CIA Chief: Iranians ‘Making Some Preparations’ to Enable Resumption of Nuclear Activities

By Patrick Goodenough | January 31, 2019 | 4:25 AM EST

CIA director Gina Haspel testifies at a Senate Intelligence Committee ‘worldwide threats’ hearing on Capitol Hill on January 29, 2019. Also pictured are DNI Dan Coats, FBI director Christopher Wray, and Defense Intelligence Agency director Gen. Robert Ashley. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

( – A spat over President Trump’s reaction to intelligence officials’ assessments regarding Iran risks diverting attention from the regime’s menacing behavior which those same officials did highlight during testimony this week – including the judgment that the Iranians are making preparations to facilitate a return to their suspect nuclear activities, should they decide to go that route.

Trump on Wednesday expressed displeasure at the intelligence community (IC) assessments on Capitol Hill a day earlier with regard to Iran, saying in a pair of tweets that the officials “seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!”

Trump said the Iranian regime remains “a source of potential danger and conflict,” noting continuing rocket launches and suggesting that “the only thing holding them back” is the poor state of the economy. “Be careful of Iran,” he concluded. “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

Several Democratic lawmakers slammed the president for the criticism, with House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeting, “It is a credit to our intelligence agencies that they continue to provide rigorous and realistic analyses of the threats we face. It’s deeply dangerous that the White House isn’t listening.”

Sen. Angus King (D-Me.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee – which heard the IC testimony on “worldwide threats” facing the U.S. on Tuesday – warned on CNN that foreign policy debacles over the past half century had been the result of not listening to intelligence, or getting poor intelligence.

The harshest criticism came from former CIA Director John Brennan, an outspoken media critic of Trump whose security clearance was revoked by the president last summer.

“Your refusal to accept the unanimous assessment of U.S. Intelligence on Iran, No. Korea, ISIS, Russia, & so much more shows the extent of your intellectual bankruptcy,” Brennan tweeted. “All Americans, especially members of Congress, need to understand the danger you pose to our national security.”

Latching onto media portrayals of supposed big gaps between the president and the IC, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif commented on Twitter that it was “awkward” when Trump’s intelligence agencies “contradict what he, the warmongers in his admin, and the Israelis say about Iran.”

In fact those intelligence officials – including a successor of Brennan’s at the CIA, Gina Haspel – did draw attention to Iran’s malign behavior in the region. And they were guarded in their language when it came to the regime’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew last May.

Asked by King a “yes or no” question on whether Iran was “currently abiding by the terms of the JCPOA,” Haspel deliberately gave him a more considered response.

“I think the most recent information is the Iranians are considering taking steps that would lessen their adherence to JCPOA, as they seek to pressure the Europeans to come through with the investment and trade benefits that Iran hoped to gain from the deal,” she said.

King pressed her on Iran’s adherence to the agreement since the U.S. withdrawal.

“They are making some preparations that would increase their ability to take a step back if they make that decision,” Haspel replied. “So at the moment, technically they are in compliance, but we do see them debating amongst themselves, as they fail to realize the economic benefits they hoped for from the deal.”

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats in his prepared remarks also couched his assessment of Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA in cautious terms.

“While we do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device, Iranian officials have publicly threatened to push the boundaries of JCPOA restrictions if Iran does not gain the tangible financial benefits it expected from the deal,” he said.

Coats pointed to other troubling Iranian behavior in the region, including:

--Terror sponsorship, as seen in recent arrests in Europe

--Support for Shi’a militia in Yemen and Iraq

--“Efforts to consolidate its influence in Syria and arm Hezbollah”

--Ballistic missile development, and its possession of the largest inventory in the Middle East

--“Developing indigenous military capabilities that threaten U.S. forces and allies in the region”

--Advancing cyber capabilities – a threat which he said was “growing in potency and severity” (and also ascribed to Russia, China and North Korea.)

Washington Institute senior fellow and managing director Michael Singh warned that the Twitter row “risks obscuring the fact that the DNI’s assessment does, in fact, characterize Iran as posing a serious and in some ways (e.g. cyber) growing threat while keeping the issue in a reasonable global perspective.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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