What Will the Next Iran Intelligence Estimate Say?
I covered Eric Holder’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony yesterday, so I was unable to cover a fascinating and near-simultaneous hearing on Iran in the Armed Services committee. A host of senior military officers, Pentagon officials and intelligence analysts testified, and from this New York Times write-up, it sounds like the next National Intelligence Estimate on Iran will be rather hedged:
In one curious moment in the testimony, General Burgess [the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency] noted that information made public by international nuclear inspectors suggested that Iran had not yet used its thousands of centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear site to make highly enriched uranium, the kind needed to produce a nuclear weapon.
But when asked whether that was also the assessment of American intelligence agencies, General Burgess hesitated, and then told the senators that “any further discussion on that” should be held in a classified session.
The generals offered a number of significant caveats about their assessment of Iran’s capabilities. When asked, for example, how long it would take Iran to convert its current supplies of low-enriched uranium into bomb-grade material, General Burgess said, “The general consensus — not knowing again the exact number of centrifuges that we actually have visibility into — is we’re talking one year.”
That answer seemed to suggest that intelligence agencies believed that other enrichment sites, like the one discovered last year outside the holy city of Qum, might also be operating.
According to the Times, consensus at the hearing was that it would still take significant effort and time to convert that bomb-ready uranium into a bomb, apparently at least a year’s worth. In his last round of testimony to the committee, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, said he did not expect Iran to possess a nuclear weapon this year.