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Anti-aircraft guns guarding Natanz Nuclear Facility, Iran, June 22, 2006
Saturday’s Washington Post brought us another salvo in the Obama administration information wars against… Israel. Yes, the article was entitled “U.S. intelligence gains in Iran seen as boost to confidence,” but the article is intended to convey Obama’s certainty that he will know — let’s underscore that: know – with ample warning once Iranian leaders make the decision to go for the bomb. “There is confidence that we would see activity indicating that a decision had been made,” a “senior U.S. official involved in high-level discussions about Iran policy” tells the Post. “Across the board, our access has been significantly improved.” And so Obama will have lots of time to think about what to do once he knows Iran is determined to build itself a nuclear weapon aaaaaaaaaaaand as a result, Israel should not strike Iran until, you know, after the U.S. election.
Let’s disassemble the main points of the piece:
1.) We’re using a lot of drones. Drones, in case anyone has been living under a big rock, fly high in the sky and take pictures. So we’ve got the view from 50,000 feet.
2.) We’re listening to a lot of calls and reading a lot of faxes. So if any decisions are being made in writing, we’ve got some of that covered.
3.) We’re running covert ops and human intelligence and investing a lot of money in them both.
4.) “Even in the absolute worst case — six months — there is time for the president to have options,” the same “senior U.S. official” tells the Post.
Now let’s review the facts:
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.
6.) Finally, let’s review things that were missed by Washington’s vaunted intelligence community:
• India’s 1998 nuclear tests.
• AQ Khan’s international nuclear sales.
• Syria’s nuclear program
• Iraq’s 1980s nuclear program (the program was a known issue, but its advance was a total mystery to the IC).
• North Korea’s uranium enrichment program.
• The Iranian Islamic Revolution
• The Arab Spring
Suffice it to say, I could go on.
There are arguments to be made as to why an Israeli strike now on Iran’s nuclear program would be ill conceived. There are even arguments to be made for a containment regime. I may not agree with those arguments, but they represent a point of view grounded in an honest assessment of reality. The Post piece, and the administration that leaked it with dishonesty aforethought, purvey an argument based on falsehoods, with motives grounded purely in politics. Again.
There are arguments to be made as to why an Israeli strike now on Iran’s nuclear program would be ill conceived. There are even arguments to be made for a containment regime. I may not agree with those arguments, but they represent a point of view grounded in an honest assessment of reality.
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