Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Here We Go Again

From today's edition of The New York Times:

"A commission due to report to President Bush this month will describe American
intelligence on Iran as inadequate to allow firm judgements about Iran's nuclear
weapons program, according to people who have been briefed on the panel's
The inference is clear. President Bush is running off half-cocked again, making
judgments about a country's WMD program, based on faulty intelligence. It is a familiar refrain for the Times, echoed time and time again in the aftermath of the Iraq War.

Is the criticism valid? Perhaps. It doesn't take Porter Goss (or a presidential commission) to understand that there are always gaps in our intelligence database, particularly when it comes to rogue states like Iran. Tehran has expended considerable effort to cloak its nuclear program, dating back to the late 80s and its first, clandestine development efforts. Those efforts continue to this day, and it's doubtful we'll ever have a complete picture of the Iranian nuclear program, no matter how much effort is devoted to intelligence collection and analysis.

But there's another issue here, one that Times story conveniently sidesteps. Reporters Doug Jehl and Eric Schmitt note that U.S. intelligence suffered a severe setback in the late 1980s, when Tehran's counter-intelligence service penetrated a U.S. spy ring in Iran. The loss of those resources, according to the Times, reverberated inside U.S. intelligence until the 1990s.

So why was nothing done to plug this intelligence gap? The NYT never answers that one, but that admission underscores one of the most lasting--and dangerous legacies--of the Clinton Administration. Throughout the 1990s, Mr. Clinton and his national security team refused to make the necessary investment in intelligence systems, personnel and resources, resulting in severe information gaps that precipitated 9-11, our failure to detect North Korea's covert nuclear efforts, and now, a lack of information on Iran's WMD programs.

Intelligence gaps don't happen overnight; they occur over a period of years--even decades--are are often the cumulative product of mismanagement and neglect. The seeds of our Iran problem were sown long ago, and it will take a long time to remedy the problem. We should be thankful that the current administration is willing to make the investment to fix past mistakes. Unfortunately, closing the gap is a race against time and, as Iran moves toward a nuclear capability, time may be running out.

No comments: