Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Iraq Intelligence Failures Cast Shadow Over Iran Assessment

A new report from the Atlantic Council evaluates the reliability of intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program.

Print Friendly

Inter Press Service

As the George W. Bush administration built the case for war with Iraq in the early 2000s, press accounts picked up bits of leaked intelligence that described a weapons of mass destruction threat from then president Saddam Hussein. But once the U.S. military entered Iraq, they found nothing.

Now, with neoconservatives and other Washington hawks campaigning for ever more aggressive actions against Iran, they must contend with the spectre of Iraq and a popular scepticism that accompanies claims of weapons programmes. A new report from Washington's Atlantic Council aims to sort out the mess by asking: "How reliable is intelligence on Iran's nuclear programme?"

Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful medical work and energy production, but many suspect a clandestine weapons programme.

In a few words, U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear activities is "not bad", said IPS contributor and report author Barbara Slavin at an event Thursday. "There is less of a chance of underestimating or over-hyping the Iran threat."

The report takes a similarly mild tone, declaring intelligence on Iran's nuclear programme is "better and worse than Iraq". The most damaging information in the run-up to the Iraq war was largely single-source, and thought to be deeply politicised because the Bush administration was pushing for confrontation and needed to back it up with a threat.

"Nuclear and intelligence specialists say there have been major improvements in the way U.S. intelligence is collected and analyzed since 2002," said the Council report, "and that this sort of distortion could not take place now even if the [President Barack] Obama administration was eager to attack Iran, which does not appear to be the case."

But shortfalls still exist. Iran's leadership structure that makes the decisions is opaque. And access by international organizations, such as the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is limited. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which guarantees its right to a peaceful nuclear programme, but withdrew from a broader inspections regime called the Additional Protocols in 2006.

But in some ways the actual intelligence collection has improved, too: "[O]bstacles are better compensated for with better technical intelligence," says the report, "as well as human intelligence from defectors and others still in Iran."

Panelists on Thursday said getting Iran to voluntarily give access to its nuclear sites and information about its programme was crucial.

"Part of the reason for the [international] pressure and the justification for it is that it's worked in the past," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. He cited examples such as South Africa, Brazil and Libya, which had given up their weapons programmes because of pressure.

"Iran," Albright said, "has to be worried about doing something in secret because they've been exposed so many times."

Indeed, Iran raises such strong suspicious particularly because so many various aspects of its programme have been clandestinely developed and only revealed either by foreign governments or by Iran because of pressure.

Paul Pillar, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst now at Georgetown University, emphasised the importance of being able to return to a full inspections regime in order to verify that no nuclear materials got diverted to a secret weapons programme.

"The single best source of information about things of this sort – and this is true about Iraq and Iran – is an international inspections regime," he said. The intelligence community is not designed to make "up or down judgments on things like this".

Pillar added, "Things don't become intelligence issues if we're sure about them in the first place."

Some of Iran's progress, said the report, has been blocked by international sanctions, particularly those passed by the U.N. Security Council in June 2010 that restricted the sale of material for nuclear development to Iran.

"Iran used to be able to exploit loopholes, but now they're running into brick walls," said Slavin at the Council event. The U.N. sanctions "are difficult to implement, but they're slowly being implemented".

But the biggest hurdle to knowing what Iran is up to with its nuclear development remains determining just what Iran's leadership cohort wants the programme to accomplish.

Understanding Iran's programme is "at least as much about intentions as about capabilities", said Pillar. And the U.S. and its allies suffer from a "lack of access to the inner circles where decisions are made."

Pillar's assessment, with which the Council report concurred, is that those crucial decisions about how far to take the nuclear programme "are yet to be made" by the Iranians.

"It is still possible to dissuade Iran," Slavin said Thursday.

Ali Gharib is a correspondent with Inter Press Service and Think Progress and a contributor to Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Established in Baltimore in 1897, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is the oldest Zionist organization in the United States—and also among the most aggressively anti-Arab ones.


U.S. Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is a retired U.S Marine Corps general and combat veteran who served as commander of U.S. Central Command during 2010-2013 before being removed by the Obama administration reportedly because of differences over Iran policy.


Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is a conservative Republican congressman who was voted into office as part of the “tea party” surge in 2011 and chosen by Donald Trump to be director of the CIA.


Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and an evangelical pastor, is a 2016 Republican presidential candidate.


David Albright is the founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-proliferation think tank whose influential analyses of nuclear proliferation issues in the Middle East have been the source of intense disagreement and debate.


The former GOP presidential candidate and Speaker of the House has been a vociferous proponent of the idea that the America faces an existential threat from “Islamofascists.”


Billionaire investor Paul Singer is the founder and CEO of the Elliott Management Corporation and an important funder of neoconservative causes.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

President Trump and his Iranophobe supporters are itching for a war with Iran, without any consideration of the disastrous consequences that will ensue.


Print Friendly

The war of words and nuclear threats between the United States and North Korea make a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis more difficult than ever to achieve.


Print Friendly

The new White House chief of staff, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, is anything but non-partisan or apolitical. For the deeply conservative Kelly, the United States is endangered not only by foreign enemies but by domestic forces that either purposely, or unwittingly, support them.


Print Friendly

The prospects of Benjamin Netanyahu continuing as Israel’s prime minister are growing dim. But for those of us outside of Israel who support the rights of Palestinians as well as Israelis and wish for all of those in the troubled region to enjoy equal rights, the fall of Netanyahu comes too late to make much difference.


Print Friendly

Rich Higgins, the recently fired director for strategic planning at the National Security Council, once said in an interview on Sean Hannity’s radio program, that “more Muslim Americans have been killed fighting for ISIS than have been killed fighting for the United States since 9/11.”


Print Friendly

This is how the Trump administration could try to use the IAEA to spur Iran to back out of the JCPOA.


Print Friendly

President Trump seems determined to go forward with a very hostile program toward Iran, and, although a baseless US pullout from the JCPOA seems unlikely, even the so-called “adults” are pushing for a pretext for a pullout. Such an act does not seem likely to attract European support. Instead, it will leave the United States isolated, break the nuclear arrangement and provide a very reasonable basis for Iran to restart the pursuit of a nuclear deterrent in earnest.


RightWeb
share