New York Times Editorial - Wanted: Scarier intelligence
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: August 25, 2006
The last thing the United States needs as it heads into this election season is another attempt to push the intelligence agencies to hype their conclusions about the threat from a Middle Eastern state.
That's what happened in 2002, when the administration engineered a deeply flawed document on Iraq that reshaped intelligence to fit President George W. Bush's policy. And history appeared to be repeating itself this week, when the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, released a garishly illustrated and luridly written document that is ostensibly dedicated to "helping the American people understand" that Iran's fundamentalist regime and its nuclear ambitions pose a strategic threat to the United States.
It's hard to imagine that Hoekstra believes there is someone left in America who does not already know that. But the report obviously has different aims. It is partly a campaign document, a product of the Republican strategy of scaring Americans into allowing the party to retain control of Congress this autumn. It fits with the fearmongering we've heard lately - like Bush's attempt the other day to link the Iraq war to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But even more worrisome, the report seems intended to signal the intelligence community that the Republican leadership wants scarier assessments that would justify a more confrontational approach to Tehran. It was not the work of any intelligence agency, or the full intelligence panel, or even the subcommittee that ostensibly drafted it. The Washington Post reported that it was written primarily by a former CIA official known for his view that the assessments on Iran are not sufficiently dire.
While the report contains no new information, it does dish up dire- sounding innuendo, mostly to leave the impression that Iran is developing nuclear weapons a lot faster than intelligence agencies have the guts to admit. It also tosses in a few conspiracy theories, like the unsupported assertion that Iran engineered the warfare between Israel and Hezbollah. And it complains that America's spy agencies are too cautious, that they "shy away from provocative conclusions."
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, put it even more bluntly in explaining some Republicans' dissatisfaction with the CIA reporting on Iran: "The intelligence community is dedicated to predicting the least dangerous world possible."
All in all, this is a chilling reminder of what happened when intelligence analysts told Vice President Dick Cheney they could not prove that Iraq was building a nuclear weapon or had ties with Al Qaeda. He kept asking if they really meant it - until the CIA took the hint.
It's obvious that Iran wants nuclear weapons, has lied about its program and views America as an enemy. We enthusiastically agree that the United States needs every scrap of intelligence it can get on Iran. But the reason American intelligence is not certain when Iran might have a nuclear bomb is because the situation is so murky - not because the agencies are too wimpy to tell the scary truth.
If the Republicans who control Congress really wanted a full-scale assessment on the state of Iran's weapons programs, they would have asked for one, rather than producing this brochure.
The United States cannot afford to pay the price again for politicians' bending intelligence or bullying the intelligence agencies to suit their ideology.