GOP wants better lies from CIA


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

August 24, 2006

Some in G.O.P. Say Iran Threat Is Played Down

WASHINGTON, Aug. 23 ‹ Some senior Bush administration officials and top 
Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not 
issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to 
the United States.

Some policy makers have accused intelligence agencies of playing down Iran¹s 
role in Hezbollah¹s recent attacks against Israel and overestimating the time it
would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

The complaints, expressed privately in recent weeks, surfaced in a Congressional
report about Iran released Wednesday. They echo the tensions that divided the 
administration and the Central Intelligence Agency during the prelude to the war
in Iraq.

The criticisms reflect the views of some officials inside the White House and 
the Pentagon who advocated going to war with Iraq and now are pressing for 
confronting Iran directly over its nuclear program and ties to terrorism, say 
officials with knowledge of the debate.

The dissonance is surfacing just as the intelligence agencies are overhauling 
their procedures to prevent a repeat of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate 
‹ the faulty assessment that in part set the United States on the path to war 
with Iraq.

The new report, from the House Intelligence Committee, led by Representative 
Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, portrayed Iran as a growing threat and 
criticized American spy agencies for cautious assessments about Iran¹s weapons 
programs. ³Intelligence community managers and analysts must provide their best 
analytical judgments about Iranian W.M.D. programs and not shy away from 
provocative conclusions or bury disagreements in consensus assessments,² the 
report said, using the abbreviation for weapons of mass destruction like nuclear

Some policy makers also said they were displeased that American spy agencies 
were playing down intelligence reports ‹ including some from the Israeli 
government ‹ of extensive contacts recently between Hezbollah and members of 
Iran¹s Revolutionary Guard. ³The people in the community are unwilling to make 
judgment calls and don¹t know how to link anything together,² one senior United 
States official said.

³We¹re not in a court of law,² he said. ³When they say there is Œno evidence,¹ 
you have to ask them what they mean, what is the meaning of the term 

The criticisms do not appear to be focused on any particular agency, like the 
C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency or the State Department¹s intelligence 
bureau, which sometimes differ in their views.

Officials from across the government ‹ including from within the Bush 
administration, Congress and American intelligence agencies ‹ spoke for this 
article on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a debate over 
classified intelligence information. Some officials said that given all that had
happened over the last four years, it was only appropriate that the intelligence
agencies took care to avoid going down the same path that led the United States 
to war with Iraq.

³Analysts were burned pretty badly during the run-up to the war in Iraq,² said 
Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who sits on the House 
Intelligence Committee. ³I¹m not surprised that some in the intelligence 
community are a bit gun-shy about appearing to be war mongering.²

Several intelligence officials said that American spy agencies had made 
assessments in recent weeks that despite established ties between Iran and 
Hezbollah and a well-documented history of Iran arming the organization, there 
was no credible evidence to suggest either that Iran ordered the Hezbollah raid 
that touched off the recent fighting or that Iran was directly controlling 
attacks against Israel.

³There are no provable signs of Iranian direction on the ground,² said one 
intelligence official in Washington. ³Nobody should think that Hezbollah is a 
remote-controlled entity.² American military assessments have broadly echoed 
this view, say people who maintain close ties to military intelligence officers.

³Does Iran profit from all of this? Yes,² said Gen. Wayne A. Downing Jr., the 
retired former commander of the Special Operations Command and a White House 
counterterrorism adviser during President Bush¹s first term. ³But is Iran 
pulling the strings? The guys I¹m talking to say, Œno.¹ ²

Many senior Bush administration officials have long been dismissive of the work 
of the intelligence agencies. Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Pentagon 
set up an office led by Douglas J. Feith, the Defense Department¹s third-ranking
civilian official at the time, that sifted through raw intelligence to look for 
links between terrorist networks and governments like Iraq¹s.

In the months before the Iraq war, Vice President Dick Cheney made repeated 
trips to the C.I.A. and asked analysts pointed questions about their conclusions
that Iraq had no direct ties to Al Qaeda. Both the Pentagon office and Mr. 
Cheney¹s visits were roundly criticized, which is why officials said that policy
makers were now being careful about circumventing the intelligence agencies to 
seek alternate analyses.

During his confirmation hearings in May, the director of the C.I.A., Gen. 
Michael V. Hayden, said he had been ³uncomfortable² with the work of the 
Pentagon intelligence office.

The House Intelligence Committee report released Wednesday was written primarily
by Republican staff members on the committee, and privately some Democrats 
criticized the report for using innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions to 
inflate the threat that Iran posed to the United States.

The report¹s cover page shows a picture of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran
speaking at a lectern that bears the message ³The World Without Zionism.²

Page 3 of the report lists several public comments from Mr. Ahmadinejad, 
including his statement, ³The annihilation of the Zionist regime will come. . . 
. Israel must be wiped off the map.²

Earlier this year, the intelligence agencies put new procedures in place to help
avoid the type of analysis that was contained in the 2002 National Intelligence 
Estimate about Iraq and to prevent another ³Curveball² ‹ the code name of the 
Iraqi source who fed the United States faulty intelligence about Iraq¹s 
biological weapons program. ³I think that the intelligence community is being 
appropriately cautious,² said John E. McLaughlin, a former director of central 

³I think that what is going on is that people are holding themselves to a higher
standard of evidence because of Iraq.²

Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, said 
analysts now had much more information about the sources of raw intelligence 
coming from the field.

³Analysts have to know more about the sources than was generally the case before
the Iraq estimate,² Mr. Fingar said.

Analysts also are required to include in their reports more information about 
the chain of logic that led them to their conclusions about sensitive topics 
like Iran, North Korea and global terrorism ‹ ³showing your work,² as Mr. Fingar
put it.

At the same time, Mr. Fingar dismissed the notion that intelligence analysts 
should try merely to connect random intelligence findings. ³As a 40-year 
analyst, I¹m offended by the notion of Œconnecting dots,¹ ¹¹he said. ³If you had
enough monkeys you could do that.²

The consensus of the intelligence agencies is that Iran is still years away from
building a nuclear weapon. Such an assessment angers some in Washington, who say
that it ignores the prospect that Iran could be aided by current nuclear powers 
like North Korea. ³When the intelligence community says Iran is 5 to 10 years 
away from a nuclear weapon, I ask: ŒIf North Korea were to ship them a nuke 
tomorrow, how close would they be then?² said Newt Gingrich, the former 
Republican speaker of the House of Representatives.

³The intelligence community is dedicated to predicting the least dangerous world
possible,² he said.

Some veterans of the intelligence battles that preceded the Iraq war see the 
debate as familiar and are critical of efforts to create hard links based on 
murky intelligence.

³It reflects a certain way of looking at the world ‹ that all evil is traceable 
to the capitals of certain states,² said Paul R. Pillar, who until last October 
oversaw American intelligence assessments about the Middle East. ³And that, in 
my view, is a very incorrect way of interpreting the security challenges we 

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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