Obama Was Never Naive About The Iran Threat

In Newsweek, Eli Lake, Daniel Klaidman and Dan Ephron land a whale of a story on Iran's nuclear program, and the Obama Administration's attempts to thwart it. One interesting finding: The President, even at the height of his campaign to convince the Iranians to negotiate with him, never let up the covert pressure:

The American intelligence and security establishment had worries of its own about Iran--and about Obama. The generals and spies fretted that the new president might put an end to an elaborate shadow war they had been waging. The Bush administration, together with Israeli counterparts, had engaged in a supersecret campaign to set back Iran's nuclear development. The program involved what are known in the spy world as "delaying actions" or "foiling operations." Agents posing as black-market vendors would sell to Iranian buyers nuclear-use items designed to fail under high stress, or items with tracking devices to reveal the locations of secret labs. Software engineers worked to develop sophisticated cyber-warfare programs that could penetrate the computers in Iran's nuclear plants and cause harm to vital equipment like centrifuges. The spies didn't want any of that put on hold, and the CIA was particularly worried that Iranian assets they'd worked so hard to cultivate would fade away.

In the first days of the administration, deputy CIA Director Steve Kappes and Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, went to see Tom Donilon, one of Obama's most trusted aides. They knew the National Security Council was reviewing all presidential covert findings in light of Obama's promises on the campaign trail, and wanted to know what the president's intentions were. They asked Donilon not to stop the covert program. Donilon responded that he was not yet fully "read into" the covert files, so Cartwright took his request up the chain--directly to the new president.


In the end, Obama concluded that he could pursue both--the covert and diplomatic tracks--simultaneously. He told his advisers that a successful campaign to disrupt Iran's nuclear plans, in fact, would buy more time for diplomacy.