Clapper Acknowledges Omissions on Iran Threat

Intelligence communities still regard Tehran as top terrorist sponsor

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper / AP

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A senior administration official acknowledged to Senate Republicans that its 2015 intelligence threat assessment failed to provide the full scope of Iran’s state sponsored terrorism.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a letter to the Senate that the 2015 worldwide threat assessment could have been more specific about the Iranian threat to United States’ interests. He emphasized that the omissions from a general report do not mean the intelligence community is ignoring that threat.

"A specific reference to the terrorist threat from Iran and Hezbollah—which was not included in any of the drafts of the testimony—would have been appropriate for the 2015 assessment, but the lack of its inclusion is in no way a change in the IC’s assessment," Clapper said in his June 3 letter.

Senate Republicans submitted a letter critical of the report in April. The letter, signed by seven GOP senators, including Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), said Clapper did not mention the extent of the threat Iran poses to the United States in his 2015 worldwide threat assessment.

"Despite ongoing nuclear negotiations and the administration’s evolving policy towards the Iranian regime, we are perplexed that your annual assessment contains no meaningful reference to the chaos that Iran manufactures through its support for terrorist groups and proxy organizations, which raises serious questions about the credibility of this annual exercise," the letter said.

Senators pointed to Iranian military and financial support throughout the Middle East and in nations close to America’s southern border. The failure to include those details in the assessment, the senators said, appears to downplay the threat.

"As you know, Iran has a long history of supporting terrorist activity in the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America," the letter said. "In your 2015 worldwide threat assessment, there is little mention of Iranian support for terrorism or the threat posed by Shia militants. In fact, a fair reading of the assessment leaves one with the impression that only Sunni violent extremists pose a threat to our national interests."

Clapper responded by pointing to specific instances of intelligence officials warning of Iranian terror. The threat assessment is a general rather than detailed approach to anti-U.S. elements.

"During the 26 February open hearing on worldwide threats with the Senate Armed Services Committee, for which this assessment was prepared, I responded in the affirmative when Senator Ayotte asked whether I still categorize Iran as one of the largest state sponsors of terrorism in the world," he said.

The Intelligence Community (IC) "continues to assess that Iran and Hezbollah directly threaten the interests of the United States and our allies and that Hezbollah remains a global terrorist threat. This has been the consistent view of the IC for more than three decades."

The letter came as the Obama administration negotiates a nuclear deal with Tehran.

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