Trump ‘politicizing intelligence’ to quit Iran nuclear deal: Ex-CIA official
US President Donald Trump’s reported demand from US intelligence agencies to support his policy preference to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement risks “politicizing intelligence,” according to the former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
When the president demands that intelligence fit his political desires, it has potentially grave consequences for national security and undermines foreign policy decisions, said David S. Cohen, who was also assistant secretary of the Treasury Department for terrorism and financial intelligence during the administration of President Barack Obama.
“When a president directs his staff to generate intelligence to support a preferred policy outcome, overriding the dispassionate analytic judgments of intelligence professionals, that is the very definition of the politicization of intelligence,” Cohen wrote in an op-ed published Friday in The Washington Post.
Policymakers can scrutinize intelligence agencies and challenge the community’s judgments, but they cannot demand a particular answer, Cohen argued.
The White House is bound by US law to notify Congress of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal every 90 days. Congress would then have to continue to withhold certain nuclear sanctions against Iran.
The Trump administration notified Congress of Iran’s compliance for the first time in April.
Last month, Trump reluctantly agreed for the second time to certify that Iran was in compliance, based on the recommendation of his national security team and the intelligence community’s collection and analysis.
But the president then immediately commissioned a group of administration staffers who have no intelligence background to generate a rationale for declaring Iran to be in violation of the deal at the next 90-day review, Foreign Policy reported last month.
Trump told The Wall Street Journal in late July that he expects the “detailed studies” he’s commissioned to validate his belief that Iran is “noncompliant.”
“This is a dangerous place to go. At the most basic level, one would hope that foreign policy decisions with potentially dramatic consequences would be based on the best available facts, not political pretexts,” Cohen said.
“Politicizing the intelligence process would make it more difficult to address a range of national security challenges,” he added.
The Trump administration has been skeptical of the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump has called the JCPOA “a very bad” deal, and, as a presidential candidate, he had threatened that he would rip it up.
Under the deal, which took effect in January last year, Iran undertook to put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the termination of nuclear-related sanctions imposed against the Islamic Republic.
The United Nations (UN) and the EU have warned that the US could not unilaterally rescind the multilateral agreement. They regard the deal as a triumph for diplomacy and a major contributing factor to regional and international peace and stability.
However, a likelihood remains for the US to withdraw from the deal and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned that any major non-performance by the US may prompt Iran’s withdrawal from the accord, too.