10 highlights from Jim Sciutto’s Reddit AMA on Iran & national security
February 24th, 2014
08:10 PM ET

10 highlights from Jim Sciutto’s Reddit AMA on Iran & national security

CNN’s Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto recently returned from Iran to cover U.S.-Iran relations. It was his 11th trip there. Sciutto also covers everything from U.S. foreign policy to defense, terrorism, and intelligence issues.


On Monday, he took 90 minutes to answer questions about national security during a Reddit “Ask me Anything” session.

1.       What’s the most shocking/disturbing thing you’ve seen in Iran:

“I'd have to say it was the 9/11 conspiracy theory still being peddled inside the former U.S. Embassy there. They'd painted a mural on the wall leading up the main staircase telling a story of how the U.S. manufactured the whole thing to justify attacking the ME. Now, I'd heard this conspiracy many times before in the region, but to see it still alive and well 13 years later was sobering. And like I said to the tour guide in the embassy who was trying to sell me on the story, I've just lost patience with this at this point. Here's the link to my story there.”


2.       Do you think Iran could have a popular uprising like Egypt or does the majority of the population seem content with the way things are?

“I'd say the majority of the population is definitely not content with the status quo. In 11 trips there, and particularly on this latest trip, I just sense pure exhaustion with the state of the economy and Iran's international isolation. But will that send people into the streets? Some tried it in 2009 after the disputed election with no success. And Iran has a very good handle on policing. I just didn't sense a brewing revolution. And right now, there is at least some skeptical hope that a nuclear deal with the West will lead to improved lives.”


3.       Do people in Iran really hate Americans or are they actually friendly people?

“Absolutely not. Look at how these kids reacted when I told them I'm an American:

But I've always found that Iranians tend to like Americans more than people from many of our allies in the region – and the public polls back this up. Look at Americans' favorability ratings in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, and they're not too warm and fuzzy! In 11 trips to Iran, even when relations between Tehran and Washington were ice-cold, I have almost always gotten a respectful and warm welcome from most Iranians.”


4.       Does the media exaggerate the conditions in Iran?

“I think Iran is a country which suffers from a phenomenon a lot of countries do: a focus on caricatures. Americans have a caricatured vision of Iranians, based in part on the over-use of images like the ‘death to America’ chants for instance. Part of the reason for this is that too few foreign journalists visit Iran, or are able to. It's also due to a broader temptation among journalists to fall back on caricatures to add impact or to shorthand complicated issues. Here's an example. I've been to Iran 11 times and every time I talk about how most Iranians want better relations with the U.S.. But every time I go back, friends and colleagues ask me if I'm scared to go!”


5.       On Internet access in Iran:

“Well, Twitter, FB etc. are still blocked there, so I had to access those through my international smartphone. Instagram is open. President Rouhani promised to end those blockages but has yet to deliver and I heard a lotof frustration with it there. Of course the great irony is that  (President Hassan) Rouhani, ( Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad) Zarif and others all use Twitter and FB themselves! So I asked Zarif about this and he told me two things: one, they're still working on it but have opposition from hard-liners and two, he uses a VPN himself!”


6.       What happens if Vladimir Putin decides to intervene militarily in Ukraine?

“From what U.S. and other western diplomats tell me, this would be a very damaging development. Even among the non-government analysts I speak with, I don't hear anyone who sees outside force as the answer. The trouble is, Russia has real interests in Ukraine, and one key to stabilizing the situation is getting Russian buy-in and that will be a key challenge going forward.”


7.       What do you think is the most threatening "silent conflict" (either active or simmering) that gets very little news coverage but has important implications for the rest of the world?

“I have to say it's the territorial dispute between China and Japan in the South and East China Seas. When I was in China, this was at the top of the news virtually every day, but back home it only occasionally captures attention. Fact is, it's about much more than a few tiny uninhabited islands (Senkaku's to the Japanese, Diaoyu's to Chinese). It's about China's growth as a regional power – and expressions of that growth – and Japan's nervousness with that growth. It's also about intense emotions in each country, going back to WW II. Trouble is, politicians on both sides stoke those emotions and once they do, they're hard to tamp down. I had a worrying conversation with Chinese university students last year who told me they think war with Japan is inevitable. If you're youngest and brightest are saying that, that's a problem.”


8.       On getting reliable sources to give important information that shape the international stories we see every day.

“It's not easy. One challenge is to get officials to go beyond set talking points to answer the questions we actually pose. It sometimes amazes me how so many corners of the government will use the exact same phrasing to answer questions on Iran, Syria, NSA, you name it. The press shops these days are so well-managed. It really takes developing as broad a range of sources as possible and building trust over time – which has always been true. But it also takes resisting packaged news tidbits which don't have much substance”


9.       On whether he’s ever been too close to the action:

“Several times. And I feel very lucky because several close friends and colleagues have been injured or killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Once I was in a Marine convoy in southern Afghanistan which was hit by an IED. I remember seeing the wheel of a Humvee fly into the air in silence – before the sound of explosion registered in my ears. It was spooky. This was when my wife was pregnant with my first son, so it was the first time I was gambling with more than my own personal safety. As I hunkered down and waiting for the secondary attack, I remember thinking to myself this isn't just risky, this is irresponsible. I've tried to reduce my trips to war zones since but when you cover these stories, you often simply have to be there.”


10.   What's the first thing you eat when you get back in the states after a long time away?

“Really good Italian! Unless I'm coming back from Italy of course, where I just inhale the food. But I will say I love eating locally in most places. This latest trip to Iran was a culinary adventure. I took a lot of pictures to remember. You can see some here.”

Filed under: Security Brief
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  10. Shahriar

    As a "non-political" Iranian who comments on your report from Iran, I have to congratulate Jim Scuittos and CNN for their new approach toward my country and it's people. The truth about this people has long been shadowed by decades of mutual hostility and propaganda, from both inside and outside Iran. As some might notice there are comments with Persian names who are critical or sarcastic of Jim's work, which shows how convoluted the truth has become even in the eyes of diaspora, well done Jim Scuittos and CNN for portraying the truth about Iran, continue the good job!

    February 28, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  11. Kiumars

    Withe regard to question number 3 and the link to the video of meeting the Iranian kids, Jim Sciutto was very lucky not be beaten by the kids when he used the thumb-up gesture because thumb-up gesture is a very bad insult in the Middle East and Asia; it is actually equivalent of two fingers sign in the west. Body language signs mean different things in different cultures.

    February 27, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  12. Kiumars

    With regard to question number 10, Jim Sciutto describes his visit to Iran as a culinary adventure but the link to photos of his culinary adventure is actually photos of the ex-US embassy in Iran, no food there!

    February 27, 2014 at 11:53 am | Reply
  13. zcyrus

    This terrible clip is from execution of young person in Iran that wanted to meet his mom and the Supreme leader police do not let him to talk to his mom and execute him right away! 5 + 1 think that regime is negotiable!!


    February 27, 2014 at 12:26 am | Reply
    • Kiumars

      zcyrus; the guy in the video raped a woman and killed her husband. He is asking the police to bring her mother to see for the last time but his mother was present at the location. So it was an excuse by a rapist and murderer to prolong his life for a few hours but police is not fool, they see all sorts of tricks everyday.

      February 27, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Reply
    • Kiumars

      correction: his mother was NOT present at the location

      February 27, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  14. changeirannow

    The Obama administration remains committed to appeasement masquerading as diplomacy. If sanctions are effective, tighter sanctions would advance our aims — even more effectively. Our national policy should be nothing short of forcing Iran to give up their nuclear ambitions, not to elicit worthless promises from a relentless exporter of terrorism.

    February 25, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Reply
    • ff11

      Right, and if drinking 8 glasses of water a day is good for you, then drinking 8 swimming pools full of water a day should be even better. The fact is sanctions were only designed to bring Iran to the negotiations table. Whether they have had any positive effect whatsoever or not remains debatable. What is not debatable is that Iran IS at the negotiation table right now. To endanger this opportunity with talk of more sanctions is the height of folly.

      February 27, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Reply
      • Kiumars

        ff11, actually the last round of sanctions (including banking and international trade) was very fatal for Iran because they did not expect it. But now withe barter swap trades that they have set-up with other countries (especially Russia and China) they are breaking the sanctions. Barter trade with Russia especially is very important because Iran and Russia are neighbors and can send any kind of goods (even the sanctioned goods) without any international inspection or interception via air or Caspian Sea. The current Ukraine events are actually going to be very good for Iran because now Russia needs Iran more than ever. Americans and Europeans know these facts and know that sanctions have been broken and they cannot do anything about it; that is why they are at the negotiation table instead of asking for regime change in Iran. The Americans and Europeans problem is that they do not many good friends in Asia.

        February 27, 2014 at 1:19 pm |
  15. saeed

    Soon your mother is going to get reduced to dust 1 nuke with a 400 megaton nuclear warhead on a 600ton missile
    should reduce you and all the western world to dust.

    The entire western world is soon going to boil a way in a ocean of nuclear flames Oslo Norway, Dublin Ireland , USA, England, France, Germany, Brazil, Australia, Accra Ghana, Berber people of Morocco every one of you are going to boil in a ocean of flames.

    And if you don’t believe this its because you are illiterate that’s because you have a Chinese probe more than 70 million km away from earth right now so just a week ago that probe was farther away from earth than the terrestrial planet Venus with about 5 million km.

    Soon Islam will reach the Chinese level of technology and then the west is gone in 3 seconds one huge release of electromagnetic radiation and everything is going to boil away.

    February 25, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Reply
    • Kiumars

      saeed; judging by the rate that Muslims are killing each other today, I don't think any Muslim will be here on Earth soon, let alone making huge bombs and destroying the America by electromagnetic radiation.
      Many species and nations and people have vanished in the past, I am afraid you are next on the list.

      February 27, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Reply
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    February 25, 2014 at 10:37 am | Reply
  17. zcyrus

    The Iranian people deserve a better life with a real democracy regime that respect the international rules and think about expanding peace instead of expanding its empire with getting ballistic rockets and nuclear weapons and also respect the human rights for its people.
    If you walk with a camera in streets of Tehran, you get arrested and go to the jail, like Jaleh Kazemi Canadian Journalist that got murdered by the revolution security guards in the past.

    February 25, 2014 at 12:42 am | Reply
    • Kiumars

      zcyrus; firstly if ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs were not good, USA would not have 10,000 of them. Secondly, if they shoot everyone who carried a camera in Iran was arrested then the CNN team would have been arrested and jailed and murdered on their trip to Iran! There are 1000s of foreign journalists working in Iran right now! When was the last time you visited Iran?

      February 27, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Reply
      • ff11

        The photographer was Zahra Kazemi, and regardless of how you view the Iranian government, their actions prior to, during, and following her death were utterly inexcusable.

        February 27, 2014 at 1:06 pm |
      • Kiumars

        ff11, I know about the case and I followed it at the time. But the story does not make sense, what we know is what we have been told by the authorities and media. But it cannot be true, it maybe just a cover for something bigger.

        Her death was either accidental or planned. If it was an accident then we cannot blame the authorities for it, and if it was deliberate and planned, why did they kill her in prison? They could have easily kill her on the street by stabbing her in the heart and pretend it was done by a robber, or hit her with a car on the street and claim it was a car accident. The fact that she died in the prison tells me that there is more in the case that catches the eye, maybe she was a spy and Iran was sending a message to the west that we know what you are doing and we are on the case. We cannot solve the puzzle because we do not the full story, but we have been told about the case does not make sense.

        February 27, 2014 at 2:06 pm |
      • ff11

        She died in prison while being tortured. Call it an accident and give them a medal!

        February 27, 2014 at 2:56 pm |
      • Kiumars

        ff11; I will give them a medal if she was a spy. Let us look at it this way, the west was desperate to find out what Iran was doing and sabotage in Iran (this was actually said by almost every American and Israeli and European politicians at the time); II can give you a full list if you do not have it already.

        We all know that Canada is the den of Israel and the fact that Israel actually runs Canada (I can provide evidence if you disagree). Canada is the only country that cut relations with Iran before 3 Iranian scientists were murdered in Iran; you can call it a coincident if you wish but I don't. We have also seen or know about all sorts of sabotage in nuclear facilities and killing Iranian scientist; I am sure you cannot disagree with these facts. America and Britain (the big and small Satans) would not do it directly because it has great consequences for them now and in the future. So Canada which is an insignificant country with regards to future relations and trade with Iran is used to carry out the assassinations. I think it makes sense but you may disagree.

        I still think she was killed to send a message to the west. You say she died or murdered under torture in the prison but you do not say why she was tortured and killed! There is a big population of ex-pat Iranians (estimated about 5 millions) that most of them visit Iran on regular basis every year but none of them have been arrested and tortured to killed! Why Zahra was singled out? What did Iran gain from killing an innocent woman (if she was actually innocent)?

        In the heat of the cold war lots of spies were traveling between East and west, and some of them were killed just to send a signal to the other side that "We know what you are doing!". Can you tell me that Zahra was not a spy? If she was not a spy why she was killed in prison?
        I accept anything you may say if you convince me that Zahra was not a spy. Can you do that? The burden of proof is on you now.

        February 27, 2014 at 5:42 pm |
      • ff11

        She was charged with "Spying" by taking photos inside a prison. How is she supposed to have gotten into Evin prison without the explicit permission of officials? Was she not escorted? How did she get out? The whole "spying" charge is beyond ludicrous. Let's forget Israel exists. Let's forget Canada exists. Let's ignore anything that originates from there. What we know about what the regime in Iran has done to her and countless others like her from numerous sources INSIDE IRAN is absolutely damning!

        There is NO EXCUSE for it!!!!

        Why was she tortured in prison? Because that is what they do in Evin prison. You say none of the expats who go to Iran get arrested? I say that most walk on tiptoes, and some still get arrested, but not make it into the prison. Some make it back out alive, others don't. She may not have had more backbone than some and spoken up in her own defense instead of just biting her lip and taking it (they don't like that). We didn't even find out about her case until two years after her death. How many more like her are there that we NEVER hear about?

        February 27, 2014 at 8:59 pm |
  18. Donald George MacDonald

    Unanswered questions:


    February 24, 2014 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  19. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    February 24, 2014 at 9:23 pm | Reply
    • Kiumars

      John Smith; the USA debt is not a big problem because the debt is in the US Dollar (i.e. paper) and USA can print 25 trillion dollar and pay its foreign debts overnight! US Debts are not in gold and assets, and USA has not given any assurance to the lenders that the value of dollar will not go up or down in the future!

      February 27, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Reply

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