Daniel Schulman / Mother Jones – 2006-10-07 22:45:28
(October 6, 2006) — Exiles peddling back-channel intelligence, upstart advocacy groups pressing for regime change, administration hawks intent on remaking the Middle East — the scene in Washington is looking eerily familiar as the Iran standoff grows more tense. Instead of Ahmad Chalabi, we have the likes of Iran-Contra arms-dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar.
A new Iran directorate inside the Pentagon features some of the same people who brought you the Iraq intel-cherrypicking operation at the Office of Special Plans.
Whether calling for outright regime change or pushing “democracy promotion” initiatives to undermine the Iranian government, an expanding cast of characters has emerged to promote confrontation between the US and Iran.
What follows is an abridged list of the individuals and organizations agitating to bring down the mullahs.
An acolyte of political philosopher Leo Strauss, one of the intellectual forbears of the neoconservative movement and an advocate of the “noble lie,” the notion that deception is morally acceptable when used by a wise, but misunderstood elite — Shulsky headed the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, which trafficked in faulty intelligence on Iraq (including information from Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress) and circumvented the CIA to “stovepipe” WMD intelligence directly to the White House. As Laura Rozen reported in the Los Angeles Times in May, Shulsky, along with two former OSP staffers, John Trigilio and Ladan Archin, is now involved with the Pentagon’s Iran directorate.
Already there are fears that the office has become a conduit for Iranian expatriate and one-time arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iran-Contra figure whom the CIA deemed a fabricator as far back as 1984.
In a 1999 paper called “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence,” co-authored with the American Enterprise Institute’s Gary Schmitt, Shulsky writes that “Strauss’s view certainly alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception.”
The vice president’s eldest daughter’s official title is Vice Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs; in that capacity, Cheney until her maternity leave earlier this year oversaw the State Department’s Iran-Syria Operations Group, whose mission is to aggressively push democracy promotion campaigns.
Sometimes referred to as the agency’s “democracy czar,” Cheney had no Middle East assignments before being appointed to her current post, which involves launching a $85 million democracy promotion/propaganda campaign targeting Iran.
At Foggy Bottom, she “has not shied away from throwing her weight around,” according to the American Prospect, and has been said to operate a “shadow Middle East policy.” She rarely speaks publicly or grants interviews; in an appearance at the Foreign Policy Association in 2005, she called Iran “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.” No word on when and in what capacity Cheney will return from her leave.
Long before being recruited to the Pentagon from the American Enterprise Institute following September 11, Wurmser was one of the loudest voices calling for Saddam Hussein’s ouster. During the 1990s he co-authored a strategy paper — intended as advice to then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu˜with a string of neoconservatives including Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and his wife, Meyrav, a Middle East policy wonk at the Hudson Institute. It suggested “removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq… as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions” and advancing Israel’s.
As Mother Jones reported, Wurmser was also the “founding participant of the unnamed, secret intelligence unit at the Pentagon, set up in Feith’s office, which would be the nucleus of the Defense Department’s Iraq disinformation campaign that was established within weeks of the attacks in New York and Washington.”
He served as an assistant to John Bolton at the State Department before becoming one of the Vice President’s Middle East advisors. Less than two weeks after September 11, Wurmser described discontent within Iran as “a strategic opportunity” for the US.
Since his return to public service after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts for withholding information from Congress as it probed the Iran-Contra scandal (he was later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush), Abrams has been a key player in shaping the Bush administration’s Middle East agenda. In 2005, he was tapped as deputy national security adviser and is now responsible for pushing the administration‚s reform agenda in the Middle East.
A founding member of the neocon think tank Project for the New American Century, Abrams joined Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeldin signing a 1998 letter to Bill Clinton urging regime change in Iraq. Abrams has written that “our military strength and willingness to use it will remain a key factor in our ability to promote peace.”
From his perch at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Ledeen has long advocated toppling the Iranian regime.
Criticizing US policy toward Iran in March, he wrote, “Iran has been at war with us for 27 years, and we have discussed every imaginable subject with them. We have gained nothing, because there is nothing to be gained by talking with an enemy who thinks he is winning…. If this administration were true to its announced principles, we would be actively supporting democratic revolution in Iran, but we do not seem to be serious about doing that.”
In the mid-1980s, Ledeen played a part in Iran-Contra by arranging meetings between the US and his close friend Manucher Ghorbanifar; in 2001, he rekindled that relationship when he set up a meeting in Rome between Ghorbanifar and two Pentagon officials, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, to talk about regime change.
Though Manucher Ghorbanifar has failed a CIA-administered lie detector test and the agency has issued not one but two “burn notices” warning field agents against using him, he continues to have the ear of neocons within the Pentagon.
He has claimed, among other things, that there was an Iranian plot afoot to attack US soldiers in Afghanistan, that Tehran was planning attacks against the US, and that weapons-grade uranium had been smuggled into Iran from Iraq.
Ghorbanifar, via a middleman, is also alleged to be the source behind Congressman Curt Weldon’s more outlandish claims about the Iranian threat to the US, which he compiled in his 2005 book Countdown to Terror. As Laura Rozen reported recently in Mother Jones, “Weldon’s main source, a mysterious Iranian whom the congressman code-names ‘Ali,’ is, in fact, Ghorbanifar’s longtime business partner and personal secretary, Fereidoun Mahdavi….
Mahdavi, in turn, told me that the information he gave Weldon came from Ghorbanifar, who appears to have used him as a kind of cutout — a vehicle for laundering intelligence.” This same Ghorbanifar associate told Rozen in late September that Ghorbanifar “is again giving his information to Washington. He implied that US officials call him up frequently.”
Committee on the Present Danger
First formed in 1950 as a lobby to alert the nation to the Soviet menace and revived in 1976, the committee was resurrected for a third time in 2004, its mission to “educate free people everywhere about the threat posed by global radical Islamist and fascist terrorist movements” and to support “policies aimed at winning the global war against terrorism and the movements and ideologies that drive it.”
Co-chaired by former CIA director James Woolsey and former Secretary of State George Shultz — Senators Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl are honorary co-chairs — the committee is packed with academics and former government officials who share hawkish perspectives and a particular fixation on Iran. One of the committee’s first actions upon re-forming was to release a policy paper advocating “non-violent” regime change in Iran.
Iran Policy Committee
Directed by former CIA officer Clare Lopez, the IPC’s membership includes former military and intelligence officials who believe that the US should pursue a “third alternative” on Iran (the first and second being diplomacy or pre-emptive military action). While leaving both military and diplomatic options on the table, IPC advocates propping up the Iranian opposition to “facilitate regime change.”
Among its favored dissident factions are the militant group MEK and its political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. But in order for the US to enter direct talks with these groups, as the IPC has suggested, the State Department will first have to remove them from its roster of foreign terrorist organizations — a move the IPC is actively lobbying for.
Foundation for Democracy in Iran
Co-founded in 1995 by investigative journalist and activist Kenneth Timmerman, the Foundation is among the oldest of a constellation of advocacy groups — including the now defunct Coalition for Democracy in Iran established by Michael Ledeen, James Woolsey, and former AIPAC director Morris Amitay — that have sprung up to push a hard line on Iran. “We are not in a political debate with this regime,” Timmerman has said.
“We are in the business of overthrowing them.” Timmerman‚s group, like the Iran Policy Committee, supports aiding Iranian opposition groups to bring down the regime. Timmerman, according to his Web site, is also working with the families of 9/11 victims to put together a class action suit against the Iranian government “because of its direct, material involvement in the al Qaeda plot to attack America.”
Daniel Schulman is a Mother Jones investigative fellow.
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