AVOIDING ANOTHER ‘SLAM DUNK’? Columbia University’s Gary Sick, formerly an official in the National Security Councils of presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan, doesn’t think much of the House Intelligence committee report (.pdf) on the strategic threat posed by Iran, referenced below:

… The author did not have the time or inclination to talk to any of the intelligence organizations that he was indicting. If he had, he might at least have caught some of the embarrassing bloopers in the text. Yet the report was rushed to public release on the day after the Aug. 22 magic date of Iran’s reply to the Europeans without even waiting for it to be reviewed by the full committee.

The irony, therefore, is stunning when Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who heads the committee, explained the rush by commenting that “We want to avoid another ‘slam dunk.'” The famous “slam dunk” judgment on Iraq’s WMD was, of course, the result of selective reading of available intelligence, which some call cherry-picking, plus a willingness by some to subordinate the (often prosaic) facts to (sensational) ideological conviction.

That is exactly what has happened in this report. It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another slam dunk judgment and a potential rush to war. It deserves to be recognized for what it is.

Among the errors Sick finds in the report:

A statement on p. 9 claiming that the 164 centifuges at Natanz are “currently enriching uranium to weapons grade.” There is no evidence whatsoever that this is true — and a lot of evidence that the tiny bit of enriched uranium produced at this site was reactor grade. …

The summary of the study claims that Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East,” and it focuses attention on the 1300-km Iranian Shahab-3 missile and its possible future development for carrying a nuclear warhead, including a handy map of exaggerated ranges for the Shahab-3 an (as yet non-existent) Shahab-4 demonstrating that everything from Monaco to Moscow to Mumbai is vulnerable to Iranian strikes. A very quick check of the study’s own sources revealed that Iran has “some” Shahab-3 missiles, but probably not more than a handful. By contrast Israel has 50 ballistic missiles with range greater than the Shahab and configured for nuclear warheads that are stored “nearby.” Saudi Arabia, we need to recall, has 40-60 long-range missiles, each with a range of 2650 km and all capable of carrying a 2500 kg warhead, clearly the largest inventory of its kind in the Middle East.

The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee on intelligence policy that released the report without apparently having it fully reviewed by the full committee sounded a bit chagrined about how that was handled, according to this piece by the WP‘s Dafna Linzer:

Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that prepared the report, said he agreed to forward it to the full committee because it highlights the difficulties in gathering intelligence on Iran. But he added that the report was not “prepared and reviewed in a way that we can rely on.”

So, I share Sick’s question, what was the motivation for rushing the report out yesterday? What’s the rush?

(Editor’s note: Sick’s observations were posted with permission.)

Update. Along these lines, well worth reading, from the NYT, “Wanted: Scarier Intelligence.”