Tuesday, April 29, 2008

US blundered by crying wolf and keeping secrets

In its claims about Syria's secret bomb-building, the US has left itself open to every charge of bending intelligence to fit politics

The Times

The United States has done itself no favours by the way it has handled its revelations about Syria’s purported covert nuclear weapons programme. It was always going to be vulnerable to charges that it had cried wolf once, in Iraq, only to find its intelligence lethally wrong. But in making claims about Syria’s secret efforts to build a bomb with North Korean help, it has asked the world to take too much on faith and left itself open to every charge of bending intelligence to fit the politics.

The accusations have been simmering for weeks – and in a low-key way, for seven months, since Israel bombed a Syrian site without much explanation. But they were brought into the open on Monday evening by Michael Hayden, the CIA Director, who said that the alleged Syrian reactor destroyed by the Israeli raid would have produced enough plutonium for one or two bombs within a year of becoming operational.

The US must be braced for critics to say that they have heard this kind of thing before. It is not just the American and British assertions about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But the continuing struggle to persuade Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions produces a steady fountain of such prophesies: how many years until it can make enriched uranium, how many more until it gets a bomb, how many more bombs per year. And so on.

No surprise that the US has been criticised by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, for failing to disclose the information earlier. The relationship between the two is hardly neutral, as the IAEA, under its Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, has challenged the American approach to the Iranian problem and has appeared more accommodating of Tehran’s explanations. But the IAEA is on solid ground this time: one of its jobs is to try to detect the illicit use of nuclear material, and it cannot do that if its members withhold intelligence vital to that work ...

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