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Seeking Iran Intelligence, U.S. Tries Google

A senior administration official acknowledged that the back-and-forth with the CIA had been difficult, especially given the administration's desire to isolate Iran and avoid a repeat of flawed intelligence that preceded the Iraq war.

"In this instance, we were the requesters and the CIA was the clearer," the official said. "It's the process we go through on a lot of these things. Both sides don't know a lot of reasons for why either side is requesting or denying things. Sources and methods became their stated rationale and that is what they do. But for policymaking, it can be quite frustrating."

Washington's credibility in the U.N. Security Council on weapons intelligence was sharply eroded by the collapse of prewar claims about Iraq. A senior intelligence official said the intelligence community is determined to avoid mistakes of the past when dealing with Iran and other issues. "Once you push intelligence out there, you can't take it back," the official said.

U.S., French and British officials came to agree that it was better to stay away from names that would have to be justified with sensitive information from intelligence programs, and instead put forward names of Iranians whose jobs were publicly connected to the country's nuclear energy and missile programs. European officials said their governments did not rely on Google searches but came up with nearly identical lists to the one U.S. officials offered.

"We do have concerns about Iranian activities that are overt, and uranium enrichment is a case in point," said a senior administration official who agreed to discuss the process on the condition of anonymity. "We are concerned about what it means for the program, but also because enrichment is in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution."

The U.S.-backed draft resolution, formally offered by Britain and France, would impose a travel ban and freeze the assets of 11 institutions and 12 individuals, including the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the directors of Iran's chief nuclear energy facilities, and several people involved in the missile program. It would prohibit the sale of nuclear technologies to Iran and urges states to "prevent specialised teaching or training" of Iranian nationals in disciplines that could further Tehran's understanding of banned nuclear activities.

The text says the council will be prepared to lift the sanctions if Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA's director general, concludes within 60 days that Iran has suspended its enrichment and reprocessing of uranium and has halted efforts to produce a heavy-water nuclear energy reactor.

Many Security Council members are uneasy about the sanctions. The Russians and the Chinese -- whose support is essential for the resolution to be approved -- have told the United States, Britain and France they will not support the travel-ban element of the resolution, according to three officials involved in the negotiations. Russia is building a light-water nuclear reactor in Iran and some people on the sanctions list are connected to the project.

"The Russians have already told us it would be demeaning for people to ask the Security Council for permission to travel to Russia to discuss an ongoing project," a European diplomat said yesterday.

U.S. and European officials said there is room for negotiation with Russia on the names and organizations, but they also said it is possible that by the time the Security Council approves the resolution, the entire list could be removed.

"The real scope of debate will be on the number of sanctions," one diplomat said. "Companies and individuals could go off the list or go on."

Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.


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