U.S. intelligences needs lessons from Godfather

By Freedom Newspapers

Some Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee have released a 29-page staff report lambasting the “intelligence community” for not issuing more explicit warnings about the threat Iran poses to the United States. However true it is that intelligence agencies are downplaying the Iranian threat, one criticism the report gets right is that the United States simply knows too little about what’s going on in Iran.

As pressure builds to do something about Iran’s nuclear program, the report says, “Intelligence community managers and analysts must provide their best analytical judgments about Iranian WMD programs and not shy away from provocative conclusions or bury disagreements in consensus assessments.”

In short, these congressional staffers seem upset that the official intelligence community is not sufficiently alarmist about the Iranian threat. It’s ironic that there would be a call for intelligence agencies to magnify the threat. You would think some of the lessons of the buildup to the Iraq war would have been absorbed a little better.

You remember similar controversies about the extent to which Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the decision was made to invade that country. Then-CIA Director George Tenet, even though the intelligence community was divided on the issue, told President Bush that it was a “slam dunk” that Saddam Hussein had WMD and an active program to produce more. Subsequent extensive and expensive investigations showed that he didn’t.

You might think people burned by the Iraq experience would be a little cautious about calling for threat assessments that could turn out to be a bit exaggerated. But apparently it’s difficult to learn from history, especially recent history.

Whether the threat from Iran is as dire as intelligence committee staffers think or somewhat less overwhelming, it is unquestionably true that U.S. intelligence resources on Iran are notably thin. The best way to begin improving them, however, would be to recognize Iran, even implicitly, re-establish diplomatic relations, and get more people on the ground inside the country.

In classical international-relations theory, diplomatic recognition is simply an acknowledgment that for good or ill a certain regime controls a certain piece of territory. Too often, however, Americans view it as something of a seal of approval, to be withdrawn if our disapproval of a given regime is especially deep.

One result of doing that, however, is that we end up knowing too little about the regimes on which we should be keeping the closest tabs. The Godfather advised keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. The United States could stand to listen to such advice.