Article Claims CIA Has No Evidence of Iran Nuke Program

Journalist Seymour Hersh has a controversial article in the current New Yorker magazine alleging that the CIA has found no conclusive evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Hersh writes that the White House has dismissed these CIA findings. Host Alex Chadwick talks to Hersh about his article.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The United Nations agency that is supposed to keep an eye on nukes is so divided on the question of Iran and the bomb that it can't decide whether to help the Iranians with a reactor.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The International Atomic Energy Agency is supposed to help member states with technical questions for nuclear energy projects. But the U.S. and others say the agency should punish Iran for not cooperating with inspections on possible weapons programs. The agency delayed a vote today.

BRAND: Meanwhile, The New Yorker magazine has a story by Seymour Hersh this week saying a new secret CIA report contradicts the Bush administration's claims that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The story says the CIA cannot find any proof that the Iranians are trying to build a bomb. The White House dismissed the story, but we called the reporter for an interview.

CHADWICK: Sy Hersh, describe this CIA document about Iran's nuclear research, please?

Mr. SEYMOUR HERSH (Reporter, The New Yorker): Well, let me just tell you that I haven't seen it. All I've been doing - it's a very highly classified document. I've been told about it by more than one or two people. So, I have a pretty good feel.

What it is, is after eight or so months of intensive looking, they say, look, we don't find any evidence of a secret parallel weapons program. In other words, what Iran has disclosed under the Nonproliferation Agreement that Iran is a party to, those are it. We can find nothing that indicates they're on the verge of making a bomb.

CHADWICK: So, according to what the CIA has been able to find so far, Iran's explanation for what it's doing with its nuclear research is possibly completely truthful.

Mr. HERSH: I had no sense in talking to people that the agency would rule out the possibility that Iran still has weapons ambitions. It's not a paper about its intentions. All it does is it says what they declared is all we can find.

CHADWICK: The intelligence community is working on this national intelligence estimate on Iran's nuclear capabilities. And this would be the best official guess we can make. And you report that the White House, and especially Vice President Cheney's office are, as you put it, hostile to this CIA preliminary assessment of these capabilities. What do you mean hostile? Why is the White House hostile to this?

Mr. HERSH: The people that talked to me say, you know, deja vu, - you know, like Yogi Berra said - all over again - is Iraq all over again. Anybody before March 2003, any intelligence report that suggest Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, the famous WMD issue, and there were such reports, was dismissed out of hands. Cheney is certainly the most influential on this issue, particularly on the issue of doing something about Iran. He's also very influential. It's just I don't buy it, that sort of attitude. So, his attitude towards this intelligence was the agency doesn't get anything right. They've said so publicly, and so they just dismissed it.

CHADWICK: Well, this is very muddled. You also report other views - a European diplomat, for instance, who says the only way that the Iranian uranium enrichment program makes sense is if you assume they are trying to build a bomb.

Mr. HERSH: The Germans, the French, and the Brits, who have been our allies in this whole issue with Iran for years, diplomatically, they all say the same thing essentially. Look, I have no smoking gun evidence that they're doing what they're doing, but we think they are. The only way you can rationalize their hostility to opening up talks is they're hiding something. But there's another reason for thinking that, you know, the Iranians could be so difficult, which is simply put that standing up to the Americans on these is enormously popular for the Iranian mullahs, and also does an awful a lot for Ahmadinejad's popularity. He's sticking it in our eye on the nuclear issue.

CHADWICK: I'll just note that the White House has responded to your article, dismissing this classified CIA draft assessment. But they've done it in - what seems to me - unusually harsh language. Here's White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. Let me read this to you. Quote, the White House is not going to dignify the work of an author who has viciously degraded our troops and whose articles consistently rely on outright falsehoods to justify his own radical views.

Mr. HERSH: In all fairness to the White House, I do stuff that gets the White House very angry. The Clinton White House said things equally, not quite as bad, but pretty bad about me. And they've gone even farther. When I did Abu Ghraib, a spokesman for Donald Rumsfeld accused me of throwing crap against the wall and see what sticks. I think it says more about them than me.

I'm not a radical. I've worked for the New York Times, for the Associated Press. I've spent my career as a mainstream journalist, but what is important here, and what you're getting at, is they are not answering the question. Is there a classified report? Does it say something that they don't want people to know. Has the vice president, in particular, smothered this report? He basically doesn't want it disseminated, this CIA assessment.

CHADWICK: Seymour Hersh writes about national security for the New Yorker magazine. His article is in the latest issue. Sy Hersh, thank you again.

Mr. HERSH: Thank you sir.

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