The Post recently ran a report in which Obama officials bragged that they have stepped up drone surveillance over Iran and now have the whole thing figured out: “The effort has included ramped-up eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, formation of an Iran task force among satellite-imagery analysts and an expanded network of spies, current and former U.S. officials said. 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.” But is this anything more than spin?
Conservative critics are skeptical. Danielle Pletka is less than impressed. She lists some obvious flaws in the intelligence officials’ assertions of omniscience:
1.) Iran’s most important nuclear facilities — or at least the ones we are aware of — are hardened under about meters and meters of concrete. Drones cannot see through concrete, and even infrared sensors that can detect the heat signature of a cascade (used to create highly enriched uranium) can’t see through that much.
2.) Calls and faxes don’t tell us with certainty what decisions are being made in the highest offices in Iran. At best, they give us an inkling of what may be going on, if we’re lucky.
3.) Our covert ops have been going on for years, and while I have enormous admiration for some with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, I’m also aware of their many screw-ups, failures, lost networks, work with double agents etc. And the Iranians are no slouches at running their own agents and giving us false information.
4.) Six months? For real? First, the Iranians won’t need six months to go for a weapon: Read up here to understand why. Second, what kind of intelligence does Obama think he’s gonna get? A timeline? This is almost comical.
5.) Then there’s the question of Iranian facilities outed by others, including Natanz and the heavy water reactor at Arak. The CIA insists they were aware of those programs all along. I’ll try to be diplomatic here: Let’s just say that the CIA sees a lot more in hindsight than it does in real time.
She also reels off the national security developments we’ve missed including India’s 1998 nuclear tests, Syria’s nuclear program, and North Korea’s uranium enrichment program.”
Former national security advisor Elliott Abrams is even more critical.
In the middle of the [Post’s] 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.
In any event he finds the disclosures, if not cleared for release, would be the sort of “revelations of ‘sources and methods’ of intelligence that might, if unauthorized, be criminal.” So assuming then that this was fully authorized, is there anything more to this than a ham-handed effort to discourage Israel from launching a military strike? Abrams suggest that is precisely what is going on: “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.”
Considering that two informed conservatives without current security clearances can figure this out, won’t the Israelis recognize this is in large part spin? You’d think so. That suggests the leaks are really designed to justify to the American people, who may buy this stuff, why the Obama administration is refusing to consider seriously a military option at this time. More and more foreign policy — like tax or budget policy — is simply an adjunct to the political campaign.