US intelligence official defends report on Iran
( AFP ) - A top US intelligence official on Saturday responded to right-wing critics of a report that found Iran had suspended its atomic weapons program, saying the findings were the result of "solid" analysis.
"The task of the Intelligence Community is to produce objective, ground truth analysis," said Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence.
"We feel confident in our analytic tradecraft and resulting analysis in this estimate," Kerr said in a brief written statement.
US spy agencies tend to prefer a low public profile, but Kerr issued the unusual statement after Republican lawmakers questioned the conclusions of US intelligence agencies this week on Iran's nuclear work.
In a stunning reversal, the agencies declared with "high confidence" that Iran halted a secret nuclear weapons program in 2003 in response to international pressure.
The assessment of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released on Monday overturned long-held US policy assumptions that Iran is bent on obtaining nuclear weapons, regardless of international demands or sanctions.
Kerr said he issued the statement "in response to those questioning the analytic work and integrity of the United States Intelligence Community."
"National Intelligence Estimates contain the coordinated judgments of the Intelligence Community regarding the likely course of future events and the implications for US policy," he said.
US President George W. Bush and other top officials had made dire warnings about Iran's nuclear program, and Democrats in Congress now say his administration was overstating the threat posed by Tehran.
Republican lawmakers are calling for a congressional committee to review the findings, saying such a dramatic change in the assessment of the intelligence agencies deserves careful scrutiny.
Conservative commentators charged intelligence had been manipulated by analysts in an attempt to influence the political debate on Iran -- a charge once leveled at the White House by liberal opponents of the Iraq war.
Former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, known as a foreign policy hawk, wrote in a commentary this week that "the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported."
He also warned that the regime in Tehran may have put out false information to mislead the world, saying "the risks of disinformation by Iran are real."
"The sudden appearance of new (intelligence) sources should be taken with more than a little skepticism," Bolton wrote in the Washington Post.
Senior US intelligence officials said this week they had responded to new information, subjected to more rigorous analysis than in the past, in reaching their conclusions on Iran's nuclear efforts.
They said they were determined not to repeat the errors made in 2002, when bogus intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction set the United States on a course to war.
On a visit to Bahrain, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Saturday still emphasized the threat posed by Iran.
Gates told delegates at a conference on regional security that Iran's foreign policy was a threat to the United States, the Middle East and all countries within range of the medium-range ballistic missiles he said Tehran was developing.
Gates also conceded the timing of the NIE report was not ideal. "The estimate fairly has come at a wrong time, it has annoyed a number of our good friends and confused a number of people," he told delegates.
Gulf countries at the meeting loudly signaled their opposition to any military option against Tehran.
"What we care for in the (Gulf Cooperation Council) is finding solutions that enhance security and stability ... and believe in dialogue as a way to solve the crisis" between the West and Iran, GCC secretary general Abdulrahman al- Attiyah told AFP.