Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

“There is a great deal about Iran that we do not know…The United States lacks critical information needed for analysts to make many of their judgments with confidence about Iran.”

That was the verdict of a Congressional committee on U.S. intelligence policy two years ago. How valid it still is was highlighted by Iran’s June elections and their turbulent aftermath.

By most accounts, the huge margin of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s victory, the equally huge demonstrations of Iranians crying fraud, and their brutal repression all came as surprises to U.S. intelligence and foreign policy experts.

The reasons for America’s problems of coming to grips with Iran are manifold: a 30-year absence of diplomats on the ground, an opaque political system difficult to penetrate, wishful thinking, a perennial temptation to “mirror-image,” that is to expect others to think and behave like yourself. Last but not
least: an acute shortage of Farsi-speaking analysts and agents.