Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Persian Poker or: What's the deal with this new NIE report?

If you play card games of any type you know there are three things that guide your strategy: 1) The cards you can see. 2) The odds for the cards you can’t see. 3) Understanding the habits and strategy of your opponent(s). There are a finite number of cards, a finite number of plays and a finite number of players in any card game. If you are playing with or against someone with whom you have played before, you know how they play the cards, the odds and how they play against or with you. Politics, of any sort, bear a close resemblance to card games, the only real differences being there are fewer rules in the polemic game but the stakes are much higher. The recent revelations regarding the NIE report on Iran’s nuclear programs have brought the card game analogy to my mind.

In the spring of 2005, NIE reports that trumpeted an increased determination and focus in Iran in regard to their nuclear programs. This led the Bush administration to apply heavier pressure and increase the rhetoric against Iran. Now the NIE is rescinding that assessment stating:

“"We judge with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." Furthermore, “Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005." As well as, "Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."

Taking the circumstances of this new NIE report at face value is a dangerous maneuver. To take them at face value is the equivalent of the US government directly telling the Iranian intelligence apparatus that at least two sources of intelligence have contradicted each other, and the results point directly to the source. Regardless of how the intelligence was gathered it would lead the Iranians to a strategy of back tracking their own steps to see what caused these two NIE report findings.

To take this at face value from the perspective of the Iranians would be equally dangerous. It would result in a change in their methods, a new emphasis on information security and would provide the US Intelligence Community with an opportunity to see the Iranian Intelligence Community hard at work. The best way to learn about your opponent’s methodology is to simply sit back and watch him work. Observation of the world is how we learn about the world.

We need to ask ourselves a few questions about this turn of events:

1) What are the specifics regarding the 2005 estimate that led the US government to overestimate the Iranian nuclear program?
2) What new intelligence brought to light the incorrect assessment from 2005?
3) What lessons can be learned about Iran’s strategy and tactics since they have sat back for the last two years, watching the US watch them, while knowing all along that the NIE report was wrong?
4) What lessons did Iran learn about the US Intelligence Community and it’s strategy and tactics over the last two years?
5) Did the Iranian IC manipulate the US IC into thinking it had an ongoing and active program underway? i.e. Did they give the US a red herring? What caused the US to finally realize it was a red herring?
6) Does looking at the white, black and gray propaganda from the last two years shed light into the inner workings of the Iranian and US IC?

With the exception of point number 6, details will certainly be hidden from the public. There is simply no chance in hell that this administration or any government agency would willingly tell the world the specifics of how it gathers, analyzes, disseminates and reacts to the intelligence it sifts through. Point number 6, the study of propaganda about the Iranian nuclear program(s), is one we can study.

In February of 2005, when threats of a US attack on Iran were high, Iran conducted a media campaign that threatened the use of asymmetrical warfare in the event of a US attack on it’s soil. This came only a matter of months after they conducted a massive war game exercise that increased tensions in the gulf, Washington and Tehran. The effect of this threat of guerrilla warfare stirred a series of op-ed pieces that threatened and warned American citizens that Iran has sleeper cells throughout the Persian Gulf and possibly here in America.

It also had the effect of contributing directly to two consecutive rises in the futures trading price for oil. At the end of 2001, with US forces on the ground in Afghanistan, the yearly average price for a barrel of oil was $23. At the end of 2002, when the war drums were beating heavily, the average price had dropped a little less than 1% to $22.81. At the end of 2003, with the US in Afghanistan and Iraq and the early drumbeats of war against Iran were beating, oil rose in price 21% and stood at $27.69. In 2004 oil rose another 36% to $37.66. By the end of 2005, with Washington rhetoric high and an Iranian “bring it on” style response to the Bush administration, oil had risen to $50.04, an increase of another 32%. In just 4 short years the price of oil had risen 117%.

I’m not saying that the NIE overestimate was done solely to boost oil company profits, after all the profits of every single defense contractor has also skyrocketed in this period of time as a direct result of waging two wars on two fronts, so there are other factors. Still, it cannot be overlooked that the increased uncertainty in that region that has driven the price of oil to incredible levels is directly tied to the instability created by both the incorrect NIE report and the unnecessary saber rattling by the Bush administration. This, in turn, has had an enormous and negative impact on the US economy and placed an even greater strain on the budgets of US citizens. In other words, the Bush administration has caused greater harm to the paychecks of Americans in this period of time than the government of Iran.

In this case, the white propaganda meted out by the Bush administration and it’s sycophants can be viewed as advancing the interests of the oil industry. Both the corporations and the government’s that profit on the production of oil benefited greatly by this white propaganda. The effect and the source of this propaganda cannot be overlooked.

A more recent series of events can be looked at as having a possible connection to this recent NIE report and it has a direct influence on the white and gray propaganda currently being spread regarding the situation in Pakistan. Is it possible that the sudden change in the NIE assessment of Iran’s nuclear status has less to do with Iran and everything to do with the evolving situation in Pakistan?

In August of 2005, when the initial wave of propaganda swept out from the NIE report that stirred this hornet’s nest, the IAEA released a widely under-reported piece of news. Their inspections uncovered a key piece of evidence regarding the Iranian bomb-making program. Their tests showed that the enriched uranium particles found on Iranian equipment came not from Iran, but from Pakistan. Pakistan is where this equipment was illegally imported from, all in secret.

Now, we all know that Pakistan has the bomb and we can safely assume that their nuclear program now consists primarily of making more bombs, designing higher yield bombs and honing strategies for future use of those weapons in time of war. The problem in Pakistan in regards to it’s nuclear secrets has been directly tied to Abdul Khan, the government official and nuclear scientist who admitted in 2004 to selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea and was exposed in 2003. Iran bought this equipment from Khan in secret and there has been no dispute over that sale.

Recent events in Pakistan have given us the return of Bhutto, assassination attempts on her life, major abuses of freedom following Musharraf’s crackdowns and we have the threat of a nuclear power losing control of it’s weapons due to political turmoil. This could also lead to the release of more information regarding Abdul and his connections if the political conditions deteriorate further. Considering the probability that Abdul operated within the full knowledge and light of the major Intelligence Communities of the world, the last thing the US and other governments need is the threat of their secrets in this arena being exposed.

These pieces of information and the evolving nature of Pakistan’s power base and connections are interesting when placed against the backdrop of her history and the direct connections she has had with the underworld of smuggling, covert operations and varying loyalties based on financial considerations. Pakistan held a vital place in the British East India Company’s holdings with the production of opium and the illegal smuggling of opium into China during the Opium Wars. The great fortunes of the leaders in international finance today were based on the fortunes gained by the opium smuggling trade. CitiGroup, ING, HSBC and others own the booty that was gained as Bostonian smugglers and well-heeled Englishmen plundered the wealth of China and addicted a full quarter of her male population 200 years ago. Pakistan was the proving grounds and classroom for the CIA’s future drug smuggling schemes.

The US/Pakistan relationship has been hot and cold since it’s formation in 1947. The 50’s, 80’s and this first decade of the 21st century have placed them in close contact and with a location that provides perfect base of operations for covert operations, it is not difficult to see Pakistan being a covert ally to various components of the US Intelligence Community even in the worst of times.

Which leads me back to the possibility that the reason for the new NIE report being tied somehow to events in Pakistan. If there is fear that the US/Pakistan relationship will sour, and very soon at that; and concerns that Pakistan is on the verge of collapse, would it not make sense to downgrade the trumped up assessment of Iran to ensure that any change in the status of Pakistan does not expose more than the Bush administration wishes to be known?

All of this, of course, is speculation. However, it is most curious that the only major development in world politics of great significance in the months prior to this reversal is the turmoil and upheaval in Pakistan. What cards does Bhutto hold, is Musharraf bluffing or will he be forced to fold? Has Iran been playing it straight all this time simply to see how the others at the table are showing their hand? One thing is certain; this administration has the worst poker face ever seen. They bluff when they should fold, raise when they only have a pair of twos, they fold with a king high full house and Bush can’t even do an overhand shuffle without the cards flying all over the table.

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