CNN: Seymour Hersh 'vindicated' by new Iran intel estimate
Reporter believes Cheney 'kept his foot on the neck of' report
A new National Intelligence Estimate released on Monday indicates that 16 US intelligence agencies have concluded with a high level of confidence that Iran has not had an active nuclear weapons program since 2003 and that even if it resumed weapons development, it would be unlikely to obtain a nuclear bomb in less than 5 to 10 years.
The NIE apparently came as a surprise to President Bush, who insisted at a news conference the next day that "I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was, John Ė Mike McConnell Ė came in and said, 'We have some new information.' He didn't tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze."
However, the NIE was no surprise to veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who has been writing about it since November 2006. Hersh told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday that he believes the White House deliberately kept the NIE bottled up for over a year because the vice president was dissatisfied with its conclusions.
"At the time I wrote that, there was a tremendous fight about it because Cheney ... did not want to hear this," Hersh recalled. "I think the vice-president has kept his foot on the neck of that report. ... The intelligence we learned about yesterday has been circulating inside this government at the highest levels for the last year -- and probably longer."
As early as July 2006, Hersh had reported that the US military was resisting administration pressure for a bombing campaign in Iran, because "American and European intelligence agencies have not found specific evidence of clandestine activities or hidden facilities."
By November 2006, Hersh's sources had told him of "a highly classified draft assessment by the C.I.A.," which concluded that satellite monitoring and sophisticated radiation-detection devices planted near Iranian facilities had turned up absolutely no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. However, Bush and Cheney were expected to try to keep those conclusions out of the forthcoming NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities.
As Hersh explained to Wolf Blitzer at the time, the White House was attempting to counter the CIA assessment with an Israeli claim, based on a "reliable agent," that Iran was working on a trigger for a nuclear device. "The CIA isnít getting a good look at the Israeli intelligence." Hersh explained. "Itís the old word, stovepiping. Itís the President and the Vice President, itís pretty much being kept in the White House."
RAW STORY's Larisa Alexandrovna further reported in January 2007 that the NIE on Iran was intended to be released later that month, but that John Negroponte's was being replaced as Director of National Intelligence because he had refused to tailor the NIE to Vice President Cheney's specificiations.
Despite feeling vindicated by the latest developments, Hersh warned Blitzer that the White House push for war with Iran is "still not over. ... There's always Israel." He explained that "the Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we're naive."
However, Hersh was confident that there was very little chance the NIE could be mistaken, because "It's been four years since we've had any positive evidence of a parallel secret program to build a bomb -- and we've been all over the country."
Hersh and Blitzer then recalled Hersh's past appearances on CNN -- including several long interviews discussing the Abu Ghraib scandal -- and how the White House would regularly accuse him of using "anonymous sorces" or just "throwing crap against the wall."
Hersh concluded by emphasizing what a serious problem the NIE poses for Bush. "It's a lose-lose for them," he stated. "The fight I'm talking about began last year. ... This is going to pose a serious credibility problem. ... That's not what we pay the guy to do."
However, Hersh's sources tell him that despite the NIE, Bush's negotiating position is still that the Iranians "have to stop everything ... destroy it. ... Inspectors have to come in that we pick. ... He's not saying that publicly, but that's the private standard."
This video is from CNN's Situation Room, broadcast on December 4, 2007.