December 10, 2007

Hoodwinkers and Their Codependents: In Search of Intelligent Intelligence on Iran

Hatched by Dafydd

British intelligence evidently reads Big Lizards; the first paragraph of this Telegraph story says it all:

British spy chiefs have grave doubts that Iran has mothballed its nuclear weapons programme, as a US intelligence report claimed last week, and believe the CIA has been hoodwinked by Teheran.

In our first post (six days ago) on the subject of the New! Revised! National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Nothing to See Here, Folks... Time to Just Move On!, we suggested the possibilty that the "new evidence" upon which the National Intelligence Council cobbled up its new NIE could have been part of a "disinformation campaign" by the Iranians:

[Washington Times reporters Jon Ward and Bill] Gertz's story offers some support for the central Timmerman allegation, in the form of a non-denial from intelligence officials:

Senior U.S. intelligence officials who briefed reporters on the Iran nuclear estimate said it is "plausible, but not likely" that Iran's suspension is part of a "strategic deception" operation, because of continued Iranian government "denial and deception" efforts.

"We do not know if Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons but assess with moderate to high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons," said one official involved in drafting the more-than-140-page document.

So even the officials involved in producing and briefing the NIE agree that it's at least "plausible" that the supposed suspension is a "deliberate disinformation campaign." As several commentators have said, it's a lot more dangerous to believe the program is suspended if it really isn't -- than to believe it hasn't been suspended when it really has.

Whether or not that "new evidence" was accurate or a ruse, it was uncritically seized upon by three principal authors of the 2007 Iran NIE -- Tom Fingar, formerly of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Vann Van Diepen, the National Intelligence Officer for WMD; and Kenneth Brill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- who already held a quasi-religious faith in diplomacy, not "saber rattling," to solve the Iranian nuclear-weapons crisis.

In our second post on the New! Possibly Fabricated! NIE, Of Course We Trust This Journal That Just Fell Into Our Hands..., we called your attention to a Los Angeles Times article (free registration required) that elucidated the provenance of that "new evidence". It came first from intercepted phone conversations among Iranian nuclear-weapons developers; and second, from a "journal," ostensibly kept by one of those weapons developers and stuffed full of what would be highly classified intelligence, that was handed to U.S. intelligence officers by a person about whom we have been told... exactly nothing.

Acting on nought but my own uninformed analysis, here is what I noted after discovering what new evidence Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill (and others in the CIA and State Department) found so persuasive:

To my admittedly untrained and non-authoritative mind, if I wanted to convince the CIA that I'd stopped my nuclear weapons program and persuade them to bang the gong for a massive incentive program for my country -- I think I would have various government officials discuss this terrible secret in a not-so-secure environment; and I think I would accidentally drop a journal where it would be sure to be found.

Spinning yarns for stretched ears and handing over a notebook that contains exactly what your audience wants to read is just about the best method of duping your foes. It's intelligence jujitsu.

Critical analysis is what we do at Big Lizards. We're not news reporters; we're secondary sources, reading "the first draft of history" (as Philip Graham called journalism) and using our brains to sort out what ought to be, perhaps, the second draft... after a good editor has gone through, making connections missed in the heat of a deadline -- and tossing out what "20-20 hindsight" shows is obvious nonsense. (Actually, hindsight is never better than 20-100; but it doesn't have as big an astigmatism as the twisted view of contemporaneous observation.)

And now, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, we have this satisfying confirmation that other analysts, ones with actual knowledge of the intelligence in question, have the same qualms:

A senior British official delivered a withering assessment of US intelligence-gathering abilities in the Middle East and revealed that British spies shared the concerns of Israeli defence chiefs that Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons.

The source said British analysts believed that Iranian nuclear staff, knowing their phones were tapped, deliberately gave misinformation. "We are sceptical. We want to know what the basis of it is, where did it come from? Was it on the basis of the defector [former Revolutionary Guards Gen. Alireza Asgari]? Was it on the basis of the intercept material? They say things on the phone because they know we are up on the phones. They say black is white. They will say anything to throw us off.

"It's not as if the American intelligence agencies are regarded as brilliant performers in that region. They got badly burned over Iraq."

That last line is very disturbing; first, because it implies that British intelligence believes the CIA is simply swinging widly, like an out of control pendulum, between overestimating and underestimating WMD capabilities... and second, because British intelligence is probably right.

Under previous administrations (Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton), we slashed our committment to "humint," or human intelligence -- actual spies -- to a doleful level, preferring to rely almost exclusively on "sigint," signals intelligence: satellite photos, cell-phone intercepts, electromagnetic tracking of electrical-cable traffic, and so forth.

Sigint is great for showing movement of physical objects, how a country's emergency-alert electrical grid operates, and clandestinely surveilling conversations. Sigint will tell us the state and condition of the enemy's means to carry out its intentions; but it simply cannot tell us what those intentions are in the first place. Sigint cannot tell us what he intends to do next; we only learn what he says -- over phone lines he knows are probably compromised -- he's going to do next.

In order to have a good read on actual intentions, you need physical human beings, actually loyal to the United States (not just turned or bribed double-agents), infiltrating the enemy's institutions and getting right up inside his OODA loop. Preferably someone who has lived and worked in the target country for years, perhaps decades, and actually understands the culture, the de facto decision-making heirarchy (which may differ from the heirarchy on paper), the language in all its nuances; a person who can judge the actual intensity of the enemy's goals and plans... how determined are they really?

In other words, exactly what Great Britain -- and Israel -- have focused on obsessively for decades (centuries, in the UK's case). The Brits because they had to control a global empire... and the Israelis because the "Great Game" to them is literally existential: If Israel guesses wrong, it could be "wiped from the map," in the piquant phrasing of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Fingar, Van Diepen, Brill, and their posse are saying that our sigint tell us that Iran paused their nuclear weapons program (NWP) in 2003. The Brits and the Israelis are saying that their humint tells them that the Iranians are playing us like a Stradivarius.

I don't know about you, but we here at lizard central would like to see some further analysis on this point by the National Intelligence Council, leading to a resolution we can trust. It would be a tragedy if we bought Iranian disinformation and released the pressure on them -- only to see Ahmadinejad (or Hezbollah) with a nuke in two years.

Even some American spies share the British and Israeli concerns:

A US intelligence source has revealed that some American spies share the concerns of the British and the Israelis. "Many middle- ranking CIA veterans believe Iran is still committed to producing nuclear weapons and are concerned that the agency lost a number of its best sources in Iran in 2004," the official said.

Why 2004? Well, in January of that year, the Guardian Council in Iran went on a tear, banning nearly all well-known Reformist candidates from the Majlis (legislature) election. In the vote on February 20th and the runoff on May 7th, the Conservatives, led by Teheran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the year before he was elected President of Iran, won an absolute majority in the Majlis, ousting the Reformist Party of former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and others.

Evidently, nearly all of our sources in Iran were Iranian informers, not American spies; and they must have nearly all been Reformists (which makes sense). Thus when they were booted from power in 2004, American intelligence was blinded at the same time. This is one reason among many for infiltrating Americans into countries like Iran and North Korea, not relying solely upon defectors, traitors, and informers within the target countries; another reason is the inability to trust people who have proven themselves untrustworthy by betraying their own former allegiance.

(Rafsanjani later lost to Ahmadinejad for president; but he has since ascended to the chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts, which will elect the next Supreme Leader -- possibly Rafsanjani himself -- when the current Ayatollah Ali al-Khamenei dies or is retired.)

The Israelis and the British focus on placing Israelis and Brits into Iran, and they lose a lot of good men and women to assassination when they're discovered. We focus on bribing Iranians to rat out their country... and we focus on sigint. All three intelligence sources have their uses; but through short-sighted political daintiness and an aversion to dissembling on behalf of our country -- Democrats never seem to mind dissembling on behalf of their own careers -- we have cut ourselves off from the most useful and believable source of learning the intentions of our enemies: well-informed, long-term American spies.

These are desperate times, and they demand desperate measures. I don't believe the American public has any doubt that we need actual human spies infiltrating Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and every other country that is an avowed enemy of the United States... and I doubt there would be much objection from the voters if we also sent spies into China, Russia, the 'Stans, other Latin American countries, flakey Asian countries... oh heck, why not just everywhere we can?

The qualms are all on the part of elected officials -- Democratic elected officials and perhaps a few RINOs, those overly fastidious "senoritos" who jump on a chair, hike their skirts, and scream at the very thought of a ruthless American spy working his way up the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards for purposes of stealing intelligence and committing sabotage... and ready to kill to protect his secret identity.

If there ever was a time to allow the faint of heart to craft our intelligence policies, that time has long passed. Give us some stout-hearted men and women -- and prepare yourselves for many, many more black stars going up on the wall of heroes in the lobby of CIA headquarters at Langley.

America had a long and honorable tradition of infiltrating our own "unlawful combatants" into enemy territory; it's time to return to those days. In fact, it's long overdue.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 10, 2007, at the time of 8:23 PM

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The English version of this entry can be read here. イランが2003年後期に核兵器開発を停止していたというNIEの報告はどうも疑わしいと感じているのはカカシだけではない。どうやらイギリスの諜報部もこの報告書はかなり眉唾だと感じているようだ。 英国のテレグラフ紙によると、 イギリスの秘密工作員たちはアメリカの諜報報告が先週発表したイランが核兵器プログラムをお釈迦にしたという話は非常に疑わしいとし、CIAはテヘランに一杯食わされたと考えている。 先日カ... [Read More]

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The following hissed in response by: David M

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 12/11/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

The above hissed in response by: David M [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 11, 2007 8:46 AM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

Lefties make it very easy to be hoodwinked about Iran, since they want to be hoodwinked in the first place. and just like they did on Iraq, as soon as reality proves the intel wrong, they will simply disown the prior consensus and yell for heads to roll. But not their own.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 11, 2007 12:57 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

The British were just as wrong about Iraq as the United States was. This is something that always annoys me about foreign intel agencies, it is not as if they have not screwed up themselves.

I am not too proud to say I don't know if the Iranians froze that program, but if they did I bet I bet was just until Bush is gone. I would not trust them to keep it froze.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 11, 2007 8:01 PM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles


I'm writing this from memory. El Rushbo talked extensively about this. If Iran did freeze is nuke program in 2003, then it is likely due to our resumption of war against Saddam and taking him out in a matter of days. Rafsanjani is now one of the wealthiest mullahs/clerics in Iran. New sanctions will hurt him personally, so I'd expect him to plant some disinformatzia just for fun and profit.

Finally, it is a near certainty that our leftists in and out of government are being banged like a drum in a marching band during a parade in order to stymie President Bush. Bush just might call their bluff. Let the Democrats huff and puff. They never rescinded the Oct. 01 general war declaration. Given that a state of war has been ongoing with the Islamic theocracy that is in power since 1979, I say the bombing starts in 10 minutes ;).

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 16, 2007 6:44 PM

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