Intelligence Failures And The White House Reaction To The Elections In Iran

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 27, 2009

We learn from Newsweek that part of the reason why the White House was so cautious in its comments in the aftermath of the electoral theft that went on in Iran was that the CIA believed that Ahmadinejad “solidly” won re-election, and that if there was any fraud, it would not have been enough to affect the outcome. The intelligence agencies were apparently taken by surprise by the regime’s clumsy effort to pass off the electoral results as legitimate. The White House reaction, therefore, was behind the developing events on the ground in Iran; thus the disconnect between the President’s pronouncements and popular opinion concerning the validity of the Iranian election results.

This is an interesting story, and I don’t doubt that there remain plenty of problems with our ability to collect and analyze intelligence, but I don’t buy this story as the explanation for the Obama Administration’s cautious response. The Administration could have easily updated its reply just by taking a look at the news, and seeing all of the reports that pointed out how the electoral results must have been fraudulent. It didn’t need the CIA to point out that for the regime’s count to have been legitimate, 40 million or so votes had to have been counted awfully fast. It didn’t need the CIA to note that the results were declared with two days left in the challenge period and that no challenges were allowed within that period. It didn’t need the CIA to point out all of the irregularities that occurred in the course of voting. The President and all of his advisers could have gotten this information from just about any news source out there.

If anyone wants to claim that our intelligence services need some serious reform, they will have in me an agreeable listener. If anyone wants to claim that poor intelligence gathering and analysis can potentially lead American administrations astray, I will buy that claim.

But don’t tell me that an American administration can’t watch the news and calibrate its response to international events accordingly. Some claims go too far.

Previous post:

Next post: