Normal Podhoretz lays out the case for maintaining the military option against Iran despite the recent National Intelligence Estimate claiming that Iran is not now pursuing nuclear weapons.

The trouble was this: only by relying on the accuracy of the 2005 NIE would Bush be able in all good conscience to pass on to his successor the decision of whether or when to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities. But that estimate, as he could hardly help knowing from the CIA’s not exactly brilliant track record, might easily be too optimistic.

To start with the most spectacular recent instance, the CIA had failed to anticipate 9/11. It then turned out to be wrong in 2002 about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, very likely because it was bending over backward to compensate for having been wrong in exactly the opposite direction in 1991, when at the end of the first Gulf war the IAEA discovered that the Iraqi nuclear program was far more advanced than the CIA had estimated. Regarding that by now notorious lapse, Jeffrey T. Richelson, a leading (and devoutly nonpartisan) authority on the American intelligence community, writes in Spying on the Bomb:

The extent that the United States and its allies underestimated and misunderstood the Iraqi program [before 1991] constituted a “colossal international intelligence failure,” according to one Israeli expert. [IAEA’s chief weapons inspector] Hans Blix acknowledged “that there was suspicion certainly,” but “to see the enormity of it is a shock.”

And these were only the most recent cases. Gabriel Schoenfeld, a close student of the intelligence community, offers a partial list of earlier mistakes and failures:

The CIA was established in 1947 in large measure to avoid another surprise attack like the one the U.S. had suffered on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. But only three years after its founding, the fledgling agency missed the outbreak of the Korean war. It then failed to understand that the Chinese would come to the aid of the North Koreans if American forces crossed the Yalu river. It missed the outbreak of the Suez war in 1956. In September 1962, the CIA issued an NIE which stated that the “Soviets would not introduce offensive missiles in Cuba”; in short order, the USSR did precisely that. In 1968 it failed to foresee the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. . . . It did not inform Jimmy Carter that the Soviet Union would invade Afghanistan in 1979.

Richelson adds a few more examples of hotly debated issues during the cold war that were wrongly resolved, including “the existence of a missile gap, the capabilities of the Soviet SS-9 intercontinental ballistic missile, [and] Soviet compliance with the test-ban and antiballistic missile treaties.” This is not to mention perhaps the most notorious case of all: the fiasco, known as the Bay of Pigs, produced by the CIA’s wildly misplaced confidence that an invasion of Cuba by the army of exiles it had assembled and trained would set off a popular uprising against the Castro regime.

Basically, our intelligence agencies don't have a very good record for accuracy and it's foolish to believe them now when they claim that Iran isn't pursuing nuclear weapons. Podhoretz has a lot more analysis of the NIE and its context in his long and detailed article, and he makes a very strong case that the writers of the NIE were intentionally deceptive for the purpose of lowering pressure on Iran.

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