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August 9, 2005
Dafydd: Tangled Webs, Contrasting Countdowns

NOTE: Text in [square brackets] constitute a correction from earlier, erroneous data.

Below, Captain Ed discusses [the manifest failures of the intelligence and police communities pre-9/11, including the possibility that, due to the "wall of separation" between intel and law enforcement, a military data-mining group called Able Danger was prevented in fall 2000 from briefing the FBI on an al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn that included some of the 9/11 hijackers -- including the leader, Mohammed Atta. Much of the evidence for this comes from Rep. Curt Weldon... whose credibility had been previously maligned by CIA officials, who attacked Weldon personally as a credulous and foolish man.]

Indeed, the Captain quotes from a Slate article by Eric Umansky that uses this [earlier CIA attack] to dismiss the entire claim. But is this really legitimate evidence that [debunks the claim], as Umansky believes? Or is this just another example of [] "log rolling," where a series of supposed facts and assessments each rely upon the others in a vast circularity of citation?

Just to flesh out this whole business about Congressman Weldon, [the CIA dismissed previous claims made by Weldon regarding Iranian complicity in terrorist plots against the United States; the Agency characterized Weldon as having been duped by the dupe of an "intelligence fabricator." Based on that characterization, Weldon was] attacked by various liberal sources (e.g., The American Prospect magazine) for getting his information from an Iranian informant code-named (by Weldon) "Ali," [a source whom the Prospect likewise dismisses]. The incident is also discussed in Kennth R. Timmerman's excellent book Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran, pp. 276-8 -- released the very next day after Weldon's similarly titled but distinct, Countdown to Terror: The Top-Secret Information that Could Prevent the Next Terrorist Attack on America... and How the CIA has Ignored it.

"Ali" is described by Timmerman as Ali M., "a former Iranian government minister" at that time in exile in Paris; Ali M. is very likely actually Fereidoun Mahdavi, whom Laura Rozen and Jeet Heer, writing in the American Prospect, describe as "formerly the shahs minister of commerce and, more importantly, the close friend and business partner of (Manucher) Ghorbanifar." At the time of Mahdavi's contacts with Weldon, the CIA had already issued a "burn" notice pegging Ghorbanifar as an "intelligence fabricator."

Starting a tab, we have Rep. Curt Weldon saying that the group Able Danger tried to warn the [FBI] about Mohammed Atta and other members of that al-Qaeda cell back in 2000; the 9/11 Commission blew off the claim because it came from Weldon, whom the CIA considers a dupe of intelligence fabricators.

Separately, we have exiled Iranian Minister Mahdavi, a close friend of Ghorbanifar, meeting with Weldon to tell the congressman of various plots by the Iranians against the United States; the CIA blew off the warnings because they came from Mahdavi, whom they consider a dupe of intelligence fabricators. Although they are starting to get tangled, it's important to note that these are two separate strands of this intelligence web: Mahdavi has no connection with Able Danger.

In the Prospect article, Rozen and Heer claim that Mahdavi said that his information came from Ghorbanifar; but the supposed confession is a bit shaky, sounding more like what one would say to avoid suffering the grim and grisly fate of other Iranian defectors:

I will deny any quote, he says. I gave information to Weldon from Ghorbanifar. He insists that, because he cannot contact anyone in his homeland, he could not have been the original source for the information that the arms merchant asked him to pass to the congressman. I am very well-known in Iran, he says. Everyone knows me. I cannot call there.

It's also important to remember that the American Prospect is a deeply liberal magazine that has been opposed to the Iraq war from the beginning. What does this have to do with Iran? The authors of the article above see the quality of intelligence on Iran through the filter of the supposedly "faulty" intelligence on Iraq, for which they blame the "neoconservatives":

Indeed, to CIA analysts still smarting from the humiliations of the Iraqi intelligence fiasco, the reappearance of Ghorbanifar behind Ali must have set off loud alarms. The Iranian arms dealer not only symbolizes one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of American covert operations, which involved selling sophisticated weapons to a terrorist regime in exchange for hostages; with his neoconservative sponsors and opportunistic methods, Ghorbanifar very much resembles Ahmad Chalabi, another slick operator who eventually came to be viewed with the deepest suspicion -- but not before his faulty intelligence about Iraqs weapons of mass destruction helped to draw America into war.

Adding a bit more to the tab: the CIA is skeptical about the [Iranian] intel from Mahdavi because they are upset about Ghorbanifar, who "symbolizes" the Iran-Contra scandal.

Timmerman's description of Weldon's attempts to alert the CIA to the intelligence Mahdavi ("Ali M.") was faxing him matches that of the congressman. But Timmerman also discusses many other Iranian terrorist plots... and Timmerman, unlike Weldon, uses a great many sources. One of Timmerman's major sources is a former Iranian intelligence and security officer named Hamid Reza Zakeri, who says he was present at a number of meetings between the top Iranian mullahs (including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei) and top members of al-Qaeda (including Ayman al-Zawahiri and bin Laden's eldest son Saad). At these meetings, starting in January 2001, the Iranians were informed of the upcoming attacks on the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and other targets, says Zakeri. I discussed this in an earlier post here, It Ain't Even the Quarter.

I noted in that post that the CIA had similarly dismissed the intel from Zakeri, calling him a "serial fabricator" and "a fabricator of monumental proportions." Is this starting to sound familiar?

The tab mounts: Weldon's claims about Iranian involvement in anti-American terrorism are buttressed and echoed by Kenneth Timmerman, who is a much more careful researcher. One of Timmerman's prime sources, however, who has no connection to Mahdazi or Ghorbanifar, is also dismissed by the CIA as a "fabricator."

So let's tote up the damages:

1) The information about Able Danger's warnings about Atta and other members of the Qaeda cell come from Rep. Curt Weldon.

2) Weldon also believes in earlier information from Fereidoun Mahdavi about many plots by Iran against the United States, none of which is related to the Able Danger claim.

3) Mahdavi is a close friend of Manucher Ghorbanifar.

4) The CIA has labeled Ghorbanifar an "intelligence fabricator" who evidently "symbolizes" the Iran-Contra scandal -- which did not particularly involve the CIA, by the way, but rather the National Security Council. [After Reagan's CIA Director, William Casey, died of a brain tumor in January 1987, several actors in the Iran-Contra scandal rushed to blame him for the whole program. I have always found this very suspicious; I strongly suspect everyone decided to make the dead man into the fall guy. However, LC Oliver North, who actually ran the program, acted out of the NSC, not the CIA.]

5) Therefore, the CIA dismisses all claims from Mahdavi (this is the same CIA that completely missed predicting the revolution in Iran carried out by Ayatollah Khomeini from his exile in Paris).

6) Mahdavi's claims of Iranian terrorist plots against the U.S. are supported by Kenneth Timmerman, who relies upon a number of other sources (not Mahdavi).

7) The CIA dismisses one of Timmerman's sources, Hamid Reza Zakeri, as "a serial fabricator" and "a fabricator of monumental proportions."

8) Thus the CIA dismisses all of the other charges brought by Timmerman, as well.

9) Therefore, taking everything into consideration, Slate dismisses all of the claims made by Weldon about Able Danger.

Ah. Perhaps this is some new form of rhetoric of which I was previously unaware.

Maybe it's just me, but the syllogism (1-9) doesn't quite seem to match up with the rigorous logic I was taught in the graduate math department of UC Santa Cruz. But then again, I'm not a member of an intelligence organization that is desperately trying to convince the world that it's not utterly incompetent.

UPDATE 8/10/05 07:52: Rarely has my skepticism about the ability of government bureaucracies to sort truth from fiction been so thoroughly vindicated in such a short period of time. Just a few hours after I published this post, the demigod of this website put his own post up noting that AP had independently confirmed the central claim of Rep. Weldon: that Able Danger had, in fact, reported in 2000, a year before the 9/11 attacks, on the Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell that included Mohammed Atta. This despite the denials by the [9/11 Commission -- since retracted -- that there was any evidence] that any such report was made... and despite the snide character assassination of Weldon that accompanied the denials.

Well-a-day. I think we now know just how seriously to take it when the CIA denounces a source as a "fabricator," or in Weldon's case, the dupe of fabricators. We should trust the Agency only as far as... well, I suppose you couldn't throw the entire Langley facility very far.


A tangled web indeed! So tangled that I got tangled up in it myself.

While it's true that the CIA has been dismissing Rep. Curt Weldon as a dupe of a dupe of a fabricator, in fact the agency that Able Danger tried to contact about the al-Qaeda cell with Mohammed Atta was the FBI, not the CIA.

Since this is a major correction, I will go back through this post and make the changes, putting corrections into [square brackets] to make clear what is different. (Hat tip to Scott in the comments for catching my mistake!)

UPDATE III: The 9/11 Commission has finally admitted that Rep. Weldon was right all along... that Able Danger did inform them that they tried to contact the FBI about the Atta cell but were prevented by the Clinton Administration Justice Department, whose Deputy Attorney General at the time, the author of the policy of a "wall of separation" between intelligence and law enforcement, was none other than Jamie Gorelick -- who subsequently served on the very same 9/11 Commission that heard but ignored the testimony about the failure of that very policy (and then lied about having heard it)!

So let's recap what has happened:

1) I mistook an attempt to alert the FBI for an attempt to alert the CIA;

2) The CIA did, however, call into question the credibility of Rep. Weldon, as I noted, by denouncing Weldon's source and a second, unrelated corroborating source as "fabricators;"

3) Slate went to town on Weldon on the basis of the CIA denunciation and used that to dismiss Weldon's claim that Able Danger had tried to warn the FBI about Mohammed Atta in 2000 but were prevented by the Gorelick policy -- which claim by Weldon is now known to be true.

4) The 9/11 Commission emphatically stated, more than once, that nobody from Able Danger had ever briefed them about the attempts to warn the FBI; the Commission has now admitted that they were indeed briefed -- not once but twice.

5) Despite being briefed, however, the Commission failed to include even a single, stray mention of Able Danger, its attempted warning, Gorelick's Wall that prevented the warning that conceivably could have prevented the 9/11 attacks... or even of the stunning success of the strategy of "data mining" that led to the identification of Atta.

So of all this succession of dumb mistakes, I have the strong feeling that mine was the "least dumb," for whatever that is worth...!

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Posted by Dafydd at August 9, 2005 8:21 PM

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