Thursday, August 24, 2006

Republicans want intel on Iran to be scarier

This is one of the most important and interesting articles I've read in a long time. It's already getting some notice, but given my experience in intelligence, there are a few elements I want to highlight.

The article essentially presents the argument as "intelligence officials downplaying the Iran threat" versus "Republicans mad about this fact." That's a mischaracterization. Iran is simply not an imminent threat, nor is it a threat to vital U.S. interests in ways that would necessitate an aggressive response (supporting anti-U.S. terrorist action, for example). For intelligence analysts to state those facts isn't being "gun shy," as Rep. Holt (D-NJ) unfortunately put it, rather it's a simple reflection of accurate assessments based on the facts available. The House intel committee is right to say that we don't have enough information on Iran, but analysts have to work with what they have, not politicized conjecture. There's a difference between connecting and explaining the dots and creating new ones to reach a preordained conclusion.

Further, despite some assumptions to the contrary, intelligence agencies have a natural (and wholly understandable) predisposition towards warning. Rarely do analysts downplay potential problems because there's generally a much higher price to pay for underestimating a threat than overestimating it. Certainly intelligence agencies got Iraq's WMDs wrong, but the march to war was led by political leadership, not by the agencies and certainly not by analysts.

And why elected officials are so eager to confront (not engage, but confront) Iran is beyond me. It's backwards decision-making again: the conclusion and then cherry-picking evidence to support it. Good for the analysts for resisting this kind of nonsense.

The bottom line is, it's not that analysts are trying to downplay the threat of Iran . . . it's that the threat doesn't meet the "THE SCARY!" threshold that these Republicans are hoping for.

As an aside to my broader point, it's worth noting, for pure hilarity, that the House intel report the article cites, aside from being fairly idiotic overall, has an interesting perspective on Iran's missile launch locations. If you scroll down to page 15, you'll see that the report, written by the House committee responsible for intelligence, appears to have the ranges for Iranian missiles (including one that doesn't exist, natch) originating from . . . wait for it . . . Kuwait! Apparently Iran took over Kuwait and nobody even noticed.

- AJ in DC is a former Department of Defense civilian Intelligence Officer who was decorated for his recent civilian service in Iraq. He is an Iraq expert, and an authority on Iran, democratization, nation-building, Middle East politics, intelligence, and national security matters. He is a consultant on these and other political subjects, and writes on AMERICAblog about defense issues.

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