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Intelligence Misestimates By: Frank J. Gaffney Jr.
The Washington Times | Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Thomas Fingar is leaving the building.

Tom Fingar's 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 prominently.

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 programs.

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?


Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the founder, president, and CEO of The Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, and a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas). He is a columnist for The Washington Times, Jewish World Review, and Townhall.com and has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.


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