Report: CIA, Mossad face ´tricky intel task´ in Iran (YNetNews.Com -Yedioth Internet) Yitzhak Benhorin Published: 03.18.12, 08:54)
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´Iran is the hardest intelligence target there is. It is harder by
far than North Korea,´ US officials tells New York Times. Report
claims Israel has advantage in gathering intel on the ground
regarding nuclear weapons program with the help of Kurds and exile
WASHINGTON Ė American officials have acknowledged "significant
intelligence gaps" in understanding the intentions of Iranís leaders
and whether they would approve the necessary steps toward engineering
a nuclear bomb, the New York Times reported over the weekend.
The newspaper quoted American intelligence officials as saying that
intercepted communications of Iranian officials discussing their
nuclear program raised concerns that the Islamic Republic´s leaders
had decided to jumpstart efforts to develop a weapon.
"That, along with a stream of other information, set off an intensive
review and delayed publication of the 2010 National Intelligence
Estimate," according to the report. The most recent American
intelligence assessments have determined that Iran had halted its
efforts to develop nuclear weapons in 2003.
"The intelligence crisis that erupted in 2010, which has not been
previously disclosed, only underscores how central that assessment
has become to matters of war and peace," the NYT report stated.
"Today, as suspicions about Iranís nuclear ambitions have provoked
tough sanctions and threats of military confrontation, top
administration officials have said that Iran still has not decided to
pursue a weapon, reflecting the intelligence communityís secret
analysis. But if that assessment changes, it could lift a brake set
by President (Barack) Obama, who has not ruled out military options
as a last resort to prevent Iran gaining nuclear arms."
According to the report, much of what analysts sift through are
shards of information that are ambiguous or incomplete, sometimes not
up to date, and that typically offer "more insight about what the
Iranians are not doing than evidence of what they are up to."
As a result, NYT reported, officials caution that they cannot offer
certainty. "Iíd say that I have about 75% confidence in the
assessment that they havenít restarted the program," one former
senior intelligence official told the newspaper, while another
said: "Iran is the hardest intelligence target there is. It is harder
by far than North Korea.
"In large part, thatís because their system is so confusing," he
said, which "has the effect of making it difficult to determine who
speaks authoritatively on what. Weíre not on the ground, and not
having our people on the ground to catch nuance is a problem."
Officials said that while Iran says its nuclear program is for
peaceful civilian purposes, US intelligence agencies and the
International Atomic Energy Agency have gathered evidence in recent
years indicating that some Iranian research activities that may be
weapons-related have continued since 2003.
"That information has not been significant enough for the spy
agencies to alter their view that the weapons program has not been
restarted," NYT said.
According to the report, Mossad agrees with the American intelligence
assessments, "even while Israeli political leaders have been pushing
for quick, aggressive action to block Iran from becoming what they
describe as an existential threat to the Jewish state."
"Their people ask very hard questions, but Mossad does not disagree
with the US on the weapons program," one former senior American
intelligence official told NYT.
"There is not a lot of dispute between the US and Israeli
intelligence communities on the facts."
US officials explained that searching for signs of the resumption of
a weapons program is more difficult than monitoring enrichment and
missile-building activities, both of which require large investments
in plants, equipment and related infrastructure.
The report said the National Security Agency eavesdrops on telephone
conversations of Iranian officials and conducts other forms of
electronic surveillance, while the National Geospatial-Intelligence
Agency analyzes radar imagery and digital images of nuclear sites.
Outside analysts believe high-tech drones prowl overhead and gather
intelligence, NYT said.
Meanwhile, according to the report, clandestine ground sensors, which
can detect electromagnetic signals or radioactive emissions that
could be linked to secret nuclear activity, are placed near suspect
Iranian facilities. "The United States also relies heavily on
information gathered by inspectors with the International Atomic
Energy Agency who visit some of Iranís nuclear-related facilities,"
the report said.
However, the NYT report claimed, collecting independent human
intelligence ó recruiting spies ó has been "by far the most difficult
task for American intelligence."
Some operational lapses ó and the lack of an embassy as a base of
operations ever since the hostage crisis three decades ago ó have
frequently left the CIA virtually blind on the ground in Iran, former
intelligence officials told the newspaper.
According to the report, for its spying efforts, Israel relies in
part on an Iranian exile group that is labeled a terrorist
organization by the US, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or M.E.K., which is
based in Iraq. The Israelis have also developed close ties in the
semiautonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, and they are
believed to use Kurdish agents who can move back and forth across the
border into Iran, the report said.
"American intelligence officials, however, are wary of relying on
information from an opposition group like the M.E.K., particularly
after their experience in Iraq of relying on flawed information
provided by the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group run by Ahmad
Chalabi," NYT reported.
NYT said the US and Israel share intelligence on Iran, adding that
American intelligence analysts still believe the Iranians have not
gotten the go-ahead from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to
restart the nuclear weapons program. (Copyright 2012 © Yedioth
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