Jul 27, 2006

Rogue's Regiment

Intelligence expert James Bamford takes a timely look at machinations involving the neo-con desire to expand the Lebanon war to Syria and especially--Iran.

For years, the National Security Agency had possessed the codes used by Iran to encrypt its diplomatic messages, enabling the U.S. government to eavesdrop on virtually every communication between Tehran and its embassies. After the U.S. invaded Baghdad, the NSA used the codes to listen in on details of Iran's covert operations inside Iraq. But in 2004, the agency intercepted a series of urgent messages from the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. Intelligence officials at the embassy had discovered the massive security breach -- tipped off by someone familiar with the U.S. code-breaking operation.

The blow to intelligence-gathering could not have come at a worse time. The Bush administration suspected that the Shiite government in Iran was aiding Shiite insurgents in Iraq, who were killing U.S. soldiers. The administration was also worried that Tehran was secretly developing nuclear weapons. Now, crucial intelligence that might have shed light on those operations had been cut off, potentially endangering American lives.

On May 20th, shortly after the discovery of the leak, Iraqi police backed by American soldiers raided (ally of American neo-cons, Ahmed) Chalabi's home and offices in Baghdad. The FBI suspected that Chalabi, a Shiite who had a luxurious villa in Tehran and was close to senior Iranian officials, was actually working as a spy for the Shiite government of Iran. Getting the U.S. to invade Iraq was apparently part of a plan to install a pro-Iranian Shiite government in Baghdad, with Chalabi in charge. The bureau also suspected that Chalabi's intelligence chief had furnished Iran with highly classified information on U.S. troop movements, top-secret communications, plans of the provisional government and other closely guarded material on U.S. operations in Iraq. On the night of the raid, The CBS Evening News carried an exclusive report by correspondent Lesley Stahl that the U.S. government had "rock-solid" evidence that Chalabi had been passing extremely sensitive intelligence to Iran -- evidence so sensitive that it could "get Americans killed."

The revelation shocked (convicted leaker of classified U.S. documents to the Israel lobby, Lawrence) Franklin and other members of (Rumsfeld aide, Douglas) Feith's office. If true, the allegations meant that they had just launched a war to put into power an agent of their mortal enemy, Iran. Their man -- the dissident leader who sat behind the first lady in the president's box during the State of the Union address in which Bush prepared the country for war -- appeared to have been working for Iran all along.

Franklin needed to control the damage, and fast. He was one of the very few in the government who knew that it was the NSA code-breaking information that Chalabi was suspected of passing to Iran, and that there was absolute proof that Chalabi had met with a covert Iranian agent involved in operations against the U.S. To protect those in the Pentagon working for regime change in Tehran, Franklin needed to get out a simple message: We didn't know about Chalabi's secret dealings with Iran.

Franklin decided to leak the information to a friendly contact in the media: Adam Ciralsky, a CBS producer who had been fired from the CIA, allegedly for his close ties to Israel. On May 21st, the day after CBS broadcast its exclusive report on Chalabi, Franklin phoned Ciralsky and fed him the information. As the two men talked, eavesdroppers at the FBI's Washington field office recorded the conversation.

That night, Stahl followed up her original report with "new details" -- the information leaked earlier that day by Franklin. She began, however, by making clear that she would not divulge the most explosive detail of all: the fact that Chalabi had wrecked the NSA's ability to eavesdrop on Iran. "Senior intelligence officials were stressing today that the information Ahmed Chalabi is alleged to have passed on to Iran is so seriously sensitive that the result of full disclosure would be highly damaging to U.S. security," Stahl said. "Because of that, we are not reporting the details of what exactly Chalabi is said to have compromised, at the request of U.S. officials at the highest levels. The information involves secrets that were held by only a handful of very senior intelligence officials." Thanks to the pressure from the administration, the public was prevented from learning the most damaging aspect of Chalabi's treachery.

Soon after the broadcast, David Szady's team at the FBI decided to wrap up its investigation before Franklin leaked any more information. Agents quietly confronted Franklin with the taped phone call and pressured him to cooperate in a sting operation directed at AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- America's Pro-Israel Lobby) and members of Feith's team in the Pentagon. Franklin, facing a long prison sentence, agreed. On August 4th, 2005, Rosen and Weissman were indicted, and on January 20th, 2006, Franklin, who had earlier pleaded guilty, was sentenced to twelve years and seven months in prison. In an attempt to reduce his sentence, he agreed to testify against the former AIPAC officials. The case is set to go to trial this fall. (...)

The administration's National Security Strategy -- the official policy document that sets out U.S. strategic priorities -- now calls Iran the "single country" that most threatens U.S. interests.

The shift in official policy has thrilled former members of the (neo-con) cabal. To them, the war in Lebanon represents the final step in their plan to turn Iran into the next Iraq. (Michael) Ledeen, writing in the National Review on July 13th, could hardly restrain himself. "Faster, please," he urged the White House, arguing that the war should now be taken over by the U.S. military and expanded across the entire region. "The only way we are going to win this war is to bring down those regimes in Tehran and Damascus, and they are not going to fall as a result of fighting between their terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon on the one hand, and Israel on the other. Only the United States can accomplish it," he concluded. "There is no other way."

No comments: