Well, well, well.
It appears that Syria’s box-on-the-Euphrates is at least four years old and was spotted by US intelligence, which drew less dire conclusions:
A senior American intelligence official said yesterday that American analysts had looked carefully at the site from its early days, but were unsure then whether it posed a nuclear threat.
In 2003, you might remember that John Bolton had a massive fight with the US intelligence community over the degree to which the intelligence supported the claim that the Syria was pursuing nuclear weapons.
Here is a reading list, in case you want to check back in with that suddenly relevant story:
- Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, “CIA: Assessment of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction exaggerated,” Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, July 16, 2003, text.
- Douglas Jehl, “Ex-Officials Say Bolton Inflated Syrian Danger,” The New York Times, April 26, 2005, A1, text.
- Glenn Kessler, “Powell Aide Says Armitage, Bolton Clashed Apparent Supporter of U.N. Nominee Said to Have Questioned His Diplomatic Tone,” Washington Post, May 10, 2005, A2, text.
You can also read narrative description of the dispute between Bolton and the IC, including quotes from some depositions with involved officials, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report on Bolton’s nomination.
In particular, I am struck by paragraphs like these two:
D. Syria and Nuclear Weapons—Heritage Foundation Speech, April-May 2002
An INR analyst raised concerns that the new language on Syria’s possible interest in nuclear weapons technology was a “stretch,” implying existence of a Syrian nuclear weapons program when such a conclusion had not, in fact, been reached by U.S. intelligence. Similar concerns were raised by another element of the Intelligence Community. Although INR provided revised language that could be used on this topic, Bolton did not use it, opting instead to refrain from any discussion of a potential Syrian nuclear weapons program in his speech. He did not give up on what he wanted to say, however, but rather saved it for another day.
E. Syria and Nuclear Weapons, Again—HIRC testimony, June, July, September, 2003
The committee staff interviewed four individuals who confirmed that there was a protracted dispute over Bolton’s testimony to the Subcommittee. The first is an INR analyst whose name has not been made public, but who was involved in the clearance process for the Bolton testimony. The analyst stated that one issue, involving one of Syria’s WMD-related programs, was a “big sticking point.” The question was whether the judgment in Bolton’s draft was “sustainable.” This analyst described that judgment as “an attempt to take a piece of data that was far from definitive and draw a conclusion.” The analyst went on to say that the Intelligence Community had “reservations” about the information and how it was obtained, as well as the ‘‘soundness of the science’’ underlying it.
Bolton, by the way, “declined to say whether he had knowledge at the time about the site that the Israelis struck in September.”
But that headline, “Syria and Nuclear Weapons, Again” just sums up this whole fiasco.
Suddenly, I understand why the intelligence from Israel, as Kessler reported, was “restricted to a few senior officials under the instructions of national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, leaving many in the intelligence community unaware of it or uncertain of its significance.”
Because we’d already looked at the building and Hadley knew what the IC would say.