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Intel Community Makes Peace

Secret parallel negotiations with Iran that led up to the recent agreement over that nation’s nuclear program included an unusual and highly interactive role for the intelligence community. Normally the analysts provide a formal report on an issue or development, a report that is frequently codified into a National Intelligence Estimate, if there is time to do so, before going to policymakers. But barring receipt of new information that dramatically alters conclusions, which would be hand-delivered in timely updates, that is where the intelligence community role ends. There is good reason for the bureaucratic firewall as policy is distinct from intelligence and should not necessarily be driven by it, particularly as clandestinely obtained information is frequently speculative. The intelligence community historically prefers not be involved in policy, and most policymakers agree that mixing the two would be a bad idea.

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But this was different. Negotiations in Oman under the aegis of Sultan Qaboos were backed up by an intelligence team working under the auspices of the National Security Council. An elaborate series of tabletop “war games” using competing teams representing the Iranians and Americans were set up to test the various options that were being floated by the Iranians and the counterproposals being put forward by American negotiators. For example, scenarios were tested and projections made based on Iranian capabilities for speeding up enrichment, the viability of using existing stores of enriched uranium for weapons purposes, and the effect on potential weaponization of permitting various enrichment levels. The U.S. negotiators were able to calibrate the extent to which limitations on Iranian enrichment would retard the possible development of a nuclear weapon, concluding that the goal would be to make weaponization a distant objective at best while simultaneously creating an inspections regime that would give ample warning of any deviation from the agreement. The U.S. intelligence teams, in line with their previous estimates of Iranian capabilities, demonstrated that Iran is at least five years away from a viable nuclear weapon and even farther away from a delivery system even if such programs were fully funded, supported politically, and not subject to sabotage. Any slowdown of enrichment activity through multilateral agreements coupled with more aggressive monitoring would push that timetable even further back.

The intelligence officers also noted, somewhat wryly, that a number of red herrings were being floated by the administration to make it appear that the Geneva negotiations were encountering problems, regularly describing the talks in public utterances as “difficult” in spite of the fact that there has been general agreement on nearly all points for several weeks. This was done, they believed, to preempt domestic opposition to a deal with Iran and to pacify critics in congress. The tactic worked, and it appears that it is being used again: witness press leaks suggesting that the administration is by no means confident that a final agreement can be reached in six months’ time. The analysts are convinced that the White House fully intends to achieve a permanent and comprehensive settlement, which it believes will defuse many other tensions in the region and will ultimately be good for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Emirates as well as for the United States.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Intel Community Makes Peace"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 17, 2014 @ 6:36 am

I think is troubling more than anything else about todays departments is that they seem to be operating on their own auspices.

Perhaps, the hit the CIA took about Iraq has made the organization bolder.

But as I watch the government, the weakness of the wh looms large.

#2 Comment By Kurt Gayle On January 17, 2014 @ 6:48 am

Philip Giraldi wrote:

“The U.S. intelligence teams, in line with their previous estimates of Iranian capabilities, demonstrated that Iran is at least five years away from a viable nuclear weapon and even farther away from a delivery system even if such programs were fully funded, supported politically, and not subject to sabotage. Any slowdown of enrichment activity through multilateral agreements coupled with more aggressive monitoring would push that timetable even further back.”

Thus, logically, a P5 + 1 nuclear agreement with Iran should be completed within 6 months, if it isn’t derailed in one of two — or both of the following ways: (1) The Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill (2) a false-flag terrorist incident engineered by Israeli or Saudi teams and blamed on Iran.

#3 Comment By balconesfault On January 17, 2014 @ 10:24 am

@EliteCommInc as I watch the government, the weakness of the wh looms large

Sure. Keep saying that.

OTOH, if in January 2009 someone had said that by the middle of Obama’s second term, we’d have our troops completely out of Iraq, we’d be down to Special Forces, counterterrorism forces, and military training personnel in Afghanistan, we’d have gotten Russia to take over dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, we’d have scrapped Bush’s deployment of a missile defense shield to Poland and the Czech Republic, the crazies in North Korea are looking more like China’s problem than the US’s, we’d have a new START treaty with Russia achieving a 30% reduction in nuclear arsenals, leaders who carried out successful terrorist strikes against American interests – Moammar Gadhafi and Bin Laden – would both be gone from the scene, and the US managed to accomplish all these things without putting ground troops into any new countries … I think the response would have been that this was way too ambitious a wish list.

#4 Comment By STJ On January 17, 2014 @ 3:13 pm

@Philip Giraldi
This is a fascinating article since I just finished a course in May on the US Intelligence Community. That said, I’m not sure how they are making policy through wargaming. It seems to me that they are merely tasked with evaluating the effects of various policy proposals on Iran rather than proposing policy. Am I missing something?

#5 Comment By Philip Giraldi On January 18, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

STJ – They were involved in the policy making process. though admittedly their role consisted of testing various scenarios rather than sitting down and making suggestions for positions that the US might take.

#6 Comment By James Canning On January 18, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

Interesting report. Bravo.

#7 Comment By Charlieford On January 18, 2014 @ 4:58 pm

Nice observation, there, balconesfault.

#8 Comment By WorkingClass On January 19, 2014 @ 11:51 am

“The U.S. intelligence teams, in line with their previous estimates of Iranian capabilities, demonstrated that Iran is at least five years away from a viable nuclear weapon and even farther away from a delivery system even if such programs were fully funded, supported politically, and not subject to sabotage.”

It’s a pity this info has not be made available to Bibi or his whores in the U.S. congress. Or could it be that the “nuclear issue” is not the true driving force behind the rush to war with Iran?

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 19, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

If we have learned nothing from the use of intelligence it should be that it requires a kind hands off — the info is what it is — not what I want it to be.

The current admin. not only has issues managing their departments — secret spies in the EPA, no longer working to agency — but getting a salary — it has a serious problem with lying — “your current insurance won’t be cancelled”, “you can keep your old plan” —

Across the board this admin’s ability to be forthright, above board, accurate, take ownership of its choices —

key signatures of a weak leadership whether it’s the executive or the vice executive, Attorney general, EPA, Health and Human resources, dept of education, sec of state, IRS, FBI, Seals, CIA, etc.

Whatever laundry list you want to tout . . .

#10 Comment By James Canning On January 19, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

Ithink Obama in fact does want a P5+1 deal with Iran, and improved American relations with Iran.

#11 Comment By Marc L. On January 19, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

@STJ and Philip Giraldi – Have you listened to Professor Stephen Walt’s lecture concerning the issue of Washington’s lack of Accountability and what’s wrong with the US Foreign Policy Think-Tank community as a whole? If not, you should:

“Stephen Walt at William & Mary’s IR Institute” (youtube)

Keep up the great work, Mr. Giraldi!!!

#12 Comment By James On January 20, 2014 @ 7:50 am

Very interesting and informative article. As I said repeatedly, there are elements in the US intelligence community that have not been corrupted by you know who. Elements that would put the US interest first, score one for them as I am sure all agree that such an agreement would have never been reached if others, more radical people were involved. If the current congress new, it would have tried to kill it.

As for Israel and the gulf states, the way they are structured now this will bode very bad for them as they have to change their ways. Iran is here to stay and we must find a way to coexist.