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Is There an Inter-Agency Dispute Over the State Department’s Iran Report?

Is There an Inter-Agency Dispute Over the State Department’s Iran Report?

According to expert testimony this summer before two House panels, the State Department’s recent report on Iran’s activities in the Western Hemisphere, which argues that the country’s activities there are "waning," is marred by a lack of inter-agency unanimity. In two hearings (here and here) on the Congressionally mandated report on Iran in the Western Hemisphere both members and expert witnesses hotly contested State’s conclusion.

The second hearing, which occurred on Aug. 1 before a joint House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, shed new light on what may be inter-agency disagreement about the content of the State Department report. 

Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, testified that the "people who wrote this report did not, in a timely manner, consult with people who have the information. Those people, both within the department and elsewhere are quite upset that they were not properly consulted."

Michael Braun, former Chief of Operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration followed by testifying that "the report was written in a vacuum. I don’t think that the authors physically met with probably some of the most important players in town. It was poorly written by unseasoned, probably, analysts that contributed and I would sense that there wasn’t a strong leadership involved as well."  

This is no small matter. The department claims, as it did in an Aug. 1 letter to Senator Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican, that the report "represents the clearest and most current assessment by the intelligence community on Iranian activities, capabilities, and intentions in the hemisphere." Both sides cannot be right.

At issue as well is the recent 500-page report released by Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman detailing how Iran has systematically built a clandestine intelligence network throughout the region "designed to sponsor, foster and execute terrorist attacks." Some members of Congress are upset that the State Department did not factor that tome into its report to Congress. 

A senior department official told the Miami Herald that the Nisman report was issued too late to be incorporated into their report but that it would review the report and "reassess" its present position if need be. Some believe that may provide State the opportunity to deflect ongoing Congressional criticism by producing a more serious assessment of Iranian activities in the hemisphere. That remains to be seen.

It is difficult to explain State’s ostrich-like reaction to discussing Iranian activities in the hemisphere openly and forthrightly. It may be that they truly believe that Iranian activities in the region are "waning," despite the troubling evidence to the contrary. Or they may simply want to avoid openly discussing issues our neighbors in the region would rather not have to address publicly. Either possibility is simply unsatisfactory.

We are all adults here. Honestly assessing and responding to threats to regional stability and U.S. security constitutes neither alarmism nor waving the bloody shirt. Moreover, it is better to conduct that now, rather than after some preventable incident. Let’s hope the State Department undertakes a serious reassessment of its report — in which all relevant agencies, offices, and departments are allowed to contribute without a preordained conclusion.