Politics & Policy

Waking Up to the Iranian Threat

Is America paying attention yet?

Like me, many Americans are spending this week buying the last-minute pencils, backpacks, and school clothes our kids need as they head back to their classrooms.

As we are busy with this important task, I hope we don’t forget about a threat that is looming 3,000 miles away. One year ago this month, the House Intelligence Policy Subcommittee which I chaired issued a report warning that “despite its claims to the contrary, Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.”

Since the House Intelligence Iran report was issued, the nuclear threat from Iran has not diminished, it has strengthened.

There was the disturbing news in June at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna where an IAEA official reported that Iran, in defiance of the international community, has made substantial progress in its nuclear research and may have 3,000 uranium centrifuges. This could produce, when operational, enough fuel for one nuclear weapon per year.

According to press reports, Iran could have 8,000 centrifuges by January. And the theocratic government in Tehran has said it plans to construct up to 50,000 centrifuges.

The House Intelligence report also noted Iran’s extensive efforts to destabilize Iraq and Tehran’s involvement in attacks on U.S. and Coalition forces. Since last year, the Iranian government has stepped up its intensive meddling in Iraq by training insurgents and providing powerful weapons to attack and kill American troops. Iranian President Ahmadinejad stated last week that Iran is prepared to fill a “power vacuum” in Iraq after the Coalition departs.

The bipartisan report issued last year came up with balanced conclusions that predicted the mess we find ourselves in with Iran. The report’s findings on Iran’s nuclear program were particularly noteworthy and found reason to believe, based mostly on press reports about Iranian behavior and IAEA reports, that U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA were underestimating the progress of Iran’s nuclear program. A copy of the House Intelligence Iran report is available here.

U.S. intelligence analysts didn’t like Congress double checking its Iran analysis. This was not surprising since not only did we find some of their assumptions about Iran had little or no justification, we also saw clear indications of reluctance by U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA to draw analytic conclusions on issues they viewed as political hot potatoes.

What concerns me most about that is how far we still need to go to answer the criticisms of U.S. intelligence by the 9/11 Commission and the Robb-Silberman weapons-of-mass-destruction commission regarding the need for imaginative intelligence analysis and the dangers of group think.

Although I have seen some improvements over the last year in intelligence analysis of WMD questions, I am afraid that the aftermath of the Iraq WMD intelligence failures has left some intelligence agencies and analysts reluctant to stick their necks out and draw clear conclusions on controversial subjects. This reluctance is dangerous to America’s national security since it could delay or prevent crucial information from reaching policymakers.

Before 9/11, intelligence analysts lacked much of the information needed to connect the dots. Now, I am afraid they have the dots but are afraid to connect them for the fear of being run out of town for political reasons.

Further, the Iran report highlighted the important role Congress plays in national security policy oversight. It has been a great disappointment that instead of focusing on strong oversight of our policy on Iran, al Qaeda, or Iraq, the House Intelligence Committee throughout this year has focused instead on a National Intelligence Estimate to study climate change, as well as whether or not the Attorney General was conscious or unconscious when he made a decision in 2001 and words in the president’s 2003 State of the Union address.

While Congress wastes time on scoring political points, Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and backing terrorists, North Korea continues its nuclear-weapons program, and attacks by radical Islamists are taking place across the globe from London to Islamabad.

Congress needs to address the Iranian threat. As a parent myself, I don’t want my children’s future threatened by problems we’ve left unresolved.

— Congressman Mike Rogers (R., Michigan) is the top Republican on House Intelligence Committee’s Terrorism Subcommittee and is a former FBI Special Agent.

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