There were two odd intelligence related articles in today’s Washington Post. The first , on the front page, was “Discontented Iranian Officials Provide Wealth of Intelligence.” The article relies on unnamed intelligence sources to claim that the CIA has been receiving so much information from disgruntled Iranians that it has delayed the completion of the next National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Having worked as a CIA case officer against the Iranian target, I am deeply skeptical of the article’s thrust and suspect that the piece is itself disinformation designed to convince the Mullahs that Washington knows just about everything going on inside Iran. The Post and its government contacts might be wanting to induce a panic so the Iranians clamp down hard on their own officials. That said, I do accept that US intelligence might well be receiving a flood of well meaning volunteers, many supporters of the so-called reform movement, who are willing to tell what they know. As I know the US is poorly informed on many critical issues relating to Iran, I believe that the Agency might well be debriefing lots of walk-ins offering information that is more-or-less garbage, nevertheless requiring lots of time and effort to sift through.
The article is anonymously sourced and mentions only one name, that of Sharam Amiri, a nuclear scientist whose defection to the west was revealed last month. It attributes to him discovery of the “long hidden uranium enrichment plant near the city of Qom,” which contradicts some other reports that western intelligence has known about the facility for years based on satellite photography. There is general agreement that Amiri was likely able to confirm that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program, suspended in 2003, but he would have been too young and junior to know what the government’s long term intentions are, so he is no Oleg Penkovsky. Decisions related to pursuing nuclear weapons would be made by a handful of Iran’s senior leaders, a group that is considered inpenetrable from an espionage point of view.
The other article is by the ever slippery David Ignatius, “Leon Panetta Gets the CIA Back on Its Feet,” a song of praise for the job that Leon Panetta is doing as director of CIA. Ignatius, the consummate insider, describes the decor in the DCI’s office and no doubt obtained the information he reports from Panetta himself. He is eager to cement that relationship, so the article is largely a puff piece. At one point, Ignatius opines that the recent appointment of senior analyst Michael Morell as the Agency number two to replace clandestine service officer Stephen Kappes will “give the clandestine service more running room.” It is not possible to understand what that is supposed to mean.