Iran DIDN'T 'Halt' Nuke Program After all! Where's the NYTimes' Apology?

Remember how the New York Times went apoplectic over last December's NIE estimate that brashly claimed that Iran had suspended their intent to manufacture nuclear arms? It was a front pager and formed the basis of claims that we had illegitimately targeted Iran for rhetorical attacks by many people who opposed the Bush Administration's entire foreign policy regime. Well, as the New York Sun said on the 7th, "what a difference two months make." It appears that the original NIE report was too hasty in its claims that Iran was innocent as the driven snow. So, here's the question: Will the NYT gives us a front page story apologizing for their alarmism?

Yeah. I didn't think so.

On December 3rd, the NYT led its front page, "News Analysis" article with this startling statement:

Rarely, if ever, has a single intelligence report so completely, so suddenly, and so surprisingly altered a foreign policy debate here.

And in their followup report, the first paragraph read as follows:

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies released Monday concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting a judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.

Well, that all sounds as if the Bush Administration badly bungled the claims that Iran was trying to get the bomb, doesn't it?

But, we are now two months in the future from those breathless reports and it seems as if the initial NIE report that the New York Times was so exercised over turns out not to be so sanguine of Iran's eschewing of its nuclear ambitions.

The New York Sun reported on the 7th that maybe "Iran halted its nuclear weapons program" is a claim that is a bit over blown.

Tuesday, as our Eli Lake reported on page one of yesterday's Sun, the director of national intelligence, Mr. McConnell says he now regrets the phrasing of the unclassified estimate that so stirred America's enthusiasts of diplomacy. In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mr. McConnell went further. He noted that Iran is developing both the long range ballistic missiles and the nuclear fuel for a potential weapon. What had halted, it turns out, was work to design the actual warhead and secret enrichment activity. The Iranians continued to enrich uranium in the open in Natanz in defiance of two Security Council resolutions.

Mike McConnell went even farther in his reassessment.

As for the secret enrichment and weapons design, Mr. McConnell is not even sure as of mid-2007 whether the Iranians have restarted this work. "We assess with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted these activities as of mid-2007, but since they comprised an unannounced secret effort which Iran attempted to hide, we do not know if these activities have been restarted," he told the assembled senators. So why then did the opening sentence of the December 3 assessment state with no equivocation, "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program"? Mr. McConnell said that it was because he had to assemble quickly a declassified estimate in late November and that it did not occur to him that this kind of declarative statement would confuse the issue.

Well, that is a whole different kettle of fish(wrappers) isn't it? This new assessment, this correction to the earlier NIE report that the NYT was so excited to report, really flies in the face of what the Times said before. Since the NYT's original assumption seems to have been defeated, it makes one wonder where their apology will be for having jumped the gun back in December?

You'd be excused for not holding your breath.

Of course they reported on this reassessment of last December's NIE claims. On the 5th the NYT gave us their report on McConnell's latest appearance before the Senate intelligence committee. Curiously, their lead paragraph didn't contain a word to correct their earlier reports.

Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, said on Tuesday that Al Qaeda is improving its ability to attack within the United States by recruiting and training new operatives. At the same time, he said, a terrorist group in Iraq that claims allegiance to Al Qaeda is beginning to send militants to other countries.

Now, you'd have to wonder that if their December reports posited that Iran's supposed suspension of their nuclear program was such an important story that newer evidence that contradicted that claim would similarly be an important story. Apparently, however, not.

Curiously, the Times focused on the Al Qaeda threat discussed by McConnell instead of the correction to the Iran Nuke program story. It took half way down the story to finally see the Times address the new nuke assessment. And even there they addressed it in scoffing terms.

The report attempted to calibrate its assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat, following the National Intelligence Estimate last year that concluded that Iran had probably suspended its nuclear weapons work in the fall of 2003. That finding appeared to undercut American diplomatic efforts to press Iran on the nuclear issue.

"We remain concerned about Iran’s intentions and assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons," the report said.

"We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons,” it said, adding that the only plausible way to prevent Iran from producing such weapons was “an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective."

And that is all the Times has to say about this news.

No apology.

Nothing.

Last December, the Times yelled from the rooftops about Bush's "failures." Today, when their premise is shown to be false, they slink away pretending nothing happened.

Some of you may remember the horrible 70's sitcom called "Welcome Back Kotter." The show featured a young John Travolta as High School student, Vinnie Barbarino. His calling card phrase when confronted with the Teacher's questions was to say "What... where?"

We can say that the New York Times just pulled a Vinnie Barbarino.

Public: So, New York Times, it appears that your claims that Iran has no nuclear program is not quite true. What do you say to that, Times?

NYTimes: "What... where?"

Nice going, Times.

Still, I'm sure that the Times will be apologizing any day, now.

...though I won't hold my breath.