File photo of former CIA deputy Director David Cohen .
(photo credit: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS/FILE PHOTO)
Former CIA deputy director David Cohen said US President Donald Trump’s tasking a team with justifying a pullout from the Iran nuclear deal posed a “grave danger” to the ability of the United States to face international threats.
“The president’s reported demand for intelligence to support his policy preference to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal risks politicizing intelligence analysis, with potentially grave consequences, not only for national security decision- making but also for our ability to address a wide range of international threats,” Cohen said Friday in a Washington Post editorial.
Trump last month recertified Iran’s adherence to the 2015 deal brokered by President Barack Obama, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear activities. But he did so reluctantly, at the behest of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They argued that decertification would alienate US allies because Iran is indeed complying with the deal’s strictures.
However, within days of giving the go-ahead to recertify, Trump reportedly tasked a separate team led by his top strategic adviser, Steve Bannon, to come up with a reason to decertify Iran the next time the 90-day assessment rolls around in October. Trump believes Iran is not abiding by the “spirit” of the deal because of its continued missile testing, its military adventurism and its backing for terrorism – areas not covered by the deal.
Cohen left the CIA’s number two position in January. Before he was tapped in 2015 by Obama to be deputy CIA director, Cohen headed the Department of Treasury office that policed sanctions on Iran. He said in his editorial that the ultimately successful fight to bring other nations on board with the Iran sanctions was hampered by the blow US intelligence took to its reputation after the Iraq war. At that time, it was revealed that intelligence assessments saying Iraq had weapons of mass destruction – a key pretext for that war – proved groundless.
“When I traveled the world to build support for sanctions on Iran by presenting intelligence (with authorization, of course) on the progress of Iran’s nuclear program, the hangover from the Iraq intelligence failure was palpable,” he wrote. “But because our intelligence on Iran was unquestionably sound, we were able to persuade dozens of countries to work with us in pressuring Iran.”
The sanctions that Cohen helped implement are believed to have forced Iran to come to the negotiating table to work out the deal.
Cohen is one of a handful of American Jews to reach the top echelons of the intelligence community.