Cipher Brief Expert John E. McLaughlin served as Acting Director of Central Intelligence from July to September 2004 and as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence from October 2000 to July 2004.  He is currently the Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). OPINION ...

EXPERT ANALYSIS -- At a time when western officials are focusing their attention toward national security threats posed by China, the war in Yemen is entering its seventh devastating year. Billions have been poured into the country in efforts to stem a humanitarian crisis that shows no signs of stabilizing. ...

President Joe Biden’s administration is aiming its Middle East agenda on adhering to campaign promises, examining current policies and undoing some that were enacted under the Trump administration. The U.S. has announced that it will no longer support Saudi offensive operations in Yemen and has appointed special representatives to help ...

The new COVID-19 national security world is one shaped by a host of national and global security issues that were impacted – both good and bad – by the global pandemic. That, in turn, has fundamentally changed the way governments and private sector companies need to think about the old ...

Norman T. Roule served for 34-years in the Central Intelligence Agency, managing numerous programs relating to Iran and the Middle East.  He served as the National Intelligence Manager for Iran (NIM-I) at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from November 2008 until September 2017.  As NIM-I, he was the ...

Cipher Brief Expert John E. McLaughlin is the Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).  He served as Acting Director of Central Intelligence from July to September 2004 and as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence from October 2000 to July 2004. EXPERT TAKE ...

Cipher Brief Expert John McLaughlin is former Acting Director of the CIA, former Deputy CIA Director and is the Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) OPINION -- President-elect Joe Biden faces a longer and more complex set of foreign policy challenges than ...

Gary Grappo is a former U.S. ambassador who held senior positions including Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad; U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman; and Charge d’Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He’s currently ...

OPINION -- Was the November 27, assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh - Iran’s top nuclear scientist - the beginning or the end of attempts to sabotage President-elect Joe Biden’s plans for the United States to return to the 2015, multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)? My guess is that there ...

Just over a week ago, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed by what Iranian authorities describe as a remote-controlled weapon as his car made its way through the streets of Tehran. It was the latest in a series of high-profile killings that included al Qaeda’s second in command ...

The killing of Al Qaeda’s second in command reportedly at the hands of Israeli operatives working in Tehran signals a significant reduction among al Qaeda’s founding generation, leaving questions about how the organization will conduct itself in the hands of younger leaders. While Tehran denies the reports, sources told The ...

Eldad Shavit, Sr. Researcher, INSS Eldad Shavit is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and previously served in senior roles in Israeli Defense Intelligence and the Prime Minister’s Office. Dr. Raz Zimmt, Research Fellow, INSS Dr. Raz Zimmt is a research fellow at the Institute ...

Cipher Brief Expert Ambassador Joseph R. DeTrani was the former Special Envoy for Negotiations with North Korea and Director of the National Counterproliferation Center.  He is also former director of East Asia Operations for CIA and served as the Associate Director of National Intelligence and Mission Manager for North Korea ...

The Cipher Brief is a non-political media outlet focused on publishing expert perspectives on national security issues. We are committed to presenting multiple opinions to help produce a more informed understanding of the issues.  John McLaughlin is the Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International ...

  Bottom Line up Front Iran’s construction of a new, hardened centrifuge assembly plant further undermines the 2015 multilateral Iran nuclear agreement. Iran’s confirmation of the construction in late October is intended to signal that the Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign is failing. Iran rebuilding the facility destroyed in July ...

OPINION – The United Nations’ decade-long embargo on the sale of arms to Iran expired on Sunday based on a provision in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was aimed at halting Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. So, what happens now? Tehran says it has no plans to ...

Iran and China are reportedly moving forward with an economic and security agreement that could pose a significant challenge to US efforts to isolate and sanction Tehran over its nuclear program.  The proposed agreement, reported last week by The New York Times “would vastly expand Chinese presence in banking, telecommunication, ...

Earlier this Spring, an oil tanker from Iran arrived in Venezuela with a much-needed delivery, despite the fact that both nations are under US sanctions.  It was a signal of a strengthening relationship between two authoritarian regimes.  A spokeswoman for the US State Department criticized the move but stopped short ...

  Bottom Line up Front The October 2020 expiration of the U.N. ban on arms transfers to and from Iran would have little material impact on the strategic threat posed by Iran. Iran’s economic difficulties hamper its ability to buy major new combat systems. Conventional weapons are marginal to Tehran’s ...

  Bottom Line up Front Iran’s apparent drawdown of its military presence in Syria likely reflects Tehran’s calculation that the regime of President Bashar Al Assad is secure. Both Russia and the Assad regime maintain a dedicated interest in limiting Iran’s influence in post-conflict Syria. Israeli defense officials believe that ...

Emile Nakhleh is a retired CIA Senior Intelligence Service Officer and founding director of the CIA’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program Office. He is currently a Research Professor and Director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico. OPINION -- According to Johns Hopkins ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Israeli cyberattacks against Iran are intended to send a signal, as a means of pushing back against Iran’s actions in Syria and Tehran’s own growing cyber activities throughout the region. In terms of cyber, Iran is not ‘big-game hunting,’ at least not yet, but its ...

In part one of Iran and Hezbollah’s Pre-Operational Modus Operandi in the West, authors Mitch Silber and Ioan Pop pulled from court documents and open source reporting to shed light on ways that Iran and its proxy groups have engaged in regional escalations after the killing of Iranian General Qassem ...

Cipher Brief Expert Mitch Silber and Ioan Pop have pulled from court documents and open source reporting to compile a modus operandi of Iran and Hezbollah and their efforts to attack the west. Mitchell D. Silber, Former Director of Intelligence, NYPD In January 2020, Mitchell D. Silber was named the ...

  Bottom Line up Front The April 24, 2020 launch of a satellite by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) indicates that Iran might intend to use space launch capabilities for military purposes. Iran’s missile and space launch technology has advanced significantly in recent years, contributing to Iran’s emergence as ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The United States recently announced plans to remove two Patriot anti-missile systems from Saudi Arabia, which could be accompanied by a further drawdown of other U.S. military capabilities in the region. The removal of the Patriot missile batteries is emblematic of the Trump administration’s schizophrenic ...

  Bottom Line up Front Iraq’s new government will struggle to extricate the country from its role as an arena for conflict between Iran and the United States, or necessarily set Iraq on a course for long-term stability. The new Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, faces an immediate economic crisis brought ...

OPINION -- This past March and April, US Naval Forces attached to Central Command carried out live fire exercises in the North Persian Gulf’s international waters near Iran, using Army Apache helicopters and AC-130 gunships to practice defense against threats from swarming Iranian speedboats. Such a US exercise was underway ...

The Cipher Brief Threat Conference has been re-scheduled for September 13-15, 2020.  This special series of national security briefings has been launched to keep our public-private threat conference community together and engaged on the issues that matter until we can safely gather again. Conference speaker Christopher Costa is a former ...

  Bottom Line up Front The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated both Iran and the United States, but has not prevented tensions between them from escalating again. Iran’s willingness to undertake provocative actions indicates that the U.S. campaign of ‘maximum pressure’ has not mitigated the threat from Iran. Iranian leaders assess ...

  Bottom Line Up Front With Afghanistan sharing a border with Iran, one of the epicenters of the pandemic, government officials in Kabul have warned that COVID-19 cases in Afghanistan could eventually reach into the tens of millions. The Taliban has been cooperating with Afghan health ministry officials in distributing ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Baghdad’s difficulty in assembling a new government is a result of U.S.-Iran competition for influence in Iraq. The latest choice for Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, appears to be acceptable to both the United States and Iran. Despite its struggles against COVID-19, Iran has unified Iraq’s ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran is continuing its efforts to strengthen its influence in Iraq and drive U.S. military personnel out. Iran’s struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic have not diminished its activities in Iraq. Iran’s strategy involves backing armed attacks on Iraqi bases as well as leveraging its allies ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Lethal attacks on U.S. troops by Iran-backed Iraqi militias in March 2020 demonstrate that Iran continues to retaliate for the January U.S. killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. The continued attacks suggest that Iran, contrary to Trump administration claims, is not deterred by the ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran is the Middle East’s epicenter for the spread of the COVID-19 infection. The failure of Iran’s leaders to contain the virus add to the other ongoing challenges of the regime, including domestic unrest and U.S. economic and military pressure. Iran has become even more ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Countries are struggling to counter the spread of the coronavirus respiratory disease, while also trying to figure out how to navigate a range of political, economic, and logistical challenges. High levels of distrust that populations in authoritarian countries have toward their governments will, at least ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran’s intervention in Syria’s civil war has provided Tehran with the ability to support its closest regional allies while simultaneously threatening Israel. Iran’s success in buttressing the Assad regime exemplifies the effectiveness of its regional strategy. Iran’s support for Assad threatens to bring Iranian forces ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq remain active despite the assassination of their Iranian mentor and the leading Iraqi militia commander. New Iraqi figures are emerging to fill the vacuum left by Kata’ib Hezbollah commander Abdul Mahdi Al Muhandis. The Iraqi militias and their political leaders ...

On the sidelines of last weekend’s Munich Security Conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down to talk.  Lavrov left the meeting saying he felt “a more constructive approach” regarding US-Russia dialogue that was said to focus on strategic dialogue and arms control. ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran’s hardliners are likely to prevail in February 21, 2020 parliamentary elections. Regime hardliners have used their available levers of power to exclude critics and moderate elements from running. The turnout will be a barometer of the regime’s efforts to shape the election to its ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The Iranian regime is using all elements of state power to suppress organized dissent, including widespread arrests and the use of force against demonstrators. The regime’s long record of human rights abuses has been consistently abysmal, while its suppression of political and economic dissent has ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Virtually every sector of Iran’s civilian economy is now subject to U.S. secondary sanctions, rendering additional sanctions progressively less significant. Most of the economic damage affecting Iran’s economy is a product of the tightening of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s exports of oil imposed in May ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Europe’s use of the formal dispute resolution provision of the Iran nuclear deal is a consequence of the Trump administration’s abandonment of the deal in 2018. The Europeans have made clear that invoking the dispute mechanism does not imply that they will join the Trump ...

When news broke that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was scheduled to deliver the Friday Prayer sermon on January 17 for the first time since 2012, Iranian media went into overdrive to promote the event.  One reporter with the state media conglomerate Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) previewed ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The operations of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF) will continue unabated despite the death of its commander Qasem Soleimani. His successor, Esmail Qaani, has intimate familiarity with all Qods Force operations but lacks Soleimani’s independent channel to Iran’s Supreme Leader. The ...

John McLaughlin served as the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2000-2004 and served as Acting Director of the CIA in 2004.  He currently serves as a distinguished practitioner in residence at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.   The current situation between the United States ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran has experienced intermittent periods of unrest in the decades since its Islamic Revolution of 1979, but the situation unfolding in early 2020 is exceptional. Dispatches from the protests suggest that Iranians believe that the highest levels of the government are responsible and must be ...

CONVERSATION STARTER -- Few would argue that the January 3 drone strike that killed Iranian General and Quds Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani was a bold move.  The overt nature by which the strike was carried out seemed to offer a clear sign that the US is ready to openly ...

Emile Nakhleh is a retired CIA Senior Intelligence Service Officer and founding director of the CIA’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program Office. Nakhleh is currently a Research Professor and Director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico. Since retiring from the government in ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Following the strike that killed Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian response that targeted Iraqi bases, the possibility of a conventional war between the United States and Iran seems to have diminished. Despite the decreasing tensions, both Washington and Tehran are likely to engage in asymmetric ...