Security Insiders: Congress Should Not Levy More Sanctions on Iran During Negotiations

A narrow majority of Insiders say the NSA’s surveillance is too far-reaching.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd L), European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (C ) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2ndR) wait prior to a meeting on November 9, 2013, on the third day of talks on Iran's nuclear programme at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva Switzerland. Crunch talks between Iran and world powers stretched into an unscheduled third day on November 9 as top diplomats pushed for a deal to end the decade-old standoff over Iran's nuclear programme. 
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
Nov. 11, 2013, 4:26 p.m.

As a deal to curb Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram re­mains elu­sive after a round of talks between Tehran and world powers in Geneva, a strong ma­jor­ity of Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders say Con­gress should avoid slap­ping new sanc­tions on Ir­an as ne­go­ti­ations con­tin­ue.

“Let the dia­logue take its course,” one In­sider ad­vised. “If the ne­go­ti­ations fail, there will be plenty of time down the road to tight­en sanc­tions and con­tem­plate the use of force. For now, all ef­forts should fo­cus on fa­cil­it­at­ing the ne­go­ti­ations, and more sanc­tions and threats will do the op­pos­ite.” It’s time for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to take ne­go­ti­ations ser­i­ously, an­oth­er In­sider said, “and ig­nore the clam­or from Con­gress and the pro-Is­rael lobby to un­der­cut the talks with new sanc­tions.”

Sev­er­al In­siders, all polled in the run-up to talks this week­end, ar­gued that the tough raft of sanc­tions already in place have worked to get the Ir­a­ni­ans to the table. “Tough­er sanc­tions aren’t re­quired to mo­tiv­ate Ir­a­ni­ans to deal. The big­ger fear from our friends and al­lies in the re­gion is that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will be too soft and cut a bad deal,” one In­sider said. “There is little faith that this White House is tough enough to hold out for a strong, game-chan­ging, en­force­able deal.”

Re­serving the op­tion of im­pos­ing new sanc­tions to see at a later date if the Ir­a­ni­ans renege on a deal could be help­ful in ne­go­ti­ations, In­siders said. “If they don’t, that’s won­der­ful and no new sanc­tions need be im­posed. If they do, then we can im­pose new sanc­tions le­git­im­ately.” New sanc­tions would kill any nas­cent ne­go­ti­ations, one In­sider said. “Un­less the Ir­a­ni­ans take ad­di­tion­al steps on the path to nuc­le­ar weapons, let the ne­go­ti­ations play out un­hindered by new obstacles.”

A minor­ity of 23 per­cent of In­siders dis­agreed. “It is com­pletely il­lo­gic­al to ar­gue that in­creas­ingly severe sanc­tions have suc­ceeded in bring­ing Ir­an to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table, so now we need to stop im­pos­ing ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions,” an­oth­er In­sider said. “The op­pos­ite is ob­vi­ously true. The mes­sage to Ir­an must be that we will con­tin­ue to tight­en the eco­nom­ic noose un­til they yield to in­ter­na­tion­al de­mands that they end their nuc­le­ar-weapons pro­gram.”

Tak­ing the pres­sure off now plays right to the Ir­a­ni­an charm of­fens­ive, one In­sider said, and fur­ther rup­tures any use­ful re­la­tion­ships with the Gulf Co­oper­a­tion Coun­cil. “Hard to tell if it’s the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s na­iv­ete or a cyn­ic­al bid to wash hands of the Ir­a­ni­an nuke prob­lem.”

Sep­ar­ately, a slim ma­jor­ity of In­siders said the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s sur­veil­lance tac­tics, based on pub­lic dis­clos­ures and leaks to the me­dia, are too far-reach­ing. Re­cent al­leg­a­tions against the agency have in­cluded eaves­drop­ping on Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s phone. “Vi­tal re­la­tion­ships have been jeop­ard­ized by rev­el­a­tions of NSA sur­veil­lance,” one In­sider said. “Bet­ter polit­ic­al judg­ment needs to be ex­er­cised.”

Some In­siders said the prob­lem with the NSA’s spy­ing is not new, however. “The NSA has been out of con­trol since 9/11. Too much power, too much secrecy, too little over­sight, and too little res­ults.”

Yet 46 per­cent of In­siders dis­agreed. “Few would have con­sidered them too far-reach­ing a dec­ade ago,” one In­sider said. “We should re­cog­nize how much this whole flap says more about the pub­lic’s chan­ging stand­ards and pref­er­ences than it does about an al­legedly out-of-con­trol gov­ern­ment agency.”

The agency’s tac­tics and tech­niques are ap­pro­pri­ate, an­oth­er In­sider said. “The is­sue is the judg­ment on when and how to ap­ply them. This is why a ci­vil­ian lead­er with polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence ought to head this and the oth­er in­tel­li­gence agen­cies,” the In­sider said. “Mil­it­ary people are trained to be mis­sion-fo­cused and of­ten­times lack the polit­ic­al acu­men and judg­ment re­quired to think through polit­ic­al re­ac­tions to what they are do­ing. There should be ex­per­i­enced ci­vil­ian lead­ers in all of the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies with mil­it­ary depu­ties.”

Or, as one In­sider put it, “Give me a break. What did people think they were do­ing?”

1. Should Con­gress levy new sanc­tions against Ir­an dur­ing ne­go­ti­ations over its nuc­le­ar pro­gram?

(54 votes)

  • No 77%
  • Yes 23%


“Time to take a breath­er, and see if the new re­gime is ser­i­ous. Could be a turn­ing point.”

“Let State De­part­ment handle this.”

“Give dip­lomacy a chance. If it fails, do it then.”

“Adding still more sanc­tions to the huge as­sort­ment already in place would serve only to give the Ir­a­ni­ans more reas­on to be­lieve that the United States is not in­ter­ested in con­clud­ing a deal and in­stead just wants to dam­age Ir­an in the hopes of get­ting re­gime change.”

“Not yet.”

“The whole point of sanc­tions in the first place was to get Ir­an to the table. They are at the table. Con­gress should give our ne­go­ti­at­ors the couple of months they need to reach the first stage of a deal.”

“New sanc­tions would kill any nas­cent ne­go­ti­ations. Un­less the Ir­a­ni­ans take ad­di­tion­al steps on the path to nuc­le­ar weapons, let the ne­go­ti­ations play out un­hindered by new obstacles.”

“Un­less they drag on.”

“If they do, they’re mak­ing clear that they don’t want a dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion — they want war.”

“The only pur­pose new sanc­tions would serve would be to sig­nal to the Ir­a­ni­ans that Obama is too polit­ic­ally weak to ne­go­ti­ate a deal.”

“A freeze for a freeze will en­sure we don’t give away too much be­fore we veri­fy Ir­an is de­liv­er­ing on any prom­ises to roll back their nuc­le­ar pro­gram.”


“Ir­an will be more likely to re­spond as sanc­tions bite fur­ther. Re­lief should come only if and when Ir­an agrees to mean­ing­ful con­straints on ac­quis­i­tion of nuc­le­ar weapons and cap­ab­il­it­ies. It is prob­ably too late to pre­vent Ir­an from build­ing some nuc­le­ar weapons, so dip­lomacy should also seek re­straints on nuc­le­ar forces and de­ploy­ments.”

“Sanc­tions are fi­nally hav­ing an im­pact on Ir­a­ni­an think­ing. The pres­id­ent still has to de­cide how to im­ple­ment them.”

“The an­swer really is ‘maybe.’ Ne­go­ti­ations really don’t work un­less you have either force or sanc­tions wait­ing in the wings. Sanc­tions dis­con­nec­ted to ne­go­ti­ations, however, make no sense.”

“They are truly hurt by these sanc­tions. They are an ef­fect­ive tool to keep them at the ne­go­ti­at­ing table.”

“Only if part of a co­ordin­ated strategy with the pres­id­ent, his na­tion­al se­cur­ity ad­viser, sec­ret­ary of State, and con­gres­sion­al lead­er­ship; we need to re-cre­ate the abil­ity to work across gov­ern­ment for stra­tegic is­sues with the Gang of 4/8. And there is no more im­port­ant area to ex­er­cise this lead­er­ship than Ir­an and the ex­ist­en­tial threat to Is­rael and KSA. Ir­an is go­ing to have nuc­le­ar weapons should be our fun­da­ment­al as­sump­tion, now what?”

2. Based on re­cent pub­lic dis­clos­ures and me­dia leaks, the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s sur­veil­lance tac­tics are too far-reach­ing.

(54 votes)

  • Agree 54%
  • Dis­agree 46%


“Snowden’s no hero, but his ac­tions have un­covered agency over­reach. Di­al­ing back on these pro­grams is go­ing to be hard.”

“The NSA is a bur­eac­racy run wild. There should be a clear chain of com­mand for de­cisions re­lat­ing to al­lied lead­ers, so that those re­spons­ible for stu­pid er­rors are dealt with ap­pro­pri­ately.”

“The NSA’s mis­sion is crit­ic­al to our na­tion­al se­cur­ity, yet would be­ne­fit from great­er over­sight and in many cases trans­par­ency. Need to di­vorce the do­mest­ic is­sues from the for­eign is­sues.”

“Amer­ic­ans feel they’ve lost pri­vacy, but that the NSA is not com­pet­ent to make that loss of pri­vacy worth it in terms of coun­terter­ror­ism suc­cess.”

“It seems clear that over­con­fid­ence in our tech­nic­al abil­it­ies led to a very skewed risk-versus-be­ne­fit cal­cu­la­tion. What’s the pay­off from a col­lec­tion pro­gram, versus risk and con­sequences of ex­pos­ure? I’m not sure we really answered that at all with some of these pro­grams.”

“What the me­dia leaks and stor­ies don’t show enough are the strin­gent guidelines NSA em­ploy­ees must fol­low when they con­duct in­tel­li­gence-col­lec­tion op­er­a­tions. But the NSA clearly needs to tight­en its en­force­ment ef­forts and en­gage in more-fo­cused col­lec­tion op­er­a­tions. Just be­cause you can col­lect, doesn’t mean you should “¦. but An­gela Merkel’s cell phone is still a le­git­im­ate in­tel­li­gence tar­get.”

“We must use some pre­ci­sion here: The NSA should not be col­lect­ing private in­form­a­tion on Amer­ic­ans. As for non-Amer­ic­ans — in­clud­ing of­fi­cials from friendly coun­tries — they are fair game and should con­tin­ue to be trus­ted as such, just as these coun­tries mon­it­or our com­mu­nic­a­tions. Those are the rules of the game, e.g., no rules at all!”

“While the cook­ie push­ers may be un­com­fort­able at cock­tail parties in Europe for a while, the NSA is do­ing what the na­tion needs it to do.”

“The drip, drip of new rev­el­a­tions has dam­aged the pub­lic’s con­fid­ence in the NSA and over­sight of the sys­tem.”

“Should be more ‘threat based’ with dis­cip­line of what trig­gers the search for a ‘tar­get,’ but we are miss­ing the dis­tinc­tion between meta-data and con­tent in the world of Big Data Ana­lyt­ics when your tar­get is work­ing to hide in the ‘noise’ and you need all the data over time to get enough looks to cre­ate a pat­tern that helps you find the tar­get. Once found, then es­cal­ate to con­tent un­der the rule of law. The pub­lic un­der­stands the ter­ror­ist threat to the U.S. and our al­lies; may need less fo­cus on al­lied lead­er­ship?”


“It will not be long be­fore new na­tion­al se­cur­ity sur­prises emerge. Crit­ics will al­lege in­tel­li­gence fail­ure, as after 9/11 and Benghazi. The pres­id­ent will be blamed, even by some who today call for rein­ing in in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion. This said, a few se­lect­ive cuts are in or­der, such as es­chew­ing col­lec­tion against top al­lied lead­ers.”

“Totally over­ex­ag­ger­ated. The NSA and ad­min­is­tra­tion fail­ing miser­ably in de­fend­ing the pro­gram. [NSA Dir­ect­or Keith] Al­ex­an­der should be fired for cre­at­ing an en­vir­on­ment that could be so vul­ner­able!”

“Hon­estly, tac­tics are hard to gauge from out­side gov­ern­ment. There are le­git­im­ate reas­ons for al­lies to col­lect in­tel­li­gence on each oth­er. The pre­cise cir­cum­stances must be known to de­term­ine wheth­er any spe­cif­ic op­er­a­tion is jus­ti­fied. What is at is­sue for the pub­lic should be the over­sight of NSA sur­veil­lance. Giv­en the NSA’s grow­ing power, this is and should be a mat­ter of great polit­ic­al im­port­ance in our demo­cracy.”

“The NSA is pro­tect­ing the United States against po­ten­tial threats. The idea that its sur­veil­lance tac­tics are too far-reach­ing is ut­ter non­sense. Those na­tions that com­plain are merely chag­rined that their agen­cies don’t have sim­il­ar cap­ab­il­it­ies. Or per­haps they do, and they are merely be­ing hy­po­crit­ic­al in their protests.”

Na­tion­al Journ­al’s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders Poll is a peri­od­ic sur­vey of more than 100 de­fense and for­eign policy ex­perts. They in­clude: Gor­don Adams, Charles Al­len, Thad Al­len, James Bam­ford, Dav­id Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Ber­gen, Samuel “Sandy” Ber­ger, Dav­id Ber­teau, Steph­en Biddle, Nancy Bird­sall, Mari­on Blakey, Kit Bond, Stu­art Bowen, Paula Broad­well, Mike Breen, Mark Brun­ner, Steven Bucci, Nich­olas Burns, Dan By­man, James Jay Cara­fano, Phil­lip Carter, Wendy Cham­ber­lin, Mi­chael Cher­toff, Frank Cil­luffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clem­ons, Joseph Collins, Wil­li­am Court­ney, Lorne Cran­er, Ro­ger Cres­sey, Gregory Dahl­berg, Robert Dan­in, Richard Dan­zig, Daniel Drezn­er, Mack­en­zie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, An­drew Ex­um, Wil­li­am Fal­lon, Eric Farns­worth, Jacques Gansler, Steph­en Gan­yard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gun­zinger, John Hamre, Jim Harp­er, Mi­chael Hay­den, Mi­chael Her­son, Pete Hoek­stra, Bruce Hoff­man, Linda Hud­son, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Don­ald Ker­rick, Rachel Klein­feld, Lawrence Korb, Dav­id Kramer, An­drew Kre­pinev­ich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lind­say, Justin Lo­gan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ron­ald Marks, Bri­an Mc­Caf­frey, Steven Metz, Frank­lin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kev­in Neal­er, Mi­chael Oates, Thomas Pick­er­ing, Paul Pil­lar, Larry Pri­or, Steph­en Rade­maker, Marc Rai­mondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Ro­ten­berg, Frank Rug­giero, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Steph­en Ses­t­an­ovich, Sarah Se­wall, Mat­thew Sher­man, Jen­nifer Sims, Con­stan­ze Stelzen­müller, Frances Town­send, Mick Train­or, Su­z­anne Spauld­ing, Ted Stroup, Richard Wil­helm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Za­kheim, and Juan Za­r­ate.

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