About ten days after the start of Iran’s insurrection, I asked a senior administration official what, if anything, the White House knew about the people behind the demonstrations. His reply: “I think it is fair to say senior administration officials are busily trying to understand how the opposition is generated and where it came from.” In other words, there’s a lot about the protesters we still don’t know.
This is not the first time U.S. intelligence has been caught off guard by an Iranian movement. A CIA estimate from August 1978 concluded, “Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation.” Five months later, the world watched the first Islamic revolution.
Part of the problem today is that most of our spies are focused on Iran’s nuclear program and the regime’s support for international terrorism. Along those lines, the U.S. military was able to acquire detailed information about the explosives Iran exported to the Iraqi insurgency between 2006 and 2008. By comparison, our spies have been largely disinterested in recent years when it came to Iran’s democracy movement. It was left, for example, to private citizens to help Ahmad Batebi–who graced the cover of The Economistduring the 1999 student uprising–escape to the Unit… >>>