Let’s take a good look at Iran

Cia-map-natanz "CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta should consider a bipartisan review of intelligence collection concerning Tehran. Since the Obama administration is reviewing policy options toward the Islamic republic, it would seem sensible to know what Langley's actions have produced. Policy built on weak intelligence and analysis obviously isn't a good idea. "  Gerecht


Reuel, like nearly all CIA alumni, continues to instinctively believe that the CIA IS the intelligence community.  Such old think" is pathetically out of date in a world in which Admiral Blair made it very clear at his installation ceremony that Leon Panetta will be one of his several subordinates.

But, this is clealy a case of "mind over matter."  Blair does not mind and the "ancien regime" of CIA nostalgics do not matterr.

Nevertheless, Reuel has a good idea.  There is little that is as important as the truth about Iran.  The Israelis have one view of things and the US intelligence community has another.  Reuel undoubtedly prefers the Israeli view.

Admiral Blair, not Panetta, would be wise to order just such a review as Gerecht suggests.

What should it be called?  Ah.  Perhaps "National Intelligence Estimate – Iran" would be a good title.  pl

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38 Responses to Let’s take a good look at Iran

  1. Just out of curiosity, PL, does the Intel Community seek truth or “facts”? obviously, facts dictate capabilities but not motives, intentions, or plans! Do you think this Administration like the past will “Make its own reality.”

  2. Ormolov says:

    You make a tantalizing opening statement about the CIA, Panetta, Blair, and the DNI. Could you shed more light into the inner structures of the current intelligence community? I would guess that the Bush DNI would differ from the Obama DNI. Just where will the CIA be in the pecking order? Will Blair really be our top Intelligence official? How will our intelligence services work together in this new administration?
    Let’s all remember how that last NIE on Iran went and what that showed us about the state of internal intelligence community politics…

  3. doug says:

    When I see a statement like this: “… with the mullahs quite probably on the verge of enriching sufficient uranium to make a bomb …” that does not also point out reactor grade fuel (4% U235) can’t be made into a bomb without enriching it to around 90%, I go cold. The article, like the Drudge headline to the same effect, is red meat to the ignorati.

  4. Fred says:

    Rather than just a review of what the CIA has accomplished, or failed too, over the years an actual Analysis of the status of the people, political climate as well as the industrial and military capabilities would be in order. “…religious inspiration can evolve or fade,…” Perhaps the most telling point that, yet it seems to be glossed over in this article.

  5. tom garshol says:

    with the memory of Monica Godling fresh in my mind… Before any nie’ s iz ordered. What about a rapport that just state how many of the “experts” that actually speaks farsi. How many that can read farsi. And how many that has actually been there.
    I am not impressed by thd Bushies.

  6. Jose says:

    Colonel, wouldn’t a U.S. Interest Section, like the one in Cuba, help us develop better contacts and intelligence than being fed small dribbles of selected information?
    I wish Obama would have had the guts to come out with policy from day one.
    This gentleman should not be believe after making statements like, That’s one of the reasons [they] want to have nuclear weaponry anyway, is because they have terrorism in their DNA.
    I don’t think he is a geneticist.

  7. JohnH says:

    Enough of this “intelligence” already. Let’s have a little good judgement and common sense. Oh, and honesty wouldn’t hurt either.
    Ideologically driven statements about “stopping Iran’s nuclear program,” (HRH Hillary) have no place in a world where Mohamed El-Baradei has already determined the facts first hand.

  8. Duncan Kinder says:

    “CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta should consider a bipartisan review of intelligence collection concerning Tehran.
    Whenever I hear the word “bipartisan” used, I immediately grab my wallet.

  9. Cujo359 says:

    Duncan Kinder writes: Whenever I hear the word “bipartisan” used, I immediately grab my wallet.
    I have a very skeptical reaction to that phrase, too. I’d rather that such a review be non-partisan. I’d like it even better if it were made up of people who know the intelligence business or the uses to which intelligence is put.

  10. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Speaking of US national security interests, why not a NIE-Israel? Shortest executive summary in USG history. 3 words. 13 letters.
    Bibi Bombs Iran.

  11. All
    A reminder. Anyone who is personally abusive or an obvious propagandist will be banned. pl

  12. Pan says:

    A review of intelligence on Iran should be conducted at the DNI level, either by the National Intelligence Council or the Deputy DNI for Analysis. Any internal CIA review of its own performance is a useless exercise.

  13. Ken Roberts says:

    Can someone recommend books, news websites, other resource material for a dispassionate look at Iran? Sounds like a good idea to learn bit about.

  14. dan says:

    What have Langley’s actions produced? A good question – and a revealing one in that it assumes that intelligence should be the driver of US policy vis a vis an important strategic state, rather than seeing policy and intelligence as, at best, complimentary or parallel activities. Whilst honest and truthful assessments would be nice, the key policy question, in my view, is to determine what the US wants its “relationship” with Iran to be – that is not an intelligence function.
    The only observable product from Langley that I can discern is a massively polluted information stream that lurches through propaganda and disinformation cycles every few months or so in a desperate attempt to paper over the rather awkward reality that there has been no coherent US-Iran policy for nigh on 3 decades now.
    Apart from that, bugger all that I’m aware of.
    It’s always worth remembering that a key element in the US elite construction of Iran is essentialism: We can’t have normalised relations/negotiate with Iran because Iran is X, where X is some characteristic that makes the activity impossible and therefore not worth trying – so much the better then to cling to the current default postures.

  15. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Well yes, an NIE per Iran is certainly worthwhile.
    I would add two more to the list for now:
    1. Israel (with some emphasis on counterintelligence issues)
    2. Mexico (the disintegrating failed narco-state on our southern border)
    Gerecht is part of the Neocon complex, thus not to be taken too seriously I should think.

  16. Cloned Poster says:

    I think Israel were given a double up-free card by Obama to sort Gaza, and no comments btw (I picked Gaza as long-term occupiers), saying that “crush Hamas” but if you don’t do it, we are having lunch in Tehran.
    Lunch in Tehran and Mumbai and on to Indonesia (or the other way around).
    Shudders at what Pakistan is doing and it my be an official declaration of an extra capacity nuke along with Mini-me Israel (of US) in the ME. Pakistan is a China client and Russia is so soft(Iskander who?) now along with those cuddly Obama Muslims.

  17. JetSetter says:

    US Defense Secretary Robert Gates accused Iran Tuesday of engaging in “subversive activity” in Latin America, saying it concerned him more than Russia’s recent naval forays in the region.
    “I’m concerned about the level of frankly subversive activity that the Iranians are carrying on in a number of places in Latin America particularly South America and Central America,” Gates told lawmakers.
    How do you believe this statement relates to the post you made about $40/barrel oil and an attempt to destabilize Chavez et al? Since the Bloivars posit higher oil prices to bankroll their “revolution” it seems to point to a nexus of propaganda and real politique.
    I’m sure the Iranians would like a higher price for oil at the head, so they may in fact be in negotiations with Chavez to raise oil prices, whereas the US has most likely brokered a deal with the Saudis to keep prices lower, both for the world economy as well as to destabilize the Bolivars.
    What are your opinions?

  18. Jackie Shaw says:

    Maybe you should read “All the Shah’s Men” by Stephen Kinzer. It’s a dandy tale about overthrowing Iran’s Prime Minister by the CIA at the behest of England in 1953 and all about oil. Fast forward to 1979. I used to wonder why the Iranians took hostages in the American Embassy. No one in the media in ’79 even mentioned that the coup in ’53 could be the reason for the American hostages. Oh well, one of the unintended consequences of a CIA action.

  19. Jackie Shaw says:

    P.S. My dad has always told me the reason we have never had a coup in the United States is because there are no U.S. Embassies here. The old guy makes sense.

  20. curious says:

    My quickie blurb, the position of Iran vs. Israel after 8 yrs of Bush.
    – I think Israel loses a lot in term of world public opinion. Lebanon + Gaza backed by Bush really destroy their credibility. I don’t think there are much world goodwill left toward israel. All in all, Israel depends so much more on US politics, precisely at a time when they lost key asset in the US. Euro/NATO definitely throw Israel on the curb with their request for Gaza troop. (It will be interesting what they gonna do next. My guess would be more of the same, they don’t have too much options at this moment.)
    -Iran. surprisingly a big winner and they have managed the pressure very well. (tho’ admitedly, dealing with Bush is kinda wayyyyy obvious. Even the date on special force operation inside Iran can be read few months ahead just by the way his neocon gangs are bragging on TV.)
    but on serious note, Iranian progress: high oil price windfall and Iran domestic economy reform. Opening diplomacy/eastward looking. Relationship with China and Russia/transfer of technology. Nuclear front an Iraq/Afghanistan are very impressive accomplishment. They have balanced national interest and external pressure. They ace latin america and asia. Africa is a bit weak. India is entirely lost (but maybe swinging back as India and Russia are back again)
    Overall they achieve the main point of their effort. Avoid isolation and remove the few bottle neck in global relationship, trade, and technological development.
    Iran definitely is in much stronger bargaining position now. They can negotiate with knowledge that US does not have soft leverage anymore. (oil import, banking, closure of gulf..all are mitigated.)
    I think this will put Iran-US negotiation in saner term. (both know what each want but at the same time both have no big leverage.) At worst…more of the same, and things just muddle through going nowhere quick.
    best case scenario. step by step constructive negotiation is now possible. Both side sees no gain in further confrontation.

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I believe I can shed some light on this.
    It is obvious that Islamic Iran, with a per capita income of $ 5000 and the population of 70 Million is an incredible danger to the safety and security of the United States with a per capita income of $50,000 and a population of 300 Million. One must also include in this picture the fact that in the technological arena Iran is struggling to master 1950s technologies while US is already in the 21-Century.
    We owe this clarity to the herculean intellectual endeavors of such first rate giants of historical and strategic wisdom – that have – as of late – blessed the United States by their presence. Men such as Leeden, Frum, Gingrich, Krauthammer, Ruel, and others make me shrivel inside me with a deep sense of mental inadequacy and of worthlessness. Indeed we are not worthy, we are not worthy!
    It is to these men that we owe the unraveling of the Islamo-Papist conspiracy south of Rio Grande. For the creeping subversion of Islamo-Papist, beginning in Venezuela now has swallowed Bolivia and Nicaragua and is getting closer to Florida, where it could join forces with the Godless Cuban Communists and thus will be ready to take over the United Stats. Does any one remember the fate Kamazats?
    And every one in US needs to be extremely concerned since once the take over of the United States by the Forces of the Darkside is complete the fate of Greece under Ottoman rule will befall US as well. By that I mean the following.
    If you travel in Greece you will be struck by how handsome the men are and how ugly the women. That is because over the centuries the Ottomans – who could marry 4 wives – took all the good-looking women to Turkey. Now, Iranians, being the followers of the Shia sect of Islam, not only can marry 4 permanent wives but also an indefinite number of temporary wives. Before you know it all the blonde bomb shells are in Iran – including Pamela Anderson. Thank God for Secretary Gates for warning us in time against the nefarious plots against American Womanhood!
    Of course, Iranian, having taken over US with the help of the Papists probably will also insist on all women in US to cover themselves in black veils- thus making US, like many other Muslim countries, a paradise for ugly women.

  22. curious says:

    I am definitely shorting Gillette stock.

  23. fnord says:

    Seriously: A NIE on Iran would be very helpful for Obama as a vetting test to see who comes up with propaganda spew like MESH keeps producing and who actually shows sobriety in their analysis. I think the next year will be an interesting process of weeding out the most obvious stay-behind elements of the republican neo-con spin machine, so that Obama can feel reasonably in control of the ship. Maybe wishful thinking, but I think your current president is smart enough to think strategical thoughts that go over a longer timespan than the news-cycle. Wich makes for a refreshing change. (Unless he *is* the antichrist, of course.)
    Not so serious: “Of course, Iranian, having taken over US with the help of the Papists probably will also insist on all women in US to cover themselves in black veils- thus making US, like many other Muslim countries, a paradise for ugly women.”
    B.M., you forget that a nice ankle/wrist combined with eyelashes rarely lies.

  24. Green Zone Cafe says:

    Oh come on, Babak. Greek women are as fine as any, and not less beautiful than Turkish women, certainly. Melina Mercouri, Marina Sirtis, Melina Kanakarides, Maria Callas?
    Most of it is diet and medical care, anyways. Recently I saw a stunning tall young Turkish woman – with what was probably her grandmother – short and pan-faced.

  25. Lysander says:

    Probably most board readers have seen today’s Asia Times article by Sam Gardiner, but here it is anyway;
    IT basically states that aggressive U.S. policy has pushed Iran and Russia into something approaching a strategic partnership. With greater Russian support, it will be even harder to pressure Iran.
    I’m curious if others consider Gardiner’s analysis reasonable.

  26. JohnH says:

    You have to believe that for the American government, Iran, like Israel, is an affair of the heart. How else do you explain all the nonsensical BS that has been thrown our way recently about nefarious Iranian intentions?
    Anyway, Russia seems to have none of the emotional hang-ups of the US foreign policy mob. They believe that it makes sense to deal with Iran as adults:
    Seeing other nations deal constructively with the likes of Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela, it becomes increasingly obvious that the US is pursuing something other than rationally determined vital strategic interests.
    When will adults start to direct US foreign policy again?

  27. JustPlainDave says:

    Ken, in terms of recent events and in addition to Kinzer’s book already mentioned, I have found the following useful and approachable:
    Ansari, A. (2006). Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Great Crisis in the Middle East. New York: Basic Books.
    Ansari, A. (2008). Iran Under Ahmadinejad. Adelphi Papers, 383 [?]. New York [?]: Routledge.
    Chubin, S. (2002). Wither Iran? Reform Domestic Politics and National Security. Adelphi Papers, 342. New York [?]: Routledge.
    Chubin, S. (2006). Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions. New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
    Fitzpatrick, M. (2006). Assessing Iran’s nuclear programme. Survival, 48(3), 5-26.
    Fitzpatrick, M. (2007). Can Iran’s Nuclear Capability Be Kept Latent? Survival, 49(1), 33-58.
    Nasr, V. (2006). The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam will Shape the Future. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
    Parsi, T. (2007). Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. New Haven: Yale University Press.
    Takeyh, R. (2006). Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic. New York: Times Books.
    Apologies, but some of these references may contain some inaccuracies – I’m at the office and don’t have the relevant volumes to hand and somehow only a few were in my EndNote database.
    Not “dispassionate” exactly, but I have quite a soft spot for:
    Mottahedeh, R. (?) The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran
    I see, looking at Amazon, that it is out in a recent, revised edition, which I will have to buy – though I have great fondness for my beaten up second hand copy. (My thanks to Robert Baer for mentioning it in his bibliography.)

  28. Will says:

    looking at it backwards. Cheney was not able to provoke or persuade Dubya into lauching a war contra the Persicos therefore they possessed a credible detterent power which they could have excercised thru assymetrical warfare.
    Dubya knowing that any Israeli strike would have our address on it, also obstructed Tel Aviv.
    Our civilization ows a great debt to Persia. People don’t realize its breadth and greatness. Our words for Angel, Check (monetary, & otherwise), Rank (military), stan (as in land of), the names of Pakistan, India, and many common words come from Parsi. (The only reason you see is Farsi b/c there was no P in Arabic). Our conceptions of immortality & polarities of Good & Evil were shaped in part by Persian religion, The Romans learned from them the concept of armored cavalry and stirrups- the hard way.
    Parsi was the official language of India during the Moghul Empire and only became to be supplanted by English in the 1840’s. As Dari it is spoken in Afghanistan, and Tajiki in Tajikstan. The Kurdish language is a cognate language.
    Only General Abizaid has come out so far and spoke the truth.
    No big deal if they acquire nukes. We were able to deter the Soviet Union which had tens of thousands of deliverable nukes for decades with deterrence. And the Israelis have us scared shxtless if Irxn acquires the POTENTIAL or KNOWLEDGE to make nukes?
    There are many potential nuke powers that could assemble nukes in a month. Brasil, Italy, Japan, S Korea, Argentia? Holland, Sweden, Canada?
    Why is that? Because it forecloses some of their options. They won’t be able to rampage in the ME like a bull in a china shop at will?

  29. Will says:

    Q&A: “U.S. and Iran
    Share an Equal Monopoly on Violence”
    Omid Memarian interviews former CIA operative ROBERT BAER in IPS

    Fascinating, although he’s full of shxt as far as Dennis Ross

    IPS: Some analysts believe that attacking Hamas in Gaza, two years after the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah, is a part of a bigger plan which will end with attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Is Israel walking this path?
    Robert Baer: No. I think that there is a military veto in attacking Iran. It’s just not possible.
    IPS: Why is that impossible?
    RB: Well, for one thing, we know there will be an Iranian reaction in the Gulf. Iran will not be attacked like Hamas and just respond locally. It will respond internationally. It has no choice. This is their deterrence power. In Iran, it is very important to understand a lot of lessons.
    If you look on the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] website, you see the lessons they learned from the Iran-Iraq War. These wars are wars of attrition; they go on forever. You just can’t win them, especially against the United States. So they have developed secondary asymmetrical warfare ability, guerilla warfare, which is very effective.
    You know some of the best minds in Iran went into the Pasdaran [Revolutionary Guards], and they weren’t necessarily fanatics. In a sense, they were much more nationalists. And in my experience, these people in the Pasdaran, in the operational level, are probably the most capable, intelligent/guerilla force/political thinkers in the Middle East, including Israel and Jordan. And they knew exactly what they were doing. And they do not clearly fit in to any political definitions in Iran.
    IPS: Is the possibility of a limited attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by Israel also out of question? Especially given what we learned in a recent New York Times article that last year, Israeli leaders asked President Bush to carry out such an attack, though the president did not accept.
    RB: Totally out of the question. Even Bush understood this. The New York Times is right when it says that Bush vetoed an Israeli attack, simply because there is a balance of power in the Middle East between the U.S. and Iran, and it’s a fairly even balance of power. I mean not in terms of aircraft tanks or submarines, but in a monopoly of violence, there is equality.
    There is no question there is equality. We could bomb Tehran, but what does that get you? Nothing. It’s sort of like bombing the U.N. compound in Gaza by Israel. What does that give the Israelis? Nothing. Yeah they could destroy it, but what does that give them? Hamas still is going to exist.
    You can bomb all military bases in Iran over a period of two weeks, but Iran is still there – it still has the ability to project power, project its will and maybe even come out of that type of conflict even stronger. And Iran’s power is so economical, the price of oil is not going to make any difference, simply because the idea of arming Hezbollah or supporting Hamas in Damascus is nothing in terms of money. I mean the price of oil could go down to 10 dollars, and it’s still an affordable defence for Iran.

  30. ads says:

    Babak Makkinejad
    Does any one remember the fate [of] Kamazats?
    No, I never finished Madeline L’Engle’s Time trilogy. Or are you referring to Camazotz the Mayan bat god?

  31. curious says:

    P.S. My dad has always told me the reason we have never had a coup in the United States is because there are no U.S. Embassies here. The old guy makes sense.
    Posted by: Jackie Shaw | 28 January 2009 at 07:18 PM
    I thought we just had a neocon junta? (sometimes I wonder if some future operator will figure out imperfection in the system and start running latin america style coup. Probably blackwater-evangelical-defense industry would be the first place somebody look into.)
    classic military training gone outside government control.

  32. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Yes, the planet from L’Engle’s book.

  33. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I agree with Mr. Gardiner. However, I also think that the strategic interest of Russia in having a pricky but independent Iran was discernible since 2000.

  34. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Yes, you are right on that ankle account.

  35. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Green Zone Cafe:
    My observations are about 30 years old – perhaps things have improved in Greece since.
    I have heard that the quality of water can account for the comeliness of the women – the Chinese city of Souchou (sic. ?) was well known for its beauties during the course of Chinese history.

  36. greg0 says:

    Recent Pugwash sponsored US-Iran meetings seem to indicate an emerging engagement process.

  37. castellio says:

    My question on American foreign policy for Iran is this: how can it possibly be in the US interest to have Bibi as Prime Minister of israel, given that he is quite likely to bomb Iran?
    Is the US really going to negate its own options just so the far right can hold sway in Israel?

  38. curious says:

    Oh yeah… Isreal is going to pull a ground operation against Iran. This is going to be messy…
    after Bibi is in.

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