• 29 September 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file

Sometimes Its Good to Be Cautious about Intelligence

Intelligence Community

The disclosure of a secret nuclear facility near Qom last week apparently had the effect of convincing people that Iran is not only working towards building nuclear weapons, but is quite close to achieving that goal. But the fact is that all sixteen agencies within the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) still believe that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has yet to restart it.

As a result of this position, the IC has been criticized by commentators who point toward German, French and Israeli intelligence reports that claim Iran never stopped its weapons program.  Today’s New York Times article by David Sanger suggested that the IC is being overly cautious, overcompensating for the WMD intelligence debacle that helped launch the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Some Israeli and European officials say the Americans are being overly cautious, having been stung by the Iraq intelligence debacle. The Americans deny this, insisting they are open-minded. One American intelligence official said the view of Iran’s weapons design program, “like every analytic judgment, is constantly checked and reassessed in light of new information, which comes in all the time.”

The article’s authors and European and Israeli officials, however, seem to have forgotten that in 2003 IC analysts were plenty cautious about stating that Iraq’s stockpile of WMDs was a number greater than zero. They didn’t rush into a judgment, nor were they intent on pushing biased intelligence.  Until, that is, the White House put a great deal of pressure on the IC to “sex up” its threat assessment of Iraq.

It was as a result of White House pressure that the IC changed its assessment of Iraq’s WMD program. Intelligence reports went from initially wary about the danger of Iraq’s WMD program, to absolutely certain (a “slam dunk”) that Iraq possessed WMDs.

This is not meant to be a blind defense of the IC (which wasn’t blameless for the Iraq war), but instead a refutation of arguments that dismiss a guarded intelligence assessment in favor of evaluations that can be used to support a more bellicose, confrontational approach. The intelligence reports that the leaders of the P5+1 countries take to heart before negotiations could greatly affect the outcome of the talks.

Unfortunately, neoconservatives and Iran hawks in the US have spent the last two years trying to discredit the 2007 NIE which stated that Iran halted its weapons program in 2003.  The orchestrated campaign to attack the consensus assessment of US intelligence is nothing more than a repeat of the Bush administration’s cooked-up push for a justification to go to war in Iraq.  While the “clock is ticking” on Iran’s nuclear program, as people often say, this repeat of history can only hasten a confrontation.

If the German, Israeli and French intelligence assessments are given priority, then there will be a greater sense of urgency to Thursday’s meeting with Iran. On the other hand, if the IC’s reports are believed, then there is certainly time to work on diplomacy before “crippling” sanctions are warranted.

The talks on October 1st should be treated by all parties involved as a soft opening for the second round of talks scheduled for October 6th. On Thursday, members of the P5+1 and Iran can raise the issues that are important to them, but no party should be overly rigid in its stance. The door to discussion should be left wide open, since everyone will be back at the table again in five days.

Posted By Matt Sugrue

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7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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