Robert Mackey: Secrets, Iran and a Healthy Skepticism

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Robert Mackey is a historian and retired US Army officer. He specialzes in American Civil War history, history of intelligence, and counter-terrorism.]

Today, The Times (UK) posted a story about a "Secret Document [that] Exposes Iran's Nuclear Trigger" that detailed what is supposedly "a final key component" of a nuclear weapon. The article is located at "Secret Document Exposes Iran's Nuclear Trigger."

Ok, I'm not a nuclear physicist. I've never taken a class in physics. I'm not a Farsi linguist or have lived in Tehran for 30 years. What I do know is how the global intelligence community works, at least from an insiders view. It basically has one rule.

Secrets Stay Secret IF YOU WANT THEM TO.

In 1916-1917, Britain was on the verge of losing the Great War. The French were rocked by mutinies, the bloodbath of the Somme and Ypres had drained Great Britain of men, materials and morale. Literally the only real hope the Allies had was American entry into the war. Yet even the sinking of the SS Lusitania in 1915 and the deaths of American citizens, along with the glowing propaganda of American volunteers with the Allies, did little to move the American people toward war. No, that came when the British released a decoded intercept between the German Ambassador to Mexico and his government outlining a proposed Mexican-German alliance if the US joined the war. However, the telegram was not released to the American government--it was released to the American press on March 1, 1917. On April 6, Congress voted for war.

The British had a secret. And they released it to cause the most impact on their main target--the American people.

I am not saying that the same situation exists with this release of information. In fact, the Iranians may be happily building nuclear weapons as I type, in order to wipe out "Zionism" and bring on the 12th Imam. I don't know. But what I do know is that a secret was released, and released at a time when negotiations are being conducted to find a peaceful solution.

Who would release such a secret, which could only be gathered from an agent in Iran? Why risk the life of the agent? Why?

Nations have agreements, as do their intelligence agencies. The US shares information with the UK, the UK with France, France with Italy and so on. And many of these countries share information with Israel, Turkey and other nations in the region.

Was this a Mossad plant? Perhaps. Perhaps it was a plant by Syria or Turkey or Egypt, for their own purposes. Or perhaps it was released disinformation by the Iranians to deter an attack on themselves (shades of Saddam's failed miscalculation in telling the world he had CBNR weapons...). No one knows. In the dark world of intelligence, information is a commodity, to be bought, sold and traded.

A healthy skepticism is what is needed. Raw intelligence is rarely 100% accurate, and when a nation has a lot to gain by leaking secrets, even more care should be taken.

The Zimmerman Telegram was a piece of factual information. Just because something is factual does not mean that it is the whole story, or that the truth, like lies, can be used to shape opinions and lead nations to war.

comments powered by Disqus