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Correction

Yesterday, I ran a comment by a reader criticizing Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers for implying Iran had a nuclear weapon.   Another reader writes:

I agree that he’s wrong that anyone is accusing Iran of wanting to assassinate the Saudi guy “with a nuclear bomb”, but you’re jumping on something that, in my mind, was probably more the case of poorly chosen wording (it’s hard to tell whether “with a nuclear bomb” is describing the act of assassination or of the nation directing the assassination) than anything ignorant or irresponsible.

This reader is right.  Reviewing the tape – as opposed to the dry transcript – supports the view that this was a syntax problem and that the quote refers to the nation, not the act of assassination.  I apologize to readers.  Thanks to reader Jesse for the comments.

However, for the record, I repeat, Iran does not possess a nuclear bomb.

 

 

 

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Quoted Here First

The tools of statecraft are simple: military action or diplomacy. Anything else – whether it is called containment, dual track, or carrot and stick – is nothing more than a tactic that delays the inevitable choice between these two options. The inconvenient truth of statecraft is that every conflict – even war – ends via negotiations; and everything before negotiations – including war – is for leverage. The effort to presumably delay this inevitable choice has only added pressure to escalate towards the worst outcome. – Reza Marachi, Director of Research, National Iranian American Council

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Iran Charges Shahkuri is Agent of Terrorist MEK

Today the government of Iran charged that one of the men named as a defendant in Iran Plot case is a member of MEK, a terrorist group fighting against the Islamic government that was sheltered by Saddam Hussein in a base in Iraq.

The defendant, Gholam Shakuri, identified by the Justice Department as an operative of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, is actually a “key member” of the Mujahedeen Khalq, Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported.

The MEK began as an nationalist/Marxist oriented group that fought against the Shah in 1979.  According to Juan Cole:

The People’s Holy Jihadis was one of two prominent guerrilla groups active in Iran in the 1970s against the government of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the then king and a close US ally. The other was the Fedayan-i Khalq or ‘those who sacrifice themselves for the people,’ a Marxist group. The MEK for its part mixed Islam and Marxism and was headed by the charismatic Massoud Rajavi, to whom members had a fanatic devotion. I remember when I was in Iran in summer, 1976, the newspapers were full of jeremiads about the Islamic Marxists, and I was shown a bombed-out second story apartment in South Tehran, allegedly MEK work.

The MEK later turned to terrorism to fight the new Islamic Republic’s clerical leaders, killing scores of innocent Iranians as well as government officials and earning the condemnation of legitimate opposition movements such as 2009′s Green movement that protested election fraud.  Iran said that international police agency, Interpol, is a seeking Shahkuri.

What about the Al Quds connection?  The FBI charges that Shahkuri is a deputy prominant Al Quds commander Shalai, who has previously been linked to American deaths in Iraq.

 

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More on So-Called Iranian Plot

The more I read about the Iran Plot, the more I am disgusted and shocked at the Obama Administration.  The story has holes in it that make me shudder in the same way I did reading about Iraq’s WMD and seeing shaky US intelligence shipped around the world.

Not only are most Iranian experts registering skepticism, but now legal bloggers are adding their two cents worth.  From The Atlantic, Mary Wheeler writes:

The details provided about the $100,000 in the complaint also do not implicate Quds Force as strongly as they might. The complaint describes an unnamed person calling Arbabsiar to tell him the money would be transferred to “Individual #1.” And it describes Arbabsiar telling the informant that Individual #1 had received the money the morning before the first taped July 14 conversation. Then, it describes the money being sent from two different “foreign entities” through a Manhattan bank into an FBI account. The complaint doesn’t even specify that these two foreign entities were Iranian, much less tied to Quds Force.

Furthermore, the complaint doesn’t describe who Individual #1 is, though the way that the complaint is written suggests that he or she was not a member of Quds Force: three Quds Force members are described as “Iranian Officials” in the complaint and Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani is named explicitly. More curiously, Individual #1, who allegedly served as middleman for the down payment on the planned assassination, was neither charged for his role nor was he among the five people sanctioned for this operation by the Treasury Department. What the complaint describes about this key piece of evidence, in other words, is money being transferred from someone not even charged in this case to the FBI. But if the plot began with the Quds Force hatching it in Iran and extended to Arbabsiar acting on their behalf in the U.S., and if the U.S. government appears to be either charging or sanctioning everyone involved, why would this middleman, Individual #1, go unnamed and untouched?

This next quote is from commondreams.org, a site I’ve never read before that was linked in a comment section from one I read everyday.  I can’t vouch for it, but the items it raises can all be fact-checked easily.  In essence, this article questions whether used-car salesman Arbabsiar may have been used to sting his cousin in the Al Quds force.  It poses the possibility that Arnbabsiar first implicated himself in a drug deal, mentioned that he knew Reza Shalai to the DEA and was then used by the FBI to entrap his Iranian cousin.

But the suggestion that forensic examination of the wire transfers could somehow show who had approved them is misleading. The wire transfers were from two separate non-Iranian banks in a foreign country, according to the FBI’s account. It would be impossible to deduce who approved the transfer by looking at the documents.

Pure, unadulterated speculation: Israel attacks Iran before year’s end.

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Iranian Plot: Was Response to Nuclear Assassinations?

The New York Times raises an interesting question: if the Iranian plot was real, it may  have been in retaliation for the low-level cyber and assassination warfare being played out with Israel and the US.  The money for the used-care salesman’s plot came a week after the third Iranian nuclear scientist in two years was assassinated outside his home.

“The Iranians absolutely believe the U.S. and Israel have been carrying out a covert campaign against them,” said Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University. “And clearly they are right.”

Knowing that bombing an Iranian nuclear facility is a no-win option for the US or Israel, both countries have been working together to undermine Iran’s advancement in nuclear technology though parts sabotage, computer viruses and picking off essential Iranian scientists.

Iran began its nuclear program with US help under Reza Shah Pahlavi.   A US-British coup against the first Iranian leader, Prime Minister Mosaddegh, democratically elected following independence, snuffed out a nascent Iranian parliamentary system.  However, US strategic support for a corrupt and brutal dictator once again backfired, as the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah’s regime in 1979.  The taking of hostages by Iranian students at the US embassy in Iran that year further flamed tensions.  Thirteen years after an elected PM tried to nationalize Iranian oil production, Khomeini succeeded.

Iranians took to the street in support of the US after 9/11.  The Iranian government offered to help the US in Afghanistan.  Incredibly, instead of testing the Iranian initiative the Bush Administration made the country a pillar of its so-called axis of evil.  The US-Iranian relationship of the past sixty years is an object lesson in short-sighted, reactive and ultimately defeating diplomacy.

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If You Have the Facts, Why Can’t We See Them?

The more the Administration and President Obama say they have the facts about the Iran plot, the more uneasy I get:

In his first public remarks on the issue since it was revealed on Tuesday, Mr. Obama sought to counter skepticism about whether Iran’s Islamic government directed an Iranian-American car salesman to engage with a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States and carry out other attacks. Mr. Obama insisted that American officials “know that he had direct links, was paid by, and directed by individuals in the Iranian government.”

“Now those facts are there for all to see,” Mr. Obama said. “We would not be bringing forward a case unless we knew exactly how to support all the allegations that are contained in the indictment.”

At the same time, State Department officials said United States officials had been in direct contact with the government of Iran over the accusations.

The possibilities:

1.  The whole plot story, as told by the Justice Department, is true.  The highest levels of the Iranian government knew of and/or planned the assassination.

2.  It was a rogue operation by a member or members of Al Quds, unknown to the Iranian government.

3,  It was a rogue operation and, despite not knowing about it, Iran needs to take responsibility for the action of rogue operatives, meaning arresting and trying them as criminal elements.

4.  The informant made up the story.

5.  The used car salesman, Mansour J. Arbabsiar , made up the story and/or exaggerated his ties to Gholam Shakuri the alleged Al Quds member.

If the State Department has been in contact with the Iranian government, then I go with #3.  But the State Department being in contact with the Iranian government opens another dimension to the incident.  Because the US and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, most issues of dispute are sent through the Swiss Embassy in Iran or discussed in asides at international conferences.  Direct contact would be unusual.

The Obama Administration is fighting back against a credibility problem when it comes to intelligence work.  The Bush Administration case against Iraq and MWD was initiated from the debriefing of an Iraqi émigré code-named ‘Curveball’.  Curveball once was  a CIA operative until the CIA became suspicious of Curveball’s veracity and dropped him.  The Defense Department stepped in, picked Curveball up and used his uncollaborated testimony about MWD to push for war.  The US lost as much credibility by finding no MWD in Iraq as a new car looses value the minute  you drive it off the lot.  You can never make it up.

Now the US government, this time the Obama Administration, again asks the American public and the international community to believe its narrative on the Iranian plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador.  Even the Justice and State Departments admit the whole story sounds like a Hollywood movie.  The facts of the case are fuzzy, key questions about Gholam Shakuri aren’t addressed, no details about the $100,000 wire transfer said to be from Al Quds has been turned over to journalists and independent Iran and National Security experts for assessment.

The stakes are enormous.  If the plot is real and directed by the Iranian Government, it throws the rationality of Iranian leaders into question.  If it is something less the US government should be held accountable for charging the Iranian government for planning the plot.  If it’s somewhere in between, let the world judge it.

“Just the facts, Ma’am!” we ask of Secretary Clinton and President Obama. “Show us the beef!”

 

 

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Iran Plot: Who is Gholam Shakuri?

On Wednesday, American officials, who say the plot was endorsed by top Iranian authorities, were exploring why the sophisticated Quds Force might have chosen to rely on so amateurish an agent as Mr. Arbabsiar. – New York Times

This sort of says it all.  “exploring why” indeed!  It’s just too ridiculous.

Sometime in the past two years, Mr. Arbabsiar, whose friends called him Jack, began spending time in his native Iran, and investigators say he formed a relationship with members of the Quds Force. But Mr. Hosseini, who last saw his old roommate about two months ago, said Mr. Arbabsiar appeared to be chasing money, not political intrigue.

There’s really only one questions left.  Who is Gholam Shakuri, the alleged Al Quds member behind the plot?

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Iranian Plot: Warmongering or Connect the Dots

War propaganda is repulsive.  It appeals to emotion, vilifying an enemy, often exaggerating its potential.  Nothing was as appalling in the Bush Administration as Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN ‘connecting the dots’ of isolated events and misidentified objects into a call for war.

The FBI, under both Bush and Obama, has announced several ‘heroic’ acts of disrupting potential terrorist attacks. Some involved real but incompetent ‘terrorists’ who couldn’t blow themselves up in a plane or detonate a bomb in Times Square if Osama Bin Laden was there giving them directions.   Too many of the ‘terrorist’ plots unearthed since 9/11 have been sting operations,l like the Liberty City down-and-outs lured by the FBI  into an FBI-fabricated plot.

This dilettante show by the FBI contrasts sharply with European and Interpol operations against active, professional Al Queda led cells rooted in Germany, Spain, France and other European cities.

Now we have the Obama Administration doing one better than George W. Bush’s team.  Reuters reports:

The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said their confidence that at least some Iranian leaders were aware of the alleged plot was based largely on analyses and  This means they have no hard evidence that the Iranian government either approved or directed this operation.  Many independent Iranian experts based their skepticism that the assassination plot was directed by Al Quds or the Iranian government based on the same, ‘their understanding of how the Quds Force operates.’  Who is right?

They said it was “more than likely” that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani had prior knowledge or approved of the suspected plot. They insisted it was “not a rogue operation in any way,” and was sanctioned and directed by Quds Force operatives in Iran. Yet they have produced no evidence of this.  We don’t even know if the Iranian cousin of the only arrested suspect is actually an Al Quds operative; we’ve been provided no documentation to support the accusation.  There is a huge difference between ‘more than likely’ and having concrete intelligence pointing to Khamenie’s knowledge of the plot.

But other parts of Iran’s factionalized government may not have known, they said. That included President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who “didn’t necessarily know about this,” one said.  So why did Holder insist that the plot was the work of the Iranian government?

They said it was “more than likely” that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani had prior knowledge or approved of the suspected plot. They insisted it was “not a rogue operation in any way,” and was sanctioned and directed by Quds Force operatives in Iran.

But other parts of Iran’s factionalized government may not have known, they said. That included President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who “didn’t necessarily know about this,” one said.

Several senior U.S. government officials acknowledged the alleged plot was unusual in its poor tradecraft — spy jargon for espionage skills and finesse. So why the aura of certainty?

“We would expect to see the Quds Force cover their tracks more effectively,” said one official. Another said a plot to launch a violent attack inside the United States was “very outside the pattern” of recent Quds Force activities.

Kenneth Katzman, an Iran specialist at the Congressional Research Service, said there were elements of the alleged plot that did not make sense.

“The idea of using a Texas car salesman who is not really a Quds Force person himself, who has been in residence in the United States many years, that doesn’t add up,” Katzman said.

“There could have been some contact on this with the Quds Force, but the idea that this was some sort of directed, vetted, fully thought-through plot, approved at high levels in Tehran leadership I think defies credulity,” he said.

Amen.

Risk of False Accusations

This is huge.  What happens if US allies find the US allegations of an Iranian-sponsored plot premature or wrong?  Could the US be giving the ‘plot’ to the Saudis and Israelis for political purposes?  Or to justify regional war?

There is no reason why these loose ends weren’t tied up before the Justice Department made the announcement of arrest.  Making the announcement without more certainty is irresponsible.

Edited: spelling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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