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Hayden: Iran's Complex Nuclear Program Will Confuse, Be Hard to Dismantle

Michael Hayden's remarks at Stimson Forum

Iran is developing its nuclear program in a way that will confuse its detractors, said Michael V. Hayden, the former head of the CIA and a retired Air Force general. The geographic dispersion of Iran's nuclear facilities would preclude a quick military response should opponents of Iran's nuclear program choose that option, he added, and would require a more extensive use of force.

Iran could develop a nuclear program that takes their capacities just below the development of a nuclear warhead, Hayden told a forum at the Henry L. Stimson Center. Then intelligence analysts would not be able to determine when Iran had crossed the line into a fully armed state.

"That gives them all the effects of having a weapon," Hayden said "and I judge that is their endgame; that's where they want to be."

When asked to assess the option of a military strike as a response to Iran's program, Hayden said that he once regarded this "kinetic option" as a last resort. But the other options, such as diplomacy and sanctions, do not appear to be getting desired results, he said, leaving military force as a potential course of action.

Iran's nuclear facilities extends throughout the country. Hayden suggested the well-known and established facility near Natanz would probably be used to develop technology and a knowledge base rather than a nuclear weapon itself. That knowledge could be transferred to a different site, such as one near Qom, for the purposes of building a weapon.

Because of the dispersed and labyrinthine nature of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, a raid would not be sufficient to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities. Instead, he said, a campaign would be needed.

An effective attack can't be done in one cycle of darkness, he said, adding that Israel probably would be unable to conduct such a sustained attack.

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The Iraqi WMD Intelligence Estimate

On another topic, Hayden gave his view of the way the Bush administration reached the assessment that Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government was developing weapons of mass destruction. He said the analysts and policymakers started with the premise that Iraq was developing a WMD program. The information they received was divided into three categories: confirming; neutral; and not confirming. Hayden said that the information was not used to develop a contrarian hypothesis that would have challenged the original one. However he denied that the administration "cherry picked" the intelligence.

The task of developing the WMD assessment was headed by weapons experts rather than regional experts, Hayden told the forum. If the regional experts had been given more say they may have arrived at or offered different conclusions.

The CIA, NSA and Secrecy vs. Disclosure

In other comments, Hayden said that as head of the CIA he was continually charged with informing not only the President, but also oversight committees of the Congress. He outlined a hierarchy of briefing that began with the President, but extended through the eight-member joint select committee on intelligence and then the respective intelligence committees of the House and Senate. Frequently the President agreed that the information was sufficiently sensitive that only the eight-member joint committee be briefed. Frequently that "Gang of Eight" also agreed.

Earlier in his career in the intelligence field Hayden had also juggled with competing demands of operational secrecy and the need to disclose information. Prior to his term at the CIA he headed the National Security Agency, the government organization responsible for intercepting messages and other forms of electronic espionage.

At the turn of the century an extremely secretive NSA was at the leading edge of computing and telecommunications. But with the growth of the Internet (the time when Hayden arrived), the NSA found the private sector was catching up in sophistication in many areas that impacted the agency's work.

Hayden said this compelled him to make the work of the NSA more transparent. His predecessors, he said, could tap into Soviet communication networks without concern of violating civil liberties because those networks were separate entities unto themselves. But when actionable intelligence began appearing on the World Wide Web and other channels shared with the public he saw the need to try to convince policy makers and the public that he could "hunt" on those networks without infringing on others.
by Robert Thomason, GlobalResourcesNews.com