There are lessons for handling Iran’s nuclear program in the declassified CIA self-analysis of its misreading of the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s reaction to U.N. inspections of his weapons-of-mass-destruction program.
Equally interesting in the report is how Hussein misjudged the capability of international inspectors and the responses — sanctions and then military action — that would come from the United States and its allies.
Are these errors that Iran may be making?
The 16-page report, first disclosed 13 days ago by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, concludes with some findings relevant to the Iran situation.
The study, done in 2006, found that CIA analysts wrongly “tended to focus on what was most important to us — the hunt for WMD (weapons of mass destruction) — and less on what would be most important for a paranoid dictatorship to protect.”
Today, the U.S. government views Iran’s actions — many permitted by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — as signs of a country seeking a nuclear weapons capability, if not the weapons themselves.
Why? Because Iran’s original move to build its own enrichment facilities were undertaken secretly and acknowledged only after being discovered by U.S. intelligence and publicized by anti-Tehran exiles.
The CIA report draws attention to Iraq’s “cheat and retreat” policy in the early 1990s of concealing WMD items and activities. The United States and its allies saw the efforts as cover-ups that validated intelligence analysts’ “assessments that Iraq intended to deny, deceive, and maintain forbidden capabilities.” Thus, when Iraq decided in 1995 to destroy its existing WMDs and come clean, after Hussein’s son-in-law defected and talked about the programs, there was doubt.
Has Iran’s original deceptions and subsequent intransigence led the United States and others to disregard Tehran’s claim that it wants to make fuel only for its research reactors and power plants?
The CIA report cautions that U.S. analysts should have viewed Hussein’s late WMD disclosures through “an Iraqi prism.” They would have seen the that Iraqis wanted to protect “their reputation, their security, their overall technological capabilities and their status needed to be preserved,” according to the report.
The lesson for today is not to accept Iran’s current defiance of the U.N. Security Council as proof that Tehran wants a bomb. The CIA report notes that in Iraq’s case, “deceptions were perpetrated and detected, but the reasons for those deceptions were misread.”
The current cleanup at Iran’s Parchin military base, while delaying a visit from inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency, is being viewed as Tehran trying to hide previous work on possible weapons-building experiments. The CIA report says that “Baghdad destroyed rather than revealed items, attempting to make its inaccurate assertions of no program correct in a legalistic sense.” Such Iraqi attempts “to find face-saving means to disclose previously hidden information, however, reinforced the idea that Baghdad was deceptive and unreliable,” the CIA said.
The CIA report also showed that some U.S. and U.N. actions led Iraq’s leaders to believe the goal was to change the ruling regime rather than just halt Tehran’s WMD program. Two steps were noted: one was when U.N. inspectors began to look into Iraq’s security apparatus and concealment apparatus; the other was when the U.S. Congress in 1998 approved the Iraq Liberation Act, which provided funds to Iraqi exile groups.