Obama and Iran and Intelligence

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On Sunday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, said that she wasn’t too happy with US intelligence on Iran:

I don’t think our intelligence – candidly — is that good. I think it’s a very difficult country in which to collect intelligence right now. I think our ability to get in there and change the course of human events is very low.

Now there’s a big difference in the spy world between intelligence-gathering (obtaining information on what’s happening in another state) and covert action (running operations to affect developments in another country, such as fomenting a coup). By and large, most people would like to see the US intelligence community do a good—if not really good—job at the former. But once again, according to DiFi, the spies are falling short.

So at Monday’s press briefing I asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs if President Barack Obama was satisfied with the intelligence on Iran he’s been receiving and if he has learned important information about developments in Iran from the intelligence flow that goes beyond what’s been reported by the news media. Gibbs wouldn’t say, explaining that he doesn’t talk about the intelligence process. But he also did not take this opportunity to say that the president has confidence in the intelligence community and what it’s been producing related to Iran.

Consequently, DiFi’s verdict seems to stand. Hearings, anyone?

By the way, at the same press briefing, one reporter asked if the White House was considering beaming broad capability into Iran via satellite so the opposition forces would be able to communicate with themselves and the outside world. Gibbs said he didn’t know such a thing was possible. (Is it?) But he said he would check on the technological feasibility and get back with an answer.

That caused some head-scratching in the press room. If the United States could do that and was planning on doing so, wouldn’t this be one of those intelligence matters that Gibbs won’t discuss? But maybe some telecom entrepreneur or Silicon Valley whiz-kids can make this happen. The Google guys? The Twitter people? XM Radio? This is the sort of covert action that could be worth outsourcing—with the project manager actually taking full credit. Think of the endorsement possibilities: the Iranian Revolution…Brought to You by DIRECTV.

You can follow David Corn’s postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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