Front-Row Seat to a CIA (Veteran) Briefing on Iran

Photo: Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP

Cipher Brief experts General (ret) Michael Hayden and former CIA senior officer Norman Roule have had many conversations on the subject of Iran and the broader Middle East—but not usually in front of a public audience. The two served together in the U.S. intelligence community, with Hayden as former CIA and NSA chief, and Roule most recently as National Intelligence Manager for Iran at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

On Monday, Hayden hosted Roule at George Mason University’s Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy and International Security for a wide-ranging conversation covering Iranian history, the Islamic regime’s current destabilizing activities and U.S. regional policy.

Here are a few highlights of Roule’s comments:

  • On Iran’s influence on the broader Middle East: “Iran has injected into the region this sense of surrogates that follow an Iranian lead—some to greater or lesser extent—and has provided them with advanced weapons technology. This has changed the DNA of the region. Can the DNA be changed back? I don’t know.”
  • On recent protests in Iran: “What you had in December, and what you’re having today… is unrest in…at least 6 or 7 cities. Crowds are in the thousands, not the millions. They are rudderless. They are brought together by a common thread of unhappiness with their standard of living, but they don’t actually have something they’re running towards—they’re running away from something.”
  • If the Iranian regime collapsed today: “I think we want to be careful about an immediate collapse in Iran. If it happens today—what’s the institution left in Iran that is intact, resourced, funded, fed, motivated and ideologically tested? The IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps]. Who do you think is going to run the place the next day?”
  • On briefing Congress and the claims that the U.S. intelligence community is politicized: “Before one particularly contentious session…an [Obama] administration official turned to me and said, ‘You didn’t sound very enthusiastic about the [Iran] deal. In fact, you sounded like there might be some issues with the deal…if you can at least point out some of the benefits a little more robustly, that would be useful.’

    “Within fifteen seconds, as God as my witness, a senior member of the U.S. Congress pulled me aside and said that he and another individual thought that my presentation had been far too robustly positive on the deal, and perhaps I had lost my sense of separation.”

Roule ended by pointing out the uncertain generational changes that lay ahead for many countries in the Middle East:

“The number of elderly leaders in the Middle East…we’re on the cusp of many changes. I could go through about 8 or 9 people who are about to change. They’re going to bring in a new generation and the world will be very different. I don’t think we’re thinking enough about what that will mean and where it will go.”

As for how the United States should approach these leadership shifts, Roule didn’t himself offer the answers:

“If somebody could write on that, and have it on my desk by noon…”

Brian Garrett-Glaser is the content manager for The Cipher Brief.


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