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Smoke and Mirrors from the Washington Post

There were two odd intelligence related articles in today’s Washington Post.  The first [1], 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 [2]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.

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#1 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On April 25, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

If the Iranians are smart they will have salted this exodus with disinformation assets. As “exiles from the Mullahs,” we will tend to welcome them. On the other hand, should we try this tactic in reverse, the Iranians would never accept anything our exiles told them at anything like face value.

#2 Comment By TomB On April 25, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

Phil:

While one can grant that, with its lack of sourcing and vagueness, the first Post piece smells somewhat like a journalistic make-work assignment (“we haven’t had a CIA piece in awhile; someone go and find out the latest buzz, accurate or not!”), and the Ignatius article is just him doing his name-dropping routine, might they still not be interesting for what they not only don’t say but don’t even hint at? Sort of like Sherlock Holmes’ dog in the night not barking?

That is, for all the continued talk about Iranian nukes by Obama and etc., and of sanctions and etc., there’s still not a whisper that anything’s come over the transom contradicting the last NIE saying that Iran has no such present program, right? So even given the wispiness of these two Post pieces doesn’t their similar lack of mention of anything like that still make them real suggestive?

Seems to me it’s a helluva thing that the U.S. has gotten what support it has for Iranian sanctions given that past NIE, but that it’s only been accomplished by a kind of odd, sotto voce ditching of that NIE down the memory hole by Obama and others. Almost like some de facto repeal of it. So anyway is gonna be interesting with this future NIE given I at least haven’t heard squat to indicate that our pros have changed their mind from the old one and no startling new contradicting evidence has come forth.

… If, that is, a new one is even allowed out. E.g., if Obama and Co. aren’t going to just want the present situation to stay the same even despite that past NIE rather than have a brand new one come out and just drive home the point that officially U.S. Intell does *not* think Iran has the kind of program we are threatening war over.

In any event, seems to me the longer I hear no dog barking here the more and more trouble it seems to me the wanna-be Iran bashers are in, and not vice-versa, no?

#3 Comment By Philip Giraldi On April 26, 2010 @ 5:41 am

Tom M, I would imagine that a considerable number of the new sources are plants designed to assess our walk-in procedures and to spread disinformation. You are quite right that we tend to welcome them with open arms because we are desperate for “intelligence” while in a reverse situation the Iranians would be too wary to go for the bait. Cultural traits probably explain a lot of it.

Tom B, I agree with you completely and will, in fact have a Deep Background in the next issue of TAC that takes the same line. The real story is that there just is no evidence to support the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program but the White House would like to see a new NIE that gives it “all options on the table” even though I doubt if it seriously wants to go to war. You are quite right that the new NIE might never appear. It has already been delayed twice and if it does not say what Obama wants it will probably just fade away.

#4 Comment By Paul On April 26, 2010 @ 9:52 am

If any of the defectors, including nuclear scientists, had produced any solid evidence of a bomb program, you can guarantee that we’d have heard about it, so keen are people to convince us of the danger. Thus, it follows that none of them have. At this point, the absence of evidence does indeed become evidence of absence.

#5 Comment By Jeff On April 27, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

Today Americans are ruled by propaganda. Americans have little regard for truth, little access to it, and little ability to recognize it.

Truth is an unwelcome entity. It is disturbing. It is off limits. Those who speak it run the risk of being branded “anti-American,” “anti-Semite” or “conspiracy theorist.”

Truth is an inconvenience for government and for the interest groups whose campaign contributions control government. The American media does not serve the truth. It serves the government and the interest groups that empower the government.

#6 Comment By idiots On May 9, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

american intelligence = oxymoron