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Former Intelligence Official On Iran Nuclear Deal


For three decades now, Norman Roule has enjoyed a front-row seat to what U.S. spy agencies know about Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Roule spent his career at the CIA, ending up with the director of national intelligence as the mission manager, the point man on Iran. Roule retired a week ago. In his first news interview we talked about the Iran nuclear deal, which President Trump calls a bad deal, to which Mr. Roule says this.

NORMAN ROULE: Any time you can push back a rogue nation's capacity to develop a nuclear weapon you've done something good.

KELLY: Which this deal does.

ROULE: It does. However, at the same time, we want to make sure that this deal does not constrain ourselves from confronting any other malign behavior. In essence, you don't want to be in a position where you say to someone, if you stop robbing banks we won't put you in jail, but because they've stopped robbing banks they can commit any other nefarious activity and say, well, if you put me in jail, I guess I get to go back to robbing banks.

KELLY: You're speaking to the fact that the Iran deal addresses Iran's nuclear program. It does not address Iran's behavior in other parts of the world, the way that it's contributing to destabilizing behavior across the Middle East.

ROULE: Absolutely. And indeed, the Obama administration and Secretary Kerry and his staff were quite clear from this in the beginning. This is all about constraining Iran's growing nuclear capacity.

KELLY: Is Iran complying with the deal? Are they living up to their obligations?

ROULE: The IAE (ph) has stated in public reports...

KELLY: The international inspectors.

ROULE: The international inspectors - that Iran is executing its JCPOA obligations.

KELLY: JCPOA being the formal name...

ROULE: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Yes.

KELLY: ...Of the Iran deal. How sure are you of that? I mean, is U.S. intelligence 100 percent confident that Iran isn't finding some way to sneak around the margins of this deal and continue a nuclear program?

ROULE: Thirty-four years of working some of the toughest targets on the planet have taught me the lesson that I should never say that we are a hundred percent sure of anything. But I believe we can have confidence in the International Atomic Energy Agency's efforts.

KELLY: When it comes to intelligence on Iran, I want to ask you about questions that have been raised about whether it has been politicized, questions that as the White House has tried to chart what the path forward will be with the Iran deal and has accepted the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community that Iran appears to be complying with the deal, the White House has said, well, let's go back. Let's look at that. Are we sure?

ROULE: OK, well, let's unpack that.


ROULE: The first is, have policymakers in the Trump and Obama administration repeatedly asked the intelligence community to look at its assessments? Yes. And they should. I have been the point person for U.S. intelligence on Iran with multiple administrations. I have never seen a policymaker attempt to politicize what we produce. I have never had a policymaker turn to me or mine and say, I'd like you to write something that is different.

KELLY: You see no echoes of what happened in the run-up to war in Iraq when the intelligence was politicized.


KELLY: Are you confident that U.S. intelligence would know if Iran were cheating on the deal?

ROULE: I am confident that if Iran were to undertake malign activity that anything that could be done to determine this activity has been thought of.

KELLY: So bottom line - based on your three decades looking at Iran and the challenge posed by its nuclear program, you feel the Iran deal is something that the U.S. should stick with.

ROULE: Yes. However, I need to be clear. I also feel that we should make sure that every element of that deal is rigorously applied. Iran's history with the world is littered with broken promises, with lies. There is absolutely no reason to trust Iran. Now, this said, as I talk about the deal itself, there are aspects of the deal that I do believe should be focused upon. And those aspects are driven in part because of Iran's malign regional adventurism and its unacceptably large ballistic missile program.

KELLY: You're basically making the Reagan argument - trust but verify.

ROULE: Distrust and verify.

KELLY: Distrust but verify. What has this first week been like coming in from the cold? You had your cover lifted after three decades just a week ago.

ROULE: It has been difficult. I find myself thinking of my colleagues frequently. I find myself missing their cantankerous debates, their personalities. Every day beginning at 6 a.m. an office I used to work in would open, and often at 8 or 9 at night people were still leaving. They were nonetheless taking care of their children. They would have family issues. And they sacrificed this every day to ensure that the U.S. public received the best information on Iran and regional issues. I tremendously miss them.

KELLY: Norman Roule. He was, until last Friday, the Iran mission manager for the director of national intelligence. Thank you.

ROULE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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