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Democrats and Republicans at Odds on Iran Intelligence

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Led by National Security Advisor John Bolton, over the last two weeks, U.S. officials have cited intelligence that they say showed Iranian activity that is putting U.S. forces in the region and America’s regional allies and interests in danger.

“If for example you believe that by labeling the IRGC as a terrorist group, they will be less likely to restrain the Shia militias [in Iraq, where America has 5,000 troops] — and then when you take that action you find that the Shia militias are more likely to attack, is that a problem with the intelligence or is that a problem with the action?” Schiff said.

The rising tensions have led to inevitable comparisons to the run-up to the Iraq War, when  U.S. officials misused intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons programs and ties to al-Qaeda to lead America into a devastating conflict. And so with escalating intensity throughout the week, amid news of U.S. officials gaming out military options, members of Congress have urged the administration to show them the intelligence.

We spoke with Schiff before he received a formal briefing from the administration on the intelligence in question on Thursday evening, along with the rest of the congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight. He reiterated his message in a statement on Friday, in which he said that Iran is a “thoroughly malign actor” and that the threat from Tehran, through the IRGC and its proxies, is “real”, but he also faulted the administration. “Given the degree to which the President has mischaracterized prior intelligence on other matters, or disputed the work product of the agencies when it contradicted his preferred narrative, his actions have generated understandable doubt on what we really know of Iranian plans and intentions,” the statement read. “All Members of Congress should be fully briefed by our intelligence agencies on their assessment of the threat posed by Iran.”

Senior officials, reportedly including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, and CIA director Gina Haspel, are expected to brief the House and Senate starting on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the administration’s defenders have dismissed criticism like Schiff’s. Republican Senator Marco Rubio, for example, who has also been briefed on the intelligence, has said it shows a “serious and potentially imminent threat to U.S. forces.”

He continued: “We are not going to start a war. But if we are attacked by Iran’s proxies, we are going to respond against those proxies and hold Iran responsible. And they’re going to pay a price for that as well.”

Administration officials have also disputed the idea that they are the ones engaged in provocative behavior; they blame Iran for the escalating tensions of the past two weeks — and say their recent moves were aimed at deterring, not provoking, an Iranian attack.

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