DNI cautions senators on Iran intel

Saying he wanted “to be very clear in addressing the Iranian nuclear capability,” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told a Senate committee today that Iran continues down a path that could lead to construction of a nuclear weapon. Reiterating what appears to be a coordinated line of thinking, McConnell said that Iran is still enriching uranium and building missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. These are two of the three legs in the stool of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

While not refuting the judgment of his intelligence agencies that Iran halted the third leg, a set of covert, military-run nuclear weapons activities, McConnell clearly wanted to tamp down the dramatic headline of the recent National Intelligence Estimate, which gave the strong impression that Iran’s nuclear program is, at least temporarily, on ice.

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities, as well as its covert military uranium conversion and enrichment-related activities, for at least several years. Because of intelligence gaps, [the Department of Energy] and the [National Intelligence Council] assess with only moderate confidence that all such activities were halted. We assess with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted these activities as of mid-2007, but since they comprised an unannounced secret effort which Iran attempted to hide, we do not know if these activities have been restarted.

For good measure, McConnell added, “I note again that two activities relevant to a nuclear weapons capability continue: uranium enrichment that will enable the production of fissile material and development of long-range ballistic missile systems.”

This is now the official counterargument to the NIE. The fact that these statements come from the man who is ultimately responsible for that document is, as best I can tell, unprecedented.