A leading American newspaper reports the United States based its analysis of Iran's nuclear weapons activity on the intercepted conversations of Iranian military officials.
The New York Times Wednesday quotes unidentified senior U.S. intelligence and government officials as having obtained notes on the conversations several months ago. The officials then tried to verify the information extracted from the notes which found that Iran stopped a nuclear weapons program in late 2003.
The newspaper says before the information was included in the National Intelligence Estimate, parts of which were made public this week, the CIA and other spy agencies formed a team to decide whether the intercepted conversations were part of an Iranian disinformation campaign.
The Times says the investigators decided it was not disinformation, but were challenged to defend that conclusion when they presented it to White House officials, including Dick Cheney, two weeks ago. The newspaper quotes one participant as saying the meeting involved "a pretty vivid exchange."
Cheney has been among the most vocal critics of Iran and its alleged nuclear weapons program, which Iran has never acknowledged. He was also a strong proponent of the war in Iraq, and continued to cite faulty intelligence used in the run-up to the war long after those assertions proved false.
The New York Times says the problems with Iraq intelligence had a bearing on how the CIA and others handled the intercepted Iranian conversations. It quotes senior intelligence and White House officials saying that the intelligence agencies wanted to verify the information to the best of their ability before sharing it with the White House as part of their official assessment.
The paper quotes an intelligence official as saying they had learned "a big lesson" in 2002 that they "can make enough mistakes in this business if you don't rush things."