"BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I’m Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
New questions this week about intelligence before the war in Iraq, and now a new round of questions about intelligence concerning Iran. What is Iran doing right now and why?
Helping us sort all of this out, two guests: former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Colonel Pat Lang, retired U.S. Army, has long experience in military intelligence and special forces; and Ray Takeyh, he’s with the Council on Foreign Relations. He’s also the author of a new book, "Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic."
Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.
Let me ask you, Pat Lang, first, to comment on this briefing that reporters in Baghdad were given today, suggesting that Iranians — whether the Iranian Republican Guard, the Quds division, whatever — are providing the most sophisticated explosives that can take out an Abrams battle tank, all the armor, to Shiite militias in Iraq. And those explosives have already killed well more than 100 American troops.
PAT LANG, FORMER DIA ANALYST: Well, anyone who has been studying this knows that the Iranians are playing a significant role in Iraq, because they are interested in the political outcome there. And the combat situation, of course, directly effects what the political outcome will be.
I think there is not much doubt that they probably have been supplying materiel of one kind of another to the Iraqi Shia. I don’t have a problem with believing that.
What I have difficulty understanding, and maybe Ray does, too — I don’t know — is the idea that all of a sudden, things which have probably been going on for months and months and months have taken on a whole new significance and now we are beating the drum over and over again about the degree of Iranian participation in the war and combat casualties amongst our troops when, in fact, the Iranians have been an ever-present factor from the beginning.
BLITZER: So I just want to get this straight. So you think there’s a political motive for releasing this information right now?
LANG: I think there’s kind of an eerie resemblance right now, of what’s going on in the continual iteration of statements concerning the Iranians, about their nuclear program, about their general menace in the world, about their actions in Iraq, all these kinds of things to what went on in ’02 as part of the buildup done in making people think that the Iraqis were such a menace that something had to be done. I think there’s a resemblance.
BLITZER: I want Ray to weigh in, but I want to play a little clip of what the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, said on this subject on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GATES: Iran is very much involved in providing either the technology or the weapons themselves for these explosively formed projectiles. Now, they don’t represent a big percentage of the IED attacks, but they’re extremely lethal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. What’s your sense?
RAY TAKEYH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I think Colonel Lang is right. Iranians have been providing such munitions with whatever degree of sophistications to the Shia militias. It’s part of the Iranian strategy to organize and mobilize the Shia community for a potential civil war that is taking place and combat against the Sunni insurgents.
So in that sense, they are trying to strengthen the Shia community politically, economically, and in this particular case, seemingly militarily.
Now, I don’t necessarily think that Iranians were suggesting or pressing the Shia militia groups to use those weapons against the American forces or have such operational control over this issue.
But the notion that Iranians are helping to arm Shia militias makes sense to me because the Iranian policy towards southern Iraq is drawn from the policy toward southern Lebanon, namely getting that Shia community organized, armed in a potential sectarian conflict that is taking place in Iraq.
BLITZER: So, in other words, what you’re suggesting is that what the Iranians did in trying to bolster Hezbollah in Lebanon, they’re now doing to bolster the various Shiite militias, including the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq?
TAKEYH: I suspect they’re primarily support base is with the Badr Brigade of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution, SCIRI, which is part of the Iraqi government. But the idea that they would have a relationship with the Sadrists and the Sadr militia makes some sense to me.
BLITZER: Do you agree?
LANG: Yes, I do. And, actually, the analogy to what they’re doing in Lebanon is very close. You are seeing a period of Iranian expansionism, in terms of their sphere of influence. And these Shia armies are, in fact, surrogates for them.
BLITZER: Here is what the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times, which I’m sure both of you saw on Thursday: "Now, the United States administration is unfortunately reaping the expected bitter fruits of its ill-conceived adventurism, taking the region and the world with it to the brink of further hostility. But rather than face the unpleasant facts, the United States administration is trying to sell an escalated version of the same failed policy. It does this by trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq."
Pat Lang, you worked in U.S. military intelligence for decades. That was your career. What is your reaction when the Iranian ambassador to the U.N. says U.S. military intelligence is fabricating this kind of evidence?
LANG: Well, I don’t think it’s the case that military intelligence is fabricating this kind of evidence. In fact, as we were just saying, this has been an ongoing activity, that they’ve been arming the Shia militia, as part of their program for the Middle East, the Iranians have.
What’s different now is that the policy people in the American government are making use of the available data to make a case against the Iranians. And they’re doing it with ever-increasing stridency, so far as I can see.
BLITZER: And you see that as potentially setting the stage for military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran?
LANG: It’s setting the stage for whatever action the commander in chief and the executive branch decide they’re going to take against the Iranians. That seems very much to me to be the case.
BLITZER: You want to weigh in?
TAKEYH: I think what Ambassador Zarif was saying in the New York Times piece, is there’s consensus within the Iranian political system today, mainly that the United States, as it loses the war in Iraq, is trying to find culprits to blame. And Iran is one of the easiest ones to blame. So as the Americans are leaving, defeated, they’re trying to justify that by blaming others. BLITZER: You disagree?
LANG: Well, I think the United States has not at all accepted the idea that we’ve been defeated in Iraq. And I think we’re looking around for people who are culprits and involved in our present difficulties and seeking to focus on them to see if we can do something about them.
BLITZER: All right, gentlemen, stand by because we have a lot more to talk about. We’re going to continue this conversation, also get into questions about whether what’s happening in Iraq will spill over to its neighbors and beyond. In other words, is a regional war possible?
But upcoming next, we’ll get a quick check of what’s in the news right now, including more on Iran’s alleged involvement in Iraqi violence. We’ll be right back.
(Missing Text and Question from Blitzer)
LANG: And that’s symptomatic at what’s wrong with a lot of our human intelligence collection. And, in fact, you can go around today all over the United States and talk to people like Ray, who are well thought of, well-informed academics, people in good think tanks around the United States, and you will probably get a better idea of Iranian politics, in fact, because of their real contacts in Iran and with what’s going on politically, than you do from the government.
BLITZER: The Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah, said this on Thursday: "The enemies know well that any aggression will lead to a reaction from all sides in the Iranian nation on the aggressors and their interests around the world."
That was seen as a threat to the United States and U.S. interests around the world, and that the Iranians could do some horrible things if they wanted to.
TAKEYH: Well, it seems to me that what Iranians are doing today is pursuing a policy not that dissimilar from the Bush administration’s. Tough rhetoric yet, at the same time, saying, but we’re willing to be flexible and negotiate.
So you begin to see two tracks being played out: on one hand, threats that Iran is prepared to retaliate and has capability of doing so; yet, at the same time, Iran’s national security adviser is in Munich today talking about the fact that the country is open to negotiations on this nuclear issue and a range of other nuclear issues. It’s sort of a two-track policy that we seem to be playing, and they’re playing it back to us.
BLITZER: We had our interview in the last hour with Doug Feith, the former top Pentagon official and undersecretary of defense. And he made the case that what he was doing, and his colleagues, in the buildup to the war in Iraq, was critiquing the CIA’s intelligence. They weren’t happy with the CIA’s intelligence, on any alleged link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida and that was appropriate.
You worked in Pentagon intelligence for a long time. Was it appropriate for this office to go ahead and review the intelligence that was provided by the CIA?
LANG: When I first heard that they were doing that, at the time, I thought this is a perfectly normal activity. What I didn’t realize was the way that they were doing it. It is normal to critique the intelligence product, no matter where it comes from.
My problem with what they did is the fact that what they were doing is that the intelligence agency has a huge discard pile of reports that they’ve been sent from around the world that they’ve decided are untrue and that they keep around just so they can judge the validity of sources in the future.
Now, what these fellows did was that they went through the discard pile looking for things that suited their program, then would write them into things which they would take around to show to people in the White House, and Congress and other places, and they wold also show the same things to the analysts every day, saying "why aren’t you writing about this?"
And when they were told, in fact, that "we’re not writing about this because it’s untrue, our agencies have decided it’s untrue," they said, "well we think you should think about this some more."
And when you get this day after day, week after week, eventually, it starts to skew the total picture held by the government as to what the truth is, just by repetition.
That’s what happened, and I think that was most inappropriate and the that the I.G. was right about this, not just on this issue, but also on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, where the bigger problem was that the senior leadership in the intelligence community didn’t back the analysts in standing up to guys in Mr. Feith’s office. It was a massive failure of leadership in the intelligence community.
BLITZER: We’ve got to leave it there. Colonel Pat Lang, thanks very much for coming in.
LANG: Thank you."