The key development that altered the course of the NIE on Iran, according to intelligence sources, was the defection of a senior official of the Iranian Ministry of Defense, Ali Reza Asgari, on a visit to Turkey last February, as widely reported in international news media in subsequent weeks. The Washington Post's Dafna Linzer, citing a "senior US official", reported on March 8 that Asgari, who had been deputy minister of defense for eight years under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2005, was already providing information to US intelligence.Israel downplayed Asgari's importance regarding Iran's nuclear program; an official was quoted in the below linked Washington Post article:
The senior official told Linzer, however, that Asgari was not being questioned about Iran's nuclear program, despite the fact that Asgari certainly had significant knowledge of policy decisions, if not technical details, of the program. That incongruous denial that Asgari had anything to say about Iran's nuclear program suggested that the information being provided by Asgari on that subject was considered extraordinarily sensitive.
Intelligence officials have kept any reference to Asgari out of the discussion of the NIE. Former Central Intelligence Agency officer Philip Giraldi has told Inter Press Service (IPS), however, that, according to intelligence sources, information provided by Asgari was indeed a "key component" of the intelligence community's conclusion that Iran ended its nuclear weapons-related work in 2003, although it was corroborated by other sources.
"He lived in Lebanon and, in effect, was the man who built, promoted and founded Hezbollah in those years," [former Mossad officer Ram] Igra told Israeli state radio. "If he has something to give the West, it is in this context of terrorism and Hezbollah's network in Lebanon."Either Mossad never got their hands on Asgari or they somehow got a little more than they bargained for, revealing a clumsiness that's almost charmingly American, assuming they are as disappointed in the NIE as they suggest. It will be interesting to see how the efforts of some within (and without) the Israeli government to counter-spin the NIE play out.
Porter joins the many who've pointed out President Bush's (apparently) feigned ignorance of these developments is highly unlikely, suggesting he knew as early as March of this year, when Asgari's cooperation was being reported in the Washington Post. As Porter notes, that cooperation, corroborated by Giraldi's (whose short dispatches on intelligence matters can be found in the American Conservative's regular feature,"Deep Background") reporting here, would have had to find its way into the President's Daily Briefing (PDB) about the same time.
Keep in mind, while the president was warning of "World War III" because of Iran's alleged position on the verge of nuclear power status, not only did he likely know of contradictory intelligence, he had to know how diligently Vice President Cheney's cabal was working to suppress that intelligence. Contemplating this government of ours kind of makes me all warm inside. Maybe that's just heartburn. Or do I mean heartache?