Frontpage Interview’s guest today is best-selling investigative reporter Kenneth Timmerman, the author of the new book Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.
FP: Ken Timmerman, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
Timmerman: Good to be here again.
FP: One of the most startling revelations in your book is about Osama being in Iran. But before we get to that, let’s backup for a moment, because your book is obviously about much more than just that. First things first: what made you write this book?
Timmerman: The Islamic Republic of Iran represents a clear and present danger to America. We are facing new threats, new capabilities, with very old and familiar intentions.
This is a regime whose leaders open official meetings with shouts of “Death to America.” This is a regime that has a long track record of murdering Americans, in Beirut, in Saudi Arabia, and in Iraq. Now this regime has acquired nuclear weapons capability.
Combating the clerics in Tehran should be at the heart of the war on terror. I wanted to make ordinary Americans – not just think-tankers and policy wonks – aware of this deadly threat. I trust the common sense of ordinary Americans more than I do the policy prescriptions of the elites.
FP: Tell us the details of Iran’s clandestine nuclear program.
Timmerman: One of the great ironies of our repeated policy failures in responding to the threat from the Islamic Republic is that we are always searching for “moderates.” Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the former president, is now poised for a comeback – as we see from last Friday’s elections. And once again the same old tired faces who greeted him as a “moderate” in the 1980s are welcoming him back as the man who can bring America and Iran back together again.
And yet, it was Rafsanjani who spearheaded the effort to revive Iran’s nuclear weapons program in 1985, when he invited exiled nuclear scientists to return to Iran, as I detail in my book. It was Rafsanjani who became the driver of the nuclear weapons program, who sent buying delegations to Communist China and to North Korea – as well as to Germany and France – for equipment.
It reminds me of a cartoon in the Washington Times about another “moderate” Iranian cleric, outgoing president Hojjat-ol eslam Mohammad Khatami. Clinton is pointing to a missile, taking off behind him and headed toward Israel. “I thought you were supposed to be moderates?” Clinton exclaims. “It’s a very moderate missile,” Khatami replies.
This regime in Tehran has a very “moderate” mission: to destroy Israel and to drive the United States out of the Middle East, using nuclear weapons if need be.
At the end of my book, I present a table with the nuclear capabilities the Islamic Republic has now admitted to possessing, and its production facilities for the full gamut of nuclear weapons material, highly-enriched uranium and plutonium.
The real tragedy of this story is that we’ve known about Iran’s nuclear intentions for nearly twenty years, but our “friends” and “allies” have consistently refused to help us to put an end to it. That farce is continuing today with the sham negotiations being conducted with Tehran by the EU3 over yet another “freeze” – not a roll-back – of Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium production activities.
FP: This is all pretty frightening. What is going to happen in this nuclear showdown? What must the U.S. do? Is there a chance the nuclear Mullahs might make a pre-emptive nuclear attack soon? (i.e. wipe out Israel?)
Timmerman: Regime leaders in Tehran evoke a nuclear showdown with Israel with an almost millennial exaltation. It’s really quite extraordinary. Here’s Rafsanjani, the smiling turban who is seeking to return to the presidency in Iran’s recent “selection.” He was speaking at a Jerusalem day sermon at Tehran University on Dec. 14, 2001: “The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would destroy Israel completely, while [the same] against the world of Islam only would cause damages. Such a scenario is not inconceivable.”
Iran’s ruling mullahs realize that Israel is a one-bomb country. When they parade their Shahab-3 missiles in the streets of Tehran, they festoon them with placards that read, “We will wipe Israel off the map.” This missile is capable of reaching Israel with a nuclear warhead, so it is no idle threat.
The Israelis have made clear they cannot allow Iran to become a nuclear weapons state. But just how long they are willing to wait – will it be weeks, months, a year – no one knows. We have very little time to get this right.
FP: So in order to “get this right” what do you propose to do?
Timmerman: The problem is not Iran’s nuclear weapons; it’s combining nuclear weapons capability with a dedicated terrorist regime. Our best hope is to empower the pro-democracy forces in Iran to change the regime through an organized campaign of non-violent conflict. We need to provide them assistance at the very least on a par with what we provided the Ukrainians recently (around $65 million). All the other options go from bad to worse.
FP: What do you think of the recent so-called “elections” in Iran? You think the chances are high that there can be a peoples’ democratic revolution there that will overthrow the Mullahs?
Timmerman: These elections are a farce, and were widely boycotted by Iranian voters. I was receiving calls, emails, and photographs of empty polling places all during the voting. At one point, the mullahs tried to convince people there was a high turnout by replaying video footage of a crowded polling station in Tehran. The posters in the background, however, gave them away: they referred to the 8th presidential election – which was four years ago.
Rafsanjani is positioning himself as the smiling turban who will make nice to Iranians, and make nice to America, as he has in the past. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. We ought to know better by now.
This is the man who ordered hit teams to track down and murder Iranian dissidents around the world during his two terms as president from 1989-1997. This is the man who revived Iran’s nuclear weapons program as Majles speaker in 1985, and who has been one of its biggest backers ever since. In Iran, he is known as “the Fox” – and for good reason.
FP: Ok, so let’s get to it: Osama in Iran?
Timmerman: One of the recurring themes of Countdown to Crisis is the wilful blindness and incompetence of our intelligence community, especially the CIA. For years, Agency analysts, led by the likes of Paul Pilar – who headed the Counterterrorism Center under Clinton – have sworn up and down that there can be no cooperation between Iran and al Qaeda because the Iranians are Shia Muslims and al Qaeda are Wahhabis, and Wahhabis eat Shias for breakfast.
Khobar Towers? All those travels of the September 11 hijackers to and fro Iran? Meaningless, according to the CIA. Iran was just serving as a travel agent – 5% commission on all bookings.
My sources, former Iranian intelligence officials who have defected recently, simply laugh when I tell them what the CIA believes and has told the 9/11 Commission. It is ludicrous to believe that al Qaeda operatives were simply transiting from Tehran to Afghanistan before 9/11 without extensive contacts and control by Iranian intelligence. And yet, because of the “concept” driving the CIA mindset, that is what they believe. According to our $40 billion a year intelligence community, there can be no Sunni-Shia cooperation in murdering Americans.
My sources have brought me hard evidence, which I detail in the book, not only of the active participation of Iranian intelligence in the September 11 attacks on America, but of the ongoing cooperation between Iran and al Qaeda, including meetings last November and this March between Osama bin Laden and top regime officials in Iran.
Simply put, al Qaeda would not exist today as an organized force without the active material support from Iran.
FP: Your sources?
Timmerman: I have relied on extensive face-to-face debriefings conducted over several years with high-level defectors from Iranian intelligence organizations, as well as interviews with family members of top regime leaders. This is not second or third-hand information, but face-to-face debriefings. In some cases, my sources were eye-witnesses to meetings between Saad bin Laden and other top al Qaeda leaders and Iranian government officials. I describe those meetings in the book. They included two meetings in January and May of 2001 where details of the September 11 attacks were knocked out between Iran and al Qaeda. In other cases, I relied on former U.S. officials, members of the 9/11 commission, foreign intelligence officials and confidential documents.
FP: What can we do about Osama in Iran? If I had it my way, I would organize a strike force of some kind to go in and get him. But I guess the U.S. can’t just go into a sovereign country like that. What can we do?
Timmerman: CIA Director Porter Goss essentially confirmed that Bin Laden was in Iran, as I reveal in my book, in an interview with Time magazine that was released recently. The reason the U.S. can’t go in and snatch him, he said, was because we are “dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you’re dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play.”
Fair play with a regime that has been murdering Americans for over twenty years, and that continues to murder Americans today through the insurgency in Iraq? I beg to differ. We have special forces warriors trained to do precisely this type of thing.
FP: Special forces going into Iran to capture Bin Laden? I am all for this, but couldn’t this be seen as a declaration of war with Iran, or trigger a war?
Timmerman: And isn’t Iran’s cooperation with Bin laden in the September 11 attacks on America an act of war?
FP: Ok, so if Bush made you his main adviser on Iran, what would your policy recommendation be?
Timmerman: First, delegitimize the clerical regime. We should refuse to recognize any government issued from illegitimate elections, as was suggested to me by a former supporter of the regime turned oppositionist, Mohsen Sazegara. Second, we should unilaterally refer Iran’s violations of the Nuclear Nonprolifeartion Treaty to the UN Security Council for action, just as soon as John Bolton gets to New York. I doubt the UNSC will act, but at least we will have gone through the kabuki dance. It is a necessary if absurd step. Third, we should provide massive assistance to pro-democracy forces inside Iran – not through the CIA, which should probably be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch – but through the National Endowment for Democracy and through private foundations. And fourth, we should never, never, never, never, never let up the pressure on the ruling clerics.
FP: Mr. Timmerman, thank you, it was a pleasure to talk speak with you.
Timmerman: My pleasure Jamie.
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