The Ripon Forum

Volume 40, No. 3

June - July 2006 Issue

No More Mistakes

By on October 14, 2015 with 0 Comments

Intelligence community must get it right in assessing Iran’s nuclear capabilities


As the world becomes increasingly focused on Iran’s nuclear activities, we are once again looking to our intelligence to determine what those activities mean. 

Clearly, we have a problem on our hands when it comes to Iran. There is no question that the nuclear capabilities Iran is trying to develop are “dual use” – they could be used to produce electrical power or nuclear weapons material.

The Intelligence Community confronts this “dual use” dilemma every day, and it is precisely why we need good intelligence on Iran. When there is more than one plausible explanation for an action, good intelligence is essential for determining the plans and intentions of those that could threaten our national security. 

In light of Iran’s past actions, particularly their indisputable support of terrorism that has taken American lives, I am not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt on these dual use nuclear activities. As some might recall, in early 2003, as we faced the prospect of war in Iraq, most of us weren’t inclined to give Saddam the benefit of the doubt on his dual use activity either. That’s why we depend on the Intelligence Community to help us see through our biases to get at the facts to help us separate what we know from what we think. 

I would like to say that the Intelligence Community has its act together in regards to our intelligence assessments about Iran’s nuclear activities. But the fact is, I am concerned. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Iraq investigation revealed that Intelligence Community analysts failed to explain the difference between what they knew, what they didn’t know, and what they thought about Iraq weapons of mass destruction. We can’t afford to make those same mistakes on Iran. 

I have directed the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to apply  the lessons we learned in our Iraq review to the intelligence on Iran’s nuclear activities. We, as policymakers, must be more proactive in evaluating and analyzing all the intelligence we receive on this threat and others.  Unfortunately, some members of the Committee, and of the Senate, are more focused on intelligence failures of the past. 


I would like to say that the Intelligence Community has its act together in regards to our intelligence assessments about Iran’s nuclear activities. But the fact is, I am concerned.

We all know the intelligence on Iraq was wrong. We know the mistakes that were made. The Committee continues to look at the Iraq intelligence, but it is time to move on. My colleagues across the aisle on the Committee and in the Congress want to continue  looking at the past in an attempt to blame policymakers for decisions they made based upon the bad intelligence they received. As a result, we have not made progress on our oversight of critical Iran intelligence. 

I intend to complete the ongoing Phase Two inquiry (which includes the review of statements regarding Iraq made by public officials four or five years ago based on bad intelligence) in a timely manner and within the agreed upon scope and turn the Committee’s attention to other pressing national security matters such as Iran. We will then be able to bring more of the Committee’s assets to bear on questions surrounding Iran and its nuclear activities. 

The Intelligence Community has had a significant increase in funding since 9/11. The question now is less a matter of resources. Rather, it is a matter of having thorough analysis that is honest about uncertainties. 

We need more aggressive collection that works to reduce those uncertainties. We must make sure we have both with regard to Iran’s nuclear plans and intentions.     RF

Pat Roberts is the U.S. Senator from Kansas and is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence.


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