L ate last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.
Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.
Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.
“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.
Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.
The request for funding came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. President Bush questioned the N.I.E.’s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.) Meanwhile, the Administration also revived charges that the Iranian leadership has been involved in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq: both directly, by dispatching commando units into Iraq, and indirectly, by supplying materials used for roadside bombs and other lethal goods. (There have been questions about the accuracy of the claims; the Times, among others, has reported that “significant uncertainties remain about the extent of that involvement.”)
Military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon share the White House’s concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but there is disagreement about whether a military strike is the right solution. Some Pentagon officials believe, as they have let Congress and the media know, that bombing Iran is not a viable response to the nuclear-proliferation issue, and that more diplomacy is necessary.
A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.” (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.)
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were “pushing back very hard” against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that “at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders”—the four-star officers who direct military operations around the world—“have weighed in on that issue.”
The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Fallon resigned under pressure, after giving a series of interviews stating his reservations about an armed attack on Iran. For example, late last year he told the Financial Times that the “real objective” of U.S. policy was to change the Iranians’ behavior, and that “attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice.”
Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. “Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”
When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”
The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”
Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House’s. One issue has to do with a reference in the Finding, the person familiar with it recalled, to potential defensive lethal action by U.S. operatives in Iran. (In early May, the journalist Andrew Cockburn published elements of the Finding in Counterpunch, a newsletter and online magazine.)
The language was inserted into the Finding at the urging of the C.I.A., a former senior intelligence official said. The covert operations set forth in the Finding essentially run parallel to those of a secret military task force, now operating in Iran, that is under the control of JSOC. Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference. But the borders between operations are not always clear: in Iran, C.I.A. agents and regional assets have the language skills and the local knowledge to make contacts for the JSOC operatives, and have been working with them to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan. As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used. One of JSOC’s task-force missions, the pursuit of “high-value targets,” was not directly addressed in the Finding. There is a growing realization among some legislators that the Bush Administration, in recent years, has conflated what is an intelligence operation and what is a military one in order to avoid fully informing Congress about what it is doing.
“This is a big deal,” the person familiar with the Finding said. “The C.I.A. needed the Finding to do its traditional stuff, but the Finding does not apply to JSOC. The President signed an Executive Order after September 11th giving the Pentagon license to do things that it had never been able to do before without notifying Congress. The claim was that the military was ‘preparing the battle space,’ and by using that term they were able to circumvent congressional oversight. Everything is justified in terms of fighting the global war on terror.” He added, “The Administration has been fuzzing the lines; there used to be a shade of gray”—between operations that had to be briefed to the senior congressional leadership and those which did not—“but now it’s a shade of mush.”
“The agency says we’re not going to get in the position of helping to kill people without a Finding,” the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the legal threat confronting some agency operatives for their involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of suspects in the war on terror. “This drove the military people up the wall,” he said. As far as the C.I.A. was concerned, the former senior intelligence official said, “the over-all authorization includes killing, but it’s not as though that’s what they’re setting out to do. It’s about gathering information, enlisting support.” The Finding sent to Congress was a compromise, providing legal cover for the C.I.A. while referring to the use of lethal force in ambiguous terms.
The defensive-lethal language led some Democrats, according to congressional sources familiar with their views, to call in the director of the C.I.A., Air Force General Michael V. Hayden, for a special briefing. Hayden reassured the legislators that the language did nothing more than provide authority for Special Forces operatives on the ground in Iran to shoot their way out if they faced capture or harm.
The legislators were far from convinced. One congressman subsequently wrote a personal letter to President Bush insisting that “no lethal action, period” had been authorized within Iran’s borders. As of June, he had received no answer.
Members of Congress have expressed skepticism in the past about the information provided by the White House. On March 15, 2005, David Obey, then the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, announced that he was putting aside an amendment that he had intended to offer that day, and that would have cut off all funding for national-intelligence programs unless the President agreed to keep Congress fully informed about clandestine military activities undertaken in the war on terror. He had changed his mind, he said, because the White House promised better coöperation. “The Executive Branch understands that we are not trying to dictate what they do,” he said in a floor speech at the time. “We are simply trying to see to it that what they do is consistent with American values and will not get the country in trouble.”
Obey declined to comment on the specifics of the operations in Iran, but he did tell me that the White House reneged on its promise to consult more fully with Congress. He said, “I suspect there’s something going on, but I don’t know what to believe. Cheney has always wanted to go after Iran, and if he had more time he’d find a way to do it. We still don’t get enough information from the agencies, and I have very little confidence that they give us information on the edge.”
None of the four Democrats in the Gang of Eight—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes—would comment on the Finding, with some noting that it was highly classified. An aide to one member of the Democratic leadership responded, on his behalf, by pointing to the limitations of the Gang of Eight process. The notification of a Finding, the aide said, “is just that—notification, and not a sign-off on activities. Proper oversight of ongoing intelligence activities is done by fully briefing the members of the intelligence committee.” However, Congress does have the means to challenge the White House once it has been sent a Finding. It has the power to withhold funding for any government operation. The members of the House and Senate Democratic leadership who have access to the Finding can also, if they choose to do so, and if they have shared concerns, come up with ways to exert their influence on Administration policy. (A spokesman for the C.I.A. said, “As a rule, we don’t comment one way or the other on allegations of covert activities or purported findings.” The White House also declined to comment.)
A member of the House Appropriations Committee acknowledged that, even with a Democratic victory in November, “it will take another year before we get the intelligence activities under control.” He went on, “We control the money and they can’t do anything without the money. Money is what it’s all about. But I’m very leery of this Administration.” He added, “This Administration has been so secretive.”
One irony of Admiral Fallon’s departure is that he was, in many areas, in agreement with President Bush on the threat posed by Iran. They had a good working relationship, Fallon told me, and, when he ran CENTCOM, were in regular communication. On March 4th, a week before his resignation, Fallon testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that he was “encouraged” about the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding the role played by Iran’s leaders, he said, “They’ve been absolutely unhelpful, very damaging, and I absolutely don’t condone any of their activities. And I have yet to see anything since I’ve been in this job in the way of a public action by Iran that’s been at all helpful in this region.”
Fallon made it clear in our conversations that he considered it inappropriate to comment publicly about the President, the Vice-President, or Special Operations. But he said he had heard that people in the White House had been “struggling” with his views on Iran. “When I arrived at CENTCOM, the Iranians were funding every entity inside Iraq. It was in their interest to get us out, and so they decided to kill as many Americans as they could. And why not? They didn’t know who’d come out ahead, but they wanted us out. I decided that I couldn’t resolve the situation in Iraq without the neighborhood. To get this problem in Iraq solved, we had to somehow involve Iran and Syria. I had to work the neighborhood.”
Fallon told me that his focus had been not on the Iranian nuclear issue, or on regime change there, but on “putting out the fires in Iraq.” There were constant discussions in Washington and in the field about how to engage Iran and, on the subject of the bombing option, Fallon said, he believed that “it would happen only if the Iranians did something stupid.”
Fallon’s early retirement, however, appears to have been provoked not only by his negative comments about bombing Iran but also by his strong belief in the chain of command and his insistence on being informed about Special Operations in his area of responsibility. One of Fallon’s defenders is retired Marine General John J. (Jack) Sheehan, whose last assignment was as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, where Fallon was a deputy. Last year, Sheehan rejected a White House offer to become the President’s “czar” for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “One of the reasons the White House selected Fallon for CENTCOM was that he’s known to be a strategic thinker and had demonstrated those skills in the Pacific,” Sheehan told me. (Fallon served as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific from 2005 to 2007.) “He was charged with coming up with an over-all coherent strategy for Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and, by law, the combatant commander is responsible for all military operations within his A.O.”—area of operations. “That was not happening,” Sheehan said. “When Fallon tried to make sense of all the overt and covert activity conducted by the military in his area of responsibility, a small group in the White House leadership shut him out.”
The law cited by Sheehan is the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act, known as Goldwater-Nichols, which defined the chain of command: from the President to the Secretary of Defense, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and on to the various combatant commanders, who were put in charge of all aspects of military operations, including joint training and logistics. That authority, the act stated, was not to be shared with other echelons of command. But the Bush Administration, as part of its global war on terror, instituted new policies that undercut regional commanders-in-chief; for example, it gave Special Operations teams, at military commands around the world, the highest priority in terms of securing support and equipment. The degradation of the traditional chain of command in the past few years has been a point of tension between the White House and the uniformed military.
“The coherence of military strategy is being eroded because of undue civilian influence and direction of nonconventional military operations,” Sheehan said. “If you have small groups planning and conducting military operations outside the knowledge and control of the combatant commander, by default you can’t have a coherent military strategy. You end up with a disaster, like the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.”
Admiral Fallon, who is known as Fox, was aware that he would face special difficulties as the first Navy officer to lead CENTCOM, which had always been headed by a ground commander, one of his military colleagues told me. He was also aware that the Special Operations community would be a concern. “Fox said that there’s a lot of strange stuff going on in Special Ops, and I told him he had to figure out what they were really doing,” Fallon’s colleague said. “The Special Ops guys eventually figured out they needed Fox, and so they began to talk to him. Fox would have won his fight with Special Ops but for Cheney.”
The Pentagon consultant said, “Fallon went down because, in his own way, he was trying to prevent a war with Iran, and you have to admire him for that.”
In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage, however, to credit JSOC or C.I.A. activities, or to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership. The Iranian press reports are being carefully monitored by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy at the National War College and now conducts war games centered on Iran for the federal government, think tanks, and universities. The Iranian press “is very open in describing the killings going on inside the country,” Gardiner said. It is, he said, “a controlled press, which makes it more important that it publishes these things. We begin to see inside the government.” He added, “Hardly a day goes by now we don’t see a clash somewhere. There were three or four incidents over a recent weekend, and the Iranians are even naming the Revolutionary Guard officers who have been killed.”
Earlier this year, a militant Ahwazi group claimed to have assassinated a Revolutionary Guard colonel, and the Iranian government acknowledged that an explosion in a cultural center in Shiraz, in the southern part of the country, which killed at least twelve people and injured more than two hundred, had been a terrorist act and not, as it earlier insisted, an accident. It could not be learned whether there has been American involvement in any specific incident in Iran, but, according to Gardiner, the Iranians have begun publicly blaming the U.S., Great Britain, and, more recently, the C.I.A. for some incidents. The agency was involved in a coup in Iran in 1953, and its support for the unpopular regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi—who was overthrown in 1979—was condemned for years by the ruling mullahs in Tehran, to great effect. “This is the ultimate for the Iranians—to blame the C.I.A.,” Gardiner said. “This is new, and it’s an escalation—a ratcheting up of tensions. It rallies support for the regime and shows the people that there is a continuing threat from the ‘Great Satan.’ ” In Gardiner’s view, the violence, rather than weakening Iran’s religious government, may generate support for it.
Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with “passing money” (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, “We’ve got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?” One possible consequence of these operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush Administration a reason to intervene.
A strategy of using ethnic minorities to undermine Iran is flawed, according to Vali Nasr, who teaches international politics at Tufts University and is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Just because Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that Iran is suffering from the same issue,” Nasr told me. “Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The U.S. is overestimating ethnic tension in Iran.” The minority groups that the U.S. is reaching out to are either well integrated or small and marginal, without much influence on the government or much ability to present a political challenge, Nasr said. “You can always find some activist groups that will go and kill a policeman, but working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the population.”
The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.
One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.
The C.I.A. and Special Operations communities also have long-standing ties to two other dissident groups in Iran: the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, known in the West as the M.E.K., and a Kurdish separatist group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK.
The M.E.K. has been on the State Department’s terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers. “The new task force will work with the M.E.K. The Administration is desperate for results.” He added, “The M.E.K. has no C.P.A. auditing the books, and its leaders are thought to have been lining their pockets for years. If people only knew what the M.E.K. is getting, and how much is going to its bank accounts—and yet it is almost useless for the purposes the Administration intends.”
The Kurdish party, PJAK, which has also been reported to be covertly supported by the United States, has been operating against Iran from bases in northern Iraq for at least three years. (Iran, like Iraq and Turkey, has a Kurdish minority, and PJAK and other groups have sought self-rule in territory that is now part of each of those countries.) In recent weeks, according to Sam Gardiner, the military strategist, there has been a marked increase in the number of PJAK armed engagements with Iranians and terrorist attacks on Iranian targets. In early June, the news agency Fars reported that a dozen PJAK members and four Iranian border guards were killed in a clash near the Iraq border; a similar attack in May killed three Revolutionary Guards and nine PJAK fighters. PJAK has also subjected Turkey, a member of NATO, to repeated terrorist attacks, and reports of American support for the group have been a source of friction between the two governments.
Gardiner also mentioned a trip that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, made to Tehran in June. After his return, Maliki announced that his government would ban any contact between foreigners and the M.E.K.—a slap at the U.S.’s dealings with the group. Maliki declared that Iraq was not willing to be a staging ground for covert operations against other countries. This was a sign, Gardiner said, of “Maliki’s increasingly choosing the interests of Iraq over the interests of the United States.” In terms of U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the killing of American soldiers, he said, “Maliki was unwilling to play the blame-Iran game.” Gardiner added that Pakistan had just agreed to turn over a Jundallah leader to the Iranian government. America’s covert operations, he said, “seem to be harming relations with the governments of both Iraq and Pakistan and could well be strengthening the connection between Tehran and Baghdad.”
The White House’s reliance on questionable operatives, and on plans involving possible lethal action inside Iran, has created anger as well as anxiety within the Special Operations and intelligence communities. JSOC’s operations in Iran are believed to be modelled on a program that has, with some success, used surrogates to target the Taliban leadership in the tribal territories of Waziristan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But the situations in Waziristan and Iran are not comparable.
In Waziristan, “the program works because it’s small and smart guys are running it,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “It’s being executed by professionals. The N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the D.I.A.”—the Defense Intelligence Agency—“are right in there with the Special Forces and Pakistani intelligence, and they’re dealing with serious bad guys.” He added, “We have to be really careful in calling in the missiles. We have to hit certain houses at certain times. The people on the ground are watching through binoculars a few hundred yards away and calling specific locations, in latitude and longitude. We keep the Predator loitering until the targets go into a house, and we have to make sure our guys are far enough away so they don’t get hit.” One of the most prominent victims of the program, the former official said, was Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Taliban commander, who was killed on January 31st, reportedly in a missile strike that also killed eleven other people.
A dispatch published on March 26th by the Washington Post reported on the increasing number of successful strikes against Taliban and other insurgent units in Pakistan’s tribal areas. A follow-up article noted that, in response, the Taliban had killed “dozens of people” suspected of providing information to the United States and its allies on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders. Many of the victims were thought to be American spies, and their executions—a beheading, in one case—were videotaped and distributed by DVD as a warning to others.
It is not simple to replicate the program in Iran. “Everybody’s arguing about the high-value-target list,” the former senior intelligence official said. “The Special Ops guys are pissed off because Cheney’s office set up priorities for categories of targets, and now he’s getting impatient and applying pressure for results. But it takes a long time to get the right guys in place.”
The Pentagon consultant told me, “We’ve had wonderful results in the Horn of Africa with the use of surrogates and false flags—basic counterintelligence and counter-insurgency tactics. And we’re beginning to tie them in knots in Afghanistan. But the White House is going to kill the program if they use it to go after Iran. It’s one thing to engage in selective strikes and assassinations in Waziristan and another in Iran. The White House believes that one size fits all, but the legal issues surrounding extrajudicial killings in Waziristan are less of a problem because Al Qaeda and the Taliban cross the border into Afghanistan and back again, often with U.S. and NATO forces in hot pursuit. The situation is not nearly as clear in the Iranian case. All the considerations—judicial, strategic, and political—are different in Iran.”
He added, “There is huge opposition inside the intelligence community to the idea of waging a covert war inside Iran, and using Baluchis and Ahwazis as surrogates. The leaders of our Special Operations community all have remarkable physical courage, but they are less likely to voice their opposition to policy. Iran is not Waziristan.”
A Gallup poll taken last November, before the N.I.E. was made public, found that seventy-three per cent of those surveyed thought that the United States should use economic action and diplomacy to stop Iran’s nuclear program, while only eighteen per cent favored direct military action. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to endorse a military strike. Weariness with the war in Iraq has undoubtedly affected the public’s tolerance for an attack on Iran. This mood could change quickly, however. The potential for escalation became clear in early January, when five Iranian patrol boats, believed to be under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, made a series of aggressive moves toward three Navy warships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. Initial reports of the incident made public by the Pentagon press office said that the Iranians had transmitted threats, over ship-to-ship radio, to “explode” the American ships. At a White House news conference, the President, on the day he left for an eight-day trip to the Middle East, called the incident “provocative” and “dangerous,” and there was, very briefly, a sense of crisis and of outrage at Iran. “TWO MINUTES FROM WAR” was the headline in one British newspaper.
The crisis was quickly defused by Vice-Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the region. No warning shots were fired, the Admiral told the Pentagon press corps on January 7th, via teleconference from his headquarters, in Bahrain. “Yes, it’s more serious than we have seen, but, to put it in context, we do interact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their Navy regularly,” Cosgriff said. “I didn’t get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats.”
Admiral Cosgriff’s caution was well founded: within a week, the Pentagon acknowledged that it could not positively identify the Iranian boats as the source of the ominous radio transmission, and press reports suggested that it had instead come from a prankster long known for sending fake messages in the region. Nonetheless, Cosgriff’s demeanor angered Cheney, according to the former senior intelligence official. But a lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn’t do more. The former official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office. “The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,” he said.
In June, President Bush went on a farewell tour of Europe. He had tea with Queen Elizabeth II and dinner with Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, the President and First Lady of France. The serious business was conducted out of sight, and involved a series of meetings on a new diplomatic effort to persuade the Iranians to halt their uranium-enrichment program. (Iran argues that its enrichment program is for civilian purposes and is legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Secretary of State Rice had been involved with developing a new package of incentives. But the Administration’s essential negotiating position seemed unchanged: talks could not take place until Iran halted the program. The Iranians have repeatedly and categorically rejected that precondition, leaving the diplomatic situation in a stalemate; they have not yet formally responded to the new incentives.
The continuing impasse alarms many observers. Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, recently wrote in a syndicated column that it may not “be possible to freeze the Iranian nuclear program for the duration of the negotiations to avoid a military confrontation before they are completed. Should this newest attempt fail, things will soon get serious. Deadly serious.” When I spoke to him last week, Fischer, who has extensive contacts in the diplomatic community, said that the latest European approach includes a new element: the willingness of the U.S. and the Europeans to accept something less than a complete cessation of enrichment as an intermediate step. “The proposal says that the Iranians must stop manufacturing new centrifuges and the other side will stop all further sanction activities in the U.N. Security Council,” Fischer said, although Iran would still have to freeze its enrichment activities when formal negotiations begin. “This could be acceptable to the Iranians—if they have good will.”
The big question, Fischer added, is in Washington. “I think the Americans are deeply divided on the issue of what to do about Iran,” he said. “Some officials are concerned about the fallout from a military attack and others think an attack is unavoidable. I know the Europeans, but I have no idea where the Americans will end up on this issue.”
There is another complication: American Presidential politics. Barack Obama has said that, if elected, he would begin talks with Iran with no “self-defeating” preconditions (although only after diplomatic groundwork had been laid). That position has been vigorously criticized by John McCain. The Washington Post recently quoted Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign’s national-security director, as stating that McCain supports the White House’s position, and that the program be suspended before talks begin. What Obama is proposing, Scheunemann said, “is unilateral cowboy summitry.”
Scheunemann, who is known as a neoconservative, is also the McCain campaign’s most important channel of communication with the White House. He is a friend of David Addington, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. I have heard differing accounts of Scheunemann’s influence with McCain; though some close to the McCain campaign talk about him as a possible national-security adviser, others say he is someone who isn’t taken seriously while “telling Cheney and others what they want to hear,” as a senior McCain adviser put it.
It is not known whether McCain, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been formally briefed on the operations in Iran. At the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in June, Obama repeated his plea for “tough and principled diplomacy.” But he also said, along with McCain, that he would keep the threat of military action against Iran on the table. ♦
In an era when American foreign policy has reached the pinnacle of unilateralism by invading other countries pre-emptively, threatening others with nuclear annihilation, and abrogating in doing so many decades if not more than a century of international law development, Marda Dunsky’s book Pens and Swords presents a very strong, well-referenced argument illuminating the bias within American media reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.That bias develops under two main themes – a lack of historical context, and a lack of recognition of the effects of U.S. foreign policy.Along with those two major themes, are the related ideas of weaknesses in analysing and criticizing sources, and in not providing references for what discussion there is as the arguments already fit the generally accepted ‘Washington’ consensus.Other ideas that accompany the discussion are the use of language that biases an argument, and the desire for the “amorphous if not impossible standard of objectivity.”
The book is well organized and well developed.It begins with an introduction that presents a brief summary of some current communication theory.This is followed by a discussion of the “policy mirror” between the Washington consensus and the media.Next is a limited presentation of historical context – the nakba, international law and the right of return – in order that the reader does have some background knowledge, leading into Dunsky’s first discussion on reporting on the Palestinian refugee story. From there the main presentation works through discussions of media reporting on Israeli settlements, the violence of the second intifada, the ‘war at home’ or how the local media is perceived by various sectors.The two final sections “In the Field” and “Toward a New way of Reporting…” carry significant and well-reasoned perspectives on what is happening and what could or should be happening.
There are several points along the way that deserve emphasis for their clarity and validity.
First is the communication theory, which defines mainstream media as “outlets that are in harmony with the prevailing direction of influence in culture at large.”In essence, “to a significant extent American mainstream journalism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict toes the line of U.S. Mideast policy.”She discusses three theoretical constructs – hegemony, indexing, and cascading – that emphasize these points respectively: “the American mainstream media…operate in the same social and economic framework as government;” “The range of discourse is exceedingly narrow…because [it] emanates from an equally narrow range of sources;” and “the mainstream media determines the level of understanding that is possible for the public and the policy makers alike.”If that does not give the mainstream media thoughts for concern, then ironically, these definitions become all that more powerful.
The refugee problem is defined as “a root cause of the Israeli-Palestine conflict” and to omit it from context “is to omit an important part of the story.”Dunsky briefly outlines the nakba as recently viewed by ‘revisionist’ historians who deny the official Israeli narrative while using information in a large part garnered from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) archives themselves.While these ideas “depart markedly from the familiar narrative” there are other gaps in the narrative, one of the more important being “the body of international law and consensus on refugee rights in general, and Palestinian refugee rights in particular.”Accompanying this is the right of return which the Israelis claim for the Jewish people of the world, but that is denied to the Palestinians in contravention of international law.
Context as a theme is obviously a major issue for any discussion of the refugee problem.American media “routinely denies its audience the contextual tools with which to assess important historical and political aspects of the issue,” and it “largely mirrors U.S. Mideast policy,” remaining “explicitly tilted in favor of Israel in the pursuit of what is officially defined as the U.S. national interest in the region.”News reports “relate what can be seen and heard,to the exclusion or relevant contextual background.” [italics in original]The message that does come across is that of the “refugees’ own transigence and the machinations of their leaders, the Arab states, and the United Nations.”While it seems almost too obvious to state, Dunsky sums up her arguments on the refugee reporting saying “if Americans had a fuller contextual understanding of the key issues…via the mainstream media, they would be better equipped to challenge U.S. Mideast policy.”
Obvious yes, but it also signifies that American culture, American society perhaps does not want to disturb its own beliefs in its exceptionalism and perfectionism that is their gift (even if by the barrel of a gun) to the world. To admit these failings of context, to examine the context in light of foreign policy would be greatly disturbing to a society educated (or inculcated) about its own greatness, exceptionalism, perfectionism, and love of democracy and freedom.And so it should be.
Similar arguments are brought forth concerning the Israeli settlements.A brief background set of information ties in the U.S. $3 billion in aid each year that supports the ability to continue the settlements.Dunsky argues, and supports, the idea that “reporting on the settlement issue bears a striking similarity to reporting on the …refugee question,” with “more weight usually given to Israeli claims and little or no reference to international law and consensus.” Also, “dramatic description is substituted for thoroughgoing analytical reporting.”And more in the same category of context: “Contextually and substantively…the stories made little or no reference to international law and consensus or to U.S. aid to Israel.”
The media references to the Israeli side generally emphasize the perspective “that Palestinian violence must be halted before negotiations can resume,” without the context of history and the idea that the very act of settlement and “its attendant military defense have been a root cause of that violence.”Frequent comments run through the text, emphasizing and referencing the lack of context and of international law and consensus in the media reports that are studied.
The height of the intifada violence coincided with American rhetoric and anguish after 9/11 and provided a neat tie in for the Israeli government and the IDF to try and capture the argument as one of terrorism, leaving aside completely the historical context and using the American perspective of “us against them,” of democracy versus demagoguery, of “they hate us for what we are.”For the media “political discourse focused entirely on themes that were emotional, moral, and patriotic,” providing a “period of congruence for the United States and Israel.”The IDF incursions into the West Bank relied on the concept that “the campaign was to root out the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.”
Palestine was no match for the well-organized Israeli “propaganda battlefield” and as events continued, “Arafat and the PA were linked to terror” as “repeatedly impressed on U.S.government officials and the American public through the media.”Another feature of these reports is what “amounted to transparent Israeli advocacy for a U.S. war in Iraq” as well as connections through to Iran.In sum, Dunsky says
“American journalists were operating within the sphere of cultural congruence – a comfort zone where journalistic scepticism and balance were often overshadowed or displaced by the political discourse of the Bush administration, in which a “war on terror” could be prosecuted by the United States, and, by extension, its closest ally.”
Ego and Access
The chapter “In the Field” provides an intriguing perspective on the reporters/journalists (I put those two descriptors together, not really sure where the lines between a reporter and a journalist meet or overlap or coincide) themselves.The section could be subtitled “Ego and Access” as those are the two main themes in the first set of self-reports.
Dunsky allows the reporters to speak for themselves and some of what they say is self-incriminating as to why there is a bias and lack of context.It would seem that the correspondents are well aware of media competition in the sense that they need a daily story.They worry about how the editors will deal with their report and they need a story with a different view to gain publication and so that their peers will take notice: “to attempt unfiltered reporting…not only is often discouraged by newsroom culture but can also result in swift and unstinting audience censure.”That is the ego part.The access part is the consistent iteration that access to Israeli sources was very easy and well organized and that communication with the Palestinians required more effort.That could be – although denied by the correspondents – because “most…choose to live among Israelis in West Jerusalem because of its higher standard of living rather than among Palestinians.”It is a hard denial to make, that their place of living has “had little or no effect on their actual work product.”If they have no sense of context, perhaps also their sense of place is…hmm…misplaced.
Before getting into these self-examinations, examinations that reveal all too much about ego and access, Dunsky reiterates her own two “key underlying contexts: the impact of U.S. policy on the trajectory of the conflict; and the importance of international law and consensus regarding the key issues of Israeli settlement and annexation policies and the right of return of Palestinian refugees.”As a result the journalistic product “frames media discourse on the conflict in a way that reinforces and supports rather than scrutinizes and challenges U.S. policy that in many ways undergirds it.”
Context and media failure.
The final two writers provide a much clearer analysis of the world they lived in.Gillian Findlay, ABC correspondent from September 1997 to June 2002 says “when we did try to provide context, it became such a controversial thing, not only among viewers but also within the news organization.”She was surprised by “how little our audience understood about the roots of the conflict,” and says it is a “cop out in reporting” to say there is nothing the U.S. administration can do.Speaking more globally she hits upon another truth about American media, that “the lack of context applies to so much reporting these days.It’s not just this issue.”
Chris Hedges worked for the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News off and on from January 1988 to 2003.He says “Arab culture is incomprehensible to us because we’ve never taken the time to understand it.It’s a great failing of the press that when something is incomprehensible to us, we certify it as incomprehensible to everyone.”He continues this idea when discussing the suicide bombers, “we don’t understand the slow drip of oppression” that created them and further “We’ve never taken the time to understand them….[a] fundamental failure of the coverage of Palestinians.”As for the press as an institution he says, “bureaucracies…are driven by ambition and have very little moral sense.That’s true of every institution….It’s not conducive of their own advancement.”
All of which leaves me wondering, as a critical reader, what exactly are the credentials of the writers/reporters/journalists who are in the field.Certainly being there provides them with first hand observation of current events, but do they have the academic background to understand the socio-political history of the region?Are they able and willing to look at what for me is the prime contradiction in the vast majority of American and Israeli foreign affairs and those who report on it – that what you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you are saying?That democracy does not arrive at the barrel of gun, peace does not come from pre-emptive invasions and occupations, the victim cannot be blamed for the ongoing violence against the intruders, and international law deems it all illegal?More simply put, people, nations, do not like being occupied and suppressed, and no rhetoric of any kind will make it acceptable except to an elite few cronies of the occupiers.Are the reporters able and willing to step outside of the Washington consensus, willing to take the time to provide more background information for themselves as well as their readers, or will the corporate agenda over-rule any attempts at providing context, a context that more often than not goes against the grain of the Washington consensus?
The final argument is on objectivity, seen in the introduction as an “amorphous if not impossible standard,” another argument that comes back to all media tasks being “superfluous as long as one remains within the presuppositional framework of the doctrinal consensus,” with writers well aware of “rewards that accrue to conformity and the costs of honest dissidence.”
I would hope that all journalists/writers would take the time to read Pens and Swords.The books arguments are well presented and well referenced, and the work as a whole should be placed on every journalists’/reporters’ shelf alongside similar works by other well referenced and questioning media critics  For any journalist who is actually wishing to pursue truth rather than ego and access, consideration and action on the ideas presented in Dunsky’s work would be a great place to start.Pens and Swords is also a great read for all mass media audiences to better inform themselves and to be able to criticize and analyze the writers/producers and their products more intelligently as well as to analyze their own place and views within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 for an easily read comprehensive understanding of international law, see Michael Byers’ War Law, Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict, Douglas & McIntyre, Toronto, 2005.
 ]Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent (2002), and Falk and Friel Israel-Palestine on Record (2007).
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Washington’s covert attempts to overturn an election result lie behind the crisis in Gaza, as leaked papers show
The attempt by western politicians and media to present this week’s carnage in the Gaza Strip as a legitimate act of Israeli self-defence – or at best the latest phase of a wearisome conflict between two somehow equivalent sides – has reached Alice-in-Wonderland proportions. Since Israel’s deputy defence minister, Matan Vilnai, issued his chilling warning last week that Palestinians faced a “holocaust” if they continued to fire home-made rockets into Israel, the balance sheet of suffering has become ever clearer. More than 120 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israeli forces in the past week, of whom one in five were children and more than half were civilians, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. During the same period, three Israelis were killed, two of whom were soldiers taking part in the attacks.
So what was the response of the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, to this horrific killing spree? It was to blame the “numerous civilian casualties” on the week’s “significant rise” in Palestinian rocket attacks “and the Israeli response”, condemn the firing of rockets as “terrorist acts” and defend Israel’s right to self-defence “in accordance with international law”. But of course it has been nothing of the kind – any more than has been Israel’s 40-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, its continued expansion of settlements or its refusal to allow the return of expelled refugees.
Nor is the past week’s one-sided burden of casualties and misery anything new, but the gap is certainly getting wider. After the election of Hamas two years ago, Israel – backed by the US and the European Union – imposed a punitive economic blockade, which has hardened over the past months into a full-scale siege of the Gaza Strip, including fuel, electricity and essential supplies. Since January’s mass breakout across the Egyptian border signalled that collective punishment wouldn’t work, Israel has opted for military escalation. What that means on the ground can be seen from the fact that at the height of the intifada, from 2000 to 2005, four Palestinians were killed for every Israeli; in 2006 it was 30; last year the ratio was 40 to one. In the three months since the US-sponsored Middle East peace conference at Annapolis, 323 Palestinians have been killed compared with seven Israelis, two of whom were civilians.
But the US and Europe’s response is to blame the principal victims for a crisis it has underwritten at every stage. In interviews with Palestinian leaders over the past few days, BBC presenters have insisted that Palestinian rockets have been the “starting point” of the violence, as if the occupation itself did not exist. In the West Bank, from which no rockets are currently fired and where the US-backed administration of Mahmoud Abbas maintains a ceasefire, there have been 480 Israeli military attacks over the past three months and 26 Palestinians killed. By contrast, the rockets from Gaza which are supposed to be the justification for the latest Israeli onslaught have killed a total of 14 people over seven years.
Like any other people, the Palestinians have the right to resist occupation – or to self-defence – whether they choose to exercise it or not. In spite of Israel’s disengagement in 2005, Gaza remains occupied territory, both legally and in reality. It is the world’s largest open-air prison, with land, sea and air access controlled by Israel, which carries out military operations at will. Palestinians may differ about the tactics of resistance, but the dominant view (if not that of Abbas) has long been that without some armed pressure, their negotiating hand will inevitably be weaker. And while it might be objected that the rockets are indiscriminate, that is not an easy argument for Israel to make, given its appalling record of civilian casualties in both the Palestinian territories and Lebanon.
The truth is that Hamas’s control of Gaza is the direct result of the US refusal to accept the Palestinians’ democratic choice in 2006 and its covert attempt to overthrow the elected administration by force through its Fatah placeman Muhammad Dahlan. As confirmed by secret documents leaked to the US magazine Vanity Fair – and also passed to the Guardian – George Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Elliott Abrams, the US deputy national security adviser (of Iran-Contra fame), funnelled cash, weapons and instructions to Dahlan, partly through Arab intermediaries such as Jordan and Egypt, in an effort to provoke a Palestinian civil war. As evidence of the military buildup emerged, Hamas moved to forestall the US plan with its own takeover of Gaza last June. David Wurmser, who resigned as Dick Cheney’s chief Middle East adviser the following month, argues: “What happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.”
Yesterday, Rice attempted to defend the failed US attempt to reverse the results of the Palestinian elections by pointing to Iran’s support for Hamas. Meanwhile, Israel’s attacks on Gaza are expected to resume once she has left the region, even if no one believes they will stop the rockets. Some in the Israeli government hope that they can nevertheless weaken Hamas as a prelude to pushing Gaza into Egypt’s unwilling arms; others hope to bring Abbas and his entourage back to Gaza after they have crushed Hamas, perhaps with a transitional international force to save the Palestinian president’s face.
Neither looks a serious option, not least because Hamas cannot be crushed by force, even with the bloodbath that some envisage. The third, commonsense option, backed by 64% of Israelis, is to take up Hamas’s offer – repeated by its leader Khalid Mish’al at the weekend – and negotiate a truce. It’s a move that now attracts not only left-leaning Israeli politicians such as Yossi Beilin, but also a growing number of rightwing establishment figures, including Ariel Sharon’s former security adviser Giora Eiland, the former Mossad boss Efraim Halevy, and the ex-defence minister Shaul Mofaz.
The US, however, is resolutely opposed to negotiating with what it has long branded a terrorist organisation – or allowing anyone else to do so, including other Palestinians. As the leaked American papers confirm, Rice effectively instructed Abbas to “collapse” the joint Hamas-Fatah national unity government agreed in Mecca early last year, a decision carried out after Hamas’s pre-emptive takeover. But for the Palestinians, national unity is an absolute necessity if they are to have any chance of escaping a world of walled cantons, checkpoints, ethnically segregated roads, dispossession and humiliation.
What else can Israel do to stop the rockets, its supporters ask. The answer could not be more obvious: end the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and negotiate a just settlement for the Palestinian refugees, ethnically cleansed 60 years ago – who, with their families, make up the majority of Gaza’s 1.5 million people. All the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, accept that as the basis for a permanent settlement or indefinite end of armed conflict. In the meantime, agree a truce, exchange prisoners and lift the blockade. Israelis increasingly seem to get it – but the grim reality appears to be that a lot more blood is going to have to flow before it’s accepted in Washington.
Tomgram: Noam Chomsky, Terrorists Wanted the World Over
One of Noam Chomsky’s latest books — a conversation with David Barsamian — is entitled What We Say Goes. It catches a powerful theme of Chomsky’s: that we have long been living on a one-way planet and that the language we regularly wield to describe the realities of our world is tailored to Washington’s interests.
Juan Cole, at his Informed Comment website, had a good example of the strangeness of this targeted language recently. When Serbs stormed the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, he offered the following comment (with so many years of the term “Islamofascism” in mind): “…given that the Serbs are Eastern Orthodox Christians, will the Republican Party and Fox Cable News now start fulminating against ‘Christofascism?'”
Of course, the minute you try to turn the Washington norm (in word or act) around, as Chomsky did in a piece entitled What If Iran Had Invaded Mexico?, you’ve already entered the theater of the absurd. “Terror” is a particularly good example of this. “Terror” is something that, by (recent) definition, is committed by free-floating groups or movements against innocent civilians and is utterly reprehensible (unless the group turns out to be the CIA running car bombs into Baghdad or car and camel bombs into Afghanistan, in which case it’s not a topic that’s either much discussed, or condemned in our world). On the other hand, that weapon of terror, air power, which is at the heart of the American way of war, simply doesn’t qualify under the category of “terror” at all — no matter how terrifying it may be to innocent civilians who find themselves underneath the missiles and bombs.
It’s with this in mind that Chomsky turns to terror of every kind in the Middle East in the context of the car bombing of a major figure in Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement. By the way, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a new collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, has just been published and is highly recommended. Tom
The Most Wanted List
By Noam Chomsky On February 13, Imad Moughniyeh, a senior commander of Hizbollah, was assassinated in Damascus. “The world is a better place without this man in it,” State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said: “one way or the other he was brought to justice.” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell added that Moughniyeh has been “responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist with the exception of Osama bin Laden.”
Joy was unconstrained in Israel too, as “one of the U.S. and Israel’s most wanted men” was brought to justice, the London Financial Times reported. Under the heading, “A militant wanted the world over,” an accompanying story reported that he was “superseded on the most-wanted list by Osama bin Laden” after 9/11 and so ranked only second among “the most wanted militants in the world.”
The terminology is accurate enough, according to the rules of Anglo-American discourse, which defines “the world” as the political class in Washington and London (and whoever happens to agree with them on specific matters). It is common, for example, to read that “the world” fully supported George Bush when he ordered the bombing of Afghanistan. That may be true of “the world,” but hardly of the world, as revealed in an international Gallup Poll after the bombing was announced. Global support was slight. In Latin America, which has some experience with U.S. behavior, support ranged from 2% in Mexico to 16% in Panama, and that support was conditional upon the culprits being identified (they still weren’t eight months later, the FBI reported), and civilian targets being spared (they were attacked at once). There was an overwhelming preference in the world for diplomatic/judicial measures, rejected out of hand by “the world.”
Following the Terror Trail
In the present case, if “the world” were extended to the world, we might find some other candidates for the honor of most hated arch-criminal. It is instructive to ask why this might be true.
The Financial Times reports that most of the charges against Moughniyeh are unsubstantiated, but “one of the very few times when his involvement can be ascertained with certainty [is in] the hijacking of a TWA plane in 1985 in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed.” This was one of two terrorist atrocities that led a poll of newspaper editors to select terrorism in the Middle East as the top story of 1985; the other was the hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro, in which a crippled American, Leon Klinghoffer, was brutally murdered. That reflects the judgment of “the world.” It may be that the world saw matters somewhat differently.
The Achille Lauro hijacking was a retaliation for the bombing of Tunis ordered a week earlier by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. His air force killed 75 Tunisians and Palestinians with smart bombs that tore them to shreds, among other atrocities, as vividly reported from the scene by the prominent Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk. Washington cooperated by failing to warn its ally Tunisia that the bombers were on the way, though the Sixth Fleet and U.S. intelligence could not have been unaware of the impending attack. Secretary of State George Shultz informed Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir that Washington “had considerable sympathy for the Israeli action,” which he termed “a legitimate response” to “terrorist attacks,” to general approbation. A few days later, the UN Security Council unanimously denounced the bombing as an “act of armed aggression” (with the U.S. abstaining). “Aggression” is, of course, a far more serious crime than international terrorism. But giving the United States and Israel the benefit of the doubt, let us keep to the lesser charge against their leadership.
A few days after, Peres went to Washington to consult with the leading international terrorist of the day, Ronald Reagan, who denounced “the evil scourge of terrorism,” again with general acclaim by “the world.”
The “terrorist attacks” that Shultz and Peres offered as the pretext for the bombing of Tunis were the killings of three Israelis in Larnaca, Cyprus. The killers, as Israel conceded, had nothing to do with Tunis, though they might have had Syrian connections. Tunis was a preferable target, however. It was defenseless, unlike Damascus. And there was an extra pleasure: more exiled Palestinians could be killed there.
The Larnaca killings, in turn, were regarded as retaliation by the perpetrators: They were a response to regular Israeli hijackings in international waters in which many victims were killed — and many more kidnapped and sent to prisons in Israel, commonly to be held without charge for long periods. The most notorious of these has been the secret prison/torture chamber Facility 1391. A good deal can be learned about it from the Israeli and foreign press. Such regular Israeli crimes are, of course, known to editors of the national press in the U.S., and occasionally receive some casual mention.
Klinghoffer’s murder was properly viewed with horror, and is very famous. It was the topic of an acclaimed opera and a made-for-TV movie, as well as much shocked commentary deploring the savagery of Palestinians — “two-headed beasts” (Prime Minister Menachem Begin), “drugged roaches scurrying around in a bottle” (Chief of Staff Raful Eitan), “like grasshoppers compared to us,” whose heads should be “smashed against the boulders and walls” (Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir). Or more commonly just “Araboushim,” the slang counterpart of “kike” or “nigger.”
Thus, after a particularly depraved display of settler-military terror and purposeful humiliation in the West Bank town of Halhul in December 1982, which disgusted even Israeli hawks, the well-known military/political analyst Yoram Peri wrote in dismay that one “task of the army today [is] to demolish the rights of innocent people just because they are Araboushim living in territories that God promised to us,” a task that became far more urgent, and was carried out with far more brutality, when the Araboushim began to “raise their heads” a few years later.
We can easily assess the sincerity of the sentiments expressed about the Klinghoffer murder. It is only necessary to investigate the reaction to comparable U.S.-backed Israeli crimes. Take, for example, the murder in April 2002 of two crippled Palestinians, Kemal Zughayer and Jamal Rashid, by Israeli forces rampaging through the refugee camp of Jenin in the West Bank. Zughayer’s crushed body and the remains of his wheelchair were found by British reporters, along with the remains of the white flag he was holding when he was shot dead while seeking to flee the Israeli tanks which then drove over him, ripping his face in two and severing his arms and legs. Jamal Rashid was crushed in his wheelchair when one of Israel’s huge U.S.-supplied Caterpillar bulldozers demolished his home in Jenin with his family inside. The differential reaction, or rather non-reaction, has become so routine and so easy to explain that no further commentary is necessary.
Plainly, the 1985 Tunis bombing was a vastly more severe terrorist crime than the Achille Lauro hijacking, or the crime for which Moughniyeh’s “involvement can be ascertained with certainty” in the same year. But even the Tunis bombing had competitors for the prize for worst terrorist atrocity in the Mideast in the peak year of 1985.
One challenger was a car-bombing in Beirut right outside a mosque, timed to go off as worshippers were leaving Friday prayers. It killed 80 people and wounded 256. Most of the dead were girls and women, who had been leaving the mosque, though the ferocity of the blast “burned babies in their beds,” “killed a bride buying her trousseau,” and “blew away three children as they walked home from the mosque.” It also “devastated the main street of the densely populated” West Beirut suburb, reported Nora Boustany three years later in the Washington Post.
The intended target had been the Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who escaped. The bombing was carried out by Reagan’s CIA and his Saudi allies, with Britain’s help, and was specifically authorized by CIA Director William Casey, according to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s account in his book Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. Little is known beyond the bare facts, thanks to rigorous adherence to the doctrine that we do not investigate our own crimes (unless they become too prominent to suppress, and the inquiry can be limited to some low-level “bad apples” who were naturally “out of control”).
A third competitor for the 1985 Mideast terrorism prize was Prime Minister Peres’ “Iron Fist” operations in southern Lebanese territories then occupied by Israel in violation of Security Council orders. The targets were what the Israeli high command called “terrorist villagers.” Peres’s crimes in this case sank to new depths of “calculated brutality and arbitrary murder” in the words of a Western diplomat familiar with the area, an assessment amply supported by direct coverage. They are, however, of no interest to “the world” and therefore remain uninvestigated, in accordance with the usual conventions. We might well ask whether these crimes fall under international terrorism or the far more severe crime of aggression, but let us again give the benefit of the doubt to Israel and its backers in Washington and keep to the lesser charge.
These are a few of the thoughts that might cross the minds of people elsewhere in the world, even if not those of “the world,” when considering “one of the very few times” Imad Moughniyeh was clearly implicated in a terrorist crime.
The U.S. also accuses him of responsibility for devastating double suicide truck-bomb attacks on U.S. Marine and French paratrooper barracks in Lebanon in 1983, killing 241 Marines and 58 paratroopers, as well as a prior attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63, a particularly serious blow because of a meeting there of CIA officials at the time.
The Financial Times has, however, attributed the attack on the Marine barracks to Islamic Jihad, not Hizbollah. Fawaz Gerges, one of the leading scholars on the jihadi movements and on Lebanon, has written that responsibility was taken by an “unknown group called Islamic Jihad.” A voice speaking in classical Arabic called for all Americans to leave Lebanon or face death. It has been claimed that Moughniyeh was the head of Islamic Jihad at the time, but to my knowledge, evidence is sparse.
The opinion of the world has not been sampled on the subject, but it is possible that there might be some hesitancy about calling an attack on a military base in a foreign country a “terrorist attack,” particularly when U.S. and French forces were carrying out heavy naval bombardments and air strikes in Lebanon, and shortly after the U.S. provided decisive support for the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which killed some 20,000 people and devastated the south, while leaving much of Beirut in ruins. It was finally called off by President Reagan when international protest became too intense to ignore after the Sabra-Shatila massacres.
In the United States, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon is regularly described as a reaction to Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorist attacks on northern Israel from their Lebanese bases, making our crucial contribution to these major war crimes understandable. In the real world, the Lebanese border area had been quiet for a year, apart from repeated Israeli attacks, many of them murderous, in an effort to elicit some PLO response that could be used as a pretext for the already planned invasion. Its actual purpose was not concealed at the time by Israeli commentators and leaders: to safeguard the Israeli takeover of the occupied West Bank. It is of some interest that the sole serious error in Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid is the repetition of this propaganda concoction about PLO attacks from Lebanon being the motive for the Israeli invasion. The book was bitterly attacked, and desperate efforts were made to find some phrase that could be misinterpreted, but this glaring error — the only one — was ignored. Reasonably, since it satisfies the criterion of adhering to useful doctrinal fabrications.
Killing without Intent
Another allegation is that Moughniyeh “masterminded” the bombing of Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires on March 17, 1992, killing 29 people, in response, as the Financial Times put it, to Israel’s “assassination of former Hizbollah leader Abbas Al-Mussawi in an air attack in southern Lebanon.” About the assassination, there is no need for evidence: Israel proudly took credit for it. The world might have some interest in the rest of the story. Al-Mussawi was murdered with a U.S.-supplied helicopter, well north of Israel’s illegal “security zone” in southern Lebanon. He was on his way to Sidon from the village of Jibshit, where he had spoken at the memorial for another Imam murdered by Israeli forces. The helicopter attack also killed his wife and five-year old child. Israel then employed U.S.-supplied helicopters to attack a car bringing survivors of the first attack to a hospital.
After the murder of the family, Hezbollah “changed the rules of the game,” Prime Minister Rabin informed the Israeli Knesset. Previously, no rockets had been launched at Israel. Until then, the rules of the game had been that Israel could launch murderous attacks anywhere in Lebanon at will, and Hizbollah would respond only within Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory.
After the murder of its leader (and his family), Hizbollah began to respond to Israeli crimes in Lebanon by rocketing northern Israel. The latter is, of course, intolerable terror, so Rabin launched an invasion that drove some 500,000 people out of their homes and killed well over 100. The merciless Israeli attacks reached as far as northern Lebanon.
In the south, 80% of the city of Tyre fled and Nabatiye was left a “ghost town,” Jibshit was about 70% destroyed according to an Israeli army spokesperson, who explained that the intent was “to destroy the village completely because of its importance to the Shi’ite population of southern Lebanon.” The goal was “to wipe the villages from the face of the earth and sow destruction around them,” as a senior officer of the Israeli northern command described the operation.
Jibshit may have been a particular target because it was the home of Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, kidnapped and brought to Israel several years earlier. Obeid’s home “received a direct hit from a missile,” British journalist Robert Fisk reported, “although the Israelis were presumably gunning for his wife and three children.” Those who had not escaped hid in terror, wrote Mark Nicholson in the Financial Times, “because any visible movement inside or outside their houses is likely to attract the attention of Israeli artillery spotters, who… were pounding their shells repeatedly and devastatingly into selected targets.” Artillery shells were hitting some villages at a rate of more than 10 rounds a minute at times.
All of this received the firm support of President Bill Clinton, who understood the need to instruct the Araboushim sternly on the “rules of the game.” And Rabin emerged as another grand hero and man of peace, so different from the two-legged beasts, grasshoppers, and drugged roaches.
This is only a small sample of facts that the world might find of interest in connection with the alleged responsibility of Moughniyeh for the retaliatory terrorist act in Buenos Aires.
Other charges are that Moughniyeh helped prepare Hizbollah defenses against the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, evidently an intolerable terrorist crime by the standards of “the world,” which understands that the United States and its clients must face no impediments in their just terror and aggression.
The more vulgar apologists for U.S. and Israeli crimes solemnly explain that, while Arabs purposely kill people, the U.S. and Israel, being democratic societies, do not intend to do so. Their killings are just accidental ones, hence not at the level of moral depravity of their adversaries. That was, for example, the stand of Israel’s High Court when it recently authorized severe collective punishment of the people of Gaza by depriving them of electricity (hence water, sewage disposal, and other such basics of civilized life).
The same line of defense is common with regard to some of Washington’s past peccadilloes, like the destruction in 1998 of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. The attack apparently led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, but without intent to kill them, hence not a crime on the order of intentional killing — so we are instructed by moralists who consistently suppress the response that had already been given to these vulgar efforts at self-justification.
To repeat once again, we can distinguish three categories of crimes: murder with intent, accidental killing, and murder with foreknowledge but without specific intent. Israeli and U.S. atrocities typically fall into the third category. Thus, when Israel destroys Gaza’s power supply or sets up barriers to travel in the West Bank, it does not specifically intend to murder the particular people who will die from polluted water or in ambulances that cannot reach hospitals. And when Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of the al-Shifa plant, it was obvious that it would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe. Human Rights Watch immediately informed him of this, providing details; nevertheless, he and his advisers did not intend to kill specific people among those who would inevitably die when half the pharmaceutical supplies were destroyed in a poor African country that could not replenish them.
Rather, they and their apologists regarded Africans much as we do the ants we crush while walking down a street. We are aware that it is likely to happen (if we bother to think about it), but we do not intend to kill them because they are not worthy of such consideration. Needless to say, comparable attacks by Araboushim in areas inhabited by human beings would be regarded rather differently.
If, for a moment, we can adopt the perspective of the world, we might ask which criminals are “wanted the world over.”
It advised staying out of Arab and Muslim countries, avoiding concentrations of other Israelis and turning down “unexpected invitations to meetings in remote places”.
Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel’s military chief, put forces on heightened alert, and the military sent more troops to the already fortified border with Lebanon, defence officials said.
Israeli embassies worldwide also were put on alert, and Israeli security forces advised Jewish institutions across the globe to be vigilant, officials said.
In Washington, Sean McCormack, the US state department spokesman, called Nasrallah’s threats “quite concerning”.
“Quite clearly, Hezbollah has a long record of carrying out violent acts and acts of terrorism around the globe,” he said.
The speech by Nasrallah, who is in hiding after the July 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, came shortly after an event elsewhere in the Lebanese capital to mark the third anniversary of the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former prime minister.
Thousands of other Lebanese called on Syria
to stay out of their country’s politics [AFP]
Security was tight as thousands of people gathered for the two separate rallies, which highlighted the deep divisions in the country.
Leaders in the pro-government March 14 bloc had supporters in the al-Hariri commemoration in Martyrs Square to show their rejection of alleged Syrian efforts to regain influence in Lebanon.
Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and Iran, has led an opposition political bloc against March 14 for the past three years.
Rula Amin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Beirut, said the rallies advanced different visions for Lebanon.
She said the al-Hariri rally speakers took pride in the fact that it was the US, the EU and the West that was backing them.
But in the southern suburbs, at the funeral for Moghaniyah, there was defiance against Israel, the US and the West in general which considered Moghaniyah a terrorist, she said.
The funeral was a message from Hezbollah not just to Israel but the March 14 leaders that the Shia group also commanded support on the streets, Amin added.
The problem the Israelis and their supporters have with Gandhi refuses to go away..In what they call their pre-State era, they tried togetMahatma Gandhi to endorse their campaign to dispossess the Arabs and transform Palestine into a Jewish homeland.He not only branded their enterprise unjust but even made comments which lend support to the Palestinian resistance that has been calumniatedmore recently by Israel and its American backers as terrorism.Today, the Israel lobby in America is baying for the blood of Arun Gandhi for his temerity in advising the Jews in Israel that it is time they got over their holocaust fixation andfor their own secure future moved on to build peace and friendship with their neighbours.
Arun Gandhi, a grandson ofthe Mahatma, together with his wife Sunanda, founded the M.K.Gandhi Institute of Non-Violence in Memphis to spread the Gandhian philosophy in America and later made it a part of the University of Rochester.Early last month Arun Gandhi wrote in a Washington Post blog:“The Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience – a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed.It is a very good example of a community that can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends.The holocaust was the result of the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into something dreadful.But it seems to me that the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews.The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on, the regret turns into anger.The Jewish identity in the future appears bleak.Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs.In Tel Aviv in 2004, I had the opportunity to speak to some MPs and peace activists all of whom argued that the wall and the military build up was necessary to protect the nation and the people.In other words, I asked, you believe that you can create a snake pit with many deadly snakes in it – and expect to live in the pit secure and alive?What do you mean? they countered.Well, with your superior weapons and your attitude towards your neighbours would it not be right to say you are creating a snake pit?Would it not be better to befriend those who hate you?Can you not reach out to share your technical advantage with your neighbours and build a relationship?”
This is vintage Gandhian logic about the means to an end.Arun Gandhi is a true inheritor of Gandhism except in such obsolete externalsas the asceticism the Mahatma espoused in dress to identify himself with the poorest Indian nearly a century ago.When the Israel lobbyists turned on him for what they regard as sacrilege of the holocaust, Arun responded with more of Gandhism.He resigned from the presidentship of the institution of non-violencehe had himself founded and issued an apology:
“My statement on the recent Washington Post blog was couched in language thatwas hurtful and contrary to the principle of non-violence.
My intention was to generate a healthy discussion on the proliferation of violence.Clearly I did not achieve my goal.Instead, unintentionally, my words have resulted in pain, anger, confusion and embarrassment.I deeply regret these consequences.
I would like to be a part of as healing process.The principles of non-violence are founded on love, respect, understanding and compassion.It is my sincere hope that this situation will give me and others the opportunity to work together and transform anger and negative emotions, create deeper mutual respect and understanding and build more harmonious communities.”
The Zionist response was typical too.Not only was Arun Gandhi abused as soon as the blog appeared, even his apology was rejected as not enough or inconsequential.The Anti-Defamation League adjudged him guilty of a classic attempt at blaming the victim. Arun Gandhi was branded anti-semite by the Israel lobbyists The director of the Simon Wiesenthal Institute seized it as a not-to-be lost opportunity to extend his sneer retrospectively to the Mahatma, a revered figure in world history.Efraim Zuroff was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying:“Even the great Mohandas Gandhi did not have a monopoly on wisdom, evidence his suggested passive resistance against the Nazis.”Someone may take this cue and say that Arun Gandhi betrayed poor wisdom for he advised the Palestinians to defeat the Israelis with a massive non-violent march. John Mearsheimer who along with Stephen Walt wrote about the Israel lobby and faced its full fury, offered a consolation to Arun Gandhi with a comment that he would have gotten into serious trouble with the lobby even if he had chosen his words carefully ”simply because he had criticized Israel and its American supporters, which one does at his or her own peril.”
Sixty years after his death Mahatma Gandhi still remains a thorn onZionism’s side.His view, written in 1938, remains in indelible print and sharply relevant even now. “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the Englih or France to the French.It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any code of conduct.The Mandates have no sanction but that of the last War.Surely it would be a crime against humanityto reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.I am not defending the Arab excesses.I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence inresisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarranted encroachment upon their country.But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.”
Punyapriya Dasgupta, journalist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For less than $4 an hour, several Jewish teenagers removed furniture, clothes, kitchenware and toys from homes and loaded the items onto trucks. As they worked diligently alongside the many policemen who had come to secure the destruction of 30 houses in two unrecognized Bedouin villages, Bedouin teenagers stood watching their homes being emptied. When all the belongings had been removed, Israeli bulldozers rapidly destroyed the homes. All those present—Jews and Bedouins—were Israeli citizens.
Bedouins are the indigenous people who live in the Israeli desert of Negev. Before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, approximately 70,000 Bedouins lived in the area. Following the 1948 war, only 12,000 or so remained. The rest fled or were expelled to Jordan and Egypt.
Under the directives of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, the state uprooted those Bedouins who remained on their lands, and pushed them to the northeastern part of the Negev (a mostly barren area) known as the “Sayag” zone. The government reserved the more fertile western part of the Negev for Jewish settlement.
Throughout the ’50s and until the mid-’60s, the Israeli government confiscated a considerable portion of Bedouin ancestral lands and registered them as state land. In the ’70s, the government again moved about half the Bedouin population, this time into seven townships. The remaining half of the Bedouin population was unwilling to give up its property rights and is now scattered across the Negev in 45 villages that have never been recognized by the state. The current population of Bedouins has grown to about 75,000 in the townships and a similar number in the unrecognized villages.
Israel makes life in these unrecognized villages unbearable. For so-called illegal construction, the Israeli government demolishes houses and imposes criminal sanctions. Moreover, the state does not connect these villages to electricity grids, running water, sewage system, or telephone services. There are no paved roads leading to the Bedouin villages. As a result, emergency services cannot reach them quickly, and access to other basic services—such as health, education and welfare—is difficult and limited.
After witnessing the recent demolitions, a Bedouin activist asked one of the Jewish teenagers why he had agreed to participate in the eviction. Without hesitating, the teenager replied: “I am a Zionist and what we are doing here today is Zionism.”
The teenager was not wrong. And yet he was probably too young to recognize that even though Zionism’s major goals have not changed, the methods deployed to realize them have been undergoing a radical transformation.
While over the past two decades, the state itself performed the task of Judiazing space, today the government is outsourcing more and more of its responsibilities to private firms. The teenager was hired by a personnel agency, which was employed by the government to expel Bedouins from their homes in order to establish two new Jewish villages. (Incidentally, their establishment is part of a larger plan that includes the construction of about 30 new Jewish settlements in the Israeli Negev, the seizure of Bedouin land for military needs, and the creation of dozens of single-family farms on land that Bedouins have inhabited since Israel relocated them to the region.)
The process of privatizing Zionism has been slow. For more than five decades, the state was the sole agent responsible for all planning of new villages, towns and cities. Private contractors only carried out the construction. Today, land from which the government is expelling the Bedouins is sold at rock-bottom prices to real-estate moguls, who are then responsible not only for constructing Jewish villages and towns, but also for planning them.
The state gives the Jewish farmers large plots of land and connects them to basic infrastructure like water and electricity, and, in return, expects them to be part of an apparatus whose role is to contract and restrict Bedouin movement and development and to help the security forces keep an eye on the Negev’s indigenous population.
If one drives a few kilometers further and crosses the Green Line into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, one may notice that Israel is also privatizing military checkpoints.
In the past year, the state has handed over the management of at least five checkpoints to corporate warriors—working for such companies as Notari Zion (Guardians of Zion), Shmira Ubitahon (Guarding and Security) and Modi’in Ezrachi (Civil Intelligence). But the difference between Israel Defense Force soldiers and hired guns is that the latter operate within the gray areas of the law. They are Israel’s Blackwater.
As this privatizing continues, the checkpoints in the West Bank, which have already earned notoriety under the management of the Israeli military, will surely become sites of more misery for Palestinians trying to pass through them.
In the early ’80s, the Israeli government allowed private contractors to appropriate land within the Occupied Territories and sell it at great profits, while the military created settler militias to help it police the Palestinian inhabitants. These civilian militias were given military-issue personnel carriers, weapons and communications equipment and were asked to patrol around their settlements, which, in practice, often meant policing nearby Palestinian villages.
Zionism’s privatization does not symbolize a strategic change but a tactical one. The state has been shedding some of its responsibility. The use of teenagers to evict Bedouins from their homes is not only a reflection of this insidious process of privatization, but also the corrosion of moral responsibility.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 07, 2008
2:05 MECCA TIME, 23:05 GMT
Interview: Seymour Hersh
Hersh was instrumental in exposing the scandal at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison [GALLO/GETTY]
Seymour Hersh, one of the world’s best known investigative journalists, has turned his attention to the mysterious and controversial bombing of a Syrian facility by Israel last year.
In a new article for the New Yorker magazine, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, best known for his work exposing the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the horrific mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, says evidence indicates the bombing was a warning to Syria and its allies, including Iran.
Al Jazeera spoke to him about the bombing, why he feels the media failed on the story, and what it means for the Middle East.
Q: Why did Israel bomb a target in Syria?
[I find awful] the hubris, the arrogance of thinking that you could go commit an act of war by any definition and then say nothing about it
A: Well I don’t have the answers to that direct question – one thing that is terribly significant is that the Israel and its chief ally the US have chosen to say nothing officially about this incident and that’s what got me interested – whoever heard of a country bombing another one and not talking about it and thinking they had the right somehow not to talk about it?
In 1981 when Israel bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq they were very noisy and public about it. In this case they said nothing publicly, but after a few weeks they began to leak [information].
They began to tell certain reporters very grandiose sort of stories about what was going on – ships arriving with illicit materials, offloaded by people in protective gear … from a port in the Mediterranean across to the bomb site, commando’s on the ground, soil samples.
And none of it turned out to be true, really, at least I could find no demonstrable evidence for it.
And so I have to say, that if this article I did generates a decision by Israel to go public with its overwhelming dossier that will answer any questions well that’s great … but they have not and [I find awful] the hubris, the arrogance of thinking that you could go commit an act of war by any definition and then say nothing about it.
Syria of course compounded the problem by being hapless and feckless in response. It took them, I think, until October 1, almost four weeks after the incident before the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, acknowledged it had actually been bombed.
Q: Why was Syria’s reaction so muted?
The bombing was seen as a message to
Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president [AFP]
A: I think they’re just hapless. I don’t think they have any idea about the 24 hour news cycle – it’s just unbeknown to them.
So what happened is: A raid takes place, they announced rather quickly there was an intrusion by the Israelis, they initially say after a couple of days that munitions were bombed, then the foreign minister says in Turkey four or five days after the incident that nothing was bombed however, bombs fell but nothing was hit.
Then, three weeks later, the president says: “Oh, well actually a building was destroyed”. You can’t programme something that inept and that’s a reality. They just weren’t very good.
But there are other factors.
Q: Such as North Korea?
A: There were North Koreans, as the Israelis claimed at the site. They were building a facility, it was a military facility, I think my guess would be.
I was told two different things by various people inside Syria.
One said it was perhaps a chemical facility for chemical warfare, another one said more persuasively to me that “no, it was for missiles – short range missiles to be used in case we’re attacked by Israel, we’d respond asymmetrically with missiles.”
Q: Because they figure chemical weapons are of little use against a nuclear power?
A: Yes. They’re incinerated. And I’m told they made that decision much longer ago than we might think.
I’m told they really devalued the use of a chemical warhead, certainly as a deterrent, because the response is nuclear.
Q:Didn’t some of your sources tell you there was evidence to support the theory that the US wanted Israel to test Syria’s air defences because they are similar to those of Iran?
A: In the beginning. This plan was staffed – by that I mean it was staffed by the US joint chiefs of staff, it was staffed by people in the vice president’s office.
Israel does not do a raid like this without talking to the White House
The little bit I know about that process was in the summer, months before the mission, there was a lot of talk about doing the mission [and] there was a report in the intelligence community from the Defence Intelligence Agency saying that Syria had dramatically increased the capability of its radar and command control system.
[It said that it had] anti-aircraft radar close or parallel to that now known to be installed in Iran – so this was a way of testing the Syrian radar.
You can walk all over Syria and no-one cares, it’s a small country of 17 million people. But to go into Iran and check out radars by overflying any site, that leads to counter attack.
The Israelis have been overflying with impunity, there’s not much Syria can do and [the Israelis] knew Syria wouldn’t do anything.
So it was initially understood by my friends as a radar operation, it was only after the fact that they learned something else.
Dick Cheney, left, is said to have
overridden the US chain of command [AFP]
It was very hard to get information [in Israel] because they have a bar against speaking and military censorship has been imposed on this issue.
But I did get some people to say to me “Ah, that stuff about radar was [rubbish] – it was never going to happen, that’s a way or a vehicle for us to get in”.
It seems clear from what I’ve learned from my American friends and the Syrians that the Israelis came right in and the only target they had was the one they bombed.
They weren’t looking at any radar site, they just went in and whacked it.
So, then you really get to the next level of questions that I didn’t really deal with in the article because it’s so hypothetical – who authorised it?
Who did they talk to? I mean Israel does not do a raid like this without talking to the White House and I can’t find anybody that knew they were going to hit the facility beforehand.
That could be that just I can’t find it, and if not that doesn’t mean it’s not there, and it could also be that somebody like Dick Cheney, who has done this before, overrode the chain of command.
So in other words, normally all this information about an Israeli attack would soak through to the joint chiefs, but he undercut that process perhaps – he’s done it before in other incidents – but I just can’t tell you for sure what happened here.
Q: Was the raid’s purpose to act as a potential deterrent to Iran?
A: Of course that was the idea for the US, to let the Iranians know that despite the national intelligence estimate “We’re ready to … we have a proxy and the Israelis will go bang for us if we need.”
I think the Israelis were troubled by the North Koreans there [at the site] … and they thought: ‘Whatever it is we’re not going to let them be’
But of course, for Israel, this whole mission had another point of view.
I think the Israelis were troubled by the North Koreans there [at the site], they were troubled by the building and they thought: “What the hell, whatever it is we’re not going to let them be. We’re going to hit the facility before it gets up, whatever it’s going to be.
If they thought it was nuclear I hope they’ll show us, otherwise they just hit a building that wasn’t done yet.
And the [result] was terrific for them, because it gave Olmert a big jump, a big boost of support
Q: You mean after the war in Lebanon in 2006?
Absolutely. And also it was seen as a message to Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, who the Israelis believe has become cocky after the Hezbollah war because he was a big supporter of Hassan Nasrallah [Hezbollah leader] – he is Assad’s big buddy.
The Israelis thought that they could take him down a peg, and also the message to Bashar Assad is: “So, what’s Iran doing for you now, buddy? We go and pop you in the head and is Iran doing anything?”
And the American press and the international press end up being used on this one [story] in a scandalous way.
Q: On media culpability, this was a big issue in the lead up to the war in 2003 – questionable evidence that supposedly provides a cause for war. Is the media being manipulated again here?
A: The press was feckless on this and credulous and took everything at face value.
For me the US press – I don’t think they’ve come face to face with what happened here…. the newspapers missed without question the biggest moral story of the last decade, which is the illegal road to war in Iraq and we missed it.
And that’s not our job, it’s not our job to miss that, our job is not to listen to the president. There were elements of the same pattern of “kiss-up” going on and that’s very disturbing.
Q: With US elections this year, do you think any foreign policy is going to change with a new president, especially towards Israel, Iran and Syria?
A: Well certainly [it won’t change] with McCain, he’s talking about not even changing the war, which I think is a big mistake.
Somebody I know wrote a wonderful essay making the point that Iraq is a dead body, and David Petraeus, the general, and our ambassador Ryan Crocker they’re the undertakers, and their job is to keep up with the rouge and the makeup on the body for the next six months until we get past the election – that’s their goal.
[On Israel] it’s very hard, you know in America there’s just no questioning. The American Jewish influence is enormous. There’s a lot of money.
I just wish many American Jews would read the Israeli papers – particularly Haaretz – more carefully and they would see there’s really a vibrant criticism of the Israeli government … and you just don’t see that today.
I’m Jewish and I’m not anti-Semitic and I’m not anti-Israel – [Israelis] understand that, just as by the way a lot of Americans don’t understand that many of the leadership of Hamas and others.
Not everyone spends their life there wanting to kill Jews, they’re more willing than people would like to believe to co-exist, they just don’t like the system the way it works now.
Q: What do you think of Bush’s legacy to the world?He’s done more to terrify the world than anybody I know. The world is so much more dangerous.
I have a very wise friend, born in Syria, who’s a businessman in the West now.
Right after the bombing began in Iraq he said to me: “This war will not change Iraq – Iraq will change you” and so I’ve seen it come and it’s very scary.
It’s very scary to see how things are so fragile right now, nothing going on good in Lebanon nothing going on with Syria nothing going on with Iran … We can’t talk to people we don’t like?
We’ve got to negotiate, it’s the only way we’re going to resolve our problems.
Sometime after midnight on September 6, 2007, at least four low-flying Israeli Air Force fighters crossed into Syrian airspace and carried out a secret bombing mission on the banks of the Euphrates River, about ninety miles north of the Iraq border. The seemingly unprovoked bombing, which came after months of heightened tension between Israel and Syria over military exercises and troop buildups by both sides along the Golan Heights, was, by almost any definition, an act of war. But in the immediate aftermath nothing was heard from the government of Israel. In contrast, in 1981, when the Israeli Air Force destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, near Baghdad, the Israeli government was triumphant, releasing reconnaissance photographs of the strike and permitting the pilots to be widely interviewed.
Within hours of the attack, Syria denounced Israel for invading its airspace, but its public statements were incomplete and contradictory—thus adding to the mystery. A Syrian military spokesman said only that Israeli planes had dropped some munitions in an unpopulated area after being challenged by Syrian air defenses, “which forced them to flee.” Four days later, Walid Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, said during a state visit to Turkey that the Israeli aircraft had used live ammunition in the attack, but insisted that there were no casualties or property damage. It was not until October 1st that Syrian President Bashar Assad, in an interview with the BBC, acknowledged that the Israeli warplanes had hit their target, which he described as an “unused military building.” Assad added that Syria reserved the right to retaliate, but his comments were muted.
Despite official silence in Tel Aviv (and in Washington), in the days after the bombing the American and European media were flooded with reports, primarily based on information from anonymous government sources, claiming that Israel had destroyed a nascent nuclear reactor that was secretly being assembled in Syria, with the help of North Korea. Beginning construction of a nuclear reactor in secret would be a violation of Syria’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and could potentially yield material for a nuclear weapon.
The evidence was circumstantial but seemingly damning. The first reports of Syrian and North Korean nuclear coöperation came on September 12th in the Times and elsewhere. By the end of October, the various media accounts generally agreed on four points: the Israeli intelligence community had learned of a North Korean connection to a construction site in an agricultural area in eastern Syria; three days before the bombing, a “North Korean ship,” identified as the Al Hamed, had arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus, on the Mediterranean; satellite imagery strongly suggested that the building under construction was designed to hold a nuclear reactor when completed; as such, Syria had crossed what the Israelis regarded as the “red line” on the path to building a bomb, and had to be stopped. There were also reports—by ABC News and others—that some of the Israeli intelligence had been shared in advance with the United States, which had raised no objection to the bombing.
The Israeli government still declined to make any statement about the incident. Military censorship on dispatches about the raid was imposed for several weeks, and the Israeli press resorted to recycling the disclosures in the foreign press. In the first days after the attack, there had been many critical stories in the Israeli press speculating about the bombing, and the possibility that it could lead to a conflict with Syria. Larry Derfner, a columnist writing in the Jerusalem Post, described the raid as “the sort of thing that starts wars.” But, once reports about the nuclear issue and other details circulated, the domestic criticism subsided.
At a news conference on September 20th, President George W. Bush was asked about the incident four times but said, “I’m not going to comment on the matter.” The lack of official statements became part of the story. “The silence from all parties has been deafening,” David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post, “but the message to Iran”—which the Administration had long suspected of pursuing a nuclear weapon—“is clear: America and Israel can identify nuclear targets and penetrate air defenses to destroy them.”
It was evident that officials in Israel and the United States, although unwilling to be quoted, were eager for the news media to write about the bombing. Early on, a former officer in the Israel Defense Forces with close contacts in Israeli intelligence approached me, with a version of the standard story, including colorful but, as it turned out, unconfirmable details: Israeli intelligence tracking the ship from the moment it left a North Korean port; Syrian soldiers wearing protective gear as they off-loaded the cargo; Israeli intelligence monitoring trucks from the docks to the target site. On October 3rd, the London Spectator, citing much of the same information, published an overheated account of the September 6th raid, claiming that it “may have saved the world from a devastating threat,” and that “a very senior British ministerial source” had warned, “If people had known how close we came to World War Three that day there’d have been mass panic.”
However, in three months of reporting for this article, I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria. It is possible that Israel conveyed intelligence directly to senior members of the Bush Administration, without it being vetted by intelligence agencies. (This process, known as “stovepiping,” overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.) But Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations group responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said, “Our experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”
Joseph Cirincione, the director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., think tank, told me, “Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing. There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political.” Cirincione castigated the press corps for its handling of the story. “I think some of our best journalists were used,” he said.
A similar message emerged at briefings given to select members of Congress within weeks of the attack. The briefings, conducted by intelligence agencies, focussed on what Washington knew about the September 6th raid. One concern was whether North Korea had done anything that might cause the U.S. to back away from ongoing six-nation talks about its nuclear program. A legislator who took part in one such briefing said afterward, according to a member of his staff, that he had heard nothing that caused him “to have any doubts” about the North Korean negotiations—“nothing that should cause a pause.” The legislator’s conclusion, the staff member said, was “There’s nothing that proves any perfidy involving the North Koreans.”
Morton Abramowitz, a former Assistant Secretary of State for intelligence and research, told me that he was astonished by the lack of response. “Anytime you bomb another state, that’s a big deal,” he said. “But where’s the outcry, particularly from the concerned states and the U.N.? Something’s amiss.”
Israel could, of course, have damning evidence that it refuses to disclose. But there are serious and unexamined contradictions in the various published accounts of the September 6th bombing.
The main piece of evidence to emerge publicly that Syria was building a reactor arrived on October 23rd, when David Albright, of the Institute for Science and International Security, a highly respected nonprofit research group, released a satellite image of the target. The photograph had been taken by a commercial satellite company, DigitalGlobe, of Longmont, Colorado, on August 10th, four weeks before the bombing, and showed a square building and a nearby water-pumping station. In an analysis released at the same time, Albright, a physicist who served as a weapons inspector in Iraq, concluded that the building, as viewed from space, had roughly the same length and width as a reactor building at Yongbyon, North Korea’s main nuclear facility. “The tall building in the image may house a reactor under construction and the pump station along the river may have been intended to supply cooling water to the reactor,” Albright said. He concluded his analysis by posing a series of rhetorical questions that assumed that the target was a nuclear facility:
How far along was the reactor construction project when it was bombed? What was the extent of nuclear assistance from North Korea? Which reactor components did Syria obtain from North Korea or elsewhere, and where are they now? He was later quoted in the Washington Post saying, “I’m pretty convinced that Syria was trying to build a nuclear reactor.”
When I asked Albright how he had pinpointed the target, he told me that he and a colleague, Paul Brannan, “did a lot of hard work”—culling press reports and poring over DigitalGlobe imagery—“before coming up with the site.” Albright then shared his findings with Robin Wright and other journalists at the Post, who, after checking with Administration officials, told him that the building was, indeed, the one targeted by the Israelis. “We did not release the information until we got direct confirmation from the Washington Post,” he told me. The Post’s sources in the Administration, he understood, had access to far more detailed images obtained by U.S. intelligence satellites. The Post ran a story, without printing the imagery, on October 19th, reporting that “U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the aftermath of the attack” had concluded that the site had the “signature,” or characteristics, of a reactor “similar in structure to North Korea’s facilities”—a conclusion with which Albright then agreed. In other words, the Albright and the Post reports, which appeared to independently reinforce each other, stemmed in part from the same sources.
Albright told me that before going public he had met privately with Israeli officials. “I wanted to be sure in my own mind that the Israelis thought it was a reactor, and I was,” he said. “They never explicitly said it was nuclear, but they ruled out the possibility that it was a missile, chemical-warfare, or radar site. By a process of elimination, I was left with nuclear.”
Two days after his first report, Albright released a satellite image of the bombed site, taken by DigitalGlobe on October 24th, seven weeks after the bombing. The new image showed that the target area had been levelled and the ground scraped. Albright said that it hinted of a coverup—cleansing the bombing site could make it difficult for weapons inspectors to determine its precise nature. “It looks like Syria is trying to hide something and destroy the evidence of some activity,” he told the Times. “But it won’t work. Syria has got to answer questions about what it was doing.” This assessment was widely shared in the press. (In mid-January, the Times reported that recent imagery from DigitalGlobe showed that a storage facility, or something similar, had been constructed, in an obvious rush, at the bombing site.)
Proliferation experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency and others in the arms-control community disputed Albright’s interpretation of the images. “People here were baffled by this, and thought that Albright had stuck his neck out,” a diplomat in Vienna, where the I.A.E.A. is headquartered, told me. “The I.A.E.A. has been consistently telling journalists that it is skeptical about the Syrian nuclear story, but the reporters are so convinced.”
A second diplomat in Vienna acidly commented on the images: “A square building is a square building.” The diplomat, who is familiar with the use of satellite imagery for nuclear verification, added that the I.A.E.A. “does not have enough information to conclude anything about the exact nature of the facility. They see a building with some geometry near a river that could be identified as nuclear-related. But they cannot credibly conclude that is so. As far as information coming from open sources beyond imagery, it’s a struggle to extract information from all of the noise that comes from political agendas.”
Much of what one would expect to see around a secret nuclear site was lacking at the target, a former State Department intelligence expert who now deals with proliferation issues for the Congress said. “There is no security around the building,” he said. “No barracks for the Army or the workers. No associated complex.” Jeffrey Lewis, who heads the non-proliferation program at the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, told me that, even if the width and the length of the building were similar to the Korean site, its height was simply not sufficient to contain a Yongbyon-size reactor and also have enough room to extract the control rods, an essential step in the operation of the reactor; nor was there evidence in the published imagery of major underground construction. “All you could see was a box,” Lewis said. “You couldn’t see enough to know how big it will be or what it will do. It’s just a box.”
A former senior U.S. intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, said, “We don’t have any proof of a reactor—no signals intelligence, no human intelligence, no satellite intelligence.” Some well-informed defense consultants and former intelligence officials asked why, if there was compelling evidence of nuclear cheating involving North Korea, a member of the President’s axis of evil, and Syria, which the U.S. considers a state sponsor of terrorism, the Bush Administration would not insist on making it public.
When I went to Israel in late December, the government was still maintaining secrecy about the raid, but some current and former officials and military officers were willing to speak without attribution. Most were adamant that Israel’s intelligence had been accurate. “Don’t you write that there was nothing there!” a senior Israeli official, who is in a position to know the details of the raid on Syria, said, shaking a finger at me. “The thing in Syria was real.”
Retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom, who served as deputy national-security adviser under Prime Minister Ehud Barak, told me that Israel wouldn’t have acted if it hadn’t been convinced that there was a threat. “It may have been a perception of a conviction, but there was something there,” Brom said. “It was the beginning of a nuclear project.” However, by the date of our talk, Brom told me, “The question of whether it was there or not is not that relevant anymore.”
Albright, when I spoke to him in December, was far more circumspect than he had been in October. “We never said ‘we know’ it was a reactor, based on the image,” Albright said. “We wanted to make sure that the image was consistent with a reactor, and, from my point of view, it was. But that doesn’t confirm it’s a reactor.”
The journey of the Al Hamed, a small coastal trader, became a centerpiece in accounts of the September 6th bombing. On September 15th, the Washington Post reported that “a prominent U.S. expert on the Middle East” said that the attack “appears to have been linked to the arrival . . . of a ship carrying material from North Korea labeled as cement.” The article went on to cite the expert’s belief that “the emerging consensus in Israel was that it delivered nuclear equipment.” Other press reports identified the Al Hamed as a “suspicious North Korean” ship.
But there is evidence that the Al Hamed could not have been carrying sensitive cargo—or any cargo—from North Korea. International shipping is carefully monitored by Lloyd’s Marine Intelligence Unit, which relies on a network of agents as well as on port logs and other records. In addition, most merchant ships are now required to operate a transponder device called an A.I.S., for automatic identification system. This device, which was on board the Al Hamed, works in a manner similar to a transponder on a commercial aircraft—beaming a constant, very high-frequency position report. (The U.S. Navy monitors international sea traffic with the aid of dedicated satellites, at a secret facility in suburban Washington.)
According to Marine Intelligence Unit records, the Al Hamed, which was built in 1965, had been operating for years in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, with no indication of any recent visits to North Korea. The records show that the Al Hamed arrived at Tartus on September 3rd—the ship’s fifth visit to Syria in five months. (It was one of eight ships that arrived that day; although it is possible that one of the others was carrying illicit materials, only the Al Hamed has been named in the media.) The ship’s registry was constantly changing. The Al Hamed flew the South Korean flag before switching to North Korea in November of 2005, and then to Comoros. (Ships often fly flags of convenience, registering with different countries, in many cases to avoid taxes or onerous regulations.) At the time of the bombing, according to Lloyd’s, it was flying a Comoran flag and was owned by four Syrian nationals. In earlier years, under other owners, the ship seems to have operated under Russian, Estonian, Turkish, and Honduran flags. Lloyd’s records show that the ship had apparently not passed through the Suez Canal—the main route from the Mediterranean to the Far East—since at least 1998.
Among the groups that keep track of international shipping is Greenpeace. Martini Gotjé, who monitors illegal fishing for the organization and was among the first to raise questions about the Al Hamed, told me, “I’ve been at sea for forty-one years, and I can tell you, as a captain, that the Al Hamed was nothing—in rotten shape. You wouldn’t be able to load heavy cargo on it, as the floorboards wouldn’t be that strong.”
If the Israelis’ target in Syria was not a nuclear site, why didn’t the Syrians respond more forcefully? Syria complained at the United Nations but did little to press the issue. And, if the site wasn’t a partially built reactor, what was it?
During two trips to Damascus after the Israeli raid, I interviewed many senior government and intelligence officials. None of President Assad’s close advisers told me the same story, though some of the stories were more revealing—and more plausible—than others. In general, Syrian officials seemed more eager to analyze Israel’s motives than to discuss what had been attacked. “I hesitate to answer any journalist’s questions about it,” Faruq al-Shara, the Syrian Vice-President, told me. “Israel bombed to restore its credibility, and their objective is for us to keep talking about it. And by answering your questions I serve their objective. Why should I volunteer to do that?” Shara denied that his nation has a nuclear-weapons program. “The volume of articles about the bombing is incredible, and it’s not important that it’s a lie,” he said.
One top foreign-ministry official in Damascus told me that the target “was an old military building that had been abandoned by the Syrian military” years ago. But a senior Syrian intelligence general gave me a different account. “What they targeted was a building used for fertilizer and water pumps,” he said—part of a government effort to revitalize farming. “There is a large city”— Dayr az Zawr—“fifty kilometres away. Why would Syria put nuclear material near a city?” I interviewed the intelligence general again on my second visit to Damascus, and he reiterated that the targeted building was “at no time a military facility.” As to why Syria had not had a more aggressive response, if the target was so benign, the general said, “It was not fear—that’s all I’ll say.” As I left, I asked the general why Syria had not invited representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the bombing site and declare that no nuclear activity was taking place there. “They did not ask to come,” he said, and “Syria had no reason to ask them to come.”
An I.A.E.A. official dismissed that assertion when we spoke in Vienna a few days later. “The I.A.E.A. asked the Syrians to allow the agency to visit the site to verify its nature,” the I.A.E.A. official said. “Syria’s reply was that it was a military, not a nuclear, installation, and there would be no reason for the I.A.E.A. to go there. It would be in their and everyone’s interest to have the I.A.E.A. visit the site. If it was nuclear, it would leave fingerprints.”
In a subsequent interview, Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador to Washington, defended Syria’s decision not to invite the I.A.E.A. inspectors. “We will not get into the game of inviting foreign experts to visit every site that Israel claims is a nuclear facility,” Moustapha told me. “If we bring them in and they say there is nothing there, then Israel will say it made a mistake and bomb another site two weeks later. And if we then don’t let the I.A.E.A. in, Israel will say, ‘You see?’ This is nonsense. Why should we have to do this?”
Even if the site was not a nuclear installation, it is possible that the Syrians feared that an I.A.E.A. inquiry would uncover the presence of North Koreans there. In Syria, I was able to get some confirmation that North Koreans were at the target. A senior officer in Damascus with firsthand knowledge of the incident agreed to see me alone, at his home; my other interviews in Damascus took place in government offices. According to his account, North Koreans were present at the site, but only as paid construction workers. The senior officer said that the targeted building, when completed, would most likely have been used as a chemical-warfare facility. (Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention and has been believed, for decades, to have a substantial chemical-weapons arsenal.)
The building contract with North Korea was a routine business deal, the senior officer said—from design to construction. (North Korea may, of course, have sent skilled technicians capable of doing less routine work.) Syria and North Korea have a long-standing partnership on military matters. “The contract between Syria and North Korea was old, from 2002, and it was running late,” the senior officer told me. “It was initially to be finished in 2005, and the Israelis might have expected it was further along.”
The North Korean laborers had been coming and going for “maybe six months” before the September bombing, the senior officer said, and his government concluded that the Israelis had picked up North Korean telephone chatter at the site. (This fit the timeline that Israeli officials had given me.) “The Israelis may have their own spies and watched the laborers being driven to the area,” the senior officer said. “The Koreans were not there at night, but slept in their quarters and were driven to the site in the morning. The building was in an isolated area, and the Israelis may have concluded that even if there was a slight chance”—of it being a nuclear facility—“we’ll take that risk.”
On the days before the bombing, the Koreans had been working on the second floor, and were using a tarp on top of the building to shield the site from rain and sun. “It was just the North Korean way of working,” the Syrian senior officer said, adding that the possibility that the Israelis could not see what was underneath the tarp might have added to their determination.
The attack was especially dramatic, the Syrian senior officer said, because the Israelis used bright magnesium illumination flares to light up the target before the bombing. Night suddenly turned into day, he told me. “When the people in the area saw the lights and the bombing, they thought there would be a commando raid,” the senior officer said. The building was destroyed, and his government eventually concluded that there were no Israeli ground forces in the area. But if Israelis had been on the ground seeking contaminated soil samples, the senior officer said, “they found only cement.”
A senior Syrian official confirmed that a group of North Koreans had been at work at the site, but he denied that the structure was related to chemical warfare. Syria had concluded, he said, that chemical warfare had little deterrent value against Israel, given its nuclear capability. The facility that was attacked, the official said, was to be one of a string of missile-manufacturing plants scattered throughout Syria—“all low tech. Not strategic.” (North Korea has been a major exporter of missile technology and expertise to Syria for decades.) He added, “We’ve gone asymmetrical, and have been improving our capability to build low-tech missiles that will enable us to inflict as much damage as possible without confronting the Israeli Army. We now can hit all of Israel, and not just the north.”
Whatever was under construction, with North Korean help, it apparently had little to do with agriculture—or with nuclear reactors—but much to do with Syria’s defense posture, and its military relationship with North Korea. And that, perhaps, was enough to silence the Syrian government after the September 6th bombing.
It is unclear to what extent the Bush Administration was involved in the Israeli attack. The most detailed report of coöperation was made in mid-October by ABC News. Citing a senior U.S. official, the network reported that Israel had shared intelligence with the United States and received satellite help and targeting information in response. At one point, it was reported, the Bush Administration considered attacking Syria itself, but rejected that option. The implication was that the Israeli intelligence about the nuclear threat had been vetted by the U.S., and had been found to be convincing.
Yet officials I spoke to in Israel heatedly denied the notion that they had extensive help from Washington in planning the attack. When I told the senior Israeli official that I found little support in Washington for Israel’s claim that it had bombed a nuclear facility in Syria, he responded with an expletive, and then said, angrily, “Nobody helped us. We did it on our own.” He added, “What I’m saying is that nobody discovered it for us.” (The White House declined to comment on this story.)
There is evidence to support this view. The satellite operated by DigitalGlobe, the Colorado firm that supplied Albright’s images, is for hire; anyone can order the satellite to photograph specific coördinates, a process that can cost anywhere from several hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The company displays the results of these requests on its Web page, but not the identity of the customer. On five occasions between August 5th and August 27th of last year—before the Israeli bombing—DigitalGlobe was paid to take a tight image of the targeted building in Syria.
Clearly, whoever ordered the images likely had some involvement in plans for the attack. DigitalGlobe does about sixty per cent of its business with the U.S. government, but those contracts are for unclassified work, such as mapping. The government’s own military and intelligence satellite system, with an unmatched ability to achieve what analysts call “highly granular images,” could have supplied superior versions of the target sites. Israel has at least two military satellite systems, but, according to Allen Thomson, a former C.I.A. analyst, DigitalGlobe’s satellite has advantages for reconnaissance, making Israel a logical customer. (“Customer anonymity is crucial to us,” Chuck Herring, a spokesman for DigitalGlobe, said. “I don’t know who placed the order and couldn’t disclose it if I did.”) It is also possible that Israel or the United States ordered the imagery in order to have something unclassified to pass to the press if needed. If the Bush Administration had been aggressively coöperating with Israel before the attack, why would Israel have to turn to a commercial firm?
Last fall, aerospace industry and military sources told Aviation Week & Space Technology, an authoritative trade journal, that the United States had provided Israel with advice about “potential target vulnerabilities” before the September 6th attack, and monitored the radar as the mission took place. The magazine reported that the Israeli fighters, prior to bombing the target on the Euphrates, struck a Syrian radar facility near the Turkish border, knocking the radar out of commission and permitting them to complete their mission without interference.
The former U.S. senior intelligence official told me that, as he understood it, America’s involvement in the Israeli raid dated back months earlier, and was linked to the Administration’s planning for a possible air war against Iran. Last summer, the Defense Intelligence Agency came to believe that Syria was installing a new Russian-supplied radar-and-air-defense system that was similar to the radar complexes in Iran. Entering Syrian airspace would trigger those defenses and expose them to Israeli and American exploitation, yielding valuable information about their capabilities. Vice-President Dick Cheney supported the idea of overflights, the former senior intelligence official said, because “it would stick it to Syria and show that we’re serious about Iran.” (The Vice-President’s office declined to comment.) The former senior intelligence official said that Israeli military jets have flown over Syria repeatedly, without retaliation from Syria. At the time, the former senior intelligence official said, the focus was on radar and air defenses, and not on any real or suspected nuclear facility. Israel’s claims about the target, which emerged later, caught many in the military and intelligence community—if not in the White House—by surprise.
The senior Israeli official, asked whether the attack was rooted in his country’s interest in Syria’s radar installations, told me, “Bullshit.” Whatever the Administration’s initial agenda, Israel seems to have been after something more.
The story of the Israeli bombing of Syria, with its mixture of satellite intelligence, intercepts, newspaper leaks, and shared assumptions, reminded some American diplomats and intelligence officials of an incident, ten years ago, involving North Korea. In mid-1998, American reconnaissance satellites photographed imagery of a major underground construction project at Kumchang-ri, twenty-five miles northwest of Yongbyon. “We were briefed that, without a doubt, this was a nuclear-related facility, and there was signals intelligence linking the construction brigade at Kumchang-ri to the nuclear complex at Yongbyon,” the former State Department intelligence expert recalled.
Charles Kartman, who was President Bill Clinton’s special envoy for peace talks with Korea, told me that the intelligence was considered a slam dunk by analysts in the Defense Intelligence Agency, even though other agencies disagreed. “We had a debate going on inside the community, but the D.I.A. unilaterally took it to Capitol Hill,” Kartman said, forcing the issue and leading to a front-page Times story.
After months of negotiations, Kartman recalled, the North Koreans agreed, under diplomatic pressure, to grant access to Kumchang-ri. In return, they received aid, including assistance with a new potato-production program. Inspectors found little besides a series of empty tunnels. Robert Carlin, an expert on North Korea who retired in 2005 after serving more than thirty years with the C.I.A. and the State Department’s intelligence bureau, told me that the Kumchang-ri incident highlighted “an endemic weakness” in the American intelligence community. “People think they know the ending and then they go back and find the evidence that fits their story,” he said. “And then you get groupthink—and people reinforce each other.”
It seems that, as with Kumchang-ri, there was a genuine, if not unanimous, belief by Israeli intelligence that the Syrians were constructing something that could have serious national-security consequences. But why would the Israelis take the risk of provoking a military response, and perhaps a war, if there was, as it seems, no smoking gun? Mohamed ElBaradei, expressing his frustration, said, “If a country has any information about a nuclear activity in another country, it should inform the I.A.E.A.—not bomb first and ask questions later.”
One answer, suggested by David Albright, is that Israel did not trust the international arms-control community. “I can understand the Israeli point of view, given the history with Iran and Algeria,” Albright said. “Both nations had nuclear-weapons programs and, after being caught cheating, declared their reactors to be civil reactors, for peacetime use. The international groups, like the U.N. and the I.A.E.A, never shut them down.” Also, Israel may have calculated that risk of a counterattack was low: President Assad would undoubtedly conclude that the attack had the support of the Bush Administration and, therefore, that any response by Syria would also engage the U.S. (My conversations with officials in Syria bore out this assumption.)
In Tel Aviv, the senior Israeli official pointedly told me, “Syria still thinks Hezbollah won the war in Lebanon”—referring to the summer, 2006, fight between Israel and the Shiite organization headed by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. “Nasrallah knows how much that war cost—one-third of his fighters were killed, infrastructure was bombed, and ninety-five per cent of his strategic weapons were wiped out,” the Israeli official said. “But Assad has a Nasrallah complex and thinks Hezbollah won. And, ‘If he did it, I can do it.’ This led to an adventurous mood in Damascus. Today, they are more sober.”
That notion was echoed by the ambassador of an Israeli ally who is posted in Tel Aviv. “The truth is not important,” the ambassador told me. “Israel was able to restore its credibility as a deterrent. That is the whole thing. No one will know what the real story is.”
There is evidence that the preëmptive raid on Syria was also meant as a warning about—and a model for—a preëmptive attack on Iran. When I visited Israel this winter, Iran was the overriding concern among political and defense officials I spoke to—not Syria. There was palpable anger toward Washington, in the wake of a National Intelligence Estimate that concluded, on behalf of the American intelligence community, that Iran is not now constructing a nuclear weapon. Many in Israel view Iran’s nuclear ambitions as an existential threat; they believe that military action against Iran may be inevitable, and worry that America may not be there when needed. The N.I.E. was published in November, after a yearlong standoff involving Cheney’s office, which resisted the report’s findings. At the time of the raid, reports about the forthcoming N.I.E. and its general conclusion had already appeared.
Retired Major General Giora Eiland, who served as the national-security adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told me, “The Israeli military takes it as an assumption that one day we will need to have a military campaign against Iran, to slow and eliminate the nuclear option.” He added, “Whether the political situation will allow this is another question.”
In the weeks after the N.I.E.’s release, Bush insisted that the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat was as acute as ever, a theme he amplified during his nine-day Middle East trip after the New Year. “A lot of people heard that N.I.E. out here and said that George Bush and the Americans don’t take the Iranian threat seriously,” he told Greta Van Susteren, of Fox News. “And so this trip has been successful from the perspective of saying . . . we will keep the pressure on.”
Shortly after the bombing, a Chinese envoy and one of the Bush Administration’s senior national-security officials met in Washington. The Chinese envoy had just returned from a visit to Tehran, a person familiar with the discussion told me, and he wanted the White House to know that there were moderates there who were interested in talks. The national-security official rejected that possibility and told the envoy, as the person familiar with the discussion recalled, “‘You are aware of the recent Israeli statements about Syria. The Israelis are extremely serious about Iran and its nuclear program, and I believe that, if the United States government is unsuccessful in its diplomatic dealings with Iran, the Israelis will take it out militarily.’ He then told the envoy that he wanted him to convey this to his government—that the Israelis were serious.
“He was telling the Chinese leadership that they’d better warn Iran that we can’t hold back Israel, and that the Iranians should look at Syria and see what’s coming next if diplomacy fails,” the person familiar with the discussion said. “His message was that the Syrian attack was in part aimed at Iran.” ♦
by Gary Leupp
January 28th, 2008
Sibel Edmonds on Marc Grossman
I am not one to easily embrace conspiracy theories, and in particular have found the idea that 9-11 was somehow an inside job too incredible for serious consideration. On the other hand, there are some very fishy aspects to some officials’ behavior pertaining to the attacks. Justin Raimondo has made a very good case for the fact that Mossad agents posing as “Israeli art students” were tracking al-Qaeda operatives in the U.S. before 9/11.
Over 120 Israelis were detained after 9/11, some failing polygraph tests when asked about their involvement in intelligence gathering. But they were not held or charged with any illegal activity but rather deported. As former FBI translator and whistleblower Sibel Edmonds has revealed, there was a curious failure of the government before 9/11 to act upon intelligence pertaining to an al-Qaeda attack. Most importantly Edmonds, defying the gag order that former Attorney General Ashcroft imposed on her in 2002, is implicating Marc Grossman, formerly the number three man in the State Department, in efforts to provide US nuclear secrets to Pakistan and Israel. She suggests this was done through Turkish and Pakistani contacts, including the former head of Pakistan’s ISI who funneled funds to Mohamed Atta! Now there’s a conspiracy for you.
Edmonds claims that during her time at the FBI (September 20, 2001 to March 22, 2002) she discovered that intelligence material had been deliberately allowed to accumulate without translation; that inept translators were retained and promoted; and that evidence for traffic in nuclear materials was ignored. More shockingly, she charges that Grossman arranged for Turkish and Israeli Ph.D. students to acquire security clearances to Los Alamos and other nuclear facilities; and that nuclear secrets they acquired were transmitted to Pakistan and to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “father of the Islamic bomb,” who in turn was selling nuclear technology to Libya and other nations.
She links Grossman to the former Pakistani military intelligence chief Mahmoud Ahmad, a patron of the Taliban, who reportedly arranged for a payment of $100,000 to 9/11 ringleader Atta via Pakistani terrorist Saeed Sheikh before the attacks. She suggests that he warned Pakistani and Turkish contacts against dealings with the Brewster Jennings Corp., the CIA front company that Valerie Plame was involved in as part of an effort to infiltrate a nuclear smuggling ring. All very heady stuff, published this month in The Times of London (and largely ignored by the U.S. media).
She does not identify Grossman by name in the Times article, but she has in the past, and former CIA officer Philip Giraldi does so in an extremely interesting article in the American Conservative. From that and many other sources, I come up with the timeline that appears below.
But first, some background on Grossman. A graduate of UC Santa Barbara and the London School of Economics, he was a career Foreign Service officer from 1976 when he began to serve at the US embassy in Pakistan. He continued in that post to 1983, when he became the Deputy Director of the Private Office of Lord Carrington, the Secretary General of NATO. From 1989 to 1992 he was Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Turkey, and from 1994 to 1997, US Ambassador to Turkey. As ambassador he strongly supported massive arms deals between the US and Ankara.
Thereafter he was Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, responsible for over 4,000 State Department employees posted in 50 sites abroad with a program budget of $1.2 billion to 2000. In 1999 he played a leading role in orchestrating NATO’s 50th anniversary Summit in Washington, and helped direct US participation in NATO’s military campaign in Kosovo that same year. As Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from the beginning of George W. Bush’s administration to January 2005, he played a bit role in the Plame Affair, informing “Scooter” Libby of Plame’s CIA affiliation.
Grossman is close to the American Turkish Council (ATC) founded in 1994 as a sister organization to the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Its founders include neoconservatives involved in the Israel-Turkey relationship, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, as well as Henry Kissinger, Brent Snowcroft and former congressman Stephen Solarz. (Perle and Feith had earlier been registered lobbyists for Turkey through Feith’s company, International Advisors Inc. Perle was at one point making $600,000 per year from such activity). Edmonds says this is “an association in name and in charter only; the reality is that it and other affiliated associations are the US government, lobbyists, foreign agents, and Military Industrial Complex.” (M. Christine Vick of Grossman’s Cohen Group serves on the Board of Advisors.) Grossman is also close to the American Turkish Association (ATA), and regularly speaks at its events.
Both ATA and ATC have been targets of FBI investigations because of their suspected ties with drug smuggling, but Edmonds claims she heard wiretaps connecting ATC with other illegal activities, some related to 9/11. The CIA has investigated it in connection with the smuggling of nuclear secrets and material. Valerie Plame and the CIA front group Brewster Jennings were monitoring it when Bush administration officials leaked her identity in July 2003. Edmonds, Giraldi, and researchers Christopher Deliso and Luke Ryland accuse him of suspiciously enriching himself while in government service. Nevertheless he was awarded the Foreign Service’s highest rank when President Bush appointed him to the rank of Career Ambassador in 2004, and received Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award the following year.
A dual Israeli-American national, Grossman has promoted the neocon agenda of forcing “regime change” in the Middle East. “[T]he time has come now,” he declared on the eve of the Iraq invasion, “to make a stand against this kind of connection between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. And we think Iraq is a place to make that stand first . . . the great threat today is the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.” But he has not been as conspicuous a war advocate as Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Libby, Bolton, and some others. (Perle and Feith, one should note, were also deeply involved in lobbying activities on behalf of Turkey as well as Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Edelman was ambassador to Turkey 2003-05 where, chagrined by the Turkish failure to enthusiastically support the US occupation of Iraq, he deeply offended his hosts.) Grossman seems less an ideologue driven to make the world safer for Israel than a corrupt, amoral, self-aggrandizing opportunist. Anyway, here is an incomplete chronology of his alleged wrongdoing, along with other relevant details.
As newly appointed Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Grossman assists Turkish, Israeli and other moles — mainly Ph.D. students — godfathering visa and arranging for security clearances to work in sensitive research facilities, including the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory in New Mexico. FBI taps his phone 2001-2, finds he is receiving bribes (one for $15,000). Edmonds states: “I heard at least three transactions like this over a period of 2½ years. There are almost certainly more.”
Between August and September: Grossman warns his Turkish associates seeking to acquire nuclear secrets that Brewster Jennings (for whom CIA agent Valerie Plame works) is a CIA front.
Sept. 4: Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad, the chief of Pakistan ’s intelligence service (ISI) arrives in US, meets with Grossman and other U.S. officials.
Sept. 10: Report by Amir Mateen in Pakistani newspaper Dawn ( Karachi ): “[Ahmad] also held long parleys with unspecified officials at the White House and the Pentagon. But the most important meeting was with Mark Grossman, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. US sources would not furnish any details beyond saying that the two discussed ‘matters of mutual interests.’”
Sept. 11: Gen. Ahmad is having breakfast in Washington with Congressman Porter Goss (R-Fla.) and Senator Bob Graham (D) when attacks occur.
(Goss had had 10 years in clandestine operations in CIA and later — September 22, 2003-May 5, 2006 — heads the organization. Graham and Goss later are the co-chairs of the joint House-Senate investigation that proclaimed there was “no smoking gun” as far as President George W. Bush having any advance knowledge of September 11.)
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, FBI arrests people suspected of being involved with the attacks — including four Turkish and Pakistani associates of key targets of FBI’s counterintelligence operations. Sibel heard the targets tell Grossman: “We need to get them out of the U.S. because we can’t afford for them to spill the beans.” Grossman facilitates their release from jail and suspects immediately leave US without further investigation or interrogation.
Sept. 12-13: Meetings between Ahmad and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Armitage threatens to bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” unless it cooperates in US attack on Afghanistan. Ahmad also meets Secretary of State Colin Powell. Agreement on Pakistan’s collaboration is secured.
Sept. 20: Sibel Edmonds, a 32-year-old Turkish-American, hired as a translator by the FBI.
According to Edmonds, she overheard an agent on a 2000 wiretap discussing with Saudi businessmen in Detroit “nuclear information that had been stolen from an air force base in Alabama,” and stating: “We have a package and we’re going to sell it for $250,000.” She also claims she listened to recordings of a high official (Grossman) receiving bribes from Turkish officials.
Early October: Indian intelligence reports that Gen. Ahmad had in summer of 2001 ordered Saeed Sheikh (convicted of the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl) to wire US$100,000 from Dubai to one of hijacker Mohamed Atta’s two bank accounts in Florida. FBI confirms story, reported on ABC news.
Oct. 7: US-led Coalition begins air strikes against Taliban.
Oct. 8: Gen. Ahmad, Taliban supporter and an opponent of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, forced to retire from his post as director-general of ISI.
Late Oct.: Pakistani government arrests three Pakistani nuclear scientists, all with close ties to Khan, for their suspected connections with the Taliban.
Early March: Edmonds sends faxes to Senators Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy on the Judiciary Committee, is called in for polygraph test; Department of Justice inspector general’s report states “she was not deceptive in her answers.”
March: Grossman keynote speaker at ATC conference.
March 22: Edmunds fired, allegedly for shoddy work, security breaches.
Oct. 27: Edmonds appears on CBS’ 60 Minutes program.
Dec: Grossman visits Turkey, approves $3 billion US aid to Turkey for the Iraq Cooperation deal.
March 3: In interview for Dutch television, Grossman says, “[T]he time has come now to make a stand against this kind of connection between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. And we think Iraq is a place to make that stand first . . . the great threat today is the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.”
May 29: Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff “Scooter” Libby asks Grossman for information about news report about the secret envoy sent by the CIA to Africa in 2002. Grossman requests a classified memo from Carl Ford, the director of the State Department’s intelligence bureau, and later orally briefs Libby on its contents.
Mid-June: Powell and his deputy secretary Richard Armitage may have received a copy of the Grossman memo.
June 10: Grossman asks the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) for a briefing on the Niger uranium issue, and specifically the State Department’s opposition to the continuing White House view that Iraq had tried to buy yellow cake. The resulting memo is dated the same day, and drawn from notes on the February 19 meeting at the CIA on the Wilson mission and other sources. Memo is classified “Top Secret,” and contains in one paragraph, separately marked “(S/NF)” for “Secret/No dissemination to foreign governments or intelligence agencies,” two sentences describing in passing Valerie “Wilson’s” identity as a CIA operative and her role in the inception of the Wilson trip to Niger. This June 10 memo reportedly does not use her maiden name Plame.
June 17-July 9: Senate Judiciary Committee holds unclassified hearings on Edmunds’ allegations.
June 19: letter from Senior Republican Senator, Charles Grassley, and Senior Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy to Inspector General Glenn A. Fine concerning Edmonds’ allegations.
July 14: Robert Novak reveals Plame’s CIA identity.
July 22: Edmonds files suit against the Department of Justice, the FBI, and several high-level officials, alleging that she was wrongfully terminated from the FBI in retaliation for reporting criminal activities committed by government employees.
Aug. 13: letter from two senators to Attorney General Ashcroft concerning Sibel Edmonds’ allegations.
Aug. 15: 600 victims of the 9/11 attacks file suit (Burnett v. Al Baraka Investment & Dev. Corp.), request from Edmonds deposition providing evidence for US government foreknowledge of 9-11 attacks.
Sept. 22: Goss made CIA Director (resigns May 5, 2006).
Oct. 18, 2002: Attorney General John Ashcroft invokes the State Secrets Privilege (requested not by Justice Department but by State department) in order to prevent disclosure of the nature of Edmonds’ work on the grounds that it would endanger national security, and asked that her wrongful termination suit be dismissed, in effect placing Edmonds under a gag order.
Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) expresses outrage at gag order, promises that a Democratic majority in Congress would conduct hearings. (This has not been done.)
Oct. 28: Letter from two senators to FBI Director Robert Mueller concerning Sibel Edmonds’ allegations.
Dec. 11, 2003, Attorney General Ashcroft again invoking the State Secrets Privilege, files a motion calling for Edmonds’ deposition in Burnett v. Al Baraka case be suppressed and for the entire case to be dismissed. The judge, seeking more information, orders government to produce any unclassified material relating to the case. In response, Ashcroft submits further statements to justify the use of the State Secrets Privilege.
Dec: Grossman back in Turkey to approve Turkey ’s eligibility to participate in tenders for Iraq’s reconstruction.
Grossman achieves Foreign Service’s highest rank when President Bush appoints him to rank of Career Ambassador.
Patrick Leahy calls for investigation; Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republican Chairman of the Senate, blocks it.
May 13: Ashcroft retroactively classifies all material that had been provided to Senate Judiciary Committee in 2000 relating to Edmond’s lawsuit, as well as the senators’ letters that had already been posted on-line by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
June 23: POGO files lawsuit against Justice Department for classifying material it had published; Justice Department fails to get the case dismissed.
July 6: Edmonds suit dismissed on state secrets grounds.
July: Edmonds files appeal. On same day, Inspector General releases unclassified summary of a highly classified report on an investigation that had concluded “that many of her allegations were supported, that the FBI did not take them seriously enough, and that her allegations were, in fact, the most significant factor in the FBI’s decision to terminate her services. . . Rather than investigate Edmonds’ allegations vigorously and thoroughly, the FBI concluded that she was a disruption and terminated her contract.”
August: Edmonds founds the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC) to address US security weaknesses.
December: Grossman the key speaker at an ATC Conference held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
Grossman receives Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award.
January: Grossman quits his government job. Eric Edelman, another former ambassador to Turkey, takes job of Under Secretary of Defence for Policy.
January: Pakistani nuclear engineer A.Q. Khan confesses to having been involved in a clandestine international network of nuclear weapons technology proliferation from Pakistan to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
Feb. 5: Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf announces he has pardoned Khan. US response is mild.
March: Grossman made vice-chairman of Cohen Group.
Feb. 18: Justice Department under new attorney general backs away from claim that documents posted by POGO were classified.
April 21: In the hours before the hearing of her appeal, three judges issued a ruling that barred all reporters and the public from the courtroom. During the proceedings, Edmonds was not allowed into the courtroom for the hearing.
May 6: Edmonds’ case dismissed, no reason provided, no opinion cited.
May 14: In open letter, Edmonds states the governments wants to silence here to “protect certain diplomatic relations” and to “protect certain U.S. foreign business relations.” Says the “foreign relations” mentioned in the gag order “are not in the interest of, or of benefit to, the majority of Americans, but instead serve and protect a small minority.”
June 20: Edmonds writes: “(In) April 2001, a long-term FBI informant/asset who had been providing the bureau with information since 1990, provided two FBI agents and a translator with specific information regarding a terrorist attack being planned by Osama Bin Laden. For almost four years since September 11, officials refused to admit to having specific information regarding the terrorists’ plans to attack the United States. The Phoenix Memo, received months prior to the 9/11 attacks, specifically warned FBI HQ of pilot training and their possible link to terrorist activities against the US. Four months prior to the terrorist attacks the Iranian asset provided the FBI with specific information regarding the ‘use of airplanes’, ‘major US cities as targets’, and ‘Osama Bin Laden issuing the order.’ Coleen Rowley likewise reported that specific information had been provided to FBI HQ.”
July 20: Unidentified as a “retired state department official” Grossman tells AP that a classified State Department memo disputed the legitimacy of administration claims that Iraq sought to acquire uranium from Niger, also contained a few lines about Plame Wilson’s CIA employment, marked as secret.
August 5: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) petitioned for the Supreme Court of the United States to review the lower courts’ application of the State Secret Privilege in both lawsuits. The ACLU claims that the courts conflated the State Secrets Privilege and the Totten rule.
Sept. 28: Washington Post cites unnamed former administration source (Grossman) as stating that the outing of Plame was “Clearly . . . meant purely and simply for revenge.”
Oct. 28: In Patrick Fitzgerald’s indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Grossman is the Under Secretary of State mentioned as giving information about Plame to Libby.
November: Grossman attends lavish Turkish Ottoman Dinner Gala, receives award from Turkish lobby group, the Assembly of American Turkish Association (ATAA) in Chicago.
Nov. 28: the Supreme Court declined to review the decisions made in the Edmonds case.
March: Grossman the key speaker at the ATC annual conference.
June: Grossman key speaker at MERIA Conference, discussing Turkey’s importance to US and Israel.
Sept. 2006: a documentary about Sibel Edmonds’ case called Kill The Messenger (”Une Femme à Abattre”) premiers in France. (watch film here)
January 24: Grossman first to testify in Libby trial. Says he informed Libby of Plame’s involvement “in about 30 seconds of conversation” in June 2003.
November: Grossman subpoenaed by defense in AIPAC trial.
Nov. 26: Grossman, now Vice Chairman of the consulting firm the Cohen Group, attends a major Security Conference in Riga, Latvia.
January: Edmonds posts, without comment, photos of current and former officials and Turkish associates on website: Richard Perle, Eric Edelman, Marc Grossman, Brent Snowcroft, Larry Franklin, Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Roy Blunt (R-Mo), Dan Burton (R-Ind.), Tom Lanton (D-Ca.), Bob Livingston (ex-House Speaker, R-La.), Stephen Solarz (D-NY), Graham Fulle (RAND), David Makovsky (WINEP), Martin Markovsky (WINEP), Yusuf Turani (president in exile of Turkmenistan), Prof. Sabri Sayari (Columbia University, WINEP), Mehmet Eymur (former head of Turkish counter-terrorism).
Jan. 6: The Times of London carries story, “For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets.” States that a high official “was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.” Claims that the FBI was also gathering evidence against senior Pentagon officials — including household names — who were aiding foreign agents.
“If you made public all the information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-level people going through criminal trials.”
Jan. 22: White House issues statement declaring its intention to approve sale of nuclear secrets to Turkey; Joshua Frank writes on January 25, “It appears the White House has been spooked by Edmonds and hopes to absolve the US officials allegedly involved in the illegal sale of nuclear technology to private Turkish ‘entities’.” Frank identifies Grossman as one of these officials.
* * * * *
Edmonds is tirelessly and fearlessly campaigning for Congressman Waxman, now chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to hold hearings. She says that FBI agents and even former Turkish intelligence officials are willing and able to validate her charges. But the congressman hesitates, perhaps fearing the storm of indignation that explosive evidence will produce in a country sick of its politicians, the lying neocons, and the war. Should they discover that, while disseminating disinformation about foreign nukes in order to fearmonger and build support for aggressive war, some of these officials were actually peddling nuclear secrets — committing treason while receiving honors for their patriotic service — the response could be explosive.
The Office of Special Plans under Abram Shulsky and Douglas Feith cherry-picked the intelligence vetted through the New York Times to terrify people into supporting an attack on Iraq. Democratic leaders have in the past urged an investigation of that spooky office, but furnished the opportunity since November 2006, they have declined to hold hearings. The Italian parliament conducted a study of the Niger uranium hoax, fingering neocon Michael Ledeen as a key suspect in forging documents designed to provide a casus belli before the Iran attack. Congress does nothing to follow up. In effect they are saying that the administration has a right to lie to the people. The presidential pardon granted Libby is a clear statement that it’s okay to punish whistleblowers like Joseph Wilson. The Supreme Court refuses to hear Edmonds’ appeal. It seems that all three branches of government compete to coddle the most unscrupulous and lawless officials, while marginalizing or punishing honest citizens who expose the rot.
The publication of the National Intelligence Estimate undercutting the administration’s case for attacking Iran indicates that there are in the US intelligence community persons alarmed by the administration’s lies and efforts to justify more aggression based on lies. It enrages the neocons who, with Norman Podhoretz in the lead, have been praying for Bush to bomb Iran. The arrest and conviction of Feith subordinate Larry Franklin shows that within the FBI there are forces disturbed at the close connections between the neocons, Israeli intelligence, and the Israel lobby and are willing to take action against lawbreaking. But Feith and Perle have both been investigated before, Perle for discussing classified information with Israeli Embassy staff in an FBI-monitored phone call in Washington in 1970. But the cases dropped for apparent political reasons. Perhaps the Grossman story will gain some traction. Maybe it will prove egregious enough that the tide will turn. Maybe Bush’s last year of office will see the neocons’ thorough exposure, humiliation and defeat.
Or maybe Waxman, Rep. Conyers and others in positions to honestly confront this most mendacious of administrations will continue to dither, feeding the assumption of the most vicious, cynical and corrupt that they are indeed above the law. And earning the contempt of those naïve enough to expect serious congressional oversight of a rogue regime.