longstanding policy not to discuss classified reports (or even acknowledge that they exist).
The U.S. officials said that even when it is finally finished, the Iran-nuke NIE update may remain classified in its entirety; the Obama administration, they said, is unlikely to allow the publication even of a declassified extract of the document's key judgments, as was done with the original 2007 document.
The widely debated 2007 report concluded that U.S. agencies "judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program," and that "the halt lasted at least several years." The 2007 NIE also said that American agencies assessed "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." This assessment has been widely criticized by European and Israeli intelligence agencies. They believe that Iran has been pursuing nuclear-weapons capability all along.
As Declassified has reported, the updated Iran-nuke NIE is expected to be more hawkish about Iran's nuclear intentions. Officials familiar with the intelligence community's latest assessments say U.S. analysts now believe that Iran may well have resumed "research" on nuclear weapons, as European and Israeli intelligence agencies have insisted for years. But U.S. intelligence agencies still believe that Iran is not engaged in the “development” of nuclear weapons—that is, actually trying to build a bomb.