WASHINGTON – Sen. Saxby Chambliss (search) said Thursday that the United States lacks human spies in North Korea and Iran, providing more detail than last week's presidential commission did about U.S. intelligence capabilities inside the two countries.
Aides to the Georgia Republican, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, insisted he was basing his comments on media reports and wasn't divulging classified information.
In a speech, Chambliss cited the information as enough to justify the work of a presidential commission that issued a scathing report last week of U.S. spy agencies. The unclassified sections of that report did not discuss whether the United States has spies in the two nations. The study included classified sections on Iran (search) and North Korea (search).
During remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Chambliss listed "familiar themes" that have emerged since the release last week of a report on weapons of mass destruction.
Among the themes, Chambliss said, is that the United States lacks "human intelligence" (search) — or spies — in North Korea and Iran's top political leadership or nuclear weapons programs. He went on to defend the commission that wrote the report, touting this one finding alone as enough to justify its existence.
"A lot of people will question why we had this commission," Chambliss said. "Why do you need one more body looking at this issue? Well, this is such a complex issue. It is such an important issue that I don't think you can get too many people looking at it."
Chambliss aides said the senator hadn't yet reviewed the classified parts of the report and was citing articles from the New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer as his sources. He wasn't confirming the reports and would not have had enough information to deny them, they said.
The Inquirer article reported that a lack of spies in Iran and North Korea has forced the United States to rely on satellite photos, communications intercepts and foreign intelligence. The Times story said the commission's report was expected to repeat criticisms about "the absence of effective human intelligence sources" inside North Korea and Iran.
Government officials declined to comment because of the sensitive nature of the information.
"It's an area I'm not at liberty to discuss," said Larry McQuillan, spokesman for the nine-member presidential commission that investigated U.S. intelligence for over a year.
Said a CIA spokesman, "We do not comment on the placement or access of clandestine sources."