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Iran: The Threat We Cannot Neglect: Part II By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, August 01, 2005


The second clock, countdown clock that I’ve been following is U.S. efforts to counter Iran’s activities.  At virtually the same time that Rafsanjani reinvigorated the nuclear weapons program in 1985, the CIA got involved with efforts to aid the opposition in exile to promote a democratic alternative to the regime.  A lot of these are spy stores and I’m not going to read you from the book, but you’ll see the meetings between Iranian exiles and people from the CIA about black operations and disinformation and clandestine radios and things like this.  And at times it got quite heady. 

There’s an incident that I recount from 1987 when former President Nixon got involved with the entourage of Rezo Polovi [ph], the son of the former shah.  One of Rez’s advisors came to him with John Connelly, the former treasury secretary and said, “Look, we’ve got to do something here.  We’ve got an opportunity, it’s the middle of the Iran/Iraq war, the U.S. fleet is in the Persian Gulf.  Can’t we take advantage of that?” 

And they go to President Nixon with this idea of landing Rezo Polovi and his entourage on an island in the Persian Gulf to announce a provisional free government of Iran.  And Nixon looks at this and he says, “Oh, yes, this is doable.  I think we can do this.”  And he makes a bunch of calls and he calls some people in the joint chiefs and retired admirals and active duty service people, and they put together this whole logistical plan with maps and charts and deployments and aircraft and ships.  They’re going to protect Kish Island and this free Iranian government.

 

One of Rez’s aids then is charged with taking this up to him in Connecticut.  And he’s very excited as he’s given this briefing of how he’s now finally going to be king.  And he gets to the end of it, as his spirits fall, his heart’s pounding and he said to the aid, “How do I get out of here if it all goes wrong?”  And that’s a little bit the problem that the CIA and the U.S. had in trying to promote a democratic alternative to Iran, is that the leadership in exile did not have the courage, did not have the guts to do what had to be done when we had the opportunity to do something.

 

Now, over the years, as you can imagine, the support for the exiles waned until finally you got to the administrations of George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton, both of which sought to cut deals with the Mullas [ph] in Teheran.  And starting in the late 1980s and all through the 1990s, we had a long period of feckless policy, missed opportunities and intelligence failures, which I detail in “Countdown to Crisis,” one failure after another.  And in my opinion, those failures and that feckless policy, those missed opportunities brought us directly to where we are today with a new threat of a nuclear Armageddon from Iran.

 

One of the intelligence failures that was most prominent was Iran’s relationship with al-Qaida.  As I detail in the book, this actually began in 1993, 1993.  The Iranians send one of their top terrorists, a man named Imad Muknua [ph] to the Sudan to meet with Usama Bin Laden personally and to work out details of how they’re going to cooperate in the future.

 

Now, this is something that was not supposed to happen.  U.S. intelligence analysts were telling their bosses the Iranians are Shea Muslims, Bin Laden is a Suni Muslim, worst he’s a Wahabe [ph] Suni Fundamentalist, and they can’t talk to each other.  They can’t cooperate together, they can’t possibly work together.  It’s not happened.

 

Well, we know that it happened and we know that it happened because the bodyguard who handled security for that particular meeting between Muknua and Bin Laden in 1993 was finally arrested by the United States, was put on trial for is involvement in the double Africa embassy bombings in 1998, cut a plea bargain in 2000.  His plea bargain was for life in prison, okay?  That was the bargain, that was the deal.  And in his statement during that plea bargain he described this meeting where Muknua comes to the Sudan and meets with Bin Laden.  We know it also because Bin Laden’s top financial -- the man in charge of his financial networks, Jamal L. Foddel [ph], defected to the United States in 1996.

 

One of the U.S. prosecutors dealing with this guy said, “He provided us with the Rosetta [ph] stone to understand what Bin Laden was doing, and yet we didn’t understand and we didn’t listen.  He gave us all the financial networks for Bin Laden’s fundraising mechanism, the charities that he was using, the organizations here in the United States, the organizations in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere and we didn’t crack down, we did nothing.  This was in 1996 that the guy defected.

 

One of the intelligence analysts I talked to on the 9/11 Commission said if we had listened to Jamal L. Foddel, we never should have allowed these embassy bombings to take place in 1998, let alone 9/11.  We could have put an end to al-Qaida right then and there in 1996 and we didn’t.  A very major missed opportunity.

 

A lot of this information came out quite dramatically in the closed-door hearings of the 9/11 Commission.  The story that I tell in Chapter 24 of the book has never been told before.  I think it’s extremely important.  One week before the 9/11 Commission was supposed to hand in its final report, this is July of last year, their staff is in this secure room in an undisclosed location in Washington, D.C. where they have all of the highly classified documents that they had gotten from various U.S. intelligence organizations.  And they’re going through the last box in the last stack, and the last document in the last box just to make sure that they haven’t missed anything, and they say, “Oops.”  And that last document was a smoking gun of Iran’s involvement with al-Qaida, something they had seen nothing about until then.

 

Now, the 9/11 Commission had a mandate to get everything of relevance to the 9/11 attacks from the intelligence community, and the intelligence community never turned over these documents.  This summary document which they discovered that last week referenced 75 highly classified intelligence reports detailing, detailing the material assistance that the Islamic Republic of Iran provided to eight to ten of the highjackers on 9/11.  It detailed how Imad Muknua, Iran’s star terrorist, personally escorted these people from Saudi Arabia to Beirut, from Beirut to Iran so they would avoid U.S. surveillance in Pakistan.  They didn’t have a way of getting into Afghanistan securely, so they were going through Iran. 

 

And I can guarantee you this, they weren’t going through Iran on a tourist bus.  They were going to Iran where they were being managed by the Red guards, the revolutionary guards, intelligence services.  And it was the revolutionary guards intelligence services that were controlling the borders into Afghanistan.

 

Now, when they discovered, the 9/11 Commission discovered this, they were very disturbed.  The staff director of the Commission called up the director of the intelligence agency, which I’ve agreed not to disclose, and said, “We need to see all of these 75 documents.”  They went over with a group of analysts on a Sunday morning at 7:30 in the morning and spent two full days going through the reams of materials that had not been turned over to the 9/11 Commission which documented Iran’s involvement in 9/11.

 

So these are more missed opportunities, these are more intelligence failures, and they were driven, in my view and by the view of some of the analysts who looked at this, by a concept, this concept that there could be no cooperation between Iran and al-Qaida because they were like Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, they were fighting all the time and they couldn’t possibly work together.  Well, you know what?  When it comes to killing Jews and killing Christians and killing Americans, they got along just fine.     

 

One of the defectors I spoke to, and I name him in the first chapter of the book, Hamid Reza Zakari [ph], was a eyewitness to meetings, which I describe in the book, in January and May of 2001 between top al-Qaida officials who came to Iran to jointly plan the 9/11 attacks with the Iranian government.

 

Number two of al-Qaida, Ayman Zawkari [ph], the number two, Bin Laden’s deputy, came to Iran in January of 2001, he stayed for four days.  Those meetings took place in a safe house the south of Teheran, I describe it in the book.  Zawkari was an eyewitness to this why?  Because he personally handled the security for the meetings.  He met Zawkari for the meetings.  He met Zawkari when he came in from the border and transported him to the meeting, that was his job, and he watched all the comings and goings and handled the al-Qaida team that stayed in Iran afterwards to coordinator with Iranian intelligence for the next couple of weeks to work out the details of how they were going to work together.

 

In May of 2001, Zaskari also handled the security for Sad Bin Laden, the eldest son of Usama Bin Laden, who came to meet with the leadership.  He met with the top leader, the supreme leader.  He met with Rafsanjani and three other top clerics in Iran.  Zawkari personally took him from the hand-off point where he came in on a helicopter, personally transported him in the armored limousine to go meet with the leaders in Northern Teheran in Komene’s [ph] former residence.       

 

Zawkari, the defector, came out in July 2001, went to the U.S. Embassy in Azabijon [ph], met with the CIA for several days and he told them there’s going to be a massive attack on America.  On the 20th of Shahebar [ph], he used the Persian calendar date, the Iranian government is working together with al-Qaida -- he didn’t use the term “al-Qaida,” he said, “with Arab terrorists,” and they’re currently training 10 to 16 of these Arab terrorists at a new terrorist camp north of Teheran to do what?  To hijack aircraft.

 

A man I call in the book CIA George is sent from Washington to debrief Zawkari and he ridicules him.  He says, “You mean to tell me that you work for a new secret Iranian intelligence organization and I’ve never heard of it?  Get out of here,” and literally he sends him packing, literally he sends him packing.

 

Now, one other detail I’ll tell you is that he gets out a calendar to convert the Persian date into the American date, into the Western date.  He says, “Oh, 20th of Shahebar.”

 

“You mean the 10th of September, don’t you?  Okay, I’ll stay tuned and you let me know when it’s the 10th of September if you have any better idea of what’s being planned.”

 

Well, you find out in the book that CIA George got the date wrong, and that in fact Zawkari got the date right.  It was the 11th of September.

 

Iran today is a clear and present danger to the United States.  There’s no reforming this regime.  We have had for 20 years efforts by the U.S. government to attempt to influence their behavior, and every time we offer them trade, every time we offer to sell them aircraft or spare parts or this or that, they take them and they say they want more and they continue to attack us.  There is no reforming this regime.  There are no reformers in Iran.  I think that’s what the recent election has shown as well.  Never has regime change been so urgent and vital to U.S. security as it is today.  You have a terrorist regime that has become a virtual nuclear weapons state and this regime will use those weapons if they obtain them.

 

Now, as I say, “Countdown to Crisis” is not a policy book, but at the end of laying out this factual basis of Iran’s support for terrorism, Iran’s relationship with al-Qaida and their nuclear weapons program, which I believe has come to fruition, I do have a couple of suggestions to make. 

 

First of all, unlike some people on the left who hear that I am a conservative writer and they say, “Oh, my gosh, you’re trying to suggest we should attack Iran just like the president did in Iraq.  Isn’t it the same thing, weapons of mass destruction, let’s go attack Iran?”  I can hear the neocon drumbeat to war. 

 

Well, I’ve got news for our friends on that side.  I don’t believe we should be attacking Iran.  In fact, I think we have a great secret weapon in this battle -- it’s the Iranian people.  The Iranian people have overwhelmingly rejected the clerical dictatorship in Iran.  They have massively boycotted these elections and they desperately are crying out for help.      

 

The first thing we should do is to provide them with material assistance so they can overthrow the regime.  That’s what they would like to do.  They need our help, we know how to do it, we have a start.

 

I’ve got to tell you that there is a $3 million grant to the state department available for pro-democracy groups this year, and it was supposed to have been awarded a couple weeks ago and there are a number of groups that have applied for this grant.  It’s being blocked by a staffer at the state department’s policy planning department, a woman named Susan Malony.  Well, she used to work for Senator John Kerry and the council for foreign relations.  And she has single-handedly, because those grants have to be given by consensus, single-handedly blocked the giving of this $3 million to various groups that want to promote democracy in Iran.  Go figure.

 

It is much cheaper in terms of blood and treasure to spend $100 million helping pro-democracy groups inside Iran than to send the 4th Infantry Division or the U.S. Marines or to launch a massive bombing campaign.  That’s the first thing we should do. 

 

Second, the administration must begin to delegitimize this regime.  Now, I commend the president for some of his recent statements on Iran.  He says the right thing.  Just a few days ago he mentioned Akbar Gangi [ph], who’s a journalist who’s in jail.  He’s been on a hunger strike for over 30 days and the president has demanded his immediate release, and that’s the right thing to do, but we need to follow up on that.  We need to delegitimize Iran in every single international organization where they sit.  We need to get them out of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.  It makes no sense for a dictatorship that has murdered over a hundred-thousand of its own citizens to sit over the Human Rights Commission.  It’s outrageous.     

 

Second, we should -- we should not recognize the fruit of a fake election.  The Iranians are holding Stalinist elections.  We should not recognize the president who was elected by whom?  He was elected by a bunch of clerics in a backroom palaver at 2 o’clock in the morning.  This is exactly how Joe Stalin had predicted.  He said, “It’s not the people who vote who count, it’s the people who count the votes.”  And the people who count the votes in Iran are the radical clerics.

 

Finally, and this is a less popular move, but it is very important to do, it’s necessary to do.  The president must refer Iran’s case to the U.N. Security Council for action.  Now, I know a lot of my good friends do not believe in the U.N. Security Council and, gee, I think there’s some reason to be a little bit skeptical when you look at what happened with Iraq in 2002 and 2003.  And yet, it is a necessary step.  It’s a diplomatic kabuki dance, but it is a very necessary step.    

 

We had 12 years of U.N. Security Council resolutions against Saddam Hussein.  We haven’t had a single one against the Islamic Republic of Iran.  We need to put the Russians and the French and the Chinese face-to-face with their own actions and their own responsibilities:  Are you in favor of a terrorist regime acquiring nuclear weapons?  Is this what you support?  Or do you think we should put pressure on them and will you engage with us in putting pressure on the regime?  So we must take that diplomatic step.  We have the clear legal right to do it. 

 

Iran is in clear violation of its safeguards obligations at the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Even the director of the IAEA has acknowledged that, Albaradi [ph].  The United States believes that Iran is also in violation of its Article II commitments under the non-proliferation treaty, and the Article II states that you can get access to civilian nuclear technology if, if you give up any effort to acquire the bomb.  And it’s absolutely clear that the Iranians have been trying to acquire the bomb.  So this is the necessary stuff.  We must go to the U.N. Security Council. 

 

Finally, I believe ultimately when you look at Iran’s human rights record, you compare it to a country such as South Africa which was banned by the international community for its human rights record and for its record of repression at home, you have got a regime that has murdered over 100,000 people, a regime which stones women to death by burying them in pits up to their necks and then throwing stones the size of cobblestones at them for adultery.  You have a regime which has sent out hit squads to kill his opponents overseas.  South Africa certainly compares to that, but this regime has a human rights record today which I think is one of the worst in the world.  We should have the same kind of international sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran as we did against South Africa.

 

And finally, let me just tell you what the price of failure is.  At the end of the book there’s a scenario which is -- some people will say it’s political fiction.  It’s actually a war games scenario that’s been used at the Pentagon since 1998, and I’ll tell you at the end of this why.  The Iranians give a nuclear weapon to a terrorist group.  They charter a tramp steamer, go into the commercial sea off the coast of the United States.  They bring an old technology stud missile launcher out from the hold, fire off a nuclear missile.  It reaches Washington, D.C., Los Angeles or another city within three minutes.  Hundreds of thousands of people die within seconds of the attack.  And as our strategic command people look at the trajectory of the missile for the return address, they find a little speck just off the coast of the United States and they scratch their heads, “What do we do?  Who’s responsible?”

 

This is a very realistic scenario.  The U.S. began to war game this in 1998 when the Iranians conducted exactly this kind of test in the Caspian Sea.  That’s the price of failure.  We don’t have much time to get this right. 

I’d love to take your questions.  Thank you.

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Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).


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