Summary: In this post I look at the report released by the House Intelligence Committee. It serves two purposes, in my opinion: To present the first "case" against Iran, under the guise of calling for better intelligence on Iran. And to suggest that, since we don't have good intelligence on Iran, we can't negotiate with them, because we'd have no way of verifying any agreement.
I've been pondering two questions of late. First, why did the Neocons move Fred Fleitz to a staff position on the House Intelligence Committee. And second, how they hell do they plan to lie us into war in Iran when, this time, the public and the intelligence community have their guard up?
Fred Fleitz, as you'll recall, was the guy John Bolton hand-picked to serve as his enforcer while Bolton was at State. He was instrumental in end-running the State Department's INR, by insisting that WINPAC do the vetting that INR normally would have; as a result, he made it possible for Bolton to say all manner of inflammatory things that the intelligence community didn't back. Fleitz was also involved in Bolton's attempt to get those who didn't back his hawkish views fired. There were accusations that Fleitz and Bolton's other minions were breaking the rules regarding Secure Compartmentalized Intelligence (that is, they were circulating super-secret documents in ways they shouldn't have), with who knows what aim. And Fleitz is an odds-on favorite to the be the source of Valerie Plame's NOC identity for Dick and his minions when they outed Plame's identity. Fleitz was moved to the House Intelligence Committee back in the spring, and I've wondered ever since whether it meant he was cooperating with Fitzgerald (and therefore needed a different job) or whether they had designs to bulldoze crappy intelligence through the House Intelligence Committee. It appears the latter is the correct guess (big surprise).
You see, the House Intelligence Committee just published a report on the gaps in our intelligence about Iran. And TNH commenter Jeff pointed me to this Dafna Linzer article (can I just say how much I love Linzer?), where she reveals Fred Fleitz is the primary author of the report.
The 29-page report, principally written by a Republican staff member on the House intelligence committee who holds a hard-line view on Iran, fully backs the White House position that the Islamic republic is moving forward with a nuclear weapons program and that it poses a significant danger to the United States. But it chides the intelligence community for not providing enough direct evidence to support that assertion.
Jamal Ware, spokesman for the House intelligence committee, said three staff members wrote the report, but he did not dispute that the principal author was Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA officer who had been a special assistant to John R. Bolton, the administration's former point man on Iran at the State Department. Bolton had been highly influential in the crafting of a tough policy that rejected talks with Tehran.
Basically, the report appears to be the first salvo in a fall campaign to justify a war against Iran (with Andy Card gone, they've perhaps forgotten that you don't introduce a new "product" in August). Only this time, they're not just presenting us with shitty intelligence and telling us we have to go to war (though the report does serve that purpose too). They're also saying, "the intelligence is shitty, so we cannot negotiate and therefore have to go to war."
The report exactly mirrors the argument they made to go to war in Iraq, listing (in the same order) desire to acquire nuclear weapons, a probable chemical weapons program, a probable biological weapons program, ballistic missiles, and funding for terrorists. It then goes on to make the very same predictions about what a nuclear-armed Iran would mean that they made about Iraq: it'd embolden Iran's leadership, it'd make it more likely to use force, and it'd exacerbate regional tensions. True to the rules of WMD Porn, it lists the number of bombs Iran could make if it enriched the material it currently has ... if it had the technology (which it doesn't). The only new accusation, in justifying Middle East Clusterfuck 2.0, is that Iran is involved in the insurgency in Middle East Clusterfuck 1.0.
But listing those accusations (and Ahmadenijad's more inflammatory writings, one of which is a mistranslation), is not the only point. The point is also, I think, to present some real back-assward logic to argue that we can't negotiate with Iran, because we don't have the intelligence to do so. No, I don't mean Bolton doesn't have the temperament to negotiate his way out of a paper bag!! I mean, Fleitz is saying, since we don't know what Iran is doing, we
have to bomb the hell out of them cannot negotiate with them. This report is a response to Iran's offer to negotiate, and attempts to prove that such negotiations would be fruitless.
Iran's August 22, 2006 letter expressing its willingness to enter into "serious negotiations" on its nuclear program presents significant challenges for U.S. policymakers who must assess Iranian intentions, the likelihood that it would abide by a new diplomatic agreement, and whether Iran would exploit a new agreement to advance its nuclear weapons program. The U.S. Intelligence Community will play an important role in helping policymakers evaluate these questions. U.S. intelligence agencies will have to devote resources to verify adherence to whatever result negotiations might produce – Iran’s compliance with any agreement that may be reached, or the international community’s compliance with any new trade sanctions the international community may place on Iran should efforts to use negotiations to resolve the crisis fail.
One more point about the report. It relies on open source intelligence (there will be a classified appendix to follow). While the rationale for doing so is simply to protect classified information, by relying on open source intelligence, the report can include unfounded Rummy claims like this:
Similarly, without claiming that the Iranian regime actively provides assistance, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld stated as early as April 2002 that “there is no question but that al-Qaeda have moved into and found sanctuary in Iran. And there is no question but that al-Qaeda has moved into Iran and out of Iran to the south and dispersed to some other
I need to go back and see how many of the other "open source" claims the report recycles are really intelligence laundered by the Neocons (I think there is at least one, and maybe several, examples of it). By presenting open source claims, they avoid all vetting of intelligence. A nice strategy, if you can pull it off.
Of course, this wouldn't be a Neocon propaganda piece if it didn't include at least a few bogus claims.
The IAEA has discovered documentation in Iran for casting and machining enriched
uranium hemispheres, which are directly relevant to production of nuclear weapons
components. The IAEA is also pursuing information on nuclear-related high-explosive
tests and the design of a delivery system, both of which point to a military rather than
peaceful purpose of the Iranian nuclear program.
I need to come back to examine this claim. The enriched uranium hemisphere claims trouble me, first of all, because INC nutcase Khidir Hamza produced a document on enriched uranium hemisphere, forged with Iran's help, in 1995. Given our trouble with forgeries in the past, are we recycling forgeries?
But the real stinker is the claim that Iran is working on the design of a delivery system. The US has made that claim in the past, based on Iranian improvements to its Shahab-3 missile; but the improvements would only be relevant for a country that had developed a nice tidy like nuke. Since Iran hasn't even developed a nuclear bomb yet, it's questionable that improvements in its missile program (which make their missiles less able to carry a nuclear warhead) relate to nukes.
In a particularly Boltonian paragraph, Fleitz' report argues that, because the IAEA isn't buying the US' tired old Denial and Deception arguments (in which the absence of proof itself serves for proof), it cannot be trusted.
While not an instance of Iranian perfidy, the spring 2006 decision by IAEA Director General ElBaradei to remove Mr. Christopher Charlier, the chief IAEA Iran inspector, for allegedly raising concerns about Iranian deception regarding its nuclear program and concluding that the purpose of Iran's nuclear program is to construct weapons, should give U.S. policymakers great pause. The United States has entrusted the IAEA with providing a truly objective assessment of Iran's nuclear program. IAEA officials should not hesitate to conclude that the purpose of Iranian nuclear program is to produce weapons if that is where the evidence leads. If Mr. Charlier was removed for not adhering to an unstated IAEA policy barring IAEA officials from telling the whole truth about the Iranian nuclear program, the United States and the international community have a serious problem on their hands.
Bolton, of course, loves to fire people. Loves loves loves to fire people--Christian Westermann, Rex Ryu, Fulton Armstrong, Jose Bustani, Mohammed el Baradei himself, Bolton tried (with varying degrees of success), to get them all fired. So it must irk his strongman to have one of theirs removed, because he's jumping to conclusions using their favorite Orwellian tool, the old Denial and Deception ruse.
The Orwellian language steps up a notch when the report explains that we need to be worried because Iran has refrained from exerting its influence in Iraq.
Some Iranian assistance to Iraqi insurgents already has been provided. However, through its terrorist proxies, intelligence service, Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and other tools of power projection and influence, Iran could at any time significantly ramp up its sponsorship of violent attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East if it believed doing so would keep the United States distracted or would otherwise be in Iran’s national interest. Iran's support of the June 25, 1996 truck bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, a terrorist act that killed 19 U.S. Servicemen and wounded 500, demonstrated that Tehran is willing to organize attacks on U.S.personnel.
It continues to describe Iranian influence with Shiite groups--many of the same Shiite groups the US celebrated as exiles and supported, based on the leadership Iran helped them assert, to rule the country. The report several times raises the allegation that Iran provided Iraqi insurgents IEDs--while finally quickstepping around the fact that Peter Pace refuted the claim.
In a March 13 speech, President Bush stated that “coalition forces have seized IEDs and components that were clearly produced in Iran” and that “some of the most powerful IED's we're seeing in Iraq today include components that came from Iran.” DNI Negroponte echoed the president’s remarks when he told Congress in February 2006 that:
"Iran provides guidance and training to select Iraqi Shia political groups and weapons and training to Shia militant groups to enable anti-Coalition attacks. Tehran has been responsible for at least some of the increasing lethality of anti-Coalition attacks by providing Shia militants with the capability to build IEDs with explosively formed projectiles similar to those developed by Iran and Lebanese Hizballah."
While there appears to be clear evidence that Iraqi insurgent groups receive assistance from entities in Iran, however, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace asserted that he has seen no evidence Iran's government is the driving force behind such activity.
All of which raises the question--why didn't you brilliant thinkers consider this before you invaded Iraq? The whole claim leveled against Iranian influence is important primarily because we've got thousands of troops sitting like ducks in Iraq, with supply lines reaching right through the Shiite south. But don't you think this is a better argument for caution--look what quagmires you get in when you don't consider the consequences--than one for launching the next war?
What Goes Unsaid
But what I'm most interesting in is what Fleitz doesn't say.
- The outing of Valerie Plame is one cause for the gaps
The report complains that:
A special concern is major gaps in our knowledge of Iranian nuclear, biological, and chemical programs.
Of course, we know Valerie Plame was working on precisely those gaps when Fleitz' buddies, with the possible assistance of Fleitz himself, decided to ruin her career on a lark.
- The key to Iran's proliferation is Pakistan
The report mentions Pakistan several times. It discusses the more efficient P-2 centrifuge plans Iran acquired from AQ Khan. But it doesn't consider that the source of the problem--and the source of any potential Iranian nuclear threat, is our ally.
- The stated goal of the US is regime change
The report makes several assertions--claiming, for example, that it is nonsensical for Iran to develop a peaceful nuclear program covertly--without admitting the effect that US intentions on regime change would have on Iran's behavior. Once the US says it is intent on overturning your regime, you have a reason to hide all manner of program, for fear it will be a casus belli for the US.
Anyway, as I said, I'll come back and fisk this after I get through tomorrow's deadline, this weekend's Convention, and Tuesday's deadline. For now, though, it's worth knowing why Fred Fleitz got planted in the House Intelligence Committee.
Update: Matt Yglesias, subbing at TPM, asks a really good question.
Thanks to a reader's observation, I find myself reading the House Intel report (PDF) on Iran and wondering why the missile range graphic shows the missiles being fired from Kuwait rather than, say, Iran. Note also that the outer circles describes the range of a missile that doesn't exist.
Here's the graphic.
The Shahab-3 is the missile they've been testing (which is the basis for their claim Iran is working on delivery vehicles for their nukes). The Shahab-4--the ring that encompasses India and Europe--is the one that doesn't exist. It appears that, only by moving Iran's launching site into Kuwait do they reach all of Israel.