Who’s behind the Gates memo leak?

The New York Times reports on a “secret three-page memorandum” that Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent to National Security Adviser Gen James Jones in January, warning that “the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability,” according to unnamed officials who leaked the information.

The narrative line here which is presumably the line which was being fed to the New York Times‘ ever-obliging reporters, was that the there are gaps in the US strategy for dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It’s far from clear that this was actually the thrust of Gates’ memo.

[I]n his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.

To say that the US lacks a strategy here, is itself a statement so vague as to be meaningless. It lacks a strategy to prevent Iran becoming a virtual nuclear state? Or it lacks a strategy for dealing with Iran in such an eventuality? Or it lacks a strategy for dealing with the fact that it may not actually know whether Iran has acquired this form of nuclear capability?

There is no indication in this account that the New York Times reporters saw the memo (and it seems reasonable to infer that they did not), so as is so often the case, it’s likely that the most significant detail in this story is the one that will not be revealed: the identity of the senior official who is the primary source of the narrative.

Was it Dennis Ross? He’d certainly fit the profile of someone in the administration who probably feels like it’s time to change the subject and shift attention away from Israel and back to Iran. As another US official recently told Laura Rozen, “He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu’s coalition politics than to U.S. interests.”

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Comments

  1. It could easily be Ross, but I’m not sure how this helps him or his cause. It comes as close to saying, “Iran can do whatever it wants and there’s nothing we can do about it,” without actually saying it. Whether Ross knows this by now or not, nobody is going to attack Iran. The best he can do is ensure US-Iranian antagonism remains and prevents any reconciliation. But that doesn’t help longer term. Five years from now, Iran’s nuclear capability will be clear. The US will be out of Iraq and Iran’s influence there will be manifest. Where the price of oil will be then is anybody’s guess, but if its well above 100$/barrel, that can’t be good for Ross’ interests.

    The bottom line is that the longer the US waits to reconcile with Iran, the stronger Iran becomes and the worse deal the US can expect to get. If Ross doesn’t see it that way, so much the better quite frankly.

  2. DICKERSON3870 says:

    RE:”…the identity of the senior official who is the primary source of the narrative. Was it Dennis Ross?” – Woodward

    FROM PHILIP GIRALDI, 04/22/10 : “…More information has also been developed regarding Kass’s current role. According to a highly reliable source, Dr. Lani Kass is now the principal adviser to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen regarding the Middle East…
    SOURCE – http://original.antiwar.com/giraldi/2010/04/21/israel-first-more-on-dr-lani-kass/

    FROM PHILIP GIRALDI, 04/15/10: “…Dr. Lani Kass, who is the senior Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force General Norton A. Schwartz, was born, raised, and educated in Israel and then served in that country’s military where she reached the rank of major…Kass appears to have close and continuing ties to her country of birth, frequently spicing her public statements with comments about life in Israel while parroting simplistic views of the nature of the Islamic threat that might have been scripted in Tel Aviv’s Foreign Ministry…
    ….In September 2007, The Times of London reported that she was a leading participant in “Project CHECKMATE, a “highly confidential strategic planning group tasked with ‘fighting the next war’ as tensions rise with Iran” that was “quietly established” by the US Air Force in June 2007 as a “successor to the group that planned the 1991 Gulf War’s air campaign.”….The Times cited Defense sources saying, “detailed contingency planning for a possible attack on Iran has been carried out for more than two years.” Regarding Iran operations, Kass was quoted as saying “We can defeat Iran, but are Americans willing to pay the price?”
    SOURCE – http://original.antiwar.com/giraldi/2010/04/14/dr-strangelove-made-in-israel/