Transcript

Senior Defense Intelligence Official Holds a Background Briefing on Iran Military Power Report

Nov. 19, 2019
Senior Defense Intelligence Official

STAFF: Everything can be attributed to a Senior Defense Intelligence [Official].

Q: Idrees from Reuters. You just talked about some of the advancements you expect in terms of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. In your assessment, the sanctions that the United States and some European countries have started to impose -- have already imposed, what impact will those have or -- or are they sort of being circumvented in sort of developing these missiles?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I think you'll see -- in the book also, their defense spending has taken a hit over this year due -- partially due to at least the sanctions relief -- or the sanctions that have been put on Iran.

I think the -- that will continue to constrain their efforts to develop their missiles, both ballistic and cruise, but so far as -- the government has put a high enough priority on it to continue that development.

Q: And just to follow up, on Page 41 you talked about some of the capabilities that they may improve, including potentially permanent basing in allied countries. Is that something you see in the short term or -- or sort of more five to 10 years out, and which countries are you -- you looking at?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I think it could be both. Right now, we're concerned as to whether Iran would be able to do that with -- whether it's in Syria or Iraq, we're concerned with its ability to again try to attain that – to attain that strategic depth but those are -- those are concerns of ours as proliferating that activity.

STAFF: (Inaudible)?

Q: Yeah, Sylvie Lanteaume from AFP. I have two different questions. First, I would like to know how many Iranian troops do you -- you estimate are right now posted in Syria?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: We don't have a good number for you of the -- of Iranian troops in Syria, we just know it is a significant presence.

Q: That -- but -- in thousands, in the tens of thousands?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Don't know if we have that number.

STAFF: That's more of an operational, current ops question, so we'll get back with you.

Q: OK. And the second one is similar U.S. officials said the -- accused Iran of trying to interfere in U.S. elections but the report doesn't mention that. Does it mean -- does this mean that you don't believe it's true?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: No, the document's really just intended to focus on their foundational military intelligence capabilities, so what we're trying to do with the document is demonstrate a baseline of what they are capable of.

And so you'll see capabilities referenced in there -- cyber -- in the cyber section but we don't talk about any specific current -- current efforts on that front.

Q: OK, thank you.

Q: Thank you. Joe Tabet with Alhurra TV.

Sir, have you seen any evidence that Iran has provided the -- its proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon with the technology to develop medium-range missiles or short-range missiles?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I don't think we get into that in the report. The report really just is focusing on what Iran's capabilities are, not necessarily -- as well as their -- their intent to use that capability, but I don't think the report addresses that, no.

Q: Thank you. Sandra Erwin, Space News.

On your point about safe vehicles being used as a test bed for ICBMs, some analysts question that statement. They say that they do have -- Iran had a legitimate civilian space program. So where do you draw the line? How much is civilian, how much is ICBM-related?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I think for us, we are looking at what their space program is. And then what we're trying to do is determining of -- as they are developing their space program, what could be used for military means.

And so we talk about that a little bit in the book as far as what the specific capabilities are that can transition over, but we don't make a specific assessment about what percentage of their program is civilian or military.

Q: Do you believe that they do have a civilian space program?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yes, they do have a civilian space program.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Lolita Baldor with A.P. Can you talk a little bit more about their cyber-capabilities? How are -- how can they be manifested and how are they improving? To what degree are they improving? What -- how great are their capabilities?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Well, it's a -- it's a capability that we know they've focused on since at least 2015. We've seen attacks; the book points out two specific ones against Saudi Arabia and Qatar petroleum companies that did -- did damage to -- to those systems as far as being able to delete data.

So we know that it's something that they're -- that they're focused on and continue to develop.

STAFF: Yeah, go ahead.

Q: Hey, Gordon Lubold, Wall Street Journal. Two questions. Is there a way to characterize the number of proxy forces that Iran, you know, has potentially access to in the region? That's one. Two, can you speak or expand on the kind of command and control Tehran has on the IRGC? So when we see these reports of IRGC incidents or whatever, how can we tell how much that's a result of senior leadership direction?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: OK. As far as the number of proxy forces, we tried as much as we can, the report, get into the ones that we -- that we know about, whether we're talking about Lebanese Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, their span of control. What -- the Iranians are really looking forward to be able to develop partnerships through these groups. And so unfortunately, I don't have a specific number for you because that number fluctuates. But again, this being a foundational intelligence document, it really wants to focus in on where have -- where have they kind of grown roots recently.

As far as your question about the command and control, I think it's important to -- to distinguish between IRGC and IRGC-Qods Force, too. As far as the -- but both organizations really have a strong command and control right back to the supreme leader. And which is -- is highlighted in the book.

Q: Thank you. How much influence does General Soleimani have on Iraqi politicians?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: We really talk about him when we talk about -- General Soleimani is -- his prominent role that he plays as the IRGC Qods Force commander. Partially because of his influence with the supreme leader.

Q: Let me rephrase the question -- does the IRGC have direct command and control of the PMF?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I think the PMF's a bit broad. We know that they have strong influence in the PMF, but I think that's about as far as we go.

STAFF: Yeah?

Q: I have two questions. Similar -- a question to Jeff's regarding the Houthis. There's some discussion of a Houthi-Iran relationship. Can you just address the -- how similar, dissimilar that relationship is to some of the other proxy relationships? And what level of direction does Iran provide in reality, you know, to the Houthis, how much do they take orders or whatever?

And then the second question is regarding Iranian relationship and support to the Taliban. That's also addressed briefly. Have you seen evidence or is there a belief that -- that Iran has aided any violence in Afghanistan, let's say in the last year?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: All right. So as -- first, as the Houthis go, we know there is -- we know there is a relationship there. I think one of the Houthi leaders -- I forget which one off the top of my head -- recently was in Tehran. And so we know that there is a relationship.

You know, I think -- and I think, again, as far as we're talking about in the book and foundational -- and the foundational piece of it, we really don't really talk about the direct command and control and the levels of influence. We just know that there's a strong relationship there between the Houthis and Iran.

And then when it comes to Afghanistan, Iran really is looking to support any groups that will help advance their strategic goals. But we don't have -- we don't cite any specific reports in the last year in this document about any specific attacks or threat streams.

Q: Just to clarify. On the Houthi relationship, do you know what the nature of that is in terms of command and control? Or is that unknown?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I just don't think we get into it in the book.

STAFF: Yeah, over here.

Q: Yeah, Mike Glenn with The Washington Times. As far as their expeditionary capabilities, at this point now, is it mainly or is it only with countries they share a contiguous border with? Or are they looking to be able to -- to push beyond the border?

And also, if you can talk about the tension between Artesh and IRGC?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Sure. No, it goes beyond their borders. It's because Syria isn't bordered with Iran and that's a place where we've seen Iran deploy to. And as far as tension between the Artesh and IRGC, we know there has been some tension in the past, but both organizations really are both working towards that same goal for Iran, which is being able to achieve deterrence and secure its regional dominance.

Q: Hi, Lara Seligman with Foreign Policy. First of all, I'm wondering if you can say a little bit more about the land-attack cruise missiles and UAVs that Iran is using? Have we seen them use them recently, offensively? Have -- in particular the Saudi strikes that most recently happened?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah, so as far as the -- you know, the Saudi strikes the -- on Aramco, we believe Iran was responsible. We are -- believe Saudi Arabia has an investigation that's under way, so I don't want to get too far into what the result of that investigation is because it's not complete yet. But we know that cruise missiles and UAVs were used in that attack.

Q: But were they -- were they some of these new Iranian...

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: We...

Q: ... cruise missiles, or were they some of the older ones that may have been supplied?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: At this point, the only thing that I know is that -- that while we know that -- while we believe that Iran was responsible that it -- cruise missiles and UAVs were used. That's about as far as I can go on that.

Q: All right. And then just -- sorry, just to follow up, can you say a little bit about influence operations, particularly in Syria?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Anything more specific, please, than that?

Q: Yes. There's a section in the report that talks about influence ops and intel ops that -- I'm specifically wondering about sort of the soft power, so they're -- that they're doing in Syria in particular, but even in Iraq for example.

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah, when it comes to influence operations, this really is Iran using every military tool in its toolkit to achieve its -- to achieve its objectives, and so influence operations is a part of that. But that's -- but as far -- unless -- unless there is anything specifically, we just know that is -- that is something that they are employing both in Syria and Iraq. But really, it's where -- wherever they feel they can gain a foothold and project their message.

STAFF: Yeah?

Q: Do you assess that Iran is using the current instability in Iraq and Lebanon to set up any sort of bases or to traffic ballistic missiles through the region?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: We really don't get into that in the book, as far as any kind of current -- current reporting on the -- on the protests that are going on in either place.

Q: And can you expand a little bit on what you said about developing proxy relationships? Like, is this providing training to forces in Syria, and -- and...

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: ... Yemen, for instance?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yes. They provide not only training, but we know they provide financial assistance as well.

STAFF: Before we answer that question, please remember to identify yourself and your -- and your outlet.

Q: Yeah, Richard Sisk, Military.com. Again on expeditionary capabilities, is Iran looking to expand use of its forces beyond the region? You referred to Iraq and Syria. Are we looking at the threat down the -- down the line of expanding beyond the region?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Right now what we see them focusing on is -- are -- are the -- the capabilities they have in Syria and Iraq, and -- but really, again, with this being a foundational intelligence document we're really just kind of showing you what the baseline -- our foundational baseline understanding of what Iran has, and that's what they have in their toolbox right now.

STAFF: Yeah, right here.

Q: Hi. Wes Morgan with Politico.

There's a reference in there to Iran potentially undertaking future peace-keeping operations. Could you describe a little bit where that's coming from, what that's about?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah, we just know they have participated at, really, at very small levels with U.N. peace-keeping missions in the past, but we also don't have, really, anything beyond the -- beyond those few examples that we laid out in the book.

STAFF: Yeah, in the back there.

Q: Thanks. Thanks for doing this. Tom Squitieri with Talk Media News. I just wanted to clarify. You said that Iran has the largest missile inventory in the Middle East.

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Right.

Q: Does that exceeds Israel, as well?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah, it does.

Q: OK.

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: It does.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Right here.

Q: Katie Williams, Defense One. I -- I'm trying just follow up on Missy’s question. Could you just give us any more detail about the -- what you were seeing in terms of what kind of support they are providing to the Taliban, if you can just kind of characterize what that looks like in practical terms, and what your understanding of what that level is now in 2019.

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, I think it just fits into that same broad categories that we talk about how they support their proxy groups. So whether that's financial or -- financial or training, but that's -- it's really that same broad category.

Q: Has that increased in the last, say, year or two years?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah, we don't really get into baselining the increases or decreases in the book.

Q: Courtney Kube with NBC News.

I know this is kind of a more current ops question, but I just have to ask you. Is -- is there any way to characterize Iran's changing footprint in Syria since ISIS was -- the -- the caliphate was defeated earlier this year? And then I know it's much more recent, but since Turk -- the Turkish military incursion. Is there any way to characterize, without giving specific numbers of forces, that it’s been up? They've moved more hardware, anything like that?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: No, not really, especially not, again, in this book, which is really to hammer home what DIA wants to provide to the department, which is a foundational military intel.

Q: Is there anything in there about any -- any kind of new technologies or anything like that that -- that they're trying to use in Syria, anything that we can do to sort of tie Iran's...

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah, and we -- we do talk about their -- their ability to use the missiles and UAVs. So we -- we do see them employing a lot of their -- a lot of their capability that's outlined here in the Syria theater.

Q: But is any of that more recent, or is that just your -- sort of your broad, what they're doing?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah, it's just -- just more of the broad scope.

Q: Kasim Ileri, Anadolou Agency.

So you talked about the Qods forces. What critical capabilities of the Iranian army that this Quds Force has in the other -- in other countries? Or -- or are there any capabilities that they are denied to have in other countries?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Really, what the -- the Qods Force is really providing just that unconventional military presence for Iran in a lot of the regional countries. And so as far as a specific threat or any specific capabilities now, it's -- it's really the presence and that projection of -- of Iran's unconventional capability, if that gets to your question.

Q: OK, so do you have a kind of a list or categorical kind of -- list that you can say for example, access to those -- those capabilities, and then they don't have access to those capabilities?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: We -- we do have a -- a section within the book where we lay out where they are present, but we don't talk about any specific -- any specific capabilities with, that Qods Force would do in one area or not another.

Q: OK.

STAFF: Yeah, in the back?

Q: Luis Martinez with ABC News. Just some very basic questions, if I could. We talk -- you lay out everything here, but what -- what do you think Iran's motivation is here? What -- what -- what are their goals? What are their -- what is their end goal? What's -- you know, what -- why are they doing all this?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah, we -- we see Iran's goal here as, one, trying to deter attacks on Iran, and we also see Iran wanting to be able to project its power and influence in the region and be a -- and -- and secure that dominal regional presence that they seek to have, partially because it provides them strategic depth, but also to be able to advance their interests a little bit more and leave them less vulnerable.

Q: And is -- when you talk about deter, are you talking about deterring American? I mean, who specifically are they trying to...

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I think it's just deterring attacks on Iran -- I mean, deterring -- deterring attacks on Iran is a -- is a key foundational goal for the government, and what they expect the IRGC and Artesh to be able to provide.

Q: Corey Dickstein with Stars and Stripes.

With the U.N. embargo ending, I think, next year, how concerning is that? Do you have any idea what kind of technology or weapon systems they might pursue?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah. The -- with the embargo ending, we expect them to go after fighters. Their -- their current air force is -- is dated, and also main battle tanks, is another thing that they have not had, either haven't built or haven't been able to acquire for years. So, we these as two specific areas where they -- they would look to invest.

Q: Do you know who they would look to to procure that?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Given -- given what they currently have in stock -- in -- in stock, as well as what -- we would see them looking towards Russia and China to be able to provide that.

Q: Yeah, Tony Cappacio, Bloomberg. You had an interesting section on underground facilities. Since the May -- since we pulled out of the joint agreement in May of 2018, is -- have the DIA assessed that Iran's accelerated its underground facilities construction?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: We haven't really made a -- in the book, we haven't really talked about whether they've increased or decreased capability from any specific point in time.

Q: Can you define that? Can you discuss that now a little bit?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: The only thing I could really -- really focus in on is that Iran's underground facilities are really focused in on protecting their nuclear facilities, as well as both -- at Etans and Fordo -- as well as their missile program. It serves not only to secure their ammunition depots, but also to just be able to provide some cover along the Persian Gulf.

Q: Five thousand mines -- you -- this is a consistent -- this has been over the last decade, you guys have determined it's about 5,000 maritime mines they have...

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Over 5,000.

Q: Have they increased -- improved the -- the quality of those or are they still mostly contact mines versus acoustic? The shipping world would -- would like to know this.

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I'll tell you what, let me get back to you with -- on that. I'm not sure exactly what kind of mines but I don't think we specifically laid that out in the book as far as the -- what specific mines that we're talking about.

Q: So do you have any thoughts on what the morale -- the sort of troop level morale is in Iran military? Are they motivated, are they -- You know, is morale high? Is it low? Is that a big factor in their ability to fight?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Morale's something that's really kind of hard at any given point to kind of -- kind of get your hands around, and again -- and with -- with more of the foundational look here, we don't really touch on the morale.

STAFF: Hey, before we get to our last question, let me clarify. Earlier, I said this would be attributable to a Senior Defense Intelligence Analyst. I misspoke, it's a Senior Defense Intelligence Official. So my apologies for that, just wanted to correct that.

So this is our last question, alright Jim.

Q: Jim Garamone with DOD News. Can you sort of categorize the state of readiness of the troops for training, money? Is it trending up or down? And is there a -- what's the difference between the IRGC and the Artesh? Which is -- is one more ready than the other?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: No, I don't think we would classify one as more ready than an -- than another. You know, the differences are -- they are -- it's a parallel military structure. The -- the Artesh is focused on those external threats, being able to defend the nation from outside its borders and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is really to defend the revolution and really do the -- do the -- the mission of the -- of the Iranian government.

So ...

Q: ... is readiness overall then trending up or down?

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Really -- sorry, with -- just with the -- again, the foundational nature of the report, we really don't get into trends going in either direction.

Q: I mean, they're still flying F-14s. I would think that those...

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Right? They -- I mean, how capable are they, is what I'm really asking.

SENIOR DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, I think -- I'm -- what I'm hoping that -- that we've been able to do is really kind of lay out what we -- what we see as -- as Iran's capability. And -- and again, I'm sorry, we don't really try to make a -- a directional point one way or another.

STAFF: All right. Thanks, everybody. That's all the time we have for today. If you have any follow ups, you can direct them to me or my colleague, Mr. Jim Kudla over here. Thanks.