While You Slept

In the run-up to war with Iraq, Iranian intelligence was playing the U.S. like a violin – with the knowledge and full cooperation of certain major (and minor) – players in the U.S. government. That’s the conclusion we are forced to draw upon reading the latest from Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d’Avanzo at La Repubblica (see Part I and Part II), the Italian daily that has done so much recently to expose the true origins of the Niger uranium forgeries. I covered the provenance of those forgeries – which led to President Bush uttering the infamous “16 words” in his 2003 State of the Union address – in a previous column, but now La Repubblica is breaking another important dimension of this story:

“The story of Italian military intervention in Iraq begins when the resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Ledeen, sponsored by Defense Minister Antonio Martino, debarks in Rome with Pentagon men in tow to meet a handful of ‘Iranian exiles.’ The meeting is organized by SISMI [Italian military intelligence]….

“Twenty men are gathered around a large table, covered by maps of Iraq, Iran and Syria. The big cheese are Lawrence Franklin and Harold Rhode of the Office of Special Plans, Michael Ledeen of the AEI, a SISMI chief accompanied by his assistant (the former is a balding man between 46 and 48 years of age; the latter is younger, around 38, with braces on his teeth) and some mysterious Iranians.”

This meeting has been documented elsewhere, by others, but what’s new here is that the proceedings – and the participants – are described in detail by La Repubblica‘s reporters. It was at least implied, before, that the Iranian element of this polyglot assemblage consisted of those chafing under Tehran’s heel, but here is what the head of Italian military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, has to say about it:

“I can tell you those Iranians were not exactly ‘exiles.’ They came and went from Tehran with their passports with no difficulty whatsoever as if they were transparent to the eyes of the Pasdaran.”

“These men,” says La Repubblica‘s reporters, “are members of the regime, sent by Tehran.” But what about the others? Michael Ledeen, the neoconservative ideologue and veteran of the Iran-Contra scandal, whose Iranian – and Israeli – contacts made him a key go-between in the arms-for-hostages deal, is the Machiavelli of the neocons, the one who ends his polemics with the exhortation “Faster, please!” – a plea to accelerate the pace of “regime change” throughout the Middle East. And he is not just an ideologue, rooting on the sidelines for the “good guys,” but an active player, as La Repubblica makes all too clear: he played the key role of facilitator of the various factions with a keen interest in “liberating” Iraq. La Repubblica cites an unnamed U.S. intelligence source:

“The meeting called in Rome assembles the representatives of all the teams: Michael A. Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode of the Office of Special Plans, the colonels of the Iraqi National Congress and in addition, the Iraqi Shi’ites of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and of course, the Guardians of the Revolution. All these actors gathered in Rome. Wouldn’t you say that’s interesting?”

Fascinating. As I’ve said before, anyone could have seen that the invasion of Iraq by U.S. and British forces would hand most of the country over to the Iranians, and I was hardly the only one to foresee this:

“Patrick Lang, former director of the [Defense] [I]ntelligence [A]gency’s Middle East branch, said he had been told by colleagues in the intelligence community that Chalabi’s U.S.-funded program to provide information about weapons of mass destruction and insurgents was effectively an Iranian intelligence operation. ‘They [the Iranians] knew exactly what we were up to,’ he said. He described it as ‘one of the most sophisticated and successful intelligence operations in history.’ ‘I’m a spook. I appreciate good work. This was good work,’ he said.”

Good – but apparently not good enough to fool the U.S. indefinitely: last year, Chalabi’s generous subsidy from the U.S. government was abruptly halted. Not only that, but his Iraqi headquarters was raided by U.S. plainclothes agents acting in concert with Iraqi government soldiers. It was alleged that the Iraqi exile leader and his group had betrayed their American patrons by supplying Tehran with vital U.S. secrets. According to several news outlets, the charge was that Chalabi had revealed to the Iranians that we had broken their internal code. An investigation was launched, and Pentagon employees – several of them high-ranking – were given polygraph tests as they were questioned by the FBI.

As I have said before, the Chalabi-neocon-Iranian axis of deception functioned like a two-way transmission belt, relaying bogus “intelligence” on Iraq’s alleged WMD to the White House and also mining U.S. secrets and passing them on to their foreign sponsors – not only Tehran, but also Tel Aviv. Larry Franklin, one of the ringleaders of the American delegation to the Rome conclave, has recently pled guilty to charges of passing classified information to Israeli “diplomats” via two officials of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), both of whom have been charged with violating the Espionage Act.

Franklin and Rhode set up the Office of Special Plans, which funneled fake “intelligence” supplied by the INC and their Iranian allies to U.S. policymaking circles – and to Judith Miller, who plastered their lies all over the front page of the New York Times. The subversive role played by the Office of Special Plans is by now well known: La Repubblica supplies a few more pieces to the puzzle, informing us that the Niger uranium forgeries – reports of which sent Joe Wilson to Niger in the first place – were brought to the Rome meeting, apparently by Chalabi, who passed off the documents to the American delegation.

These now-famous forgeries, which played such a key part in lying us into war – and, also, in unraveling the conspiracy behind the lying – seem to have gone through several editions. They started out as recycled Italian intelligence reports from the 1980s, which were then embellished with the addition of stolen letterheads and official seals – the fruit of a mysterious robbery that occurred at the Niger embassy in Rome, which La Repubblica exposes as a SISMI operation. Another addition, perhaps the contribution of the Americans, seems to have been tacked on almost as an afterthought: it purports to show, on official-looking stationery, summaries of meetings held by the ambassadors of Niger, Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, and Iran leading to the creation of a “Global Support” group that would militarily resist attempts by the West to interdict “governments continually suspected, and without just cause, of producing nuclear, bacteriological, chemical weapons.”

The spectacle of seeing ostensible opponents of Tehran, such as Ledeen, in bed with the Iranian mullahs in a scheme to overthrow Saddam may seem like a contradiction. After all, why would Ledeen, long an opponent of the Iranian government, wind up collaborating with them? It makes sense if we see what the neocon strategy is in the Middle East: playing the Shi’ite card. Robert Dreyfuss, writing on the TomPaine.com blog, analyzes the contention, pushed by Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute, that the rise of Shi’ite power in Iraq will undermine the legitimacy and primacy of the mullah-ocracy in Tehran:

“This theory, now official doctrine for the neocons, is at the heart of their Iran strategy. It counts as [the] second Big Mistake of the Iraq war. Big Mistake No. 1 was the neocon belief that the Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops with open arms – instead, they welcomed us with arms. Big Mistake No. 2, now taking shape, is that Iraq’s Shiites are Good Guys who will lead a pro-American Iraq against Iran’s ‘clerical dictatorship.’ I believe that they really believe this. But the reality is that in a Shiite-dominated Iraq, the hard-liners and the people with guns (i.e., the Badr Brigades) will take over, and they will make common cause with some of the clergy in Iran. It will be a dagger all right, but one aimed at Saudi Arabia’s Sunni state. Of course, that too is part of the long-term Israeli-neocon strategy, to overthrow the Saudi king. It’s a regional regime-change strategy (one that includes Syria of course) and it has been central to their whole Middle East policy for a decade. It is also a fantasy, with a thousand possibilities for things to go terribly wrong. Big Mistake No. 1 led to the Iraqi insurgency. Big Mistake No. 2 could lead to a Middle East inflamed by Islamic revolution in spades.”

Last year, when all the various scandals associated with the neocons’ drive to war – l’affaire Plame, the Niger uranium forgeries, Chalabi-gate – were popping up like mushrooms after a heavy rain, I suggested:

“Why not consolidate all these ongoing investigations – and the Abu Ghraib war crimes … into one big investigation? We can call it Neocon-gate. After all, the trail of evidence in all these various scandals leads back to the same few dozen or so key neocons, centered in the civilian upper echelons of the Pentagon and the Office of the Vice President. It would certainly avoid duplication of effort and save the taxpayers a pretty penny. Even more importantly, it would save time.”

Time is the key factor here, because we don’t have a lot of it. The neocons are moving fast to regionalize the Iraq war and extend their efforts at “regime change” to Syria, Lebanon, and even Iran. Saudi Arabia, too, is in their sights, as Dreyfuss points out. A regional conflagration that will have Americans standing in line to buy gas at 10 times the present price, and ignite a new wave of war hysteria in the U.S. predicated on the alleged necessity of U.S. intervention to ensure our economic survival – that is the prospect before us.

Opponents of the Iraq war argued, in the run-up to the invasion, that U.S. policies would lead to chaos in the Middle East – without realizing that this is precisely what the War Party is hoping and working for. It’s not for nothing that Ledeen hails the transformative power of “creative destruction,” a phrase originally utilized to describe the economic benefits of competition, and borrowed by the War Party to convey a very different – the exact opposite – meaning. In the economic sense, the phrase refers to the peaceful competition of free traders in an open market, producing goods and services for the ultimate benefit of all, whereas in the neocon version it signifies destruction, rather than production, and a war of all against all.

Whether we can nail this cabal before they do any more damage, and come closer to their horrific goal, is an open question. While the underlying issues are beginning to emerge in the “mainstream” media, I wouldn’t count on Seymour Hersh’s recent declaration that Patrick J. Fitzgerald “is going to save America” by “unraveling the whole conspiracy.” It seems too much to expect of a single person, although, if I had to bet on any one individual, it would be Fitz.

It seems, though, that he won’t have to bear the burden alone. As this column is being written, news is breaking that Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is taking the Senate into special closed session to discuss some of the following questions:

“How did the Bush administration assemble its case for war against Iraq? Who did Bush administration officials listen to and who did they ignore? How did senior administration officials manipulate or manufacture intelligence presented to the Congress and the American people? What was the role of the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, a group of senior White House officials tasked with marketing the war and taking down its critics? How did the administration coordinate its efforts to attack individuals who dared to challenge the administration’s assertions? Why has the administration failed to provide Congress with the documents that will shed light on their misconduct and misstatements?”

The story of the Niger uranium forgeries – and the cabal that created and circulated them – is about to be exposed, and this is well-suited to illustrate the tragic lesson of how and why we got to where we are today. For a long time, the Republican-dominated Senate Intelligence Committee has delayed its promised “phase two” of the investigation into the generation of bogus pre-war intelligence. The indictment [.pdf] of Scooter Libby, and the La Repubblica revelations, have busted the logjam. We may be about to learn how a crude forgery was inserted – by high U.S. government officials – into the U.S. intelligence stream, with the active collusion of the Iranians, the INC, and the intelligence agencies of three major U.S. allies.

How many laws were broken in the process?

While Congress slept, the neocons lied us into war. But the nation and – finally! – our representatives are beginning to wake up.

The Libby indictment is just the beginning. Neocon-gate is big, and getting bigger by the day. Before this is over, we’ll have half the staff of the American Enterprise Institute in the dock – and the other half testifying against them.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].