Now They Tell Us: 2007 Intelligence Report Declaring Iran Stopped Nuke Program No Longer Reliable

Reporter David Sanger discussed Obama making the case for sanctions against Iran and its nuclear program and mentioned the "great skepticism" around a 2007 report from U.S. intelligence claiming Iran had stopped its secret nuclear weapon program. But none of that skepticism showed up in the Times itself.

Reporter David Sanger reported Tuesday on the administration's latest push for sanctions against Iran: "Administration Presses Its Case Against Iran Abroad." The text box: "Briefings for foreign officials seem to back off a 2007 assessment."

That's a significant change, because that report, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, claimed Iran had halted its secret program to develop nuclear weapons back in 2003. The surprise finding, based on the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies, took the wind out of President Bush's move to confront Iran on its nuclear program. Now the conventional wisdom has reverted to seeing Iran as a nuclear threat, and Sanger claimed that there was "great skepticism" about the 2007 NIE. Too bad so little of it made the Times.

Sanger wrote Tuesday:

With a vote on new sanctions against Iran only days away, the Obama administration is making the case to members of the United Nations Security Council that Iran has revived elements of its program to design nuclear weapons that American intelligence agencies previously concluded had gone dormant.

The classified intelligence briefings - some held in Washington for foreign ministers and foreign leaders as they visited in recent months, others in foreign capitals - have been part of a lobbying effort to secure votes for the sanctions, the fourth round since 2006. European and American officials expect the vote could come as early as Wednesday, and they say they believe the sanctions will pass 12 to 3, with Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon likely to vote against the sanctions.

The briefings, according to foreign diplomats and some American officials, amount to a tacit admission by the United States that it is gradually backing away from a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. It is using new evidence to revise and in some cases reverse conclusions from that estimate, which came to the much disputed conclusion that while Iran had stepped up its production of nuclear fuel, its leadership had suspended its work on the devices and warhead designs needed to actually build a weapon.

European intelligence officials and even some officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed great skepticism about those conclusions at the time. Some argued that after the mistakes it made in Iraq, the American intelligence community was being cautious to a fault.

But little to none of that "dispute" or "skepticism" made it into the Times' coverage at the time, which presumed the Bush administration had been overzealous in hawking the Iranian nuclear threat.

Here's the headline and lead paragraphs from the December 5, 2007 Times story by Steven Lee Myers and Helene Cooper: "Bush Insists Iran Remains a Threat Despite Arms Data."

President Bush warned on Tuesday that Iran remained a threat despite an intelligence assessment that it had halted a covert program to develop nuclear weapons four years ago, as the administration struggled to save a diplomatic process now in disarray.

Once again facing criticism over the handling - and meaning - of intelligence reports, Mr. Bush said the new assessment underscored the need to intensify international efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.