When stories like the so-called Iranian terror plot come your way, you just want to sit back and watch the action. It’s like a political campaign in which your opponent is making a shambles of his candidacy, and you get the pleasure of watching him or her self-destruct before your very eyes.
Today’s Washington Post offers one of the stranger explanations of the case, claiming that despite the “crude construction” of the plot, the government had no choice but to take it seriously. There is much in the story that raises both yellow and red flags and strains, if not breaks credulity. The story points to the Justice Department and Washington Post being either incredibly credulous or willfully nuts about what they’re prepared to believe concerning this case.
First, let’s recapitulate what we know: an Iranian-American from a Texas border town, who was a failed used car dealer (oh and that mug shot displayed here? from a check fraud case in which he wasn’t prosecuted…or was it the time his wife filed a domestic violence charge against him?), contacted a Mexican drug dealer he knew, allegedly affiliated with the Zeta drug cartel, who’d done one too many drug deals and gotten caught by the feds. In return, presumably for a lighter sentence, the dealer agreed to act as a paid informant and steer the conspiracy to the point where charges could be filed. The mastermind behind the plot, Manssor Arbabsiar, had a cousin inside Iran who he claimed was an Iranian Revolutionary Guard official. Somehow, presumably through contacts with the cousin, $100,000 made its way from Iran to Mexico into an account the government had set up to receive it.
The feds are now claiming basically, that almost solely through the money transfers (and possibly through the phone calls between the two Iranians) that they can prove high level IRG complicity in the plot.
Here’s where we ought to stop and examine some of the more outlandish passages in the story. Let’s begin with the odd notion that the government brings serious charges against a suspect while describing the case thus:
The plot by alleged Iranian operatives to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington was so crudely constructed that U.S. investigators initially had trouble believing that Iran was truly behind it, U.S. officials said Wednesday…
The…officials acknowledged that initial details of the alleged plot engendered great skepticism among law-enforcement and intelligence analysts who worked on the case. The Iranians involved exercised uncharacteristically sloppy tradecraft in trying to recruit unknown gunmen—from a drug cartel with no known ties to Iran—to carry out such a politically explosive act as the assassination of a powerful Saudi envoy in the heart the U.S. capital.
Next the reporter acknowledges the government treats the case as credible despite the fact that the IRG has never pursued any previous mission in the ways it allegedly pursued this one:
Although the Justice Department eventually linked the plan to Iran’s elite Quds Force, almost nothing in the case bore the hallmarks of the notorious military unit that has trained and equipped terrorists and assassins around the world, the officials said…“What we’re seeing would be inconsistent with the high standards we’ve seen in the past,” said one U.S. official…
Now, about that cousin with IRG connections:
…Intelligence agencies gathered what they considered corroborating evidence connecting the plot firmly to Quds Force officers, including Gholam Shakuri, a member of the elite unit with whom Arbabsiar met in Iran.
Not so fast. Prof. Muhammad Sahimi did extensive research seeking to connect Shakuri to the IRG, and despite the Iranian-American’s deep connections both inside and outside Iran and familiarity with the regime and especially its nuclear program, he could not do so. I am not about to allow the U.S. government and Washington Post let this little claim slip by without challenge. What is the proof Shakuri is anything more than a blowhard or at best a low-level errand boy seeking fame and jihadi glory?
Next we go from the low-level Iranian errand boy all the way to the top. Note the high-flying leaps from suspect claim to suspect claim, all ending with the neat little package that is dropped at the door of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei:
While acknowledging they did not have conclusive proof, the U.S. officials said they were convinced that Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameinei were at least aware of the plot’s general outlines.
“We do not think it was a rogue operation, in any way,” a second official said. But he added: “We don’t have specific knowledge that Suleimani knew about specific” details of the plot.
So, if our wise intelligence mandarins are to be believed, they are “convinced” an IRG general was at least vaguely aware of the plot, but they also have no “specific knowledge” that he knew any details about it at all. This reminds me of what an old sweater of mine looked like after the moths had spent a season digesting its woolen threads. In fact, “moth-eaten” would be an apt image to describe it.
This final passage really takes the cake for brazenness and incredulity:
…The oddly brazen nature of the plot may also may have reflected the naiveté of the clique of hard-line clerics that has come to dominate Iran’s leadership in recent years.
So despite the fact that the Post’s intelligence sources have conceded that this operation bore none of the hallmarks of the IRG, which they acknowledge works in highly secretive, organized and careful ways in all other missions, somehow the fact that this plot is an amateurish bungle is due to the fact that all these crafty fellows have all of a sudden lost their professionalism, cunning (and their marbles) while salivating at the prospect of entering the U.S. terror market with a bang.
In a separate report, the NY Times offers yet more woulda coulda shoulda claims from anonymous U.S. officials:
“It would be our assessment that this kind of operation would have been discussed at the highest levels of the regime,” said a senior American official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the government’s analysis.
American officials offered no specific evidence linking the plot to Iran’s most senior leaders. But they said it was inconceivable in Iran’s hierarchy that the leader of the shadowy Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, was not directly involved, and that the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was not aware of such a plan.
This means that the Obama administration is expecting the American people, or those who care about this at any rate, to believe merely on the basis of its suppositions that Iran’s most senior leaders would have to have known about a plot like this. Why? On what basis?
I feel like the comedian who witnesses the election of a new president whose politics are so cartoonish, he realizes the next four years are going to be nothing but fun and great comedic joy for him. Let’s just sit back and watch this case disintegrate before our eyes. The only question is whether it will take a week or a month or a year for it to do so. Whatever time it takes, we’ll be here watching with bemusement and report it to you.
Jeffrey Toobin, the noted legal analyst, writes at CNN, that the outlines of this case would make any defense lawyer salivate. I should add it does the same for progressive bloggers like me.
That Barack Obama would allow such a far-fetched case to become public, and even worse allow his attorney general to associate himself so prominently with it is a further indication that a man who ran an almost perfect presidential campaign has some of the worst political instincts imaginable when it comes to running a government. It’s hard to believe that they would let this train wreck have happened. I predict it will cause them huge amounts of embarrassment and headaches for the foreseeable future.
The even larger question here is whether this is just a shambles of a case pursued because of bad judgment; or whether there are ulterior political motives being exploited by Pres. Obama, as I’ve alluded to before when I wrote that this reminds me of the Tonkin Gulf incident that fueled extensive U.S. intervention in the Vietnam war. Are we seeking a causus belli, no matter how ridiculous it might be? Even if we aren’t, Trita Parsi’s analysis of the direness of current Iran-U.S. relations is worthwhile noting. He implicitly reminds us that things are so bad that, as with the spark that ignited WWI, even when parties don’t want war, if surrounding conditions are conducive, events may spiral out of control taking you there.