UPDATE 1515 GMT: Julian Borger of The Guardian takes apart MI6 head John Sawers' reported claims --- "The US, the UK, the IAEA and most western intelligence agencies do not believe that the Iranian leadership has made the political decision to make a bomb" --- but indicates that the distortions may be the product of media manipulation:
The original paraphased quote in the magazine Civil Service World, which reported the event, says: "Iranian nuclear development has been significantly delayed by the international community: in 2003, Iran was believed to be five years away from having the bomb; but nearly a decade later, they're still thought to have two years to go. However, Sawers warned that it's not clear how much longer Iran can be delayed." Civil Service World is a well-respected publication and that sounds a far more rational claim. The Telegraph seems to have used that paragraph to manufacture their own, more headline-grabbing, quote..."You'd have Iran as a nuclear weapons state in 2008 rather than still being two years away in 2012."
Still, MI6 has only itself to blame if the record cannot be set straight, according to Borger: "I have since learned that there was a recording and that MI6 asked for it to be deleted. Now told by Whitehall officials that 'acoustics were really bad'!"
A curious, clumsy, and perhaps dangerous intervention by the head of Britain's foreign intelligence service....
Speaking at a public event in London, MI6 chief John Sawers declared that Iran is “two years away” from becoming a “nuclear weapons state” and that, “when that moment came”, Israel and/or the US would have to decide whether to launch a military strike.
Sawers asserted, “The Iranians are determinedly going down a path to master all aspects of nuclear weapons; all the technologies they need,” he said. “It’s equally clear that Israel and the United States would face huge dangers if Iran were to become a nuclear weapon state.”
The MI6 head also built up the supposed achievement of his service in postponing that confrontation, claiming that without its operation, “you’d have Iran as a nuclear weapons state in 2008 rather than still being two years away in 2012.” His agency had a duty to “delay that awful moment when the politicians may have to take a decision between accepting a nuclear-armed Iran or launching a military strike against Iran".
Then Sawers gave the ominous pronouncement, “I think it will be very tough for any prime minister of Israel or president of the United States to accept a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Sawers gave no evidence of his assurance of Tehran with nuclear weapons in 2014. The last public assessment from US services, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, said that the Islamic Republic was years away from capability and --- despite claims that the analysis might be modified --- there has been no update. Recurring reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency has asked for clarity on Iran's nuclear activities and raised questions about certain facilities; however those IAEA reports have also said there is no evidence of diversion of uranium to a nuclear weapons programme and have produced no solid information of activity for military use after 2003.
Recently, US and Israeli officials worked through a New York Times reporter, David Sanger, to claim credit for Stuxnet and Flame, a worm and malware attacking Iran's computer systems. Israel is also suspected of involvement in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.
Sawers did not specifically link MI6 to those activities but said generally that it ran "a series of operations to ensure that the sanctions introduced internationally are implemented, and that we do everything we can within the Middle East to slow down these remaining problems".
Unsurprisingly, Iranian State media have already seized on Sawers' remarks to establish the West's malign intentions: "MI6 Admits to Covert Operations Against Iran".