Congress Report Faults U.S. Intelligence on Iran

By REUTERS

New York Times

August 24, 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. intelligence community is ill-prepared to assess Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities and its intentions for developing weapons of mass destruction, a congressional report said on Wednesday.

Noting ``significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the various areas of concern about Iran,'' the House Intelligence Committee staff report questioned whether the United States could even effectively engage in talks with Tehran on ways to diffuse tensions.

The Bush administration said it was handling the problem.

``The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is already taking steps along the lines the committee has recommended,'' said a spokeswoman, reading from a statement.

Iran said on Tuesday that discussions could begin immediately on a package offered in June by the United States and its allies aimed at discouraging Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program. Previous such calls for dialogue have been seen by the West as a stalling tactic.

The major powers made the offer after Iran last December said it had resumed efforts to enrich uranium in defiance of international community.

The congressional report said there ``is a great deal about Iran that we do not know'' and warned that ``policymakers will need high-quality intelligence to assess Iranian intentions to prepare for any new round of negotiations.''

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Washington said was aimed at rooting out weapons of mass destruction, huge gaps in America's intelligence-gathering capability were exposed. No such weapons were found and U.S. troops are now bogged down in an extended conflict.

'GAPS IN OUR KNOWLEDGE'

The House panel's report warned of similar inadequacies in the quality of U.S. intelligence on Iraq's neighbor Iran.

``A special concern is major gaps in our knowledge of Iranian nuclear, biological, and chemical programs,'' it said.

``Iran is a serious security threat on which the United States needs better intelligence,'' the report said, citing the need for more thorough and timely analysis of political, economic and other developments in Iran and improved coordination and information-sharing among U.S. intelligence agencies.

More Persian-speaking staffers in intelligence agencies and stronger counter-intelligence efforts also were recommended.

The 29-page report, submitted to committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, and senior Democrat Jane Harman of California, was accompanied by a classified document detailing the U.S. intelligence community's shortcomings.

The report comes amid concern Iran is aiding terrorism in Iraq and helping Hizbollah stage missile attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon.

The House report noted that besides having a likely chemical weapons development program and an offensive biological weapons program, Iran has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. The missiles could be integrated with nuclear weapons some time in the next decade, it said.

But it also said it was possible Iran could be engaged in a ''denial and deception campaign'' to exaggerate progress on its nuclear program, as Saddam Hussein apparently did with his WMD programs.