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CIA: Self Evaluation of its Failures | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia, August 14, 2008. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Washington – During the final year of the Iranian-Iraqi war, precisely mid-1988, indications surfaced signifying the end of the battles. Yet, a number of CIA analysts continued to present false data that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini would never agree to end the war unconditionally.

Contrary to the experts’ predictions, Tehran announced it would accept a U.N. resolution which called for a ceasefire, embarrassing CIA officials. As a result, the CIA decided to review reports issued during the first half of 1988 to try to figure out what went wrong.

Experts used a research scientific method, which resulted in a research paper on conclusions and an argument that the partial failure was not critical based on the results of the evaluation, which we shed light on here in the fifth and final episode on CIA documents.

The document dates back to August 17, 1988 and is composed of 12-pages varying between classified and confidential. It was submitted by Richard Kerr to the Director and Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In the introduction, Kerr said: “Attached is an evaluation by the Product Evaluation Staff of the Directorate of Intelligence’s analysis of Iranian determination to continue the war. I thought it would be useful to see how well we did in assessing the pressures on Iran before it agreed to the U.N. resolution in July.

I think this is a very good assessment. If anything, it shows that having a clear idea of what was happening was a bit late. We did not have a clear enough insight into the debate that must have been going on in Iran before the acceptance of the resolution. But I would guess that the outcome of that debate was not all that certain.

You will find the short extracts in the Annex to be very useful in understanding the evolution of our analysis.

One thing that confused us was the carelessness of Iranians towards the downing of their aircraft. Our analysts assessed that the incident would cause the Iranians to take a harder line against the U.S. and the war itself. It seemed a relatively minor incident, according to the Iranians.”

Rafsanjani convinced Khomeini to end the war

Unlike academic studies that are usually composed of three parts, introduction, body and conclusion, intelligence reports are organized differently. When writing such reports, the author takes into consideration that decision-makers don’t have time for details. So he begins with the conclusion or key point reached by the analyst, and then goes ahead with explaining how he reached such outcomes.

In the assessment of the Iran-Iraq war, the intelligence department stated mistakes at the beginning of the document; including the agency’s realization that the role of Hashimi Rafsanjani should be taken more into consideration. The agency believed that Rafsanjani was likely the one who convinced Ayatollah Khomeini to change his mind and “take the poison.”

Scope of Study

The document also evaluated the media, research papers, intelligence assessments, publications, and papers that were the basis for oral briefings between January 1, 1988 and July 20, 1988.

It focused on finding answers to the following issues:
– What were the key analytical themes and judgements effectively presented?
– Was the intelligence correct in its interpretation and assessments of events?
– How well did they predict the future developments, especially Iran’s decision to accept the ceasefire?
– Did the analysts working on the Iranian-Iraqi file provide an extensive coverage?

Failure to Predict

“It goes without saying that we didn’t expect the Iranian government to change and accept an unconditional ceasefire,” the agency evaluated its performance during the first Gulf war.

The agency admitted that it would have known that outcome only through a source within Iran’s inner circle that would likely have been able to inform them of the change within few days only.

What the analysis showed was the shift from a tolerable situation for Iran to a very difficult one.

Iranian Army’s Degeneration

Analysts noticed that the morale of the Iranian army was low. There was also increased friction among its members along with a lack of equipment and supplies, difficulty in recruiting new soldiers and leadership weakness- contrary to the Iraqi Army where efforts were made to rely on chemical warfare.

Conclusions showed Iran’s futile efforts to force the U.S. and its allies out of the Gulf both by diplomatic and military means.

Main Conclusions:

Majority of the analysts believed that Khomeini is unlikely to change his policies and agree to a ceasefire unless popular discontent rose to a point where it threatens the regime’s presence.

By the beginning of May and till June 1988, a few analysts noted that Iran had reached the stage where it is ready to negotiate a settlement.

The contradicting viewpoints showed that each group of analysts had a different understanding of the negotiations within the Iranian leadership.

As of April, analysts began negotiations ofn a possible change of faith regarding the war. Both teams agreed it is difficult, and probably impossible, to predict when Khomeini was going to be convinced to “drinking the poison”, as he once stated.

They all agreed that Rafsanjani should have been given more attention as he was most likely the only one capable of changing the mind of Khomeini.

Between January 1 and July 20 of 1988, the majority of the analysts weren’t able to predict that the Iranian government would agree to an unconditional ceasefire.

The document also revealed Iran’s falling economy, its failure at the diplomatic front and its military defeat, which as of July, had put Khomeini under a lot of pressure and limited his options.