Bush Meets Skepticism on Iran Claims
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And now the Bush administration's case against Iran, it's running into skepticism.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
The charge: Iran is sending weapons to insurgents in Iraq. The evidence: U.S. officials have displayed samples of weapons marked with serial numbers they say can be traced to Iranian arms factories.
BRAND: Iran denies the charges. And as NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports, critics suspect the Bush administration may be laying the groundwork for military action against Iran.
MARY LOUISE KELLY: U.S. intelligence officials have, in recent days, been unusually direct in their accusations against Iran. Here's CIA Chief Mike Hayden testifying before a Senate panel. He was asked about explosively formed penetrators, EFPs.
Mr. MIKE HAYDEN (Director, Central Intelligence Agency): The EFPs are coming from Iran. They are being used against our forces. They are capable of defeating some of our heaviest armor and, incident for incident, cause significantly more casualties than any other improvised explosive devices do. And they are provided to Shia militia. That's all correct.
BRAND: But for weeks, U.S. officials, including Hayden, have resisted providing any actual evidence that Iran is shipping such weapons into Iraq. Finally, in Baghdad on Sunday, military officials spread out samples on a table for reporters to view.
One reporter present described the trove of physical evidence as extraordinary, but not everyone is convinced.
Ms. JUDITH YASI(ph) (Former CIA Analyst): It is not a persuasive case. The problem is, first of all, nobody has seen these devices other than the reporters who were there.
KELLY: That's Judith Yasi, a former CIA analyst. Yasi wants to know what independent experts make of the weapons. She says there's little reasons to doubt that Iran is arming militants in Iraq. She points to Iran's track record of arming Hezbollah in Lebanon.
But the Bush administration's poor track record with pre-war Iraq intelligence makes her leery. Yasi fears the U.S. is now playing a dangerous game, ratcheting up the pressure on Iran.
Ms. YASI: I'll use a metaphor that one of my bosses in CIA used years ago: keep up the pressure on Saddam until he cracks like a pencil. I thought that was a stupid analogy, I told him. On the other hand, is that maybe what's happening here?
KELLY: Yasi is also skeptical of the claim made by the military briefers in Baghdad that the highest levels of Iraq's government are involved. Asked yesterday for evidence to back that allegation, White House spokesman Tony Snow responded.
Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Spokesman): Let me put it this way, there's not a whole lot of freelancing in the Iranian government, especially when it comes to something like that.
KELLY: Jeffrey White, a past chief of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, believes it's plausible that Iran's leadership is playing a role, and he says U.S. officials probably possess more intelligence than they're willing to make public.
Mr. JEFFREY WHITE (Washington Institute for Near East Policy): Of the things they might well have is reports from agents that are working on the Iranian problem, reports from the Iranian exile and opposition community. They might well have interrogation reporting from Iraqis that were working with Iranians.
KELLY: White, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues the military briefers were wise to leave this human intelligence out of Sunday's briefing and stick instead with concrete forensic evidence. White believes on balance the briefers made a convincing case, but even he concedes the Bush administration has a credibility problem. White says it's not just the issue with pre-war intelligence but also the way the Bush administration downplayed problems after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, such as the growing insurgency.
Mr. WHITE: There's a track record of, in my mind, of not leveling with everyone. And I think that's improved, but there's still a legacy there, this hang over of, okay, is this really what's going on or not?
KELLY: The Bush administration insists there is solid intelligence implicating Iran. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack adds, quote, "the Iranians are up to their eyeballs in this activity." But it appears U.S. officials are now walking a fine line, talking tough with Iran while at the same time trying to tamp down speculation that a new war is brewing.
Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News. Washington.
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