Useful insights often must be seen through a glass darkly. But some can be pulled through the smoke and mirrors shrouding the wanderings of Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri, who is now back home in Iran after 14 months in the U.S. as guest of the CIA.
The confusing/amusing spin applied by both countries to L' Affaire Amiri can detract from the real issues. The facts beneath the competing narratives permit a key conclusion; namely, that U.S. intelligence has learned nothing to change its assessment that Iran halted work on the nuclear-weapons related part of its nuclear development program in the fall of 2003 and has not restarted that work.
That twin judgment leaped out of a formal National Intelligence Estimate, "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities," [.pdf] approved unanimously by all 16 U.S intelligence agencies in November 2007.
That NIE substituted a rigorous evidence-based approach for the knee-jerk premise of earlier estimates that Iran had already decided to develop nuclear weapons and the question was just when, not if, it would eventually acquire them.
The NIE began with these words:
"We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. …
"We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons. …
"Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005."
That is not what President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had been telling the world, preferring to hyperbolize the danger from Iran's nuclear "weapons" program. Indeed, visiting Israel in January 2008, Bush said he did not believe the NIE's key judgments, and actually apologized to the Israelis for the unfortunate Estimate.
But the word was out and it put the kibosh on White House/neocon plans to manufacture/embellish an imminent nuclear threat from Iran, to look the other way as the Israelis attacked, and to then spring to the aid of our Israeli "ally," even though there is no bilateral defense treaty requiring that.
The timely publication of the NIE's key judgments played a key role in scuttling plans of those in Washington and Tel Aviv to prevent/pre-empt the ostensibly urgent, but actually bogus, threat from Iran.