A classified analysis by the U.S. intelligence community warned top Bush administration officials last spring that the theocratic reign of Iranian mullahs could be entrenched for years to come, NEWSWEEK has learned. This National Intelligence Estimate, issued by a unit of the new National Intelligence Director's office, reported that Iran is not in a prerevolutionary state and that near-term regime change appeared unlikely, say U.S. officials familiar with the report who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the material. (The National Intelligence Council, a committee of top analysts, produced the document at the same time that it sent out a second classified report about Iran's nuclear program.) The analysts also noted that Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was Tehran's mayor and a dark-horse presidential candidate at the time of the NIE's publication, might have a surprisingly strong following among poorer Iranians because of his reputation as an anticorruption campaigner. The office of intel czar John Negroponte had no comment on the top-secret document.

In briefings with reporters, intel officials have stressed recently that they want contrary views to be taken into account when analyses are presented to policymakers. But a White House spokesperson says President George W. Bush had no intention of backing away from comments he made about Iran just before its June election. In his June statement, Bush hinted at regime change, telling the Iranian people, "As you stand for your own liberty, the people of America stand with you." In July, Bush publicly mentioned the case of an imprisoned Iranian journalist, Akbar Ganji, who has become a cause celebre for U.S. neoconservatives who have been agitating for more U.S. support of efforts to overthrow the mullahs; Sen. Rick Santorum even introduced a bill to offer U.S. funding for exiles and Iranian-Americans seeking peaceful regime change.