National Security & Defense

On Iran: Don’t Trust, Never Trust, and Verify

IAEA inspectors at Iran’s Natanz facility in 2014. (Kazem Ghane/AFP/Getty)

President Ronald Reagan repeatedly told then–Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev that we would “trust but verify” any treaty with the Soviet Union. And we insisted on agreeing on intrusive verification measures to meet his standard.

Recently on Meet the Press, President Reagan’s national security adviser, Colin Powell, declared that the standard for the Iran nuclear deal instead should be: “Don’t trust, never trust, and always verify.” We strongly agree — but we do not concur with his apparent judgment that it is met by President Obama’s deal with Iran.

We are astonished by his stated confidence, especially in the intelligence community, given his prior firsthand experience with compelling contrary evidence:

‐When General Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, inspectors learned following the 100-day January 1991 Desert Storm war in Iraq of Saddam Hussein’s major covert effort to build nuclear weapons. This fact had escaped notice by the intelligence community — including the vaunted Israeli Mossad. Saddam’s effort involved several thousand scientists and engineers and was judged to be within months of producing nuclear weapons.

‐Then in 2003, when Powell was secretary of state, following the “shock and awe” stage of Operation Iraqi Freedom, inspectors found none of the weapons of mass destruction that the director of Central Intelligence had predicted — DCI George Tenet had called this prediction a “slam dunk,” and it had led Powell to predict their presence in his major speech to the United Nations that was instrumental in gaining international support for Iraqi Freedom.

In both cases, data supporting these false assessments were provided by “inspectors” from the International Atomic Energy Agency — the same IAEA in which the Obama administration assures us it has such confidence that it trusted the agency to negotiate important verification terms with Iran without U.S. consultation — indeed apparently without our negotiators’ knowledge of important terms that allow Iran to inspect itself.

The director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper, is not exactly reading from the same page as Secretary Powell — at least not with the same confidence in public.

Patrick Tucker, writing on September 9 in Defense One, reported that General Clapper told a conference on intelligence matters:

We were required, within five days after the deal was struck, to submit to Congress a very detailed assessment of our capabilities, what we could do, and where we had lesser capabilities to monitor the agreement. I come away pretty confident — I won’t say 100 percent, but pretty confident — that we can, in fact, verify, through our own sources what the International Community will be able to…observe and monitor.

“Pretty confident?” What kind of standard is that?

#share#Perhaps this cautious assurance reflects the sobering reality that the Department of Defense inspector general is now looking into reports that assessments from over 50 Central Command intelligence officers have been watered down by their superiors, who have provided overly optimistic reports of the war with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

So . . . does political correctness also misrepresent what “confidence” can be placed in the deal’s verification measures?

Independently matching the sorry record of the “international community” — which means the IAEA — in monitoring Iran’s nuclear program is not anything like an ironclad guarantee that we will detect Iranian cheating. That Iranian cheating will be undetected by the IAEA is virtually guaranteed, just as the IAEA has been bamboozled by clandestine nuclear-weapons programs in North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and, for 30 years, previously in Iran.

Confidence in current verification assessments by the intelligence community is degraded by past known misrepresentations, including:

‐General Clapper’s assurances to Congress that the National Security Agency wasn’t monitoring the communications of the American people, when it was — a program supported by President Obama.

‐General Clapper’s assurances to Congress during the 2013 nuclear crisis with North Korea when he dismissed a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment — and instead covered for President Obama’s false assertion that North Korea did not have nuclear missiles and could not deliver on its threats of a nuclear strike against the United States.

‐CIA director Mike Morrell’s congressional testimony about the Benghazi terrorist attack, when he tried to help then–secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Obama cover their tracks over the fiction that Benghazi was spontaneous, even legitimate, violence, provoked by a culturally insensitive video.

Such examples suggest our intelligence community has been “politicized” and simply cannot be trusted. An objective assessment of U.S. intelligence-community capabilities to detect Iran’s (or other rogue states’) clandestine nuclear-weapon programs is provided by the Defense Science Board (DSB). A January 2014 DSB analysis (“Assessment of Nuclear Monitoring and Verification Technology”) warns: “The technology and processes designed for treaty verification and inspections are inadequate to future monitoring realities.”

#related#Based on the DSB analysis, current U.S. methods and technologies for monitoring rogue-state nuclear-weapon programs probably won’t detect small or nascent nuclear-weapon programs or clandestine nuclear warheads, in part because current monitoring efforts are associated with obvious delivery systems such as missiles and bombers. Associated clandestine nuclear-weapon programs and operations could be disguised as non-nuclear military programs and operations and not be recognized, especially if new and unfamiliar technologies were involved.

Why is the director of National Intelligence not saying this? Why are he and others in the intelligence community not admitting the possibility that Iran might already have the bomb? A cocksure intelligence community that places such a high premium on “speaking with one voice” and that suppresses alternative views is a sure sign of politicization.

Such a condition bodes ill for verifying the nuclear deal with Iran. Remember that the Obama administration had to be dragged kicking and screaming to admit that Russia is cheating on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Certainly, it is not worth backing off on the sanctions.

Powell was right: “Don’t trust, never trust, and verify!” Too bad he was hoodwinked on the reality. Congress is courting disaster in going along with the unverifiable Iran deal.

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