Ex-CIA operative to 'Post': EU must change Iran stance to avoid rash US steps

Tehran has "gobsmacked" the West in leveraging the agreement to its advantage to increase its regional meddling, Mary Beth Long said.

Missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran (photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)
Missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran
Former CIA operative and senior defense official Mary Beth Long said the European Union should stop slamming US President Donald Trump and stand with him against Iran’s missile tests and terrorism, if only to avoid seeing the US leader act out “rashly.”
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Long said of Trump’s decertification and public campaign against Iran, that she thought “the president is doing a great thing, leaving everyone guessing,” as to what his ultimate policy goal will be.
She hoped Trump would succeed at “scaring the bejesus out of the Europeans” into joining his pressure-Tehran strategy.
Long, a 12-year CIA field operative, said the guessing game as to whether Trump will ultimately scrap the deal or weigh military action “gives him time to go to the Europeans... to address the things that were left out [of the Iran nuclear deal] including missile testing, pushing the IAEA for more aggressive inspections of military sites and other bad behavior.”
Long, who is currently affiliated with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and involved in under-the-radar international consultations in alignment with the administration’s goals, said Trump has also left “Iran in a spin about what he will do next.”
“Nobody believes in ‘snap-back sanctions,’” she said, “so we can get our own unilateral ducks in order and use the threat of new or increased sanctions against the Europeans” to get their cooperation in addressing the deal’s gaps.
Long, combining a hard-nosed worldview with a refreshingly down-to-earth style, said she thought the “Iranians smoked us in the negotiations” in the pre-deal era.
“It was a brilliant piece of negotiating by them.” She also believes that post-deal, Tehran has “gobsmacked” the West in leveraging the agreement to its advantage to increase its regional meddling.
Long said that Iran “closed every door and window” to prevent bringing direct pressure on them in the deal on the issues of ballistic-missile testing and terrorism.
Also, she felt Iran has convinced the international community that any violation of the deal’s technicalities or spirit “just need to be quickly settled” by anticipating the West’s every move.
Recounting a recent discussion she had with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Long said she was “really surprised to hear him call violations of the limits on heavy water a mere overproduction.” Heavy water is limited under the deal because it can help produce nuclear reactions.
Confronting Zarif about a brief period when Iran produced more heavy water than it was supposed to, she told him that Iran had violated the deal – even acknowledging that the violation was minor and that Iran corrected the violation by selling the excess to Russia.
Zarif completely deflected this argument by saying Iran “did not have a violation.
But we can produce up to a certain point, and beyond that we just need to find someone to sell to.”
Long said that attitude, which the international community has tolerated for the two years since the deal was made, makes it clear that without Trump shaking things up, “we would eventually get an Iran with nuclear weapons that doesn’t even believe it has to be responsible.”
Long’s insights into Iran and the Middle East come not just from her years working in the higher echelons of government, but also from extensive field experience in which she delved into the psyche of foreign cultures.
Regarding Syria, she said the US had “given up a significant portion of our leverage.”
Long warned that there is a vacuum in Syria with the fall of ISIS, adding, “My fear is having not made an arrangement with the Russians, the Iranians and their ilk. The US doesn’t have the resources and manpower to move as quickly as it needs to in order to move to protect our allies.”
If those concerns are justified, then the US would be unable to save “those we supplied on the ground and to provide them secure spaces to continue to exist free from Assad, Russia and Iran dividing up all of the vacant or weak territory,” she stated.
Further, she said some US-supported groups like the Kurds are already taking a beating.
“Everyone knew that the Iraqi Army and the Shi’a militias would move on [Kurdish control of] Kirkuk. But we grossly underestimated how quickly and how successful they would be.”
Long said the US “saw the writing on the wall, but there was little US intelligence or air support. The US dropped the ball” and once again “abandoned the Kurds.”
The slow adjustment of the US to events in Syria parallels an issue Long helped then-US defense secretary Bob Gates solve in late 2006.
While still a top official in the Defense Department, Long walked with Gates “down rows and rows of Humvees [armored personnel carriers] destroyed by mines as, far as the eye could see, that the US Third Army had in Kuwait.”
Though the army seemed to find it impossible to “get mine-resistant vehicles” that it had to the front, Long found that solving the issue was a matter of identifying a series of large-bureaucracy logistics issues to cut through.
Without identifying the right diagnosis and working the system, the problem could have continued, even as a solution – mine-resistant vehicles – existed.
Long played down Trump’s leak of Israeli intelligence to Russia in May. She said, “I am not excusing it... it was a mistake, [but] this president just did not have experience as an intelligence consumer or in protocols.”
In other words, instead of seeing the leak as proof of some kind of collusion with Russia, she said Trump “was drinking from the fire hose with the amount of information he was receiving and likely did not have clear in his mind what he even did – even as he did it.”
Long dismissed some former Mossad chiefs who called for cutting back intelligence sharing. But she agreed with other top Israeli officials who saw the bigger picture and said US-Israeli intelligence sharing was a necessity, despite the leak.
Long also explained a CIA spy’s perspective on why intelligence gathering by humans still cannot be replaced by ever-expanding cyber spying capabilities.
“Maybe I am biased because I was a HUMINT [human intelligence] collector in my day... But algorithms aren’t able to capture nuances and information tidbits that never make it into an intelligence report. At the end of the day, spying is about people.”
“So cyber can never replace human intuition...
the feel of the street when it does not sound the same. And I know that, but I do not know why... Or that an agent would never pass trustworthy information on to another person because long ago their sons had a fight and one of them ended up crippled,” she said.
Long concluded, “Technology is a necessity and a tool, but it is just that, a tool...
The world still comes down to individuals making decisions.”
She recounted how “the most dangerous thing I had ever done” was to personally “terminate” an agent she had recruited in a South American country where the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement was trying to overthrow the government in favor of a socialist regime.
The agent, “was suspected of being a dual agent,” Long said.
A dual agent, unlike a double agent, meant that he was not necessarily double-crossing the CIA, but that he was potentially passing on real intelligence to both the CIA and an adversary.
“As the only woman in the office and with a curfew in place, I would go out in the evenings with our more senior folk under sleazy local cover, as a prostitute or a mistress,” armed and with counter-surveillance nearby, she recalled.
“He saw the counter-surveillance, as I wanted him to know that I was not by myself... He also did an accidental discharge of his weapon when he pounded his fist on the car... He was as surprised as I was,” Long said.
The experience with the dual agent taught her “a lot about how politics, intelligence and military affairs work. You think that people who have chosen a side... stick with it. But most people are not sure what side they are supposed to be on. And some are on both. The idea that things are as black and white and clear, especially in the Middle East” is a misconception, she said.
Long said that experiences in the field taught her to love the “many different shades” of Middle Eastern culture and to anticipate “how the other side is going to view” things – a key lesson in handling Iran and the nuclear issue.