Douglas London, who worked at the CIA as a counterterrorism manager until the end of 2018, wrote a blog for Just Security on Wednesday claiming that he had doubts about Donald Trump’s reasoning behind the assassination of Iran General Qassim Suleimani.
London said he “often struggled in persuading the president to recognize the most important threats.”
When it comes to the killing of Suleimani, which London was not involved in, the ex-CIA official argued that the Trump administration’s explanation for his killing did not make any sense.
“[It] appears to have been more about Trump, and the potential for headlines, rather than the intelligence,” he wrote. “Soleimani’s very public removal was too great a headline to pass up for Trump, but there were other options.”
London also believes that Gina Haspel, the current CIA director, did not recommend the killing. He claims that it would have been “uncharacteristic” for her to recommend such a move when it would likely lead to missiles being fired at U.S. troops.
And as for the claim that there was some “imminent threat,” as Trump officials have claimed, that justified his killing, London didn’t buy this explanation:
I do not debate we had intelligence regarding any number of prospective attacks Iran was facilitating through proxies in Iraq, and elsewhere. But don’t we always? The Iranians design potential operations at various degrees of lethality and provocation, some of which they will execute, others to put aside for a rainy day. It’s what they do. The reality is that the U.S. government would have been legally bound to warn the public of a threat against an American embassy. The U.S. Intelligence Community is also prohibited from exclusively warning American government officials of threats likewise faced by civilians, and regardless of nationality. For this reason, the deep skepticism that has met the president’s claim that Iran was planning to attack four U.S. embassies is certainly warranted.
The White House’s narrative and the posture adopted by the intelligence agencies are inconsistent with U.S. options, if there was, in fact, a specific, credible, and imminent threat from Iran. Rather, the Trump administration appears to have cherry-picked information from the broader intelligence to support its actions. Intelligence assessments on the anticipated escalatory paths Iran would follow in response to kinetic U.S. retaliatory measures have been consistent and well briefed to every president. The surprise wasn’t that the Iranians escalated, but that they pulled their punches to minimize casualties and provide an off ramp to further escalation.
Further undermining the Trump administration’s argument that the Soleimani strike disrupted an imminent plot to kill Americans, the IRGC is a military institution and so taking out its leader is unlike removing a key terrorist leader, whose death can often eliminate the planning, communications and direction for a particular attack. The IRGC’s command and control are likely largely unaffected, whereas its resolve has likely increased. Moreover, the U.S. acting without any deniability seems to have forced Iran’s hand to respond openly.