Thomas Fingar is leaving the building.
is not, of course, exactly a household name. Nor is the building he
will depart a publicly recognized fixture in Washington's official real
estate. Still, when the history of the Iranian nuclear threat - and all
that flows from it - is written, his dismal tenure as deputy director
for analysis in the Office of National Intelligence will figure
After all, at a critical moment in the Bush administration, as
evidence mounted in late 2007 of the true and ominous nuclear weapons
ambitions of an Iranian regime that professed an interest only in
peaceful nuclear energy, Mr. Fingar was instrumental in producing one
of history's most politicized and misleading National Intelligence
Estimates (NIEs). The lead sentence of the summary of this document
made the stunning statement that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
The effect of such a declaration was as palpable as it was predictable.
Critics of the Bush administration seized on the finding to demand an
end to any forcible effort to prevent the mullahocracy in Tehran from
continuing to use its "peaceful" nuclear program as a cover for
obtaining the bomb. Allies who knew better and had been pressed to join
Washington in preventing such an outcome were appalled and alienated.
Our enemies in Iran around elsewhere around the world were emboldened.
Mr. Fingar's Iran NIE was of a piece with the bit of political
theater that got him appointed in the first place by then-Director of
National Intelligence John Negroponte as not only the deputy for
analysis but also as head of the National Intelligence Council. At the
time, Mr. Fingar was - like Mr. Negroponte - a State Department
bureaucrat. He claimed, wrongly, that the State Department Bureau's of
Intelligence and Research (INR) had, under his leadership, been the
only intelligence agency to assess correctly the actual pre-invasion
status of Saddam Hussein's various weapons of mass destruction
In fact, in 2002 State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research
dissented slightly from the intelligence communitywide consensus that
Saddam continued to have WMD capabilities. INR chose only to demur on
the otherwise-consensus judgment that the Iraqi despot had an active
nuclear weapons program.
Mr. Fingar's INR expressed no disagreement, though, with respect to
the view of the rest of the community (and indeed that of many foreign
intelligence services) that "the Butcher of Baghdad" continued to
possess chemical and biological arms. Neither did it object to the
president's 2003 State of the Union address on the subject of the
threat posed by Saddam's Iraq. Nor to the presentation then-Secretary
of State Colin Powell made on the subject to the United Nations
Security Council the following month.
The Fingar-promoted mime about INR's perspicacity fed into the
vicious campaign to the effect that "Bush lied, people died." The
failure of the administration to counter this malicious slander is now
widely seen to have contributed materially to its diminished stature
and dissipated credibility. The Bush team shares, moreover, in some of
the blame for what Mr. Fingar subsequently did on Iran by acquiescing
to the granting of so much authority over U.S. intelligence products to
so political - and overtly hostile - an individual.
The problem was compounded by others Mr. Negroponte also brought in
from State, notably his assigning of the appallingly inadequate former
U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kenneth
Brill, as director of the Counter-Proliferation Center and of Foggy
Bottom "expert" Vann Van Diepen as the national intelligence officer
for nonproliferation matters. Like Mr. Fingar, and many other State
Department apparatchiks, they shared an unconcealed hostility toward
Bush policies and a "see-no-evil" attitude toward proliferators that
should have disqualified them from such appointments.
In briefings on the Iran NIE by Mr. Fingar and Mr. Van Diepen to
legislators, it became evident that their much-publicized "summary" was
calculated to serve a highly political agenda, namely, thwarting U.S.
action to stop the Iranian nuclear program. As the sheer magnitude of
the NIE's mistakes became obvious, the current director of national
intelligence, Adm. Michael McConnell, and CIA Director Michael Hayden
felt constrained a few months later to withdraw the NIE's statement
that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
There is no little irony in Thomas Fingar's parting gift to the
nation, a just-released National Intelligence Estimate entitled Global
Trends 2025. This paean to the post-America zeitgeist - featuring a
world devastated by global warming and "the withering away of
nation-states," including the United States - actually emphasizes the
very threat Mr. Fingar's NIE on Iran tried to wish away: an escalating
Mideast nuclear arms race and the prospect of rogue states' readiness
to share such terrifying weapons with their terrorist proxies: "Over
the next 15-20 years, reactions to the decisions Iran makes about its
nuclear program could cause a number of regional states to intensify
these efforts and consider actively pursuing nuclear weapons."
In his latest book titled "The Failure Factory," The Washington
Times' national security correspondent Bill Gertz develops more fully
the dangers associated with the likes of bureaucrats of Thomas Fingar's
ilk advancing their own agenda at the expense of the national interest.
Will the Obama administration learn the appropriate lessons from such politicized intelligence misestimates, or compound them?