Telling Stories about What Iran Is Capable Of

As I’ve mused on twitter and in comment threads, I’ve started wondering who paid more for Scary Iran Plot, the US Government or (allegedly) Quds Force?

After all, it’s clear that Narc offered up the idea to attack Adel al-Jubeir at a restaurant with explosives rather than, say, shooting him or poisoning him. Narc invented the fictional 150 civilians who would be at the restaurant. Narc invented the fictional Senators who might be killed in the blast. Narc said he could, “blow him up or shoot him,” and Arbabsiar said, “how is possible for you.” When Narc warned about those fictional casualties, Arbabsiar said, “if you can do it outside, do it” (though he clearly okayed collateral damage if necessary). Thus, even assuming there is nothing else funny about the plot, it’s clear that Narc authored the most spectacular details of it, the ones that resulted in a terrorism and WMD charges rather than just murder-for-hire, and quite possibly the ones that made this an alleged act of war against the US, rather than just an attack on Saudi Arabia.

Even assuming the Iranians dreamt up this plot, the US wrote the screenplay for it.

So how much did each side pay to create this plot?

I’d put the Quds force tab at $175,000. They allegedly advanced $100,000 for some kind of plot–but refused to send any more money. And on July 17, Arbabsiar describes asking Shahlai for “another $15.” Given that that happened in month 6 of a 9 month plot, I think it fair to estimate he was paid three installments of $15,000, or $45,000. Add in $30,000 for Shukari’s time, and you’ve got $175,000. (It’s not clear whether Arbabsiar paid for his international flights out of his advance, but I’ll also leave out the much greater travel costs on the American side. Further, all this assumes we haven’t paid in the past or agreed to pay Arbabsiar in the future for his part in the plot.)

The government, for its part, paid Narc to work Arbabsiar for at least four months. They paid Craig Monteilh $11,800 a month to run around safe mosques to try to entrap aspirational terrorists in LA; I presume they’d pay more for an actual cartel member to risk his life as an informant in Mexico. But let’s assume they paid the same rate they paid Monteilh, which would work out to $47,200, remarkably, about what Quds Force allegedly seems to have paid Arbabsiar. In addition, we’ve got at least the time of Robert Woloszyn, the FBI Agent who wrote the complaint. He doesn’t seem to have been Narc’s handler, so you’ve got Narc’s handler working long hours. In the press conference rolling out this case, Preet Bharara said two prosecutors, their two supervisors, the Deputy US Attorney, and the Acting Criminal head in NY “have [not] gotten much sleep lately.” In addition to SDNY, there was involvement from the Houston US Attorney and FBI offices, Houston DEA (which may be where Narc’s handler worked), NY’s JTTF. And all those intelligence personnel who played a critical role that we can’t discuss (except in anonymous leaks to journalists). Now clearly, many of these people were probably not personally involved in the crafting of a story that took alleged Quds Force intent to attack Saudi Arabia and turned it into the spectacular attack on a fictional restaurant in DC. But it’s probably safe to say that the US Government paid as much to craft this plot as the Quds Force allegedly did, even before you account for the money spent surveilling Arbabsiar, Shahlai, and Shakuri before the plot as well as the money spent stopping it.

With that in mind, check out the language State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland uses to describe how other countries are receiving the State Department’s efforts to persuade them to treat this plot as real.

Other countries are buying the basic idea of the plot, Nuland said, despite fairly widespread skepticism among Iran watchers about the likelihood the Quds Force would put such a clumsy plan into place.

“Countries may find it quite a story, but they’re not surprised that Iran would be capable of something like this,” she said.

It seems that our allies may be just as skeptical as many American observers that the Quds Force planned the precise plot that–it is clear–Narc’s handlers wrote the screenplay for. But, Nuland says, they buy the basic idea of it–“they’re not surprised that Iran would be capable of something like this.”

We had to invent this entire screenplay–perhaps investing as much money or more as Quds Force allegedly did–to get our allies to agree that the Quds Force might engage in terrorism? Didn’t they already know that?

(I sort of wonder whether our representatives are also asking our allies whether they think we’re capable of assassinating nuclear scientists?)

Therein lies the problem with the American practice of using stings to craft the scariest terror story possible. If the sheer improbability of it makes the story less credible, if all it does is reinforce a widely held belief, then doesn’t the theatricality of it work against the government?

9 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    we’ve been crying “wolf” since september, 2011. at some point, even our closest allies and client states are going to get a tad suspicious – or maybe just bored.

  2. scribe says:

    You note:

    In the press conference rolling out this case, Preet Bharara said two prosecutors, their two supervisors, the Deputy US Attorney, and the Acting Criminal head in NY “have [not] gotten much sleep lately.” In addition to SDNY, there was involvement from the Houston US Attorney and FBI offices, Houston DEA (which may be where Narc’s handler worked), NY’s JTTF.

    Don’t forget, the time sheets these folks turn in will show only 8 ours a day, 40 hours a week, lest they get uppity and claim some comp time. You surely remember the case about 15 years ago in which DoJ lawyers alleged wage and hour-type violations, in that they were compelled on the one hand to work 60 or 70 hours a week to keep up with their caseloads but, on the other, were guaranteed to get in trouble (because they’d be entitled to comp time) if they turned in more than 8 hours/day, 40 hours a week on their time sheets.

    Their timesheets are just another story, in their world of fiction.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Buying the basic idea” of a plot???? That’s what publishers say to Tom Clancy and his dozens of NYT’s best selling acolytes. It’s not a standard one expects from the world’s top diplomats, let alone a standard permitted of criminal prosecutors, judges and juries. All I can say is, WTF?

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    There are real bad guys out there. Guys who have some of the world’s top bankers, lawyers, politicians and civil servants working tirelessly to move their money, keep it safe and tax free, and keep them immune from investigation or prosecution. No one in this plot fits that description.

    One consequence of this sort of make believe plot is to take the public’s eye off the real bad guys, whom we either can’t get, do get but stay mum about it, or leave alone in the endless hope that if we protect and immunize one bad, he will somehow lead us to another and another. In the end, the line between good guy and bad guy gets scuffed and lost, like a pavement artist’s chalk creation in a heavy rain.

  5. rugger9 says:

    Or, the parliamentary opposition would ask more embarrassing things during Question Time. It’s why our RW Wurlitzer is spinning [on the turbine governor, ready for loading at about 10 k-rpm] to give Bolton his wet dream for about a decade now [and Saudi Arabia, Israel, and others], so the war is an accomplished fact before anyone looks at the evidence.

    I will also note that these chickenhawks consistently underestimate what the opposition can do, and the realities of the geography in the area. Witness the six month prediction by Rummy on how long Iraq would take, or the Wolfowitz prediction that the Iraqi oil revenue would pay for the war costs. Drones will not be able to hold the ground at Bandar Abbas, or stop minelaying by Boghammers or dhows that will close the Straits of Hormuz until cleared, which will take time with the attendant European energy disruption. With all of the recent saber rattling, the more cohesive Iranian structure on the military side will take steps to do just that if it isn’t already done. Iran’s a tougher nut to crack than Iraq. Even if we take out the refining capacity [such as it is, it’s their weak spot], it’s more of a slow death when rapid conclusions are needed to be feasible.

    Having been there back in the glaring war days, shortly after the Tanker War ended, we had the pleasure of escorting reflagged tankers through the Straits, and one can literally look from one side to the other. Along with the thrill of sea snakes, you have Bandar, which is a civilian as well as a military airfield [like Honolulu and Hickam at the time], and that proximity and testing of our tolerance for envelopes led to the USS Vincennes shooting down the Airbus. Since transponders are easily swapped, and Penguins/Exocets are supersonic, the ship had really no choice once the plane continued into the restricted airspace because everyone that goes there remembers what happened to the USS Stark.

  6. rkilowatt says:

    @rugger9: IIRC, Vincennes had crosssed into Iranian waters, and commander knew it, per official USN investigation that followed. It was earlier only claimed to be not in Iran’s waters.

    If it matters, I could search for the public transcripts of the USN invest. but time is pressing.

  7. rugger9 says:

    @rkilowatt: #7
    They were Iranian waters because of Iranian action, please be fair about this and also remember that there is a RIGHT OF UNOBSTRUCTED TRANSIT in restricted waters such as these. From Wiki, quoting the investigation:

    On the morning of 3 July, the Vincennes, Captain William C. Rogers III commanding, was passing through the Strait of Hormuz returning from an escort duty.[2] A helicopter from the USS Vincennes received small arms fire from Iranian patrol vessels, as it observed from high altitude. The Vincennes moved to engage the Iranian vessels, in the course of which they all violated Omani waters and left after being challenged and ordered to leave by a Royal Navy of Oman warship.[10] The Vincennes then pursued the Iranian gunboats, entering Iranian territorial waters to open fire. The USS Sides and USS Elmer Montgomery were nearby. Thus, the USS Vincennes was in Iranian territorial waters at the time of the incident, as admitted by the U.S. government in legal briefs and publicly by Admiral William Crowe on Nightline.[11][12] However, Admiral Crowe denied a U.S. government coverup of the incident and claimed that the USS Vincennes’s helicopter was in international waters initially, when it was first fired upon by the Iranian gunboats…[11][13]
    Contrary to the memories of various USS Vincennes crewmembers, the Iranian airliner was ascending (not descending, as an attacking fighter aircraft might) at the time and its radio transmitter was “squawking” on the Mode III (civilian and military) code (rather than on the purely military Mode II), as recorded by the USS Vincennes own shipboard Aegis combat system.[14]
    After receiving no response to multiple radio challenges, the USS Vincennes fired two surface-to-air missiles at the airliner, destroying it and killing all aboard.[15]…<<<

    So, not only were the Iranians firing at us, they deliberately sent a flight through an area where hostilities were active. No wonder the captain fired, he is responsible for the safety of his ship, and no wonder the US won't apologize for this. They did, however issue notes of regret and reparations.

    Significant debate concerning just how "cowboy" Captain Rogers was is ongoing, and there are several questions regarding other Iranian assets in the area [including a P-3], and the lack of any response to the 10 separate emergency band messages sent to deviate prior to the missile launches. I for one do not place a whole lot of significance to the profile issue, descending vs ascending, the former indicating an F-14 attack profile. since aircraft missile launches don't take long to reach a ship. It was reckless to send any aircraft into an area where firing had occurred, even on a civilian flight path.

  8. Bill Michtom says:

    “Witness the six month prediction by Rummy on how long Iraq would take, or the Wolfowitz prediction that the Iraqi oil revenue would pay for the war costs.”

    It’s not that they were mistaken. They were lying.

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