Spy vs. Spy on Iran’s Nukes


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

The current disagreement between our intelligence agencies and those of our allies regarding Iran’s nuclear program reveals the debased state of our $75-billion- a-year intel system.

The Germans, French, Israelis and now the Brits agree that Iran has an active nuclear-weapons program, differing only as to how swiftly Tehran can field warheads.

The US intel community’s holding out. It’s worried about political risks. A reassessment’s supposedly under way, but we’re clinging to our comforting conclusion that Iran gave up on designing nuclear weapons in 2003.

Mounting evidence to the contrary hasn’t made a dent. Not only is the intel community fearful of another Iraq-style weapons-of-mass-destruction mess, but the White House has made it clear that it doesn’t want more bad news.

Allied heads of state, from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Israel’s Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu, have been fuming at Washington’s refusal to look at the facts unearthed by their spy agencies. Our president prefers to trust UN inspectors and to “engage” the Iranians.

The Obama administration’s reluctance to get serious about Iran is a repetition of the Clinton crowd’s determination to play down Islamist terrorism and hope it would magically go away. Taking their cue, the intel agencies minimized the terror threat. And we got 9/11.

Our intelligence agencies don’t consciously tailor intel to please their political masters — but the mood along the Potomac inevitably insinuates itself into the much-edited analysis that makes it into the president’s daily briefing.

And there are much deeper problems beneath the blight of the present political atmosphere.

Battered by politicized criticism and with CIA agents threatened with prosecution for keeping our country safe, the agencies have gone into what the Army calls “full hull defilade”: They’re just ducking the bullets, rather than fighting.

The result isn’t an inept system, but one that’s far less than the sum of its $75 billion-per-year parts. Our intel system’s a bureaucracy, and it does well what all bureaucracies do well: It produces solid routine products that don’t require risk or imagination.

If you want to know how many Russian warships are rusting dockside or how many Chinese aircraft sit on the flight-line on Hainan Island, our section chiefs can tell you. And they’re very good at explaining why something happened.

But the fundamental reason for having an intel system is to recognize what’s going to happen before you get blindsided. That’s where we fall down.

Deciphering Iranian intentions isn’t just too hard — it’s too dicey for ambitious senior managers. Forecasting the actions of our enemies, immediate and potential, runs the greatest risk not only of getting it wrong but — worse to any careerist — of sounding wacky.

If a top-of-the-game analyst had walked into his boss’s office on Sept. 10, 2001, and warned that a few low-budget Arab terrorists soon would stage a complex aerial ballet that would slaughter thousands of Americans, ravage landmarks and set our country on the path to multiple wars, he would’ve been told to go home and get some rest.

The future is full of surprises that sound logical in retrospect, but crazy if outlined in advance (who, in 2001, would have believed we’d still be in Afghanistan in 2009?). So cutting-edge analysis and the rare analysts who can perform it get shunted aside by a system wary of disturbing the peace.

Thus we have a bizarre, destructive situation at the Defense Intelligence Agency in which analysts have to footnote their work so that, if it’s briefed and then questioned, the process can be defended and management’s collective backside covered.

But you can’t footnote the future. Superb analysis is the product of talent, seasoning and moral courage. By demanding documentation of developments that haven’t yet occurred, we cripple analysis and neglect the country’s security. (This is the stuff of the greatest Monty Python skit never written.)

Our current disagreement with our allies over Iran isn’t just about how data should be interpreted. It’s about bureaucrats playing it safe and a system that relies on technology, while still neglecting the human side of intelligence.

But machines are clean, and humans are messy. No mid-level manager ever missed his promotion because of a satellite image.

We’ve gutted, neutered and sterilized our intelligence system for 3½ decades, and we’re paying the price. Tactical and operational intelligence has improved dramatically under the demands of war, but our strategic intelligence effort remains pathetic. If the satellites don’t show it, we don’t know it.

Our allies are worried about Iranian nukes. Washington’s worried about careers.

The inevitable result? You’ll hear the words “intelligence failure” again. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters new novel, “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. He is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His most recent book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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