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.

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 (https://rightweb.irc-online.org).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks, and one of the prime vacillators among Republicans between objecting to and supporting Donald Trump.


Ron Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the United States and has deep connections to the Republican Party and the neoconservative movement.


The Washington-based American Enterprise Institute is a rightist think tank with a broad mandate covering a range of foreign and domestic policy issues that is known for its strong connections to neoconservatism and overseas debacles like the Iraq War.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Since taking office Donald Trump has revealed an erratic and extremely hawkish approach to U.S. foreign affairs, which has been marked by controversial actions like dropping out of the Iran nuclear agreement that have raised tensions across much of the world and threatened relations with key allies.


Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and an evangelical pastor, is a far-right pundit known for his hawkish policies and opposition to an Israeli peace deal with the Palestinians.


Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for her lock-step support for Israel and considered by some to be a future presidential candidate.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.


A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.


Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.


The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.


Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.


To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.


The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.


RightWeb
share