Jeffrey Lewis2005 Iran NIE Details

Regular readers know that I have tried to accumulate all the information I can about the 2005 NIE on Iran’s nuclear program — it is interesting in its own right and as a predecessor to the much misunderstood 2007 NIE. (I did my best to create a detailed account in “NIE on Iran’s WMD Programs,” March 27, 2007.)

In addition to the information collected in that March 2007 ArmsControlWonk post, the only other details are available in the unclassified summary of the 2007 NIE, which contains a chart that compares the 2005 and 2007 versions (see below).

Now, in the September 18, 2009 edition of RL34544 Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status, CRS analyst Paul Kerr releases the name of the NIE, as well as some description of the 2001 NIE, down in footnote 86:

Although the 2005 NIE stated that “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure,” that assessment was somewhat qualified. Titled “Iran’s Nuclear Program: At A Crossroads,” the estimate stated that Iran was not “immovable” on the question of pursuing a nuclear weapons program and also addressed the possibility that Tehran may not have had such a program. Moreover, the word “determined” was used in lieu of “pursuing” a nuclear weapon because the authors believed the latter to be a stronger term. The NIE was issued as a Memorandum to Holders of NIE 2001-15HC, “Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program: Multifaceted and Poised
to Succeed, But When?”

The name — “Iran’s Nuclear Program: At A Crossroads” — is actually kind of useful. Analysts within the IC often grumble about the focus on the phrase “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons.” Out of context, analysts argue, that phrase distorts the overall tone of the 2005 NIE, which was more ambiguous. I recall one meeting where an exasperated senior IC analyst complained that even the title — “At a Cross Roads” — indicated the contingent nature of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. (Don’t get me started on their view of “pursue” either.)

In case you are interested, here is the comparison chart from the 2007 NIE.

Key Differences Between the Key Judgments of This Estimate
on Iran’s Nuclear Program and the May 2005 Assessment

2005 IC Estimate 2007 National Intelligence Estimate
Assess with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that Iran is immovable. Judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. Judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (DOE and the NIC have moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program.) Assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons. Judge with high confidence that the halt was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work. Assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.
We have moderate confidence in projecting when Iran is likely to make a nuclear weapon; we assess that it is unlikely before early-to-mid next decade. We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon is late 2009, but that this is very unlikely. We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. (INR judges that Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.)
Iran could produce enough fissile material for a weapon by the end of this decade if it were to make more rapid and successful progress than we have seen to date. We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon is late 2009, but that this is very unlikely.

Source: “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” National Intelligence Council, November 2007.


  1. hass (History)

    First of all, if Iran were “determined” to get a nuke then why did they make so many far-reaching compromise offers to limit their nuclear program that went well beyond even the Additional Protocol?
    Second, instead of engaging in NIE hermeneutics and spin, I tend to rely on the actual, known evidence. Is there evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program EVER existing in Iran? Apart from the “Laptop of Death” the answer is a big fat no. Can we sit around and speculate about “intentions” and “determinations” and “capacities” all day long anyway? Yes. Zarif himself said it best

    [W]e had a suspension for two years and on and off negotiations for three… Accusing Iran of having “the intention” of acquiring nuclear weapons has, since the early 1980s, been a tool used to deprive Iran of any nuclear technology, even a light water reactor or fuel for the American-built research reactor….the United States and EU3 never even took the trouble of studying various Iranian proposals: they were – from the very beginning – bent on abusing this Council and the threat of referral and sanctions as an instrument of pressure to compel Iran to abandon the exercise of its NPT guaranteed right to peaceful nuclear technology…

    And recently Sec of State Clinton confirmed that derpriving Iran of a right to enrich uranium was indeed the policy the US. All this talk about weapons is therefore pretextual and a misdirection.

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Determined was a profoundly incorrect word choice.

  3. scud

    Apologies for the long post, but I thought that Jahn’s piece below was a useful reply to those who still believe that the “Laptop of Death” was the only source for Iran’s military intentions.

    AP NewsBreak: Nuke agency says Iran can make bomb

    By GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer Thu Sep 17, 7:06 pm ET

    VIENNA – Iran experts at the U.N nuclear monitoring agency believe Tehran has the ability to make a nuclear bomb and worked on developing a missile system that can carry an atomic warhead, according to a confidential report seen by The Associated Press.
    The document drafted by senior officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency is the clearest indication yet that those officials share Washington’s views on Iran’s weapon-making capabilities and missile technology — even if they have not made those views public.
    The document, titled “Possible Military Dimension of Iran’s Nuclear Program,” appeared to be the so-called IAEA “secret annex” on Iran’s alleged nuclear arms program that the U.S., France, Israel and other IAEA members say is being withheld by agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei — claims the nuclear watchdog denies.
    It is a record of IAEA findings since the agency began probing Iran’s nuclear program in 2007 and has been continuously updated.
    The information in the document that is either new, more detailed or represents a more forthright conclusion than found in published IAEA reports includes:
    • The IAEA’s assessment that Iran worked on developing a chamber inside a ballistic missile capable of housing a warhead payload “that is quite likely to be nuclear.”
    • That Iran engaged in “probable testing” of explosives commonly used to detonate a nuclear warhead — a method known as a “full-scale hemispherical explosively driven shock system.”
    • An assessment that Iran worked on developing a system “for initiating a hemispherical high explosive charge” of the kind used to help spark a nuclear blast.
    In another key finding, an excerpt notes: “The agency … assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device (an atomic bomb) based on HEU (highly enriched uranium) as the fission fuel.”
    ElBaradei said in 2007 there was no “concrete evidence” that Iran was engaged in atomic weapons work — a source of friction with the United States, which has sought a hard-line stance on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
    Responding to the AP report, the agency did not deny the existence of a confidential record of its knowledge and assessment of Iran’s alleged attempts to make nuclear weapons. But an agency statement said the IAEA “has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon program in Iran.”
    It cited ElBaradei as telling the agency’s 35-nation governing board last week that “continuing allegations that the IAEA was withholding information on Iran are politically motivated and totally baseless.”
    “Information from a variety of sources … is critically assessed by a team of experts working collectively in accordance with the agency’s practices,” it said.
    “The IAEA reiterates that all relevant information and assessments that have gone through the above process have already been provided to the IAEA Board of Governors in reports of the director general.”
    The document traces Iran’s nuclear arms ambitions as far back as 1984, when current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was president and Iran was at war with Iraq.
    At a top-level meeting at that time, according to the document, Khamenei endorsed a nuclear weapons program, saying “a nuclear arsenal would serve Iran as a deterrent in the hands of God’s soldiers.”
    He and other top Iranian leaders insist their country is opposed to nuclear weapons, describing them as contrary to Islam. They argue that Iran’s uranium enrichment program and other activities are strictly for civilian purposes.
    Senior U.S. government officials have for years held the view that Iran has the expertise to make a bomb.
    The AP saw two versions of the U.N. document — one running 67 pages that was described as being between six months and a year old, and the most recent one with more than 80 pages and growing because of constant updates. Both were tagged “confidential.”
    A senior international official identified the document as one described by the U.S. and other IAEA member nations as a “secret annex” on Iran’s nuclear program. The IAEA has called reports of a “secret annex” misinformation.
    The document is based on intelligence provided by member states, the agency’s own investigations and input from outside nuclear arms experts under contract with the IAEA.
    Presented with excerpts from the earlier paper, the senior international official said some of the wording and conclusions were outdated because they had been updated as recently as several weeks ago by IAEA experts probing Iran for signs it was — or is — hiding work on developing nuclear arms.
    At the same time, he confirmed the accuracy of the excerpts, including Khamenei’s comments, as well as the IAEA assessment that Iran already had the expertise to make a nuclear bomb and was well-positioned to develop ways of equipping missiles with atomic warheads.
    An official from one of the 150 IAEA member nations who showed the AP the older version of the document said much of the information in it has either never been published or, if so, in less direct language within ElBaradei’s periodic Iran reports first circulated to the agency’s board and released to the public. That was confirmed by the senior international official.
    The officials providing the information both insisted on anonymity because of the confidentiality of the document, which they said was meant to be seen only by ElBaradei and his top lieutenants.
    In the case of Khamenei, there is only an oblique reference in the annex to ElBaradei’s Iran report of May 26, 2008, saying the agency had asked Tehran for “information about a high level meeting in 1984 on reviving Iran’s pre-revolution nuclear program.”
    The international official said the Iranians denied that Khamenei backed the concept of nuclear weapons for his country.
    The agency said earlier this year that Iran had produced more than 1,000 kilograms — 2,200 pounds — of low-enriched, or fuel-grade, uranium. That is more than enough to produce sufficient highly enriched uranium for one weapon, should Iran choose to do so, and its enrichment capacities have expanded since then.
    The document concludes that while Iran is not yet able to equip its Shahab-3 medium-range missile with nuclear warheads, “it is likely that Iran will overcome problems,” noting that “from the evidence presented to the agency, it is possible to suggest that … Iran has conducted R&D (research and development) into producing a prototype system.”
    The document also says Iran already could trigger a nuclear blast through “methods of unconventional delivery” such as in a container on a cargo ship or carried on the trailer of a truck.
    But in an indication that ElBaradei also is concerned, he departed from the cautious language characterizing his Iran reports last week.
    He told a closed meeting of the IAEA board that if the intelligence on Iran’s alleged weapons program experiments is genuine, “there is a high probability that nuclear weaponization activities have taken place — but I should underline ‘if’ three times.”
    The U.S., Israel, France and other nations critical of Iran’s nuclear activities have for months said that ElBaradei was withholding a “secret annex” on Iran in the IAEA’s electronic archives that they say goes far beyond the information and conclusions published by ElBaradei in his regular reports on Iran.
    Asked about the discrepancy between the agency denial that it was withholding information and the existence of the document, the senior international official said the report was at this point an “internal and constantly changing” record of what the IAEA knows and concludes about Iran. As such, he said, circulating it, even only to IAEA board members, would be counterproductive.
    Only after the agency has concluded its investigation and drawn final conclusions would it share the information with the board, he said, adding that he could not say when that would be.

  4. b (History)

    The IAEA responded to the sensational AP report “scud” posted above:

    VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear agency has no proof that Iran has or once had a covert atomic bomb program, it said on Thursday, dismissing a report that it had concluded Iran was on its way to producing nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency reaffirmed IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei’s September 9 comment that allegations the agency was sitting on evidence of Iranian bomb work were “politically motivated and baseless.”

    “With respect to a recent media report, the IAEA reiterates that it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapons program in Iran,” an IAEA statement said.

    The IAEA received information from a variety of sources that might be relevant to verifying that a state was not hiding nuclear bomb research or development, it said.

    All information on Iran that the IAEA had vetted has already been shared with its 35-nation Board of Governors in reports by ElBaradei.


    Said differently: The AP piece was pure propaganda.