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December 12, 2004
A Stupid (And Apparently Public) Gamble

The Washington Post reports today that the US has tapped IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei's phones in an attempt to gather evidence of corruption that would enable the US to oust him from his post. So far, the Post reports, the only crime that ElBaradei has committed is diplomacy:

The Bush administration has dozens of intercepts of Mohamed ElBaradei's phone calls with Iranian diplomats and is scrutinizing them in search of ammunition to oust him as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to three U.S. government officials.

But the diplomatic offensive will not be easy. The administration has failed to come up with a candidate willing to oppose ElBaradei, who has run the agency since 1997, and there is disagreement among some senior officials over how hard to push for his removal, and what the diplomatic costs of a public campaign against him could be.

Although eavesdropping, even on allies, is considered a well-worn tool of national security and diplomacy, the efforts against ElBaradei demonstrate the lengths some within the administration are willing to go to replace a top international diplomat who questioned U.S. intelligence on Iraq and is now taking a cautious approach on Iran.

The intercepted calls have not produced any evidence of nefarious conduct by ElBaradei, according to three officials who have read them. But some within the administration believe they show ElBaradei lacks impartiality because he tried to help Iran navigate a diplomatic crisis over its nuclear programs. Others argue the transcripts demonstrate nothing more than standard telephone diplomacy.

Want to bet that the three "US government officials" left unnamed by Dafna Linzer work in the CIA?

Nevertheless, the only way this could have worked was to have found conversations between ElBaradei and the Iranian mullahcracy discussing the IAEA chief's new digs in a trendy Tehran suburb. Conducting wiretaps on the IAEA creates diplomatic tensions we don't need at the moment, and the publication of the effort will damage our war efforts as other nations chalk it up to American arrogance.

The moral of the lesson is that a high-stakes gamble is only worth it when you win. An intelligence mission like this should only have been approved if solid information showed it would reveal the kind of evidence we wanted and needed. ElBaradei is too public, and simultaneously too impotent, a target for this kind of overt-the-top intelligence offensive. People will ask how many resources American intelligence committed to this project, and how else they could have been used ... perhaps against Syrian support for terrorists?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 12, 2004 10:28 AM

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It's being reported that the U.S. has tapped the phones of International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei with the intent of getting some dirt on him so we can replace him. I really don't find this troubling. It's not unusual to listen... [Read More]

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