Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How Good Is Our Intelligence on Iran?

"Make him an offer he can't refuse!"

@MaxBoot04.10.2012 - 10:00 AM

I join my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams and my Contentions colleague Jonathan Tobin in expressing reservations about whether the U.S. government really has the degree of insight into Iran’s nuclear program claimed in carefully orchestrated leaks such as this Washington Post article which brags about how stealthy CIA drones have penetrated deep into Iranian air space.
There is, I fear, not only political spin at work here (the administration wants to showcase U.S. intelligence capabilities to ward off an Israeli strike) but also deep-seated hubris on the part of the intelligence community. Perhaps the CIA has high-level assets within the Iranian government who for understandable reasons go unmentioned in the Washington Post article; but if we are indeed primarily reliant on signals intelligence and aerial surveillance, as the article implies, then we may be in for a nasty shock.
Indeed, we have experienced such surprises many times before–for instance, the U.S. intelligence community was caught off guard by the Pakistani nuclear test in 1998 and the North Korean test in 2006–and this at a time when U.S. intelligence capabilities were nearly as advanced as they are today. The reality is that our enemies are aware of many of our high-tech spying techniques (e.g. a stealth drone crashed in Iran) and know how to cloak their activities to prevent the full shape of their efforts from becoming clear.
I would be a lot more convinced by accounts such as the one in the Post if the anonymous intelligence officials quoted therein expressed some degree of humility about their ability to penetrate the deepest recesses of a closed political and military system such as Iran. The fact that they come across as being so utterly confident in their judgments makes them paradoxically less trustworthy: They are failing to question their assumptions just as they failed to question their assumptions about Iraq’s WMD program prior to the U.S. invasion.
Bee's Note:  Speaking of that stealth drone crash in Iran, we finally have an answer as to why it did not self-destruct after its crash landing.  However, the answer is not going to make many folks happy!  Danger Room reported April 9th from a story in The Washington Post: 
"Reportedly John Michael McConnell, Director of National Intelligence from 2007 to 2009, and other senior officials wanted self-destruct gear installed on the Sentinels flying over Iran. “But the CIA’s engineering team balked, saying it would add too much weight to the delicately balanced frame,” the Postreports."
There you have it folks - mystery solved!  The "CIA's engineering team" thought the self-destruct gear would add "too much weight" and there's your answer for Iran having a completely in tact U.S. drone; sharing our intelligence with China and other countries. Oh, but according to this same report from Danger Room, the "stealth drone capture didn't hurt U.S. Nuke spying".

RQ-170 captured by Iran. Photo via David CenciottiI have my reservations too!  Reservations about removing the self-destruct gear from Drones; that it "didn't hurt U.S. Nuke spying; and especially, that our intelligence has been "capable of determining any insight into Iran's nuclear program".  Personally, I don't think anyone in intelligence would be so foolish as to NOT have self-destruct  mechanisms  included on Drones, planes, or any multii-million dollar military equipment.  Don't you think it is far more dangerous and costly for our enemies to have control of our high-tech equipment?  If (and that is a big "if") the CIA engineers were allowed to remove or uninstall self-destruct gear, those engineers should be fired for putting the United States security in jeopardy.