The politicization of intelligence by the Obama administration continues apace.
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 mission….
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 outside Iran.”
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?