Greg Thielmann counters CNN’s alarmism about Iran’s nuclear program

Greg Thielmann, a former intelligence official with more than 3 decades of service under his belt, knows a thing or two about intelligence on alleged nuclear weapons programs. He argued during the beginning of the U.S.’s war on Iraq that the intelligence he and his team presented to the Bush Administration about Iraqi activities was misrepresented prior to the invasion. Thielmann had the highest security clearances and reported directly to unabashed hawk, John Bolton. These were his words during a July 2003 Arms Control Association (ACA) briefing:

Now, from my perspective as a former mid-level official in the U.S. intelligence community and the Department of State, I believe the Bush administration did not provide an accurate picture to the American people of the military threat posed by Iraq. Some of the fault lies with the performance of the intelligence community, but most of it lies with the way senior officials misused the information they were provided.

Thielmann was set to retire in 4 months but resigned early from the Bush administration in protest over the politicization of intelligence. In 2009, he told CBS News that responsibility for the U.S.’s unjust war on Iraq was shared by all but that

The main problem was that the senior administration officials have what I call faith-based intelligence. They knew what they wanted the intelligence to show.

Thielmann is currently a fellow at the ACA, an anti-nuclear proliferation organization where he focuses, among other things, on Iran. (Read my interview with ACA executive director Daryl Kimball here.)

Now, while the Obama administration is making a visible effort to handle its Iran intelligence more carefully, the same cannot be said about the presentation of widely available official information about Iran’s nuclear program by many U.S. broadcast media outlets. In the clip above, CNN’s Jonathan Mann fails to mention Thielmann’s important background or Israel’s widely suspected though undeclared nuclear weapons arsenal, but does offer ample alarmism about Iran’s nuclear activities even though the Israeli official statements he bases it on actually counter it. After Thielmann says that recent acknowledgement by Israeli military officials that Iran has not decided to make a nuclear weapon and is a rational actor coincide with U.S. military assessments, Mann voices his own confused interpretation:

I wonder if we could parse, though, exactly what [Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz] is saying. What he said is that the Iranians are moving step-by-step to get to a place where they could build a nuclear weapon, which is to say, I would assume, that they’re going to continue to violate their understandings with the International Atomic Energy Agency, they’re going to continue to enrich uranium beyond the point that they need for any civilian purpose. They’re going to get so close, that people in Israel would inevitably be nervous about them taking that one last step. It sounds like he’s saying they’re doing everything but tightening the last screw and he thinks they’re going to make a decision in the future, in his mind, that they won’t do it, but they’ll make that decision in some time to come.

Thielmann politely responds that Mann is going “a little beyond what [Gantz is] saying” and while Iran is certainly acquiring more of the “ingredients” for a nuclear weapon

…it’s not fair to say that they’re anywhere near a turn of a screw away from a weapon and in fact that is exactly what the objective of the current round of negotiations is, to take a step which would halt the accumulation of this enriched uranium and reverse it.

After more than 162,000 dead Iraqi men, women and children, thousands of dead U.S. soldiers and what could be an eternity of blowback from a pretentious U.S. war, isn’t it also fair to say that we and especially news media should try to avoid “faith-based intelligence” interpretations?

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.