The other day the CIA reported that Iran doesn't have an active nuclear weapons programme after all. Which came as a massive disappointment to the war-planners at the Pentagon, as well as Dubya, for whom bombing the ayatollahs back to the stone age would have provided a satisfyingly neat ending to his presidency. One would have thought that the British government would have breathed a sigh of relief. Blair's enthusiasm for military ventures isn't shared by many of the current crew, and certainly not Gordon Brown. Although Gordon is more than happy to pose with British troops in the depressing quagmire of Afghanistan (who today obligingly laid on a temporary victory for him to savour during his flying visit), he rarely looks like he's enjoying it. A massively unpopular war with Iran would seem to be the last thing the flailing Brown regime needs at the moment.
But no. British officials apparently believe that the latest intelligence assessment "has undermined efforts to impose tough new sanctions on Iran". The security services are worried that the cunning Iranians have been feeding disinformation to CIA dimwits, and that the Iranian claim to have no nukes is about as credible as President Ahadinejad's that his country had no homosexuals. Or perhaps the CIA were just desperate not to give Bush an excuse not to bomb Tehran.
If so, given the misuse of intelligence by both London and Washington before the Iraq disaster, one could hardly blame them.
Here's what the "source" said to the Telegraph:
We are sceptical. We want to know what the basis of it is, where did it come from? Was it on the basis of the defector? Was it on the basis of the intercept material? They say things on the phone because they know we are up on the phones. They say black is white. They will say anything to throw us off.
It's not as if the American intelligence agencies are regarded as brilliant performers in that region. They got badly burned over Iraq.
Yes indeed. They said that Saddam Hussein might have weapons of mass destruction. This would have been an excellent basis for making sure Hans Blix carried on his inspections. That it was twisted by the Bush-Blair idiocy into a reason for the most counterproductive war since Pyrrhus decided to have a pop at the Romans is hardly the fault of the CIA.
Admittedly, one's confidence in the CIA is scarcely raised by knowing that their headquarters is officially called by the gloriously oxymoronic title of "The George Bush Center for Intelligence". But for the "source" to claim that the CIA got "badly burned" over Iraq is a bit rich. It wasn't the CIA who gave us the dodgy dossier, the 45 minute warning, or the craven re-writing of intelligence reports at the behest of Downing Street spinmeisters.
And when the Americans needed evidence for their wild claims about Saddam having his own nuclear programme, the CIA had nothing. Happily for Bush and Rumsfeld, the obliging British came up with a half-baked claim about Iraq obtaining uranium from Niger. The CIA knew it was rubbish, but Bush used it anyway. It's called the special relationship.
Off the record, British officials are worried that, given the latest intelligence assessment, Russia and China would be less likely to agree to tough sanctions against the Tehran regime. "It's created a lot of difficulties because of the timing, just as we were about to go for a third resolution," said a "western diplomat". But if Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapons programme, why should they want the sanctions anyway? Is it just for fun?