Former chair of the US National Intelligence Council, Thomas Fingar, received the 2013 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in January for his role overseeing the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran.
The NIE report found that all 16 US intelligence agencies judged “with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”, and has since been credited with stopping a US-Israeli war against Iran.
US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks show that the NIE also hampered the West’s efforts to pass tough new sanctions against Iran, and complicated negotiations about a US proposal for a new missile defence system in Europe.
The NIE was published while the US was pursuing agreements with the governments of the Czech Republic and Poland to establish missile defence sites in those two countries. Poland was intended to be used as the base for 10 US interceptor missiles, with a radar and tracking system site to be built in the Czech Republic.
Missile defence systems are intended to stop enemy ballistic missiles during flight. But after more than 50 years of development, tests have demonstrated that their chance of success in realistic operational conditions is practically non-existent.
The concept has been kept alive by pro-war US politicians and weapons manufacturers, such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which have shared in over US$110 billion which has been invested by the US in research and development.
The plan for Poland and the Czech Republic was viewed by the Russian government as an act of aggression, as the missiles intended to be deployed in Poland had the potential to carry nuclear warheads aimed at Russia.
Consequently, the missile defence plan threw several arms reduction treaties into jeopardy and threatened to provoke a new arms race.
Russia was already feeling threatened by NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe and President Putin compared the missile defence proposal to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. In July 2007 Putin threatened to deploy medium-range missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave which borders Poland.
A majority of the populations of both the Czech Republic and Poland opposed the missile defence plan, which would have made them a prime military target any hostilities. But their governments pressed ahead with it.
The plan was sold as a necessary defence against Iranian and North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), even though neither country possesses ICBMs and the country most aggravated by the project, Russia, is believed to have more than 350.
Cables show the Czech government was worried that the NIE would impact the “domestic debate” and make it more difficult to impose missile defence on the Czech public.
Responding to a US brief on the NIE, Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs political director Martin Povejsil told US officials, “it was important that public statements emphasize that the NIE did not focus on Iran’s missile program”.
The Czech government immediately adopted the US line on the NIE, but some government members complained publicly about not being forewarned of the report’s contents. A cable from December 11, 2007 reported that the US Ambassador “urged the [government of the Czech Republic] to refrain from further public complaints about the NIE and focus on moving the MD project forward”.
In response, the Czechs reassured the US that these complaints “were only for domestic consumption”.
The cable reports that, “[d]espite the lack of advance coordination, Czech official comments from the start were completely consistent with U.S. points, stressing the continuing threat posed by Iran’s enrichment and missile programs, and thus the continued need for the MD project in the Czech Republic and Poland”.
The Czech position on the NIE provoked an angry response from the Iranian government, and set back moves underway to normalise diplomatic relations between the two countries. Iran protested to the Czech government, but a December 7 cable reported that the US was confident that there would be no “change in Czech policy as a result”.
At this time, the Bush administration was also pushing for NATO to endorse the missile defence plan in order to bolster its position against Russia. A cable from January 11, 2008 reported that NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was concerned that NIE had “caused many Allies to become ‘fence sitters’” on the issue of missile defence.
The same cable reports on a “roundtable” meeting with NATO permanent representatives, during which the Dutch representative questioned whether the NIE had “weakened the U.S. case with Russia for missile defense”.
The cable reports that US undersecretary of defence for policy, Eric Edelman, responded with “vigorous rebuttals that the NIE contained much more information about which to be concerned than about which to be sanguine, although Russia was certainly not above using the NIE to score political points”.
A cable from January 24, 2008 shows that the US wanted to capitalise on the Turkish military’s fear of “an Iran-inspired ‘Shiite arc’ of states extending from Central Asia to Lebanon and the Gulf” to push the case for missile defence within Turkey.
The cable reports: “[i]t is essential that we reinforce the [Turkish General Staff] perception of the threat posed by a nuclear-armed and ballistic-missile equipped Iran through regular consultations and intelligence sharing, particularly post-NIE. This can be a unifying theme for US-Turkish [military-military] collaboration in the years to come.”
NATO ultimately endorsed the plan at the Bucharest Summit in April 2008. The Czech and Polish governments signed agreements with the US to have the missile defence sites on their territory in July and August 2008. However, the plan was abandoned by President Obama in 2009 due to continuing Russian opposition. Missile defence installations were instead stationed on US warships in the Black Sea and in Romania.
Meanwhile, the missile defence gravy train rolls on. On March 15, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the US would spend an extra $1 billion to add 14 land-based interceptor missiles to its missile defence site in Alaska, despite the system’s continuing unreliability.
A recent report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation said the system has “demonstrated a limited capability against a simple threat”.
Australian foreign minister Bob Carr backed the US plan, saying the US has to stay “ahead of threats from North Korea and ... threats from Iran”.
In the absence of a credible ICBM threat from either country, the move is better seen as an assertion of US military dominance by a Democratic President attempting to compete with the Republican Party on “defence” and “national security”.