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Ray McGovern: NYT ignores intelligence there is no evidence of Iran nuclear weapons program

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Now joining us to discuss the WikiLeaks leak is Ray McGovern. He was an analyst for the CIA for 27 years. He helped prepare and sometimes present to various presidents, including Bush I and Reagan. Also writes regularly at, and also he’s a blogger on The Real News. Thanks for joining us. So, first of all, we get a critique of WikiLeaks from one side which says WikiLeaks is endangering national security and this stuff was never meant for public eyes and it’s going to endanger our safety and such. You also get another critique, which doesn’t get heard too much in the media, but that, you know, it’s a little suspicious that one guy could download so many documents. It’s a little fortuitous that right at a time when Israel would like some support on the issue of Iran as a threat to the region that they get it out of WikiLeaks. Right at a time the Korean crisis is blowing up, you get some disclosures of cables that China may be ready to back away from North Korea, which would help threaten North Korea in some way. So what’s your, first of all, take on the credibility of the whole process?

RAY MCGOVERN, RETIRED CIA ANALYST: It’s completely credible to me. I’ve been around a few years. I think Julian Assange is the real deal. I really kind of resent all the focus on all these trees, missing the forest for what it is. Here’s an outfit that had the courage to face into the Defense Department, do what the United States government really warned it against doing, and all because one young private in our Army saw abuses that he couldn’t tolerate and wanted to get that out to the rest of the world. That’s what he said in his emails. I hope–what my hope is is that this information become available to the American people. Then the American people can debate these issues, which is not the case now, with the fourth estate being in disrepair.

JAY: I would guess from a technical point of view it’s not that big a deal. Each cable is a few kilobytes. It’s not–one or two decent hard drives. It wouldn’t be that hard to get that many.

MCGOVERN: That’s my understanding, yeah.

JAY: The press has been focused mostly on the Iran issue. So talk a little bit about what you think the press coverage has been in the last day or two.

MCGOVERN: Well, it’s really quite amazing. Here’s The New York Times. We have not only two large front-page stories, one of which talks about the sharp distress over a nuclear Iran, but the jump page–ah, there you go: Ahmadinejad, surrounded by a whole bunch of evil-looking people. And then, the next page, 10-11, you get the whole deal here: arsenal with aid of North Korea; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia says, well, we have to cut the head off the snake. It’s a canard, Paul. It’s a canard. And I’m an intelligence officer, or I used to be, okay? I was for 27 years. Sometimes we take painstaking efforts to get something right. And to my great relief, somebody did that in 2007, and he came to the conclusion that Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in the fall of 2003.

JAY: You’ve chaired previous estimates. And if I understand it correctly, it’s like, what, 17 or 18 agencies?

MCGOVERN: Sixteen now.

JAY: Sixteen agencies.

MCGOVERN: It used to be 14 when I was on duty, so to speak.

JAY: Who all give their point of view on the question. And the question here was: is there a weapons program in Iran? The majority of the agencies come up with–.

MCGOVERN: It wasn’t a majority. It was unanimous, Paul.

JAY: Unanimous.


JAY: There are no weapons program that we know of in Iran.

MCGOVERN: It was an incredibly sensitive estimate, because the president and vice president were going around the world saying Iran was about to get a nuclear weapon. And what happened when Tom Fingar came in, from the State Department, he did a bottom-up assessment and found out that there was dubious evidence all along, even before 2003, but for sure in 2003, they had made a decision to stop making the nuclear warhead [inaudible]

JAY: Now, all the players involved in this, from Obama onwards to Netanyahu in Israel, apparently to Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, everybody’s operating on the assumption that there is a weapons program and ignoring the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate), who–essentially saying they got it wrong. And one of the more vocal voices in all of this is Alan Dershowitz, an American lawyer who’s very well known to be considered by some a defender of Israel’s interests, by others to be a representative of Likud in the United States. At any rate–.

MCGOVERN: And a devotee of torture.

JAY: A devotee, some say; others may say, someone who finds some justifiable moments where you might want to use torture. Here’s what Dershowitz says about the NIE in a blog he writes in the Huffington Post. “Under George Bush’s watch, the United States issued its notorious National Security Estimate of November 2007, which essentially denied that Iran was seeking to develop nuclear weapons.” And then here’s the key sentence. According to Dershowitz, “This report was known to be false at the time it was issued since American intelligence became aware of the nuclear weapons facility at Qum before the report was issued.”

MCGOVERN: Does he say “nuclear weapons facility at Qum”?

JAY: He says the intelligence agencies had become “aware of the nuclear weapons facility” in Qom.

MCGOVERN: Well, that’s a lie. There is no nuclear weapons facility at Qom.

JAY: That we know of. There’s no evidence of it.

MCGOVERN: No. You know, I’m sorry, but I don’t do faith-based intelligence. You know? I do evidentiary intelligence. And when there’s evidence, I weigh it and I come to a conclusion. And that, to my great relief and my great pride, was done in 2007. And, you know, Dershowitz knows more than 16 US intelligence agencies who unanimously decided, as they put it, “with great confidence,” in quotes, that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon at the end of 2003 and had not resumed work. Now, that was three years ago, okay? The story proceeds here. Who didn’t like that? Well, President Bush really didn’t like that; and Netanyahu and the Israelis, Olmert at the time, they were really very furious. And here’s Bush’s book, okay? I invested in it. And it’s really interesting what he says about the NIE. He said, and I quote here: in November 2007, the intelligence community produced a national intelligence estimate on Iran’s nuclear program. The NIE opened with an eye-popping declaration. Quote, we judge with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. Now, if I were worried about a nuclear weapon in Iran’s hands, you know, I think the appropriate action would be, phew! You know, I’ll go over to Tel Aviv and tell those guys, no sweat; we have detected that they stopped it; now all we need to do is make sure they don’t restart it. Okay? No, no. He says the NIE’s conclusion was stunning. And so I took a trip to the Middle East. I remember this distinctly. He went to Israel, apologized, apologized for the NIE, and said, I have a different view. He said Israel and the Arabs were beside themselves. Both were, quote, deeply concerned about Iran and furious with the United States over the NIE. Okay? It continues. In Saudi Arabia, I met with King Abdullah, the same king now who is saying we have to cut the head off the monster. I met with King Abdullah, and I said, your Majesty, would you let me begin the meeting? He said, yeah. I’m confident that every one of you thinks that I wrote the NIE as a way of avoiding war with Iran, but it was not the case, it was not the case. I had no control over it. These intelligence agencies sometimes act independently. And here’s the problem. The NIE was produced by the intelligence community. And I am as angry about it as you are. And here’s the kicker. This is Bush. Quote: after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program? Big problem, okay? Now, what was all this about? Well, Cheney and Bush were about to do that in the following spring. Cheney admits it. He says, you know, I was not in the majority here, and I was overruled finally, but, yeah, we were going to go after Iran, okay? So he’s proud of that. So is it different now? No, it’s not different now. That’s really what gets my back up. The New York Times can put full pages on the Iranian part of the WikiLeaks thing, and it means nothing, because all you’re getting from people like the king of Saudi Arabia or the king of the UAE or [inaudible] my proletarian background is–you know, [singing] We three kings of Orient are–. You know. Okay, they all think that–well, I don’t think Abdullah really thinks that. I think he’d really like to have, why don’t you and he fight? You know, why don’t the US fight with Iran? And, hey, wow, what will happen to the price of oil then? And, wow, we get rid of a Shia government that I really don’t like and, you know, help things in Iraq turn out the way I want them and not the way [Iran wants them.] Well, I’m sure there are some people sophisticated enough in the State Department to realize that Abdullah’s going to try to goad us into attacking Iran. And Israel, of course, has been doing that forever.

JAY: So let’s go back to Dershowitz’s comment. This is one of the first times I personally have seen so clearly articulated why–and Dershowitz is often considered someone who speaks or certainly has good connections with the government of Israel–why they think the NIE wasn’t correct, this idea that they knew there was a nuclear weapons facility in Qom. Now, the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has people all over these facilities, as far as I understand it. So what do we know from the IAEA about whether there is a weapons program at Qom or not?

MCGOVERN: Well, they’ve been consistent in saying that there has been no diversion of the nuclear materials to a weapons program, that they keep track of this. Okay? For the Iranians to work on a real weapon, on the kind of uranium enrichment that would be required, they would have to back out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They would have to send the inspectors home, just as Bush sent the inspectors home from Iraq when they were not coming up with WMD. And, you know, we would know. I mean, it’s a canard to say that, oh, enrichment is the big thing. Well, enrichment has a specific purpose, okay? It can be used to generate electrical energy. Under President Ford, Henry Kissinger and Don Rumsfeld persuaded President Ford very reluctantly in 1976 to approve Westinghouse and GE getting a $5 billion, $6 billion contract with the Shah for the same kind of facility that now we say Iran can’t have. Why? Not to build weapons, but for electricity. Now, people say, well, they have all this oil; why do they need electricity? Well, you know, the oil is not going to last forever. Any prudent–.

JAY: And they also don’t refine it themselves, mostly.

MCGOVERN: Well, I think they’re starting to do that little bit more.

JAY: A lot of the finished product has to come back in. Well, let’s just go back to this issue, then. The prevailing opinion seems to be, amongst people I’ve talked to who seem to know, is that if Iran is really on the road to a weapon, what they seem to want to do is get about half or two-thirds of the way, so that they could take the leap to a weaponized program if they wanted to. But there’s no evidence that they’re actually doing anything to get past this sort of preparatory stage. Is that your reading of it?

MCGOVERN: There you go. Yeah, I’m really glad you mentioned the word evidence. That’s what we [inaudible] bread and butter, okay? Now, people say, don’t you think Iran would like to have a nuclear weapon? Don’t you believe that they would? And I say, of course I believe that, but I don’t do faith-based intelligence, okay? I got in a big argument with a correspondent just earlier today. Surely Iran wants a nuclear weapon. Yeah, that’s right. Well, they’re working on it, aren’t they? I say, what is your evidence? Oh, I talked to so and so, I talked to so and so–these same fellas that want to cut the head off the beast or the serpent or–. And, you know, it really is quite amazing that nowhere in the The New York Times, Washington Post, or any of the–what I call the fawning corporate media has mentioned this fact that there is this estimate out there, that a update was commissioned more than a year ago, that the draft has been languishing because the Israel lobby doesn’t want to risk the chance that this estimate, too, would leak.

JAY: Now, this is a really important point, because–you’ve said that there is another NIE already prepared.


JAY: And you know this from intelligence sources.

MCGOVERN: I know somebody who’s seen the draft.

JAY: And the NIE, the new one, comes to more or less the same conclusion of the previous one, that there’s no weapons program that they’re aware of.

MCGOVERN: No change. And that’s politically unacceptable in Washington, because, well, if you watch Barack Obama, he doesn’t have any vertebras in his back when it comes to what the Israelis want, and they don’t want anybody to say that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program, because then they won’t be able to fill The New York Times with four pages of drivel, as they did this morning.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

MCGOVERN: Welcome.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Ray McGovern is a retired CIA officer and was employed under seven US presidents for over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.