In a three-pager Sunday the New York Times has co-operated in the leaking of a shocking amount of information about the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program and Israeli/US reactions to it.
Why do I say "co-operated"? The Times goes out of its way to make that co-operation clear when they state, "Several details of the covert effort have been omitted from this account, at the request of senior United States intelligence and administration officials, to avoid harming continuing operations." Clearly that implies that any information leaked in the article was approved by the administration.
This raises several interesting questions;
(ONE) Why was the information leaked NOW?
(TWO) Was the leak approved by the Obama team?
In an attempt to consider these questions lets look at the major points of the leak.
(Leak 1) Last year Israel requested bunker busting bombs and permission (from the United States) to fly over Iraq. Bush hemmed and hawed on the bombs (but allegedly hasn’t delivered) and allegedly gave an emphatic NO to the flyover. Instead he supposedly told the Israelis of new covert actions the US was undertaking against Iranian nuclear enrichment specifically and against Iranian infrastructure generically.
What are the possible reasons for leaking this information?
(A) It may make GWB appear to be more level-headed then most would believe as he prepares to leave his reign to the judgments of history.
(B) In light of recent action in Gaza what does releasing supposed plans by Israel to attack Iranian nuclear sites say to AIPAC, Israel and its Arab foes? There are multiple possibilities here.
(b1) Making public an American slap-down of these Israeli requests may be an attempt to show an administration slightly more neutral in the ongoing conflict than is generally assumed. If so this would upset AIPAC and current Israeli leadership and might also be an attempt to influence the upcoming Israeli elections. A side benefit would be the making public of American "respect" for the sovereignty of Iraq; the US had only very questionable authority (if any) to allow a flyover.
(b2) If one assumes reasonable persons control Iran (and that assumption is, in my opinion a valid one), then the exposure of serious Israeli intentions to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities could be expected to have a cautionary effect on Iranian leadership.
Note some delicacy here in that (b1) and (b2) are not all mutually exclusive; these possible goals could be targeted with the same leaked information; making the US appear more even-handed regarding Gaza, showing respect for Iraqi sovereignty, and providing a cautionary tale to Iranian leadership.
The wild card here is the potential effect upon domestic Israeli politics. The actions taken in Gaza are being given less support by the Israeli population than similar previous actions. What effect does the image of an Israeli government stopped from bombing Iran only by US actions have on the internal Israeli political situation? One could make equally solid arguments that it benefits either hawks or doves, certainly it complicates those upcoming elections. Perhaps this will be clarified by future Israeli reactions to these leaks, but the leak was given without any certainty as to their effects in this regard. In that sense the leak was a bold action. In its lack of concern for Israeli political players it may also signal a move away from past knee-jerk support for AIPAC and Likudniks towards a more neutral stance. Dick Cheney this was not!
It appears to me that (Leak 1) smacks of both subtlety and boldness in the use of intelligence that has NOT been a trait of the administration over the last 8 years. On (Leak 1) it appears to me that it likely was approved by, and probably conceived by, the Obama team and indicates a far more delicate use of intel, media, and popular opinion than we have seen in the past. If it was conceived by the Obama team the obvious benefit to GWB’s reputation can only be considered a brilliant stroke.
(Leak 2) The leak indicates that Bush was briefed on contingency plans to bomb Iranian facilities but he never instructed the military to move beyond the contingency stage. It gives credit to SecDef Gates for convincing Bush that an overt attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would be "ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran’s nuclear effort further out of view."
What are the possible reasons for (Leak 2)?
(2a) It counters the wide spread rumors that Bush had ordered the military beyond contingency planning for overt attacks on Iranian soil, and thus it again makes GWB appear a bit more reasonable than commonly seen.
(2b) It makes Gates, who Obama has picked to remain as SecDef, look particularly reasonable and intelligent.
Perhaps there is a pattern here. If Obama wants to lend support for his choice at SecDef its not unwise to do so in such a way as to make GWB look a bit better as well. Additionally Obama can be seen here to have made a wise decision regarding Gates; that he was not simply chosen for bipartisanship but for a calm steady hand at SecDef.
(Leak 3) "Several years ago, foreign intelligence services tinkered with individual power units that Iran bought in Turkey to drive its centrifuges" … "An engineer in Switzerland, who worked with the Pakistani nuclear black-marketeer Abdul Qadeer Khan, had been “turned” by American intelligence officials and helped them slip faulty technology into parts bought by the Iranians." …. "A number of centrifuges blew up, prompting public declarations of sabotage by Iranian officials." There is also much non-specific talk about high tech experimental covert methodology to attack Iranian infrastructure.
(3a) One can only assume that the "engineer in Switzerland" was already burned before this was leaked and that Iran already knew exactly how and by whom those centrifuges were sabotaged. This seems to be a leak of no real significance, probably used to pad the release, and, via the use of unimportant detail, to hide the real intended uses of the article; Leaks ONE and TWO.
(3b) Talk of super secret high tech abilities perhaps increases paranoia in the Iranian command and control structures and, perhaps, provides some domestic strokes to the US intel community.
(Leak 4) "The United States did give Israel one item on its shopping list: high-powered radar, called the X-Band, to detect any Iranian missile launchings."
(4a) Again one must assume that this information is already well known to Israels foes. After all this entire article was reviewed by "senior United States intelligence and administration officials", and information was omitted "to avoid harming continuing operations. " This also appears to be essentially useless detail lending a sense of authenticity to the entire leak.
I think the article is the work of Obama’s team, perhaps driven by Gates, and it indicates that Gates (a former head of the CIA) has found a leader who is interested in using intelligence as a force in and of itself instead of simply using it to build a domestic drum beat for military action. That conclusion, which might be altered by future events, is the most optimistic I have been in ages.
This has been fully excerpted from my regular blog, Immersed Instincts