Ignatius: CIA Is Involved with the Iran Plot, So It Must Be True!

In the face of near universal ridicule over the Iran plot, the Administration is now trying to shore up the case that this plot is “real.” Many many media outlets are repeating one US official promising multiple sources corroborated the plot (forgetting, apparently, that one source reading a talking point saying he’s got multiple sources is not the same as multiple sources describing credible evidence).

“Multiple” sources have corroborated the report about an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, a scheme the administration is alleging is tied to Iran’s military, a U.S. official told CNN Thursday.

More interesting, the CIA’s mouthpiece, David Ignatius, has been trotted out to reassure us that this is true because the CIA says it is.

But over months, officials at the White House and the Justice Department became convinced the plan was real. One big reason is that the CIA and other intelligence agencies gathered information corraborating the informant’s juicy allegations — and showing that the plot had support from the top leadership of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the covert-action arm of the Iranian government.

It was this intelligence collected in Iran — not tips from someone inside the Mexican drug mafia — that led the Treasury Department to impose sanctions Tuesday on four senior members of the Quds Force who allegedly were “connected” to a plot to murder the Saudi ambassador.

So after going to great lengths to scrub the complaint of any hint that the CIA or NSC was involved in this plot, pretending, for example, that we weren’t tracking where Manssor Arbabsiar was when he traveled abroad, that we weren’t wiretapping his conversations, and that we hadn’t kept a close eye on a car salesman with serial legal troubles and ties to the Quds Force even before this plot, the government has now decided to admit that the CIA was instead central to the plot.

The same CIA that used the equally dubious laptop of death for years to claim Iran had a nukes program. The CIA that dealt Iranians doctored blueprints for nukes. And hell, while we’re at it, the same CIA that overthrew the elected government of Iran to protect BP.

In short, David Ignatius wants to convince us we should believe this plot because the CIA, which has a long history of fabricating or using fabricated evidence to implicate Iran, says the plot is true.

They were better off when they were scrupulously hiding the CIA’s centrality to this plot!

Having established that the CIA was central in this operation, Ignatius then tries to lay some kind of foundation for the plot’s truth.

Let’s make two assumptions: The first is that the allegations made by the prosecutors about Arbabsiar are true. This seems likely, given that he’s a cooperating witness. The second is that Quds Force operatives were willing to talk with Arbabsiar about a covert operation in the United States. That, again, seems pretty clear from the transcript of the Oct. 4 telephone call Arbabsiar made to his main Quds Force contact, Gholam Shakuri, under prosecutors’ direction.

First, he says, we should believe that that a guy who is cooperating is telling the truth. That, in spite of the fact that thus far the government is hiding both when Arbabsiar’s cooperation started and what charges the government used to convince him to cooperate.

Or let me put it another way. The DEA informant is also cooperating with the government. But we know that everything the DEA agent said (well, at least in those conversations he managed to tape) was in fact a fabrication. Given that the government is hiding key details, why shouldn’t we default instead to “cooperation = fabrication”?

Then, Ignatius singles out the October 4 (not the October 5 or 7) taped conversations with Shakuri as proof this is real. Here’s what the complaint says was recorded in that conversation.

[Shakuri] Are you okay … are you well? [ellipsis original]

[Arbabsiar] Yes, I wanted to see how you’re doing and to tell you I’m well.

[Shakuri] Okay, thank God, stay well. I was waiting. What news … what did you do about the building? [ellipsis original]

Now, I’m struck that Ignatius pointed to this conversation because it uses the same language–discussing a building–that Arbabsiar did in a September 2 conversation which in turn seems to refer back to the restaurant at which Narc, the informant, had proposed killing the Saudi Ambassador.

[Arbabsiar: Is] the building getting painted

[Narc] We’re still doing that.

It’s curious, though, that Ignatius doesn’t point to the other conversations, in which Arbabsiar uses what the complaint claims is a code for the assassination but which sounds more like a drug deal.

[Arbabsiar] I wanted to tell you, the Chevrolet is ready, it’s ready, uh, to be done. I should continue, right?

[Shakuri] Yes, yes, yes. You mean you are buying all of it?

[Arbabsiar] I don’t know for now, it’s ready, okay?

[Shakuri] So buy it, buy it.

[Arbabsiar] Buy it? Okay.

[Shakuri] Buy it, yes, buy all of it.

Nor does Ignatius point to the October 7 conversation where Shakuri speaks explicitly of merchandise.

[Shakuri] You said it yourself, they–from our point of view–when we get our merchandise, we get our merchandise. We have guaranteed the rest. You were our guarantee.

What we have here, after all, is a bank transfer purportedly between two organizations known to traffic in drugs, and the confession of a guy the extent of whose cooperation the government has obscured, claiming a code means something, as well as one earlier conversation clearly saying someone wants someone else dead. That is, we don’t have independent corroboration–at least not in what DOJ has shown–indicating that Shakuri thought he was paying for an assassination rather than a drug deal.

But it’s okay, Ignatius says, you can believe that’s what happened because the CIA is involved.

Where Ignatius is useful–if only as a read of how they plan to spin this–is in his assessment of the geopolitical state of affairs.

Officials say Quds Force operations have been more aggressive in several theaters: in Syria, where the Iranian operatives are working covertly to help protect the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad; in Iraq, where the Quds Force this year stepped up attacks against departing U.S. forces; in Afghanistan, where they have been arming the Taliban; in Azerbaijan, where they have been more aggressive in projecting Iranian influence; and in Bahrain, where their operatives worked to support and manipulate last spring’s uprising against the Khalifa government. (Shakuri, who was indicted Tuesday, is said to have helped plan Quds Force operations in Bahrain.)


A final factor in this unlikely plot is the political turmoil in Tehran. The Quds Force is seen by analysts as the executive-action arm of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who is in a bitter battle with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During this feud, the Iranian ministries of foreign affairs and intelligence have increasingly been hobbled, leaving the field to the Quds Force. It’s a chaotic situation tailor-made for risk-takers, score-settlers and freelancers.

It was probably ill-advised for Ignatius to note that this time is ripe for “freelancers,” given Administration efforts to paint this as a Quds Force op, and not the work of freelancers.

Several of his claims about QF violence are true. His repetition though not endorsement of the Saudi claim that Shakuri fomented democratic opposition in Bahrain ought to be a red flag that there is a pretty spooky entity that has a more logical reason to set up this plot than the Iranians. Though neither Ignatius nor the Saudis note the contentious debate about whether we ought to be selling arms to Bahrain right now so they can use them to more efficiently kill their Shiite majority. All of a sudden this plot justifies arms sales to oppress Shiites in Saudi Arabia’s back yard!

But that’s not the only salient detail Ignatius offers about why this would make sense–it would make sense for a lot of non-Iranian players, that is–from a geopolitical standpoint. For example, we’re fighting to leave troops in Iraq in the face of Moqtada al-Sadr’s objections. As it happens, his ties to the Mahdi Army are what got Abdul Reza Shahlai–Arbabsiar’s cousin who purportedly recruited him for this caper–sanctioned the first time.

Abdul Reza Shahlai, a deputy commander in Iran’s Qods Force, and Akram Abas al Kabi, a senior Mahdi Army leader are among five persons and two corporations that have had their assets blocked by the US Treasury under Executive Order 13438.

“These individuals are targeting and planning attacks against innocent Iraqis, the Government of Iraq, Coalition Forces, and U.S. troops,” said Stuart Levey, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in a press release issued by the Treasury. “Their lethal and destabilizing tactics, especially by Iran’s Qods Force, are intended to undermine Iraq as it strives for peace and prosperity.”

Shahlai “threatens the peace and stability of Iraq by planning Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM or Mahdi Army) Special Groups attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq,” Treasury stated. He has “provided material and logistical support to Shia extremist group,” to the Mahdi Army, and other Shia terror groups in Baghdad and the Iraqi South. He has provided rockets, mortars, rocket propelled grenades, and C-4 explosives to the Mahdi Army in 2006.

Then there’s our need to justify staying in Afghanistan. And against this background, the US attempt to stay in Saudi Arabia’s good graces while opposing Palestine statehood at the UN. What is the relationship between the prisoner deal between Israel and Iran’s proxy Hamas, negotiated as this plot broke, we ought to be asking.

It is, as Ignatius says, a tumultuous time in Iran. But it’s also a tumultuous time in the Middle East more generally, as the US tries to craft a new strategy in the face of the Arab Spring. Such a new strategy threatens both Saudi hegemony and Israeli status quo.

All of which is a way to say that the now-acknowledged central involvement of the CIA in this plot, played out against the geopolitical developments this CIA mouthpiece parrots, ought to make people less, rather than more, convinced that this plot is “real.”

45 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    Ray McGovern has some very interesting things to say about this CIA involvement, pointing out Petraeus’ history of fabricating accusations against Iran:

    The public record also shows that former Gen. Petraeus has long been eager to please the neoconservatives in Washington and their friends in Israel by creating “intelligence” to portray Iran and other target countries in the worst light.

    One strange but instructive example comes to mind, a studied, if disingenuous, effort to blame all the troubles in southern Iraq on the “malignant” influence of Iran.

    On April 25, 2008, Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters that Gen. Petraeus in Baghdad would give a briefing “in the next couple of weeks” providing detailed evidence of “just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability.” Petraeus’s staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which captured Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and then destroyed.

    Oops. Small problem. When American munitions experts went to Karbala to inspect the alleged cache of Iranian weapons, they found nothing that could be credibly linked to Iran.

  2. rugger9 says:

    The drumbeat continues Fast and Furious to deflect attention.

    Wars are only popular when there are clear aims, and when there isn’t so much recent history of government lying. Wars are also more successful when the intentions aren’t signaled like this so the Iranians are prompted to look to their defenses. If the Straits of Hormuz are mined [very easy to do] that will create an energy crisis in Europe on top of the financial one still playing out.

  3. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: Yeah, I thought you’d like that one.

    Though this op presumably predates Petraeus at CIA.

    Then again, CIA has long been happy to lie about Iran too–a match made in heaven.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: Ah but my point is this op almost certainly dates to at least July, if not 2008.

    Abrbasiar is reported to have started spending a lot more time in Iran in the last two years. Shahlai was clearly a target by that point, and even assuming he didn’t have new criminal charges to worry about, he’d have made an ideal target to try to go after Shahlai that far back.

  5. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: Yes, and you also note the previous examples of CIA fabricating charges against Iran. It just seems interesting to me that Petraeus showed up at a good moment to give the whole mess a final push into further outrageousness.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: Yeah, but thus far they haven’t rolled out his generalness, choosing instead to hide CIA’s role. That doesn’t mean they won’t, so long as people continue to mock this op.

  7. rosalind says:

    hey, the military has already hired screenwriters! ‘Researchers help U.S. military track, defuse rumors’

    A rumor, it turns out, can be as deadly as an IED, the improvised explosive devices favored by insurgents.

    That’s why the U.S. Navy is paying $1.6 million to San Francisco State University Professor Daniel Bernardi and three Arizona researchers to track, collect and find ways to defuse stories used as weapons.


    Bernardi has a doctorate in film and TV from UCLA, has taught at Arizona State University, and has written and edited books on race in the movie industry.

    He is the new chairman of the cinema department at San Francisco State, where he teaches an online course called Signs of Aliens about cultural diversity as seen through aliens in pop culture. His book on “Star Trek” is required reading.

  8. eCAHNomics says:

    Giraldi has a source that sez there was a kernel of truth in the Iran plot at the beginning, someone’s cousin in al Quds, or something, but that the USG blew it out of proportion. I have found Giraldi to be a responsible reporter in the past.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @eCAHNomics: Whether or not Giraldi is credible, he ought to be cognizant that even the complaint says the original germ was for a kidnapping, not an assassination.

  10. GKJames says:

    Could it be that what started as a garden-variety drug deal (goofy enough as THAT is) became an opportunity for Washington, always looking to crank up the temperature on Iran?

  11. emptywheel says:

    @GKJames: Yes. I think that’s highly likely.

    There are a lot of possibilities like that, though. I’m completely agnostic about what it is. All I can do is point to the points where the govt is clearly hiding its story.

  12. MadDog says:

    Muttering to himself “I won’t start an argument with EW today. I won’t!”

    I was thinking last night as I drifted off to sleep about what possibly could be the reason for anyone to target Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Ambassador to the US?

    Many have scratched their heads trying to figure out what possible reason there could be for such a plot?

    How about for personal reasons?

    Bear with me as you consider this scenario:

    Al-Jubeir is a central conduit for the information, and intelligence flow, between the US and Saudia Arabia. Al-Jubeir has also been, and likely still is, the foreign policy advisor to King Abdullah.

    Let’s say that US intelligence determines that Shakuri is the primary Iranian focal point for its operations to fan the flames of the Shia uprising this spring in Bahrain.

    The US passes this intel though Al-Jubeir to Saudi Arabia. As the party that believes it has the most to lose, the Saudis are so infuriated and fearful about what they see as an Iranian-led Shia takeover of Bahrain, the Saudis do something they have never done before and send in Saudi forces to violently shutdown the Shia demonstrators.

    The idea that the Saudis would actually act is stunning. Their usual policy had been to use their enormous wealth to buy off those who might cause them problems including even terrorists like al-Qaeda.

    One of the central forces arguing for the Saudis to act with force in Bahrain is Al-Jubeir, Saudi Ambassador to the US, who not only has provided the US intel identifying Iranian Qods Force’s Shakuri as the instigator of the violent Shia takeover attempt in Bahrain, but who as foreign policy advisor to the King has the strongest influence on the Saudis’ decision to use their own armed forces in reaction to the foreign policy crisis in neighboring Bahrain.

    As a part of this Saudi decision to be forceful, the Saudis decide on Al-Jubeir’s strong recommendation to place a contract out on Shakuri. The word goes out on the Arab street that the Saudis want Shakuri’s head on a plate and anyone who kills him will be rewarded with Saudi millions.

    The word on the Arab street and casbahs includes pictures of Shakuri as well as the numerous aliases he’s used over the years.

    Still following me? Ok, continuing on.

    Shakuri himself finds out about the Saudi contract on his head. Shakuri is furious because as a Iranian Qods Force leader, he is responsible for operating outside of Iran on foreign operations, yet the Saudi contract on his head now prevents him from doing this.

    His fellow leaders in the Iranian Qods Force are starting to mumble that Shakuri is washed up and can’t do his job anymore with his face and names spread out everywhere on the Arab street.

    Shakuri works to find out just who fingered him and through his own Saudi intelligence informants learns that it was Al-Jubeir, Saudi Ambassador to the US who not only provided the US intel fingering Shakuri, but also took the lead in persuading the Saudis to place the contract out on Shakuri.

    The furious Shakuri decides that turnabout is fair play. He’ll put in play an operation to kidnap and/or kill Al-Jubeir, and do it in the US because that will both punish the Americans for providing the intel and embarrass them with a serious security breach in their own homeland.

    Shakuri, who can no longer safely travel out of Iran, who has no external sources of his own in the Western Hemisphere since his career has been regionally focused in the Middle East, and who is reluctant to further demean his own position within Iranian Qods Force by asking his colleagues for help, decides to have a conversation with his serendipitously visiting American émigré cousin, a former used car salesman named Arbabsiar.

    And so the story goes. The rest is public…theater.

  13. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: I’m not at all opposed to the proposition this is a play between the Saudis and Iran–I think that’s likely (though don’t completely agree with your characterization of Jubeir’s centrality). I would suggest the intell probably flows the other way–we’re still heavily reliant on Saudi intel in the ME, not vice versa. (Or Israeli–we get a lot of our Iranian intel from them, with all that implies).

    But my point is and always has been that there are lots of reasons to doubt what the govt has told us about this plot, because of the way they’re hiding the terms of agreement w/Arbabsiar, the role of our spooks–which also means the role of our allies’ spooks, the content of earlier conversations with Narc when the plan demonstrably changed. And there is reason to doubt their interpretation of the taped calls and meetings is accurate, as some of the agent’s interpretations of things is contradictory to the actual content.

    There are about 10 reasons to suspect Arbabsiar was our (or an intel ally’s) recruit from the beginning, possibly going back 2 years. There are about 10 reasons to suspect that the original Shahlai plot bears little resemblance to what it became in the hands of Narc.

    If the govt had given us more information to plug up these obvious holes, those problems might not be so glaring. But they have chosen not to. And given how absurd the whole thing is, and given that Saudi Arabia or Israel would have more reason to sponsor this plot than a QF member (unless that member had gone rogue–which is something the Israelis have achieved in the past and so is not out of the question), then given all the holes there’s no reason to believe it was QF.

  14. ron says:

    Why spend all this time breaking down this and other clearly hapless adventures by our security teams when its evident to even the MSM that its another round of CIA/FBI hype? Time spent by various groups who oppose the CIA/Security services tying to pin the tail on the donkey seems to be what the CIA expects and its aim may be to keep the public busy checking out these endless small time terror plots while the larger issue of just what is the budget for the CIA and related security services gets little or scant attention. From this morning in the MSM clearly shows how unimpressed most feel about this incident.

    “To begin with, this episode continues the FBI’s record-setting undefeated streak of heroically saving us from the plots they enable. From all appearances, this is, at best, yet another spectacular “plot” hatched by some hapless loser with delusions of grandeur but without any means to put it into action except with the able assistance of the FBI, which yet again provided it through its own (paid, criminal) sources posing as Terrorist enablers”

    Time to move beyond playing catch me if you can with the security forces PR teams, we already know they are liars, cheats and killers so whatever investigative time one spends going over every sentence,movement by each player is WHAT THEY EXPECT YOU TO DO!!!!!


  15. orionATL says:


    i really don’t have a clue how we “really” got to “here” today,

    but i like your scenario because it ties three principals in this caper together, provides a history of geopolitical and personal rivalry, and provides personal motives for the non-american principals’ behavior.

    your precise of the saudi-iranian rivalry over bahrain is, by itself, worth the price of admission.

    now if it were possible to do a similar scenario for the american side of the equation, perhaps the two could be merged into a coherent narrative that accurately explains what happened.

    as ew has pointed put, however, the american govt is hiding some of its actions (and i would add, perhaps some of its motives) and thereby doing great damage to its credibility.

  16. orionATL says:


    put another way, you place focus on the non-american actors, whereas most focus by american commenters has been on the american actors.

  17. Mary says:

    One of the interesting things is that so many who quickly got their scepticism into the discourse are ex-CIA. McGovern you might expect, but Baer and Giraldi etc. were fast to stake out doubt on this one too. A huge chunk of what Giraldi gets on the record involves ill-advised IC/Admin decisions on Iran. He came out with the info about Cheney asking STRATCOM for a response plan against IRAN if there was any US based attack after 9/11.

    IMO you have two possible start points.

    One is the one that the pleadings would have you buy into – that some scheming QUDs officer think, “hey, one of us has a cousin in the US, let’s ask US Mikey to go get someone to kidnap the SA Ambassador. He’ll try anything.” So this is Start Point A.

    Another possible start point is the one that would get you dubbed a conspiracy theorist and it would involve an IC service taking note of screwy cousin Mikey in Texas, who already has a warrants outstanding against him and makes some trips back and forth to Iran now and then and has a cousin in QUDs. That IC service has the right leverage and capacities to have a sitdown with US Mikey and tell him what his role is going to be in roping in some QUDs factions and helping advance a story.

    With start point A, you have guys intent on murder and mayhem and used to achieving it who use screwy US Mikey, because they can’t concieve that he’s under watch. Screwy US Mikey just so happens to hit a home run by making, as his first contact in the kidnapping plan, a deeply embedded DEA informant with the Zetas (who the DEA was only too willing to burn in order for this complaint to see the light of day v. a trip by US Mikey to Bagram or an extradition to Saudi Arabia).

    This same DEA informant never bothers to tape any of his initial contacts with US Mikey, until they have a coherent storyline to start dubbing. And the DEA informant moves the conversation from a no-end-game kidnapping to murder of not only the SA Ambassador, but in a fashion that they will almost guarantee some US citizens collateral damage – they specifically hit on that in their discussions as a matter of fact. Because of course, what more would the Zetas want in their drug wars than to pull in the US gov, hot and heavy, in an all out response. Anyway – the DEA informant and US Mikey, while not keeping a record of their initial contacts, provide a detailed record of their evolving plot to move from kidnap, to murder, to murder using WMDs, to murder using WMDs that also includes murder of US citizens. US Mikey, btw, appears to conveniently own property and have accounts in Iran.

    All of this is being set up against a backdrop of Fast & Furious falling apart, Obama sinking fast, and Iraq kicking out US troop. Not just al-Sadr either, there is pretty much no one, from any background, in the Iraqi parliament that is willing to go on the record with a vote in favor of handing out continuing crimes and war crimes immunity to US soldiers and the US military – whose actions have consistently involved home invasions, kidnap – including kidnap of Iranian diplomats, bombings, etc won’t stay without that immunity. Petraeus being moved in to run CIA. Panetta being moved over to run the military and the commissions.

    Anyway – back to the progress under the first start point. US Mikey gets put under surveillance and some one pulls the trigger, pretty recently, on bringing him into custoday and charging him. US Mikey has been in trouble before, but he immediately decides to forego any legal representation and leap into voluntary detention and helping the guys here collect more info on the guys back in Iran. Because, well, it’s not like he’s dealing with bad guys who might come after him.

    Now -these are all the parts that get laid out as evolving from this start point. In addition, what isn’t being put in any legal filings, but what both Holder and Obama are saying – and then Holder is carefully not saying later – is that what we are also to believe and the headlines are to read that this is an Iranian Government plot.

    I linked to one of the stories in another thread, but what they basically say is something like this – we don’t have anything to show any ties to the Iranian government, BUT – we know that IF it was an Irana Government plot officially being run through QUDs, then Khameini would be in the loop, so based on what “we” know about “how QUDs operates” we know that it must have had approval from at least Khameini. [All with an implied – And heck, maybe we can weaken the already bad ties between Ahmadinejad and Khameini by making it look like Ahmadinejad is so weak, no one bothers with him anymore].

    And, as GulfcoastPirate has pointed out – we, as Americans (who have been being trained by the Bush and Obama administrations to believe in worldwide assassinations as a valid government exercise) are suppoed to get really incensed over all this – instead of just telling Obama to extradite Mikey to his pals the Saudis – it’s not like they won’t give that “no torture” sign off we got from Egypt on al-Libi before we turned him over for torture – or the sign off we got from Libya on al-Libi when we turned him over to Ghadafy to be suicided.

    Then there’s the really scoffable alternative start point. That some non-Iranian IC got leverage to use US Mikey as an asset and start this whole ball rolling. It’s not like Holder is going to look the gift horse that gets Fast an Furious off his back in the mouth. And it’s no like anyone has seemed to have any qualms about the outing of the DEA informant (isn’t he described as the nephew of a neighbor of US Mikey?) – all kinds of typically “classified” and redacted info is floated really freely on this one, given that what Abu Zubaydah put in his drawings is so terrifyingly detrimental to national security that it can’t be provded to even Abu Zubaydah.

    Who knows – screwier things have happened. The real issue isn’t so much whether this was truly a “screwy cousin” story or an IC story – it’s the official admin response. That’s been very calculated – an attempt to paint Holder and US IC (whose torture is now in the process of being laundered by ex-CIA head and promiser to “not look back” Panetta) with a CIA now headed by Petraeus (a guy whose conduct could make an ethics officer commit suicide, supposedly) as heroes and Obama as the Protector of the Universe and strong guy who is going to MAKE IRAN PAY. Instead of, you know, just ship mikey to the Saudis and quit spending US money on it all.

    The takeaway for the GOP/Indies who lust for bombings – is supposed to be that Obama is smart and tough and will pull off that Iranian punishment that they kept hoping Demigod Cheney would get for them.

    The belated takeaway, as the sceptics appear to be emerging from Obama’s “old” base, is that Brennan is now doing his Miss Lawday parade wave and saying, “hey y’all, lookie – Obama really likes them there trials and such, no, don’t lookie down southways to commissionland, lookie here instead. Seriously. Lookie this way. Com’on y’all, I’ll have a wardrobe malfunction for you if you’ll just lookie this way.

  18. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Yeah, while even I think my own scenario is bizarre, the lack of any reasonable geopolitical reason for a kidnapping or assassination attempt against the Saudi Ambassador to the US lead me to ponder whether most of the stupidities we all acknowledge exist on the Iranian side of things might have a personal motivation.

    On the intel issue, I do agree that on the Humint side, it is likely that the flow is from the Saudis rather than from the US. On the Sigint side of things, the direction is probably reversed and therefore it might be plausible that NSA intercepts could have identified Shakuri as the prime Iranian operator with regard to the Bahrain Shia uprising.

    I do agree with you on the glaring holes in the US government’s tale, and also with the possibility Arbabsiar was a US asset though I think we both shudder to think about how ludicrous this makes US Humint operations look, but then US Humint has long been publicly derided as almost nonexistent given the US longstanding reverence for, and dependence on, technology for our “intelligence”.

  19. MadDog says:

    @orionATL: Searching for geopolitical explanations for a kidnapping or assassination attempt against the Saudi Ambassador has left even the experts stumped, so I thought I’d throw out a personal motivation.

    And as we all know, it is often the case that acting on one’s personal feelings tend to trample on one’s better judgement.

  20. emptywheel says:

    Adding to considerations of the Saudis. Don’t forget that the BAE kickback deal was used to develop a slush fund to fund covert ops.

    Particularly given the Bahrain nexus (both Shukari and the Humvee, bunker buster sales) on this, it’s worth noting.

  21. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Oh, I don’t thnk it has left the experts stumped at all. They’re only stumped if you believe that the Iranians are motivating this, and not, say, Iranians recruited by someone else. The latter case is simple as pie to make, and has been suggested by experts.

  22. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Also remember Jubeir was not the only target. So it can’t be JUST Jubeir, if you believe what the govt tells you but shows no evidence of.

  23. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: I think your difficulty in finding a geopolitical purpose for this stems in part from believing the op was designed to kill the Ambassador, rather than designed to expose Iranians attempting to kill the Ambassador.

    As all the spooks on this have said, this op seemed to be designed to be exposed. Ergo, the question is who would want to implicate the Iranians in such a planned attack?

  24. rosalind says:

    @Mary: (as someone about to go stand in line to get the SuperGeek’s b’day presents autographed by Captain Kirk himself – the original, accept no substitutions – that line in particular caught my eye)

  25. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: And btw, I don’t disagree with your ambivalence about the centrality of Jubeir. I just couldn’t come up with any other imaginative way to justify him as a target for a purported Iranian kidnapping and/or assassination attempt.

  26. emptywheel says:

    @Mary Well, that about summarizes it.

    Just one thing you forgot: it’s not just a WMD hit on a restaurant w/US casualties, it’s a WMD hit on a restaurant w/SENATE casualties.

    I guess they figure they’ll have an easier time persuading the House to endorse whatever action they plan to take than the Senate. Works just like PATRIOT did, huh?

  27. Jeff Kaye says:

    One other reason for CIA to look big re stopping terrorist attacks, and you can pooh-pooh this if you wish, but over at Salon, the top story right now is “Insiders doubt CIA’s 9/11 story”.

    This concerns the story Richard Clarke and others, in particular Keving Fenton, Rory O’Connor and Ray Nowosielski have been pushing around the CIA’s withholding, really protecting, information about 9/11 hijackers Al-Mihdhar and Al-Hazmi in early 2000, and onwards… and then lied about it to Congressional investigators.

    This dovetails with the story by Jason and myself that Joint Forces Command officials, with possible connivance of the DIA, withheld information from Congress about the military intelligence unit at Joint Forces Intelligence Command had discovered about the targeting of the WTC and Pentagon, and were tracking Bin Laden and other in Afghanistan… until told to stop in early 2001.

    The government keeps pushing the terrorist story, and even help organize these false flag ops as a way of ratcheting up the “strategy of tension” they’ve been using for decades, in Europe especially, to put the right into power.

  28. Mary says:

    @rosalind: Have you seen the poster/pic that gets circulated some, with Picard (sp?) saying something like, “May the force be with you Harry?” under the heading – a way to piss of trekkies, star wars and harry potter fans all in one shot? LOL. I love all three – unlike real life, so often right wins out and the behind the scene forces are only corrupted some of the time, not at the happy ending point.

  29. Mary says:

    @MadDog: See – I don’t even think the “story” is who did the stupid, but rather the Admin spun response. They controlled how the story came out, what is being leaked, and the Fist Shaking You Kids Are Gonna Pay And Pay Big media splashed response.

    Why are they handling the story that – whoever’s stupid generated it they now control – the way they are? Distractions (Fast & Furious, economy, OWS, Banksters, taxes, healthcare, Afghanistan, Iraq not giving us immunity, etc.) notwithstanding, and as helpful as they are – is the “we’re going to get you and pretty dog too” fist shaking necessary for those distractions (not really – not to the degree they are being used for sure ) or is something else afoot? Think back to how Obama always tries to come across with this measured response facade. Instead of talking seriously about the serious plot uncovered, being investigated, whoever behind it will be tracked down and dealt with, etc. he’s hit the ground running with “I’ve got my big boy pants on and Iran is going to get whupped on” and he’s sending Rice over to the UN before the cyberink had a chance to get cold.

    IMO – the story is the response, but that’s jmo.

  30. orionATL says:


    based on this comment and maddog’s comment on shakuri and iranian operations in bahrain, plus your comments on iranian operations in syria,

    i could be convinced that this whole deal is about knee-capping shakuri (making the saudi’s happy, among the two-fers)

    but was he high-level enough, or effective enough, to be worth this effort?

    on the american side, there’s only “collateral opportunity” – domestic political opportunity, as mary has so precisely limned.

  31. MadDog says:

    One of the things I’d like to see that we really haven’t had yet with the various scenarios brought up is a focused discussion of “Qui Bono?” (who benefits?).

    For example, who benefits (and what are those benefits) if this is all a big scam directed by the US, or instigated by Israel?

    In the case of Israel, perhaps the benefit would be to move Saudi Arabia into a position where its anger at, and fear of, Iran would allow it to acquiesce to Israel’s access to and through Saudi airspace on attack flights against Iranian nuclear sites.

    Airspace access to Iran through Iraq, which is controlled by the US, would be problematic to the US given the animus that Iraq’s population holds for the continued US occupation. Israel may want it, but the US can’t afford to give it.

    Airspace access to Iran through Turkey is also problematic given the poor state of once warm Turkey/Israel relations.

    In the case of the US being the director behind this theater, what would our benefit be?

    While many in Congress, and perhaps a majority, would support a US attack on Iran (I don’t believe that is supported by US public opinion, at least not yet) , I don’t see that in the cards.

    If the benefit is more sanctions on Iran, it probably isn’t about US sanctions. As per Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her press interview with Reuters yesterday:

    “…QUESTION: Do you think it’s going to make it easier for you whenever you should seek additional UN Security Council sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program? Do you think this is going to make it easier? Does that accelerate the timetable?

    SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t know, because I think that the likelihood of our seeking additional sanctions – I mean, they’re pretty well sanctioned. I mean, we’re now going after individuals, we’re going after entities. We’ve got a few more arrows in our quiver, but they’re pretty well sanctioned. But will it give us extra arguments when we go to a country and we said we told you these were bad guys, so don’t let that shipment go through like you have turned blind eyes to before. Enforcing the sanctions, I think, becomes more likely because of this…”

    Perhaps the benefit to the US, though secondary, would be stricter enforcement of existing sanctions, but that seems too little benefit to me for such silly theater.

    Another “US” benefit possibility, and I deliberately put US in quotes, is a potential politcal benefit sought by the Obama Adminstration in strengthening a perceived deterioration among American Jewish voters. This might be too cynical or farfetched, but I include it as an example.

    The floor is now open for other observations and possibilities.

  32. emptywheel says:

    @Mary: I think you’re significantly right on that.

    A lot of people have made hay of the timing: his arrest on September 29 but the hold on the story until October 11.

    If you believe the complaint–I don’t–then the only significant things he did during that cooperation period was sign a confession and make 3 calls. The last call was on the 7th, when was clear they weren’t going to get Shukari to further implicate himself by sending more $$.

    That still leaves a 4 day delay before they announced. it. so what were they doing with the delay?

  33. Mary says:

    @emptywheel: And supposedly Obama was briefed on the whole thing in June as well. So it’s not like he’s been caught left footed on his reaction (although, since he’s a southpaw, maybe that should be right-footed?).

  34. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As was true of the old Chinese Communists – you could never be sure something was false until it was affirmed as true by the Party – it would seem foolish of an informed citizenry to believe without credible corroboration a spy agency whose principal product (and means of generating it) is lies. It would be like believing Ashcroft, Gonzales and Mukasey that their government did not illegally spy on its citizens at home or that their firing of non-compliant US Attorneys was not a political and politicizing act.

  35. prostratedragon says:

    @rosalind: Well it’s about time someone chased this out into the open.

    In case it hasn’t been clear, this has been one of my working assumptions all along. I think it’s been going on since … movies. Maybe hiring the professor is an attempt to upgrade the sometimes questionable skills that the scripts have shown so far, or maybe the problems have been with other phases of the productions.

  36. prostratedragon says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Aha. And just as we can see that they now have “learned” to catch a Letelier-like bombing, which 25 years ago they failed to catch somehow, so we may be confident that they have “learned” to catch the next jokers who intend to try to use jetliners as flying bombs.

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