Politicizing Intelligence (WEEKLY STANDARD) BY ELLIOTT ABRAMS / Blog 04/09/12)
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The politicization of intelligence by the Obama administration
Last month it was Syria: an authorized “leak” to the Associated Press
claiming that “President Bashar Assad commands a formidable army”
and “has assembled a highly professional, 330,000-man army plus
reserves.” The purpose of this game was to persuade the press and the
American people that helping the Syrian opposition was senseless, for
Assad was just too strong. The briefers simply overlooked all the
evidence that Assad can rely solely on Alawite officers and troops,
who are relatively few in number and now stretched thin by rebellions
all over Syria.
Now it is Iran: authorized leaks to the Washington Post meant to
persuade us that the American intelligence about Iran is superb. Here
is the heart of the “leak”:
At a time of renewed debate over whether stopping Iran might require
military strikes, the expanded intelligence collection has reinforced
the view within the White House that it will have early warning of
any move by Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb, officials said.
“There is confidence that we would see activity indicating that a
decision had been made,” said a senior U.S. official involved in high-
level discussions about Iran policy.
Lost here are all the doubts about what the United States knows or
can find out. A New York Times story, also confected largely from
authorized leaks, noted over the same weekend that “Some American
officials say they have considerable confidence that if Iran moves to
build a weapon, they will detect the signs in time to take military
action, though others—notably former Defense Secretary Robert M.
Gates—have been more skeptical.” Given that Gates is (1) opposed to a
strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, (2) is a former Director of the CIA,
and (3) was as Secretary of Defense familiar with everything our
intelligence community knew about Iran, his skepticism ought to get
more attention than the deliberate leaks ordered by the White House
to support its policies.
In the middle of the article lies this line: “Officials familiar with
the operations, however…conceded that aspects of Iran’s nuclear
decision-making remain opaque, including the calculations made by the
Islamic republic’s senior political and clerical leadership.” In
other words, we know almost everything we need to know, except that
we haven’t a clue what Iran’s decision makers are thinking, how they
think, how they decide—small details like that.
The Post story contains revelations of “sources and methods” of
intelligence that might, if unauthorized, be criminal. The story
relates that stealth drones
penetrated more than 600 miles inside the country, captured images of
Iran’s secret nuclear facility at Qom…in the previously undisclosed
CIA stealth drones scoured dozens of sites throughout Iran, making
hundreds of passes over suspicious facilities….
The expanded intelligence effort has coincided with a covert campaign
by the CIA and other agencies to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program….
The Iran Operations Division was set up in the agency’s Old
Headquarters Building. Over time, it swelled from several dozen
analysts and officers to several hundred. The division is now headed
by a veteran case officer who previously served as CIA station chief
in Islamabad, Pakistan.
“It got a robust budget,” said a former senior CIA official who
worked in the Near East Division at the time. The Iran division’s
emphasis was “getting people overseas in front of people they needed
to be in front of — there are a lot of places to meet Iranians
The division began assembling an informant network that stretched
from the Middle East to South America, where Iran’s security services
have a long-standing presence. The CIA also exploited the massive
U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq to mount espionage
operations against the country sandwiched between those war zones.
Here’s a question: if a rogue official gave a press conference
denouncing U.S. spying on Iran and in his remarks said all of that,
would he not be prosecuted?
The Obama administration appears to regard intelligence leaks and
briefings more or less like briefings by the Democratic National
Committee or White House flack Jay Carney. You use any information at
hand, classified or not, and you spin it any way you like, fairly or
not. Information that is unhelpful to your case is denied, dismissed,
or denigrated. All of which raises a question: Where are the
congressional intelligence committees, especially the Republican-led
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence? Isn’t it their job
to prevent such politically-motivated leaking and abuse of
intelligence data and personnel?
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