The Corner

National Security & Defense

House Intelligence Committee Democrats Play Political Games on Iran Deal

The Hill ran a story today, “Spy panel Dems rally to support Iran deal,” which gives the impression that all of the House Intelligence Committee’s Democratic members signed a letter supporting the nuclear agreement with Iran. The article did not mention that a third of the committee’s Democratic members did not sign the letter or the absurdity of the letter’s claims.

I therefore believe a more accurate title for The Hill article would be “One-third of House Intel Committee Democrats Refuse to Sign Letter Supporting Iran Agreement.”

Six of the House Intelligence Committee’s nine members signed the letter: Ranking Member Adam Schiff (Calif.), James Himes (Ill.), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Andre Carson (Ind.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), and Eric Swalwell (Calif.). Three Democratic members did not sign: Patrick Murphy of Florida, Mike Quigley of Illinois, and Terri Sewall of Alabama.

Probably to cover for the fact that a third of the committee’s Democratic members refused to sign the letter, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (an ex officio member of the committee) and three former members — Anna Eshoo, Janice Schakowsky, and Mike Thompson — added their names. Another recent committee member did not sign: James Langevin (R.I).

In my five years as a staff member with the House Intelligence Committee, I never saw a letter like this that included former committee members or members of the House leadership.

The letter tries to respond to critics who have faulted the nuclear agreement for not requiring Iran to explain past weapons-related work by echoing Secretary of State John Kerry’s absurd assertion that the United States has “perfect knowledge” of Iran’s nuclear program:

While we do not know precisely what Iran has committed to make accessible to the IAEA for the purpose of answering the IAEA’s questions over the prior military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear work, we do have extensive knowledge of Iran’s prior weapons work from an abundance of sources. To the degree that the United States and other world powers need a “baseline” on how far Iran progressed during its nuclear work over a decade ago, our own intelligence can supply the answer. And our intelligence is far more comprehensive and accurate than the statements we are likely to obtain from Iran’s scientists or the information we can gather from IAEA access to sites Iran has had a decade to bulldoze and sanitize.

General Michael Hayden, who served as Director of CIA and NSA, had this response to Kerry’s claim that the U.S. has perfect knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program:

What he [Kerry] is saying is that we don’t care how far they’ve gotten with weaponization . . . he’s pretending we have perfect knowledge about something that was an incredibly tough intelligence target while I was director and I see nothing that has made it any easier.

I am certain Hayden would have a similar response to the letter by House Democrats. I also am certain House Intelligence Committee briefings have reflected Hayden’s view. It’s disappointing that six members of this important committee are claiming otherwise. But it’s heartening that three Democratic intelligence committee members (and possibly at least one former member) resisted pressure by Minority Leader Pelosi and the White House to sign a letter that misrepresents key facts and assumptions behind the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is the editor of the 2020 book Defending against Biothreats.

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