Newsweek Lays a Nuclear Egg

Iran's been amping up its nuclear program at a secret facility, which the U.S. knew about but wasn't saying anything until now. Which makes it awfully unfortunate for Newsweek, which reported "exclusively" last week that Iran's nuke program was dormant.

Today we learned that a) Iran has for years been building a secret nuclear facility suitable only for bomb-making purposes near the holy city of Qom, b) that, according to the Washington Post, "earlier this year they began installing the infrastructure required for 3,000 centrifuges that could produce highly-enriched uranium" at the facility, and c) that the United States intelligence community has known about it for years.

Which, in retrospect, makes Newsweek reporter Mark Hosenball's "online exclusive" of September 16 look rather suspect: "The U.S. intelligence community is reporting to the White House that Iran has not restarted its nuclear-weapons development program, two counterproliferation officials tell NEWSWEEK."

Hosenball's story reported that the intelligence community continued as recently as nine days ago to stand behind it's 2007 assessment [pdf] that "in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program" and "had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007." If it's true that earlier this year Iran began installing centrifuges in a facility designed only to produce uranium for nuclear weapons, then it looks like Hosenball got hosed.

Of course, reporting on counterproliferation efforts is notoriously murky, and there's got to be some margin for error. Especially confusing is the fact that the intelligence community released—during the Bush Administration, mind you—the aforementioned 2007 report absolving Iran of any suspicions of an active nuclear weapons program when they almost certainly knew of the secret Qom facility. According to the Post, White House officials claim to have known about the site for "several years"; the Iran report was released in November 2007, less than two years ago.

Maybe there's some arcane distinction between officially "re-starting" a nuclear program and actively building a secret site for the purposes of building nuclear bombs, but it sure looks like they've re-started something, doesn't it?