Why US won't fully answer skeptics of Iran assassination plot
US diplomats want more information about Iran's involvement to be made public, to answer skeptics. But intelligence officials balk at revealing much more about assassination plot evidence.
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The US knows it has a credibility problem, one State Department official says. But the official, who has had access to the evidence but who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss any aspect of it, says intelligence officials are adamant that revealing more of their information – or sharing more widely what has already been laid out to small circles of domestic officials and foreign diplomats – risks compromising sources.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. White, who is now an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, says the US faces other problems, including the strength of its evidence linking the alleged plot to the higher levels of the Iranian government, and whether the intelligence is “technical” or “human.”
One reason the case against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and his supposed stockpiles of WMDs turned out to be empty was that the “evidence” was largely human, White says, while the technical evidence was nil.
“How many times did we get human intelligence out of the CIA and find it lacking,” he asks, “because the technical evidence wasn’t there to back it up?”
An example of technical evidence would be telephone intercepts involving Iranian officials, as opposed to testimony from a suspect that he had telephone contact with officials.
White says he also dealt with cases in which the FBI would not share crucial information, even with the rest of the intelligence community, because of fears of the legal impact.
“They always said the same thing: ‘This could become part of a legal proceeding, and sharing could damage this evidence in court,’ ” he says.
US officials – from Attorney General Eric Holder up to President Obama, in remarks last Friday – claim that the evidence links the alleged plot to the highest levels of the Iranian regime.
But that evidence would be the hardest to substantiate, White says, and would be among the least likely to be shared freely with the countries “that are not traditionally part of the inner-ally group.”
It’s also the evidence that may be the “softest” of the whole case against Iran, White says, based on his contacts in the administration.
Regardless of the strength or weakness of the evidence, a key impediment to making it public may be that intelligence officials decide that this case, with its odd details and befuddling actors, is not the one that calls for laying out all the cards.
“We have really tough intelligence issues involving Iran as it is, so do you want to blow your access to sourcing over this case?” White queries. “I think not.”
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