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Politicizing Intelligence

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
April 9, 2012
Weekly Standard


The politicization of intelligence by the Obama administration continues apace.

Last month it was Syria: an authorized "leak" to the Associated Press claiming that "President Bashar Assad commands a formidable army" and "has assembled a highly professional, 330,000-man army plus reserves." The purpose of this game was to persuade the press and the American people that helping the Syrian opposition was senseless, for Assad was just too strong. The briefers simply overlooked all the evidence that Assad can rely solely on Alawite officers and troops, who are relatively few in number and now stretched thin by rebellions all over Syria.

Now it is Iran: authorized leaks to the Washington Post meant to persuade us that the American intelligence about Iran is superb. Here is the heart of the "leak":

At a time of renewed debate over whether stopping Iran might require military strikes, the expanded intelligence collection has reinforced the view within the White House that it will have early warning of any move by Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb, officials said.

"There is confidence that we would see activity indicating that a decision had been made," said a senior U.S. official involved in high-level discussions about Iran policy.

Lost here are all the doubts about what the United States knows or can find out. A New York Times story, also confected largely from authorized leaks, noted over the same weekend that "Some American officials say they have considerable confidence that if Iran moves to build a weapon, they will detect the signs in time to take military action, though others—notably former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates—have been more skeptical." Given that Gates is (1) opposed to a strike on Iran's nuclear sites, (2) is a former Director of the CIA, and (3) was as Secretary of Defense familiar with everything our intelligence community knew about Iran, his skepticism ought to get more attention than the deliberate leaks ordered by the White House to support its policies.

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