October 2011, Week 3


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Sat, 15 Oct 2011 15:19:28 -0400
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Petraeus's CIA Fuels Iran Murder Plot

    Exclusive: The U.S. media and public are being
    riled up again with a new set of allegations
    against Iran, this time for a bizarre
    assassination plot aimed at the Saudi
    ambassador in Washington. But former CIA
    analyst Ray McGovern wonders if this is
    propaganda from David Petraeus's CIA.

By Ray McGovern
October 13, 2011


Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, in his
accustomed role as unofficial surrogate CIA spokesman,
has thrown light on how the CIA under its new director,
David Petraeus, helped craft the screenplay for this
week's White House spy feature: the Iranian-American-
used-car-salesman-Mexican-drug-cartel plot to
assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

In Thursday's column, Ignatius notes that, initially,
White House and Justice Department officials found the
story "implausible." It was. But the Petraeus team soon
leapt to the rescue, reflecting the four-star-general-
turned-intelligence-chief's deep-seated animus toward

Before Ignatius's article, I had seen no one allude to
the fact that much about this crime-stopper tale had
come from the CIA. In public, the FBI had taken the
lead role, presumably because the key informant inside
a Mexican drug cartel worked for U.S. law enforcement
via the Drug Enforcement Administration.

However, according to Ignatius, "One big reason [top
U.S. officials became convinced the plot was real] is
that CIA and other intelligence agencies gathered
information corroborating the informant's juicy
allegations and showing that the plot had support from
the top leadership of the elite Quds Force of the
Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the covert action
arm of the Iranian government."

Ignatius adds that, "It was this intelligence collected
in Iran" that swung the balance, but he offers no
example of what that intelligence was. He only mentions
a recorded telephone call on Oct. 4 between Iranian-
American cars salesman Mansour Arbabsiar and his
supposed contact in Iran, Gholam Shakuri, allegedly an
official in Iran's Quds spy agency.

The call is recounted in the FBI affidavit submitted in
support of the criminal charges against Arbabsiar, who
is now in U.S. custody, and Shakuri, who is not. But
the snippets of that conversation are unclear,
discussing what on the surface appears to be a
"Chevrolet" car purchase, but which the FBI asserts is
code for killing the Saudi ambassador.

Without explaining what other evidence the CIA might
have, Ignatius tries to further strengthen the case by
knocking down some of the obvious problems with the
allegations, such as "why the Iranians would undertake
such a risky operation, and with such embarrassingly
poor tradecraft."

"But why the use of Mexican drug cartels?" asks
Ignatius rhetorically, before adding dutifully: "U.S.
officials say that isn't as implausible as it sounds."

But it IS as implausible as it sounds, says every
professional intelligence officer I have talked with
since the "plot" was somberly announced on Tuesday.

The Old CIA Pros

There used to be real pros in the CIA's operations
directorate. One - Ray Close, a longtime CIA Arab
specialist and former Chief of Station in Saudi Arabia
- told me on Wednesday that we ought to ask ourselves a
very simple question:

"If you were an Iranian undercover operative who was
under instructions to hire a killer to assassinate the
Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, D.C., why in
HELL would you consider it necessary to explain to a
presumed Mexican [expletive deleted] that this murder
was planned and would be paid for by a secret
organization in Iran?

"Whoever concocted this tale wanted the `plot' exposed
. to precipitate a major crisis in relations between
Iran and the United States. Which other government in
the Middle East would like nothing better than to see
those relations take a big step toward military

If you hesitate in answering, you have not been paying
attention. Many have addressed this issue. My last stab
at throwing light on the Israel/Iran/U.S. nexus
appeared ten days ago in "Israel's Window to Bomb

Another point on the implausibility meter is: What are
the odds that Iran's Quds force would plan an
unprecedented attack in the United States, that this
crack intelligence agency would trust the operation to
a used-car salesman with little or no training in
spycraft, that he would turn to his one contact in a
Mexican drug cartel who happens to be a DEA informant,
and that upon capture the car salesman would
immediately confess and implicate senior Iranian

Wouldn't it make more sense to suspect that Arbabsiar
might be a double-agent, recruited by some third-party
intelligence agency to arrange some shady business deal
regarding black-market automobiles, get some ambiguous
comments over the phone from an Iranian operative, and
then hand the plot to the U.S. government on a silver
platter - as a way to heighten tensions between
Washington and Teheran?

That said, there are times when even professional spy
agencies behave like amateurs. And there's no doubt
that the Iranians - like the Israelis, the Saudis and
the Americans - can and do carry out assassinations and
kidnappings in this brave new world of ours.

Remember, for instance, the case of Islamic cleric
Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, who
was abducted off the streets of Milan, Italy, on Feb.
17, 2003, and then flown from a U.S. air base to Egypt
where he was imprisoned and tortured for a year.

In 2009, Italian prosecutors convicted 23 Americans,
mostly CIA operatives, in absentia for the kidnapping
after reconstructing the disappearance through their
unencrypted cell phone records and their credit card
bills at luxury hotels in Milan.

Then, there was the suspected Mossad assassination of
Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh at a hotel in Dubai on
Jan. 19, 2010, with the hit men seen on hotel video
cameras strolling around in tennis outfits and creating
an international furor over their use of forged Irish,
British, German and French passports.

So one cannot completely rule out that there may
conceivably be some substance to the alleged Iranian
plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador.

And beyond the regional animosities between Saudi
Arabia and Iran, there could be a motive - although it
has been absent from American press accounts - i.e.
retaliation for the assassinations of senior Iranian
nuclear scientists and generals over the last couple of
years within Iran itself.

But there has been close to zero real evidence coming
from the main source of information - officials of the
Justice Department, which like the rest of the U.S.
government has long since forfeited much claim to

Petraeus's `Intelligence' on Iran

The public record also shows that former Gen. Petraeus
has long been eager to please the neoconservatives in
Washington and their friends in Israel by creating
"intelligence" to portray Iran and other target
countries in the worst light.

One strange but instructive example comes to mind, a
studied, if disingenuous, effort to blame all the
troubles in southern Iraq on the "malignant" influence
of Iran.

On April 25, 2008, Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Mike
Mullen, told reporters that Gen. Petraeus in Baghdad
would give a briefing "in the next couple of weeks"
providing detailed evidence of "just how far Iran is
reaching into Iraq to foment instability." Petraeus's
staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which
captured Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and
then destroyed.

Oops. Small problem. When American munitions experts
went to Karbala to inspect the alleged cache of Iranian
weapons, they found nothing that could be credibly
linked to Iran.

At that point, adding insult to injury, the Iraqis
announced that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had
formed his own Cabinet committee to investigate the
U.S. claims and attempt to "find tangible information
and not information based on speculation." Ouch!

The Teflon-clad Petraeus escaped embarrassment, as the
David Ignatiuses of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM)
conveniently forgot all about the promised-then-
canceled briefing. U.S. media suppression of this
telling episode is just one example of how difficult it
is to get unbiased, accurate information on touchy
subjects like Iran into the FCM.

As for Attorney General Eric Holder and President
Barack Obama, some adult adviser should tell them to
quit giving hypocrisy a bad name with their righteous
indignation over the thought that no civilized nation
would conduct cross-border assassinations.

The Obama administration, like its predecessor, has
been dispatching armed drones to distant corners of the
globe to kill Islamic militants, including recently
U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki for the alleged crime of
encouraging violence against Americans.

Holder and Obama have refused to release the Justice
Department's legal justification for the targeted
murder of al-Awlaki whose "due process" amounted to the
President putting al-Awlaki's name on a secret "kill-
or-capture" list.

Holder and Obama have also refused to take meaningful
action to hold officials of the Bush administration
accountable for war crimes even though President George
W. Bush has publicly acknowledged authorizing
waterboarding and other brutal techniques long regarded
as acts of torture.

Who can take at face value the sanctimonious words of
an attorney general like Holder who has acquiesced in
condoning egregious violations of the Bill of Rights,
the U.S. criminal code, and international law - like
the International Convention Against Torture?

Were shame not in such short supply in Official
Washington these days, one would be amazed that Holder
could keep a straight face, accusing these alleged
Iranian perpetrators of "violating an international

America's Founders would hold in contempt the Holders
and the faux-legal types doing his bidding. The
behavior of the past two administrations has been more
reminiscent of George III and his sycophants than of
James Madison, George Mason, John Jay and George
Washington, who gave us the rich legacy of a
Constitution, which created a system based on laws not

That Constitution and its Bill of Rights have become
endangered species at the hands of the craven poachers
at "Justice." No less craven are the functionaries
leading today's CIA.

What to Watch For

If Petraeus finds it useful politically to conjure up
more "evidence" of nefarious Iranian behavior in Iraq
and/or Afghanistan, Lebanon or Syria, he will.  And if
he claims to see signs of ominous Iranian intentions
regarding nuclear weapons, watch out.

Honest CIA analysts, like the ones who concluded that
Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in late
2003 and had not resumed that work, are in short
supply, and most have families to support and mortgages
to pay.

Petraeus is quite capable of marginalizing them, or
even forcing them to quit. I have watched this happen
to a number of intelligence officials under a few of
Petraeus's predecessors.

More malleable careerists can be found in any
organization, and promoted, so long as they are willing
to tell more ominous - if disingenuous - stories that
may make more sense to the average American than the
latest tale of the Iraninan-American-used-car-salesman-

This can get very dangerous in a hurry. Israel's
leaders would require but the flimsiest of nihil obstat
to encourage them to provoke hostilities with Iran.
Netanyahu and his colleagues would expect the Obamas,
Holders, and Petraeuses of this world to be willing to
"fix the intelligence and facts" (a la Iraq) to
"justify" such an attack.

The Israeli leaders would risk sucking the United
States into the kind of war with Iran that, short of a
massive commitment of resources or a few tactical
nuclear weapons, the U.S. and Israel could almost
surely not win. It would be the kind of war that would
make Iraq and Afghanistan look like minor skirmishes.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm
of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city
Washington. He served as an Army infantry/intelligence
officer and then a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years,
and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals
for Sanity (VIPS).


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