How good is the information provided by the CIA on Iran?
MICHAEL ROSS | August 6, 2008 |
In response to a recent article by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker suggesting that the Bush administration has requested up to US$400 million for use in covert action against Iran, a highly respected and long-serving Iran expert and decorated veteran of CIA covert operations in the region has commented that the money would be wasted were the CIA to win control of it. "Information provided to the President by the CIA, which he will use to make his decisions, may prove to be false or non-existent," says Ishmael Jones (a pseudonym), whose assignments included more than 15 years of continuous overseas deep-cover service in several rogue nations before he recently resigned from the CIA in good standing.
Blaming the CIA's culture of Soviet-style bureaucracy, risk-averse senior management, and schemes dedicated to enriching current and former employees, Jones claims that CIA human intelligence operations against Iran are designed to feign activity. "Because of the billions of dollars given to the CIA, the CIA will be unwilling to admit it has no intelligence on Iran and will instead be tempted to provide a false assessment of the threat," adds Jones, whose book about his career, The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, was published last month.
That assessment of U.S. intelligence gathering in Iran seems to be in stark contrast to the efforts of Israel's intelligence service, the Mossad, and its efforts to determine Iran's nuclear ambitions since the early 1990s. At the end of June, Ali Ashtari, 45, was sentenced to death in Tehran for operating as a recruited Mossad spy in Iran. Ashtari's accusers not only admit that he provided intelligence to his case officers about Iran's nuclear program, but also assisted in operations aimed at disrupting "research projects." An unnamed Iranian source working in a counterintelligence capacity admitted that in some cases the failures caused by the missions were "irreversible and big."
According to Jones, the Iranian intelligence target is not as difficult as it may seem. "The determination to get out and recruit [Iranian sources] has been lacking, but there has always been plenty of money," he says. "Iranians often have favourable opinions of the United States, and many have family members who are U.S. citizens residing in the U.S." As opposed to other human intelligence recruitment operations, many potential Iranian sources are known to speak English and were educated in American universities.
With Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps having test-fired the Shahab-3 — a long-range rocket whose 2,000-km estimated range includes Israel — there has been intense pressure on Western intelligence services to more accurately assess Iran's non-conventional weapons capability. Israel's largest city, Tel Aviv, has been mentioned by an aide to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khameinei as a potential target for Iranian missiles, and the Israeli intelligence community has stated that the window for action is quickly closing.
But insiders in Israel have indicated that a pre-emptive strike will only occur with U.S. approval due to the wide range of American interests in the region. Still, according to Jones, Israel may be the only country to have a clear understanding of the breadth of Iran's non-conventional weapons capabilities. "I know this target, and I know that the CIA has no human sources of any quality, and that the President, the U.S., and our allies are walking into danger in the Iranian nuclear weapons issue without the intelligence they need," he says. "When the President makes a decision, he'll be doing so blindly."
Michael Ross's The Volunteer (McClelland & Stewart), about his 13 years in the Mossad, recently appeared in paperback.