Foreign Policy’s “False Flag”

Wikipedia defines “false flag operations” as “covert operations designed to deceive the public in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other entities.” Unpacking such an operation would require explaining clearly the target audience(s) of the deception and the purpose of it.

But Mark Perry doesn’t describe that structure in his Foreign Policy story, titled “False Flag,” asserting that members of Jundallah were recruited by Mossad agents pretending to be CIA officers.

According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives — what is commonly referred to as a “false flag” operation.

The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah — a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according to the U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.

But while the memos show that the United States had barred even the most incidental contact with Jundallah, according to both intelligence officers, the same was not true for Israel’s Mossad. The memos also detail CIA field reports saying that Israel’s recruiting activities occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital of one of Israel’s ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIA operatives met with Jundallah officials. [my emphasis]

Explaining that structure would seem all the more important in a story–apparently in the works for a year and a half–published at the precise moment the Americans are trying to deny any involvement in the ongoing assassinations of Iranian scientists.

The problem is all the more real given the ambiguity of Perry’s language. When he says the Israelis were “flush with American dollars,” does he mean they got the dollars from America, or only that they were–as dollars are in common usage–American? When he notes that the recruitment “occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers,” is that meant to suggest that it did so with their assent?

The ambiguity in Perry’s article is more significant given that, while he describes George Bush “going ballistic” when he was briefed on the op, Perry also provides evidence that at least some at the top officials in Bush’s Administration didn’t seem to care all that much.

A senior administration official vowed to “take the gloves off” with Israel, according to a U.S. intelligence officer. But the United States did nothing — a result that the officer attributed to “political and bureaucratic inertia.”

“In the end,” the officer noted, “it was just easier to do nothing than to, you know, rock the boat.” Even so, at least for a short time, this same officer noted, the Mossad operation sparked a divisive debate among Bush’s national security team, pitting those who wondered “just whose side these guys [in Israel] are on” against those who argued that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Furthermore, while Perry references earlier stories covering Jundallah, he doesn’t even consider the role of JSOC in this false flag operation, even though one of them–Sy Hersh’s–specifically describes the involvement of JSOC in such ops.

And as for the suggestion that since Obama took over, such cooperation between the US and Israel has been dramatically curtailed? The claim that the US and Israel have only been cooperating on operations that “are highly technical in nature and do not involve covert actions targeting Iran’s infrastructure or political or military leadership” would first of all seem to be a stretch given that StuxNet and Duqu are all about infrastructure. It would also seem to gloss the apparent role that drones have had in targeting these scientists (Iran has captured some Israeli drones, in addition to the American ones, but most of the airspace involved would require US acquiescence). Add in the recent border incident between Iran and Pakistan involving claimed Jundallah members (the border area isn’t exactly Israel’s backyard), it seems the Obama Administration is, at best, looking the other way.

Israelis and Americans have long hidden behind each other when working with Iranians, going back at least to the Iran-Contra ops that Dick Cheney had a fondness for. Hiding behind Israelis lets American officials pretend we’re not doing the taboo things we’re doing. Hiding behind Americans lets Iranian partners working with Israelis pretend they aren’t working with the Zionist enemy. That false flag business works in many different directions, after all.

Mind you, whatever the other purposes of this “false flag” story, its publication at this point in time just stripped Jundallah partners of the ability to deny they’re working with Israel, with all the probably dangerous consequences that will have.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

24 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    I should probably be more explicit about what I think is going on here.

    1) I believe we, the Iranians, and Jundallah’s immediate neighborhood are the targets of a current false flag op. The intent of that op is BOTH to foster the same story that State is telling implausibly now–that we haven’t had anything to do with the assassinations (though I think we DIDN’T with this very last one).

    2) Such a false flag would create the story that ops the US WAS involved in were run entirely by Israel. (While I don’t doubt whatever involvement Israel has had–maybe training, which they’re good at–they maintained a convenient fiction they were Americans, but that’s not really a false flag.)

    3) Such a story would not only give us plausible deniability, allow Iranian partners to continue to talk to us, but also would probably get some Jundallah members killed for cooperating with the Zionist enemy. That would make it a lot harder for Israel and its American partners in warmongering to kill more Iranians, bc Jundallah members would pay a price for cooperating in such things.

    It’s all very neat. A nice op, for whoever pulled it off.

  2. CasualObserver says:

    One other thought on this. If the Mossad were to conduct crazy, reckless and very dangerous (to the US) actions in Iran, what better time to do it than in a US presidential election year. During this special and wondrous time, any hint of criticism of Israel by US government would be set upon by a host of (in this year) GOPers. To be fair and balanced, I think the same would be true if a republican was in office–the Dems would use it.
    In this case, the day after the most recent killing, Obama calls Bibi and mentions our unshakable friendship even before the blood has dried, and makes sure the WH announces it. It almost doesn’t matter if it’s a false flag, as we’re joined at the hip with Israel for purely political reasons (regardless of the actual circumstances behind the killings).

  3. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: I’m having a pretty hard time figuring out who it could be that pulled this off if it as you describe. Perhaps a faction within Iran? But then we have Iranians pretending to be Israelis who are pretending to be Americans? I also just can’t think of covert groups that actually work for peace in our current world instead of attacking enemies, so I can’t think of groups who would have the motivation you describe.

    I’m much more cynical and see Cheney/JSOC all over it(I know, that’s just so uncharacteristic of me). Note especially that the US denials from the Perry story are aimed at denying CIA participation, while, as you note, Perry ignores JSOC. I agree with the assessment that Mossad worked with US compliance and would suggest that JSOC probably was helpful to them.

    My suggestion is that Perry (and whoever fed the story to him) merely used “false flag” to describe Israelis posing as Americans without regard to the underlying more complete meaning you are searching for. I see putting the story out now as simply being done to provide an opportunity for saying “even the Bushies didn’t want to conduct assassinations in Iran!” as further deflection from JSOC involvement then and now (yes, I suspect complicity in even the most recent killing, but see it as rogue JSOC action without informing Obama’s folks).

    I smell more of a classic “Deception Execution Cycle” than false flag. As for the Jundallah folks placed at risk by putting the information out there, well collateral damage is not a new concept for the folks I’m talking about here and it hasn’t stopped them in the past. Also, perhaps they felt some of Jundallah’s cover was blown in that border skirmish recently, and so their usefulness had come to an end.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @CasualObserver: And let’s go further than that. Remember how Cheney-advisor Kissinger stalled on peace in 1968 to make sure Nixon beat Humphrey. And then in 1980, Poppy Bush negotiated with–the Iranians!–to hold off on releasing the hostages until after Carter lost.

    Events in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have very much the feel of an October surprise in the making.

    Now I”m wondering why Republicans DIDN’T manage to pull off an October surprise against Clinton.

  5. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: To be clear, I think the false flag op is this article (though I’m agnostic about whether or not Perry knows that or not). The earlier stuff–whatever story the Americans and Israelis decided on to explain away their partnership with Jundallah (which I agree was probably heavily JSOC), yes that was and is deception.

  6. CasualObserver says:

    It’s a black box from which any number of story lines can come. However, I’m still tempted to think that Israel is driving, at least on this last murder, and to some extent the US is a helpless passenger, especially in an election year.

  7. William Ockham says:

    I went back and read that article more carefully. It doesn’t even directly accuse the Israelis of using the Jundallah to pull off assassinations. Based on the alleged CIA report, the claim is that the Israelis recruited Jundallah operatives and supported Jundallah. There is no real connection in the article between then (2007-2008) and now.

    I’m still trying to untangle the different sources of the article to figure out the motivation behind. I assume that it is an “unofficial, official” leak because it gets the administration view across and nobody is calling for the head of the currently serving intelligence officer who dished the best dirt.

  8. Benjamin Franklin says:

    Rope-a-Dope (We’re the dopes, btw) is a covert DisneyWorld for the funhogs running these ops. What’s the downside for the Plausible Denialists? I really don’t want to hear any more from the Lawyers who bemoan the damage done by Wikileaks. There must be a credible source in an age where trust issues abound.

  9. orionATL says:

    with respect to the recent assassination in iran,

    netanyahu seems a prime minister who would not hesitate to risk approving something like that. in fact, he might be more comfortable doing so than most leaders because of his background in military “counter-terrorism”.

    further, netanyahu surely understands the shackles the obama admin will wear thru nov, 2012 with respect to any punishment of israeli provocation or recklessness.

    and, likewise, he surely understands the sub-rosa (at least) support he will receive from virtually any national republican politician or organization.

  10. orionATL says:

    i had never heard the name “jundallah” before today.

    here is what miss wiki has to say:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jundallah

    certainly there have been a number of prior media reports about u.s. government sponsorship of jundallah.

    what strikes me as quite remarkable is that an exculpatory article like the one ew cites above, which took 18 months to research and write, happens to be available in print on jan 13, 2012, just days after an assassination that raised already high tensions between the u.s. and iran.

    a cynic might say that its publication date set the date for the iranian scientist’s murder.

  11. Gitcheegumee says:

    Any evidence of possible Saudi/Israeli nexxus? Jus’ sayin’….

    After all, back in October,there WAS this:

    Assassination plot? Why Iran and Saudi Arabia are such bitter rivals ..
    http://www.csmonitor.com/…/Assassination-plot-Why-Iran-and-Saudi-Arab...

    Oct 11, 2011 – US authorities linked Iran to a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US. Few contests have defined the modern Middle East like that between …

    Iranian Plot to Assassinate Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. …

    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2096747,00.html
    Oct 12, 2011 – Iran’s long-distance terror ops are typically slick and not easily traced. But despite question-marks over a scheme to kill the Saudi ambassador, .

    Saudis say Iran must ‘pay the price’ for alleged plot as US resists …
    ►►
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/…/iran-assassination-plot-saudi-w…Oct 12, 2011
    Saudi Arabia has issued a menacing warning to Iran that it will have to pay …. Hillary Clinton on the alleged

  12. Wendell Belew says:

    @orionATL:

    As I understand it, an article was being written but not completed. When the assassination occurred, the author published the FP piece. Of course, I may be wrong.

  13. eblair says:

    Rather hilarious to see what kind of conspiracy theories are allowable chez emptywheel. Can’t talk about what Kurt Haskell saw and said he saw on CNN. Do that and bmaz invokes Salahi comparisons and gets nasty and plays the I passed the bar card. But we can talk about unnamed people feeding stories in an article critical of Israel. Maybe someday we’ll find out exactly who feeds stories to emptywheel. That would be some interesting conspiracy theorizing n’est-ce pas?

  14. orionATL says:

    @Wendell Belew:

    wendell belew –

    thanks for that info.

    it makes good sense, perhaps the most sense.

    even so, i think of the effort required to layout and prepare to print, then change the layout (due to the assassination) and ,prepare to print once again.

    in my draft i considered, but edited out, a paragph suggesting it would be very useful to our understanding of events if the author and editors of fp agreed to be interviewed about their efforts regarding the writing/publication deadline.

    but in the long run this matter is a teapot tempest:

    jundallah or mek,

    israel or u.s.a. ?

    only the historians will truly know,

    was this brighton beach or sarajevo?

  15. orionATL says:

    @eblair:

    what loyalty drives you, or what part of the israeli lobby pays you, to write this crap.

    ew’s intellectual integrity is of a quality that you, based on this comment, have never known –

    and, one could hazard the guess without hazarding much,

    have no interest in knowing.

  16. orionATL says:

    @eblair:

    you do understand, don’t you, that you are revealing just how young (and foolish) you are by using phrases like “rather hilarious”.

    this is one of the most childish and empty put downs one can use.

    it is also one frequently used by the young (and foolish).

  17. alinaustex says:

    My concern is that whoever is working with Jundallah in this heated atmosphere could cause a shooting war to break out -which in the end would hurt all players badly. The Likkud ideology in both Israel & America is not a friend or supporter of peace . Thankfully one of our most vocal home grown Likkud candidates – Gov Perry is at 1 % in the polls . The other Likkud leaders like Mr Netananyhu might still foment the living hell that a confrontation with Iran would bring all of us .

  18. Gitcheegumee says:

    @orionATL:

    oATL,thanks for linking the Wiki. I read it AFTER I posted at comment #13.

    Here is an excerpt from the Wiki you linked on Jundallah:

    Saudi Arabia

    Iran considers Jundallah as a group connected to Taliban and their opium revenues, getting financial as well as ideologic support directly from Saudi Arabia in collusion with other hard-line elements within Pakistan and Afghanistan[citation needed].
    Others point to the fact that United States has for long supported Low intensity conflict and assassinations with Saudi money, especially against nationalists, socialists and Shias.[
    …Wiki

    NOTE: Is Blackwater considered CIA? (Just for the record, they moved their operation to Dubai a short while back…as did Haliburton,before them.)

  19. Greenhouse says:

    wow whata web. glorious, ingenious, delicious even! will these fckers ever go away? welldone ew, white and ock for disentangling for me. still a little confused, but getting less so.

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