An important story from James Risen shows why anyone with a passion for more war who talks about the “intelligence” on Iran’s nuclear program should not be listened to. In fact, we know precious little about that program, and even what we do know gets shifted by new information all the time:

While American spy agencies have believed that the Iranians halted efforts to build a nuclear bomb back in 2003, the difficulty in assessing the government’s ambitions was evident two years ago, when what appeared to be alarming new intelligence emerged, according to current and former United States officials.

Intercepted communications of Iranian officials discussing their nuclear program raised concerns that the country’s leaders had decided to revive efforts to develop a weapon, intelligence officials said.

That, along with a stream of other information, set off an intensive review and delayed publication of the 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, a classified report reflecting the consensus of analysts from 16 agencies. But in the end, they deemed the intercepts and other evidence unpersuasive, and they stuck to their longstanding conclusion.

The intelligence crisis that erupted in 2010, which has not been previously disclosed, only underscores how central that assessment has become to matters of war and peace.

The official assessment of the US intelligence community maintains that Iran has not decided to pursue a nuclear weapon, having stopped their program in 2003. But every so often a new piece of information comes up, goes through the chain of command, and ultimately is found insufficient. What this shows more than anything is a failure of the actual intelligence assets of the US, despite deploying drone capabilities over Iran and using whatever means necessary to get the information out of the country.

We already went to war once in that part of the world based on bad intelligence. Risen’s account doesn’t give me any hope that we have improved our capabilities to any degree. One opinion at the top could turn the same dodgy intel and analysis into a casus belli for war. That’s how the Cheney Administration handled it, and that’s how it will get handled by someone who wants the war to go forward.

It makes you wonder why “intelligence” is seen as a rigorous field of study.

I guess we could use a certain blond-haired woman who worked on Iranian nonproliferation issues at this point, before being outed by her government as an agent.

Much more from Marcy Wheeler.