The Obama administration is having trouble overcoming skepticism about its allegations that Iran's Quds spy agency devised a buffoonish plot to murder the Saudi ambassador in Washington. Part of the trouble is the lingering credibility crisis from the bogus WMD charges about Iraq, but that is compounded by what appears to be a re-politicized CIA.
Whatever credibility the CIA has rebuilt in the nine years since it embraced the neoconservative falsehoods about Iraq hiding stockpiles of unconventional weapons is now jeopardized by the activism being shown by its new director, retired Gen. David Petraeus, known as a hard-liner on Iran and a strong ally of the neocons.
Last week, Petraeus found himself caught up in a controversy over whether his top aides were implementing a new analytical approach designed to skew intelligence reporting on the Afghan War to make it more favorable to the ex-general's insistence that measurable progress is being made there.
The Associated Press reported on Oct. 14 that "the CIA is giving the military a greater say in the debate over how the war in Afghanistan is going by allowing battlefield commanders to weigh into the analysis at early stages."
The article prompted an angry denial from Petraeus, who sent his response to CIA personnel in a blast e-mail and then had it published at the CIA's Web site.
While not challenging the AP's central point -- that the military would have "a greater say" -- the thin-skinned Petraeus attacked the suggestion that the change "was somehow designed to impose a military viewpoint on our analysis. That is flat wrong."
Petraeus also noted that the change was "put in place by Michael Morell when he was Acting Director" before Petraeus assumed the post on Sept. 6. But it was obvious for months that Petraeus would get the job and Morell is known as a bureaucrat sensitive to the whims of those above him.
Morell also knew that Petraeus had bristled at the CIA's gloomier assessments of Afghan War progress while then-Gen. Petraeus was pushing a rosier analysis with the help of his influential neocon friends, such as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute.
In 2009, Petraeus granted Boot and Kagan extraordinary access to U.S. field commanders, and the pair returned home with glowing reports of Afghan War progress -- if only President Barack Obama would send more troops. It doesn't take a seasoned yes man like Morell to know which way the wind is now blowing at CIA headquarters. [For more on Morell, see Consortiumnews.com's "Rise of Another CIA Yes Man."]
While acknowledging that more military input would be injected into the CIA's analytical process, Petraeus told CIA employees that "the change will in no way undermine the objectivity of DI [Directorate of Intelligence] analysis on the war in Afghanistan. We will still 'call it like we see it,' but now with even better ground truth."
Yet even more than other government officials, CIA employees are expert at reading between the lines. And the message from their new boss couldn't be clearer: he wants analysis that hews more closely to his political desires.
Though shoring up the Afghan War is one Petraeus (and neocon) priority, an even more important objective is stoking the fires against Iran. So, when the Obama administration initially balked at the bizarre accusations about Iran plotting to murder the Saudi ambassador, it was Petraeus's CIA that pushed the charges.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, a favored recipient of official CIA leaks, reported that "one big reason [top U.S. officials became convinced the plot was real] is that CIA and other intelligence agencies gathered information corroborating the informant's juicy allegations and showing that the plot had support from the top leadership of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the covert action arm of the Iranian government."
Ignatius added that, "it was this intelligence collected in Iran" that swung the balance. But Ignatius offered no examples of what that intelligence was.
The FBI's amended criminal complaint also lacks any direct evidence that the Iranian government approved the plot, and the case boils down to the word of Iranian-American used-car salesman Mansour Arbabsiar and an unidentified paid informant of the Drug Enforcement Administration.