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July 5, 2005
Dafydd: It Ain't Even the Quarter

A few days ago, when July was fresh and new, I argued in That Ain't the Half of It that it really doesn't matter whether Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was or was not a leader of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Teheran, because the enormity of his undisputed post-revolutionary career as an assassin for the Revolutionary Guard -- during which he murdered hundreds of Iranian dissidents living abroad -- simply overwhelmed the question of whether he was also a student radical.

The only objection that could reasonably be raised (apart from dredging up some evidence to contradict the biography at is that Ahmadinejad's homidical vocation, as horrific as it was, was not directed at us, and that we should only be concerned with attacks on America -- which moves the embassy-seizure question back to front and center.

Now I argue that if that is your standard, then again, there are far more serious attacks that Iran has committed against the United States... including the murder of 2,985 people on American soil (mostly Americans) in the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania.

Wait -- hold on -- don't turn into a mob! Yes, of course I know that the attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, which is primarily a Sunni organization, not Shi'ite, like Iran. But I thoroughly support the judgment of the president himself when he said:

And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.

Evidence has begun to emerge that the violent and secretive regime in the Islamic Republic of Iran not only applauded the 9/11 attacks, not only gave safe haven to terrorists, but actively collaborated with al-Qaeda on the attacks themselves.

Granted, none of this implicates Mr. Ahmadinejad; but his new boss, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is involved right up to his turbin.

Some of this evidence is detailed in the new book by Kenneth Timmerman, Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran, which I have just begun reading.

Fair warning: If you are one of those -- and I know you're out there -- who reject anything written by Timmerman or any other "right wing" author, then gird yourself; I'm going to be discussing several things from this book in future posts as well. Forwarned is four-armed!

Timmerman begins the bombshells in the very first chapter, in which he discusses the testimony from an Iranian defector, Hamid Reza Zakeri, who says he gave (or tried to give) critical information to the CIA, back in July of 2001, of an impending terrorist attack on the United States in September... an attack in which Iran had been closely involved with al-Qaeda in the planning phase. Timmerman says that the CIA refused to listen and did not pass the intel up the chain.

Now of course, much of this is he-said, she-said; you are either with Timmerman, or you are with the CIA. But given the track record of the latter, as thoroughly deconstructed by the 9/11 Commission Report on the intelligence failures that led up to 9/11, I know where I'm placing my flutter.

Bear one important note in mind: this entire chapter derives from several interviews that Timmerman conducted with Zakeri. Wherever possible, when Zakeri gave specific information -- such as the descriptions of various top-secret facilities in Iran, the presence of certain personnel in Iran at specific times, and specific documents that Zakeri claimed to have smuggled out of Iran -- Timmerman tested the claims against all publicly available and classified information he was able to obtain, including with American and foreign intelligence agents, with other Iranian defectors, with document examiners, and with prosecutors in Germany who evaluated Zakeri for a terrorism case in which they called him as witness. In each case that Timmerman checked up on Zakeri's specific claims, they were borne out; not a single claim made to Timmerman by Zakeri was contradicted by any specific counter-evidence.

The central claim of this chapter is, in Timmerman's words:

The 9/11 hijackers and al-Qaeda planners had been in constant contact with senior Iranian officials and intelligence officers before September 11. It was not a casual relationship or a chance encounter here and there, but a steady stream of contacts.

These "contacts" began in January 2001, when Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is the founder of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Osama bin Laden's personal physician, and widely regarded as the number-two man in al-Qaeda, journeyed from Afghanistan to Iran with several other al-Qaeda capos. Zakeri's connection was that he was in charge of the security detail protecting the visitors; he picked them up at the airport and conveyed them to the meeting at a "mountain guesthouse near the town of Varamin, just sough of Tehran", which normally was used by senior officials of Iran.

According to what an Iranian official present at the meeting told his friend Zakeri, Zawahiri was in Iran to seek equipment, forged travel documents, and help in laundering money. I am presuming this meant money collected by various Islamic charities, then laundered to al-Qaeda, a practice we have established, through many successful prosecutions, was the normal way that AQ was funded.

One of Zawahiri's men present was Saif al-Adel, who had worked in the past with Lebanese-born Imad Fayez Mugniyeh. Mugniyeh was a high-ranking official with the Revolutionary Guard's Qods Force, which controlled foreign terrorist operations... and a man well-known personally to Zakeri. Al-Adel and eleven other AQ members stayed on after the meeting to continue working with the Iranians.

The Iranians present were not low-level flunkies, either. The Iranian delegation to this conference included Hojjat-ol eslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the chief inspector of the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS), a clandestine intelligence organization that reports directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, who was at the time (and still is) Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Also present, Ali Akbar Parvaresh, one of the top officers in Section 43 of MOIS; Section 43 is in charge of terrorist operations outside the Middle East and also runs the Varamin safe house. Parvaresh was wanted by the Argentinian government for a bombing in 1994 that killed eighty-six people. Mugniyeh was also in attendance, which is how Zakeri found out what was discussed.

A few months later, in May 2001, another delegation arrived from al-Qaeda... this one led by none other than Osama bin Laden's eldest son, Saad. Saad bin Laden met with all of the members of the Iranian leadership, including Supreme Leader Khamenei, Hashemi Rafsanjani (head of the Expediency Council), Mohammed Yazdi (head of the Guardians Council), Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi (chief of Judiciary), and Ali Meshkini (head of the Assembly of Experts).

Zakeri believes it was at this meeting, on May 4, 2001, that Iran's leaders learned the specifics of bon Laden's plans for the September 11 attack and decided to provide operational assistance. "Everything changed after this," he told me.

Nateq-Nouri subsequently sent a memo to Mustafa Pourghanad, the director of Section 43, conveying Khamenei's orders for "joint operations" with al-Qaeda; this is one of the memos that Zakeri carried with him from Iran when he defected.

Timmerman closes the chapter with the CIA's reaction to all this information from Zakeri:

A female intelligence officer returned my call with a shaking voice. "This man is a serial fabricator," she said, more nervous than indignant. "I have to warn you off of this story."

A few hours later, I received another call, this one from a higher-ranking official. When I asked him to comment on the veracity of Zakeri's warning, he replied angrily, "We have no record that he made any such claim. And he is a fabricator of monumental proportions." But when I asked him whether Zaker was lying about meeting with U.S. officials in Baku on July 26, 2001, this senior official pointedly refused to answer.

Now of course, I can certainly understand the CIA refusing to comment upon the specifics of CIA meetings with defectors from hostile powers. But on the other hand, they repeatedly characterized Zakeri as a "fabricator," yet never once pointed Timmerman to any sources, even public sources, that would tend to discredit Zakeri. So take it for what you will.

But at the very least, the Iranian connection to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attack -- and whether the CIA dropped this particular ball in 2001 -- deserves at least as much exploration as that other well-known ball they dropped: the extent of Saddam Hussein's own interaction with al-Qaeda, which the CIA refused to admit for literally years, but which is now thoroughly documented in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's report on the intelligence failures in Iraq, as well as by recent revelations from Jordan about another high-level Zawahiri meeting, this one in Baghdad.

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Posted by Dafydd at July 5, 2005 3:56 PM

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