US Intel Always Overestimates How Long it Takes a Country to Get the Bomb

"The biggest failure of our intelligence gathering agencies in the past 10 years."


Obama and the media are acting as if the pace of Iran's nuclear program is a known element that can be predicted with a fine degree of accuracy so that we can intervene in the exact second before Iran goes nuclear.

But it doesn't work that way.

US estimates on when a country goes nuclear have always been off and they've erred on the generous side. Here are some examples.

Six weeks before the Soviets tested their first bomb in August 1949, U.S. intelligence confidently assessed that a Russian test was at least two years away.

Fifty years ago, the CIA produced a Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) on China’s nuclear weapons program for President Lyndon Johnson.

In conclusion, the SNIE reads, the available facts “do not permit a very confident estimate of the chances of a Chinese Communist nuclear detonation in the next few months. Clearly the possibility of such a detonation before the end of the year cannot be ruled out—the test may occur during this period. On balance, however, we believe that it will not occur until sometime after the end of 1964.”

Seven weeks later, China tested its first nuclear bomb on October 16, 1964, a highly enriched uranium implosion device.

Most recently, the Bush Administration was blindsided by Israeli intelligence showing the existence of a Syrian plutonium reactor.

And let's not forget this triumph of nuclear intelligence.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence alleged Wednesday that U.S. intelligence gathering suffered a "colossal failure" in not detecting India's intention to set off underground nuclear tests this week.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said the U.S. intelligence community was caught completely off guard. "Something went wrong," he told CNN in a live interview. "It was a colossal failure of U.S. intelligence."

The inability to detect India's intentions is "the biggest failure of our intelligence gathering agencies in the past 10 years or more," he said. "Somebody is responsible for this."

The CIA announced on Tuesday it was launching a blue-ribbon assessment of U.S. intelligence performance on the India nuclear issue

So no, we can't actually know anything. The French, the Brits and the Israelis will have better intel, but theirs won't be perfect either. Iran's nuclear program has gotten too big and its military-industrial complex is too complicated.

The fake nuclear negotiations are an attempt by Iran to  buy time. It knows that if the threshold is clear and obvious, even the West might be pressured into an air strike, to protect Gulf oil supplies rather than Israel, so it's going to go nuclear ahead of schedule and ahead of estimates. It has a plan for doing so. The rest is details.