US intelligence officials say US has difficulty gathering evidence on the ground in Iran, ‘New York Times’ reports.
By Raheb Homavandi / Reuters
According to the report, the assessment among top US officials is that Iran has not yet decided to pursue a nuclear weapon, a conclusion which was established based on intelligence analyses.
Israel – while seeing an existential threat in Iran’s possible pursuit of a nuclear bomb – mostly agrees with those assessments, a US intelligence official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Times.
“Their people ask very hard questions, but Mossad does not disagree with the US on the weapons program,” the Timesquoted the official as saying.
Still, the report notes that the US has had difficulty formulating a complete picture of Iran’s nuclear agenda, which intelligence officials said is due to the inability of the CIA to work effectively on the ground in Iran.
The US has been “virtually blind on the ground” in Iran since the hostage crisis over three decades forced the US to shutter its embassy in Tehran.
The available evidence the US has gathered is often outdated and incomplete, and provides more information about what Iran is not doing, the Times reported.
Recruiting spies has been particularly problematic, with the report noting a 2004 technical mistake that put a network of Iranian agents in jeopardy, and the doubtful testimony of an Iranian scientist who defected to the US, only to return to Iran claiming he was abducted by the CIA.
While the US and Israel share information on Iran, the US is reticent to accept intelligence Israel has gathered from the Iranian exile group the Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK), which the US considers a terrorist organization.
That hesitation stems from US experience in dealing with an Iraqi exile group, the Iraqi National Congress, which provided faulty intelligence on Iraq’s weapons program that led to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The US prefers a method of wire tapping of Iranian officials, which helped the US in its 2005 assessment that Iran had abandoned its nuclear program in 2003.
While Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, and has indicated willingness to engage with the international community over its nuclear program, US President Barack Obama warned last week that the window for diplomacy is closing.
US intelligence officials concluded that the evidence that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had called off the nuclear program was “too hard to ignore,” a conclusion that still “holds up really well,” according to the report.