Jeffrey LewisTCB on The Fleitz of Fancy

I was contemplating a post on the House Select Committee on Intelligence’s extremely odd report, Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States, which Dafna Linzer reports was written by Fred Fleitz

Yes, that Fred Fleitz.

Anyway, Gary Sick has distributed a for atttribution commentary to the Gulf/2000 listserv that more than amply takes care of business.

This report will be nicknamed “Fleitz of Fancy” if I have anything to say about it.

The Subcommittee on Intelligence Policy has prepared a report to the House Select Committee on Intelligence that is sharply critical of US intelligence, implying that intelligence agencies are unwilling to draw the appropriate lessons about Iran. There were stories about this subject in the Washington Post and the New York Times on August 24. The original document can be found at:

In preparation for an interview with VOA, I read through most of the document. If you read to the end of the text, pp. 24-5, you will find a series of exceptionally bland recommendations (need better analysis, more Farsi speakers, more translation, more human intelligence, etc.) that have been voiced repeatedly by serious observers of the intelligence community.

But that is not the purpose of this “study,” which is really intended as a sort of Team B report of what at least one Hill staffer believes the intelligence community should be reporting on Iran. (The staffer is Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA officer who had been a special assistant to John Bolton but who lost his job when Bolton was excessed at the time when Condi Rice came to the State Dept.; so this report can reasonably be seen as the world—and Iran—according to Bolton and his associates.)

If you are going to take on the entire US intelligence community, it is a very good idea to at least get your basic facts straight. On a very quick reading, I found a statement on p. 9 claiming that the 164 centifuges at the Iranian Natanz site are “currently enriching uranium to weapons grade.” There is no evidence whatsoever that this is true—and a lot of evidence that the tiny bit of enriched uranium produced at this site was reactor grade (c. 2.5%? vs weapons grade c. 95%?). It may be true that Fleitz, and perhaps many in the neo-con community, suspect that weapons grade enrichment is either covertly underway or is planned, but their suspicions should not be allowed to substitute for facts.

Throughout the report, there is careful documentation of any & all criticism that the IAEA inspectors have produced or any questions that they may have raised about Iran’s performance. However, there is no mention at all of any of the IAEA conclusions that they find no evidence of weapons production or activity. Some people will recall that the IAEA inspectors, in their caution, were closer to the truth about Iraqi WMD than, say, the Vice President’s office.

The summary of the study claims that Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East,” and it focuses attention on the 1300-km Iranian Shahab-3 missile and its possible future development for carrying a nuclear warhead, including a handy map of exaggerated ranges for the Shahab-3 and (as yet non-existent) Shahab-4 demonstrating that everything from Monaco to Moscow to Mumbai is vulnerable to Iranian strikes. A very quick check of the study’s own sources revealed that Iran has “some” Shahab-3 missiles, but probably not more than a handful. By contrast Israel has 50 ballistic missiles with range greater than the Shahab and configured for nuclear warheads that are stored “nearby.” Saudi Arabia, we need to recall, has 40-60 long-range missiles, each with a range of 2650 km and all capable of carrying a 2500 kg warhead, clearly the largest inventory of its kind in the Middle East.

The author of this repoprt did not have the time or inclination to talk to any of the intelligence organizations that he was indicting. If he had, he might at least have caught some of the embarrassing bloopers in the text. Yet the report was rushed to public release in order to coincide with Iran’s reply to the Europeans (for maximum publicity impact), without even waiting for it to be reviewed by the full committee.

The irony, therefore, is stunning when Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who heads the House Committee, explained the rush by commenting that “We want to avoid another ‘slam dunk.’” The famous “slam dunk” judgment on Iraq’s WMD was, of course, the result of selective reading of available intelligence (which some call cherry-picking), plus a willingness by some to subordinate the (often prosaic) facts to (sensational) ideological conviction.

That is exactly what has happened in this report. It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another slam dunk judgment and a potential rush to war. It deserves to be recognized for what it is.

You can also hear Sick laying the smack down on VOA


  1. Andy (History)

    This could be an opening salvo to a full committee hearing similar to what occurred with the 1995 ballistic missile NIE. A lot of the same actors are in play here, and it’s readily apparent they disagree with the timeline provided by the IC on when Iran may have a weapon. I believe this is another sad example of policy intruding into intelligence analysis.

  2. J (History)

    There are numerous additional errors in the report not otherwise mentioned by Sick. On P. 8, it states that the EU-3 is proposing to permit Iran to maintain a small R&D capability for uranium enrichment. This is false—the EU-3 and the U.S. are on one page in advocating no enrichment whatsoever. In other cases, the report references the incentives that are on the table for Iran as being offered only by the EU-3, despite the fact that the Bush Administration has now publicly signed on to that offer. On P. 13, the report raises all sorts of dark speculation on why the IAEA has prohibited a particular inspector from visiting Iran for inspections. Iran, under its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, has the right to deny entry to any particular international inspector, a right that the U.S. and every other IAEA Member State enjoys.

    This report concludes with unexceptional, “mother and apple pie” recommendations on improving the Intelligence Community’s penetration of Iran’s nuclear weapons. It could have accomplished that objective in one page. Instead, it prefaced the recommendations with 40 pages of innuendo, grossly exaggerated claims, and other nonsense.

  3. pete

    On top of all the nonsense in the report Fleitz does not even attribute one of the presumably most convincing pieces of evidence for a Iranian nuclear weapons programme to the US intelligence services he criticizes so fervently. On p.10 he mentions the IAEA pursuing information on high explosive tests and the design of a delivery system, ommitting the fact that this information was probably supplied to the IAEA by the CIA. (The famous “lap top” with a warhead design which has featured prominently on armscontrolwonk).

  4. John Smith

    And guess what, the Shahab 4 programme has been can cancelled. It may be replaced by this IRBM: , but the report is unconfirmed.