Intelligence and Iran's Nukes

There's no question but that our country's intelligence service isn't performing very well.  And in her latest essay on Iran's nuclear weapons program, American Thinker contributor Rachel Neuwirth raises some important questions. But the real issue isn't what our intelligence service doesn't know about Iran's nukes, but what our political leaders cannot face given the intelligence they've received.

Let me explain this with an analogy:

Let's say you don't feel well, and your instinct tells you this is more than a bout of flu.  You make an appointment with your physician, and he schedules you for a battery of tests.  When the results come back he calls you into his office, sits you down and says:
"I'm terribly sorry, but you've got pancreatic cancer.  It's fatal.  You've got just several weeks, or perhaps a few months, to live."

"How long precisely," you ask. 

"It's really impossible to predict," your physician says.  "You could be dead in a week, and it's possible you'll go into remission and live for another year, or even two.  But based on experience, it's a matter of weeks or months."

"That isn't a good enough answer," you reply angrily.  "Do I have 36 days, or 97 days.  I need to know."
Your physician just shakes his head and suggests you start planning for the end of your life - that you start putting your affairs in order, saying goodbye to family and friends, take one last trip to Paris.  You ask for more tests - not to challenge the diagnosis, but to pin down how long you've got to live.  But you don't ask any of the relevant questions, such as whether you'll be in pain, or whether you'll be able to go about your business normally until just before the end.  In short, you simply cannot face the awful facts.  You are in denial.

Now, let's look at what our intelligence service has told Congress about Iran and nuclear weapons:
  • Iran has launched a nuclear weapons program;
  • Iran has both the financial resources and the technical talent to develop nuclear weapons;
  • It's possible that Iran will have nukes very soon - for instance if they buy weapons from, say, North Korea, or if some technical genius in Teheran finds a way to cut manufacturing time by 23 percent or cut the cost of manufacturing by 32 percent;
  • It's also possible that Iran's weapons program will run into trouble, and not actually produce weapons for 10 years;
  • But, based on the experience of other nuclear-armed nations, such as India and Pakistan, Iran will have nukes in a few years.
And how are members of Congress reacting to this intelligence?  By asking for more precise information about just when Teheran will have its nukes.  Simply put, our Congress, like the imaginary cancer patient, is in denial.  Rather than facing the awful facts and starting to make plans, they are demanding more precise intelligence about the timing of Iran's nuclear weapons program rather than the implications of the program.

The real questions - and this is where Ms. Neuwirth has so helpfully kicked in the door - are these:

  • What are the intentions of Iran's leaders once they are armed with nukes?
  • Are the country's leaders united over these intentions, or are there serious differences within Teheran's leadership?
  • How are other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, reacting to Iran's drive for nukes?
Right now, we simply don't know whether our intelligence service is capable of answering these questions.  And we won't know until members of Congress, and the White House, start to ask.  And when we do have answers to these questions, intelligence has done all that it can reasonably be asked to do.  At this point, the action moves from intelligence to policymaking.  In other words, our elected leaders will have to decide what, if anything, they are going to do.

The only thing that's clear right now - and if I were the head of Iran's intelligence service this is what I would be reporting to the Mullahs - is that, based on the questions they are asking and the questions they aren't asking, the Americans are in denial and are unable to face reality.
Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan Administration as Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council.
There's no question but that our country's intelligence service isn't performing very well.  And in her latest essay on Iran's nuclear weapons program, American Thinker contributor Rachel Neuwirth raises some important questions. But the real issue isn't what our intelligence service doesn't know about Iran's nukes, but what our political leaders cannot face given the intelligence they've received.

Let me explain this with an analogy:

Let's say you don't feel well, and your instinct tells you this is more than a bout of flu.  You make an appointment with your physician, and he schedules you for a battery of tests.  When the results come back he calls you into his office, sits you down and says:
"I'm terribly sorry, but you've got pancreatic cancer.  It's fatal.  You've got just several weeks, or perhaps a few months, to live."

"How long precisely," you ask. 

"It's really impossible to predict," your physician says.  "You could be dead in a week, and it's possible you'll go into remission and live for another year, or even two.  But based on experience, it's a matter of weeks or months."

"That isn't a good enough answer," you reply angrily.  "Do I have 36 days, or 97 days.  I need to know."
Your physician just shakes his head and suggests you start planning for the end of your life - that you start putting your affairs in order, saying goodbye to family and friends, take one last trip to Paris.  You ask for more tests - not to challenge the diagnosis, but to pin down how long you've got to live.  But you don't ask any of the relevant questions, such as whether you'll be in pain, or whether you'll be able to go about your business normally until just before the end.  In short, you simply cannot face the awful facts.  You are in denial.

Now, let's look at what our intelligence service has told Congress about Iran and nuclear weapons:
  • Iran has launched a nuclear weapons program;
  • Iran has both the financial resources and the technical talent to develop nuclear weapons;
  • It's possible that Iran will have nukes very soon - for instance if they buy weapons from, say, North Korea, or if some technical genius in Teheran finds a way to cut manufacturing time by 23 percent or cut the cost of manufacturing by 32 percent;
  • It's also possible that Iran's weapons program will run into trouble, and not actually produce weapons for 10 years;
  • But, based on the experience of other nuclear-armed nations, such as India and Pakistan, Iran will have nukes in a few years.
And how are members of Congress reacting to this intelligence?  By asking for more precise information about just when Teheran will have its nukes.  Simply put, our Congress, like the imaginary cancer patient, is in denial.  Rather than facing the awful facts and starting to make plans, they are demanding more precise intelligence about the timing of Iran's nuclear weapons program rather than the implications of the program.

The real questions - and this is where Ms. Neuwirth has so helpfully kicked in the door - are these:

  • What are the intentions of Iran's leaders once they are armed with nukes?
  • Are the country's leaders united over these intentions, or are there serious differences within Teheran's leadership?
  • How are other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, reacting to Iran's drive for nukes?
Right now, we simply don't know whether our intelligence service is capable of answering these questions.  And we won't know until members of Congress, and the White House, start to ask.  And when we do have answers to these questions, intelligence has done all that it can reasonably be asked to do.  At this point, the action moves from intelligence to policymaking.  In other words, our elected leaders will have to decide what, if anything, they are going to do.

The only thing that's clear right now - and if I were the head of Iran's intelligence service this is what I would be reporting to the Mullahs - is that, based on the questions they are asking and the questions they aren't asking, the Americans are in denial and are unable to face reality.
Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan Administration as Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council.