Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Three Strikes?

There are several related stories emerging that could have potential ramifications this election year, proving costly to the Bush administration. The first potential bombshell relates to an FBI investigation of Larry Franklin, a top Iran analyst who works in the office of Doug Feith in the Pentagon. The FBI is examining allegations that Franklin gave classified US documents to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group. It is with great amazement, and a touch of bemusement, that I note Douglas Feith's name, and that of his notorious Office of Special Plans, at the center of yet another controversy. But that is the subject of prior posts.

The documents in the current imbroglio relate to confidential drafts of presidential directives on Iran policy. The question that remains is what motives Franklin had for passing on such information. Was he passing on national secrets in order to aid the Israelis by informing them of US positions vis a vis the sensitive topic of Iran, or was he looking to get Israeli approval for potential courses of action as
Juan Cole speculates? The answer to these questions, and the full breadth of the breach of security, including how far up the chain of command such involvement went, remains to be uncovered by the investigation.

One thing is clear though, the investigation itself has been greatly hampered by the leaking of its existence, and the fact that Franklin is cooperating with investigators, which has
infuriated some involved with the probe. This has led some to suggest that the whistle was blown in order to warn Franklin's higher ups in the administration so that they could cover their tracks. In the alternative, it has been suggested that the story, which is potentially embarrassing to the Bush administration, was leaked late on Friday in order to bury it during the weekend, and subsequently beneath the coverage of the Republican Convention this week. In either scenario, the truth is a casualty.

Not to be outshone by the FBI's investigation of Franklin, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation of a secret back channel between officials from, you guessed it, Douglas Feith's office and the former Iran-Contra arms dealer, Iranian Manucher Ghorbanifar. This scandal, covered in the
Washington Monthly by Laura Rozen, Joshua Marshall and Paul Glastris, also involves Franklin as well as another Feith acolyte, Harold Rhode. Franklin and Rhode allegedly met with Ghorbanifar, Michael Ledeen, the neoconservative writer and political operative, Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italy's military intelligence agency, SISMI, and the Italian Minister of Defense Antonio Martino, several times in Europe in order to discuss Iran, Iraq and Middle East policy in general. The parameters of the scandal are captured by Rozen et al in this paragraph:

The meeting[s] [were] a source of concern for a series of overlapping reasons. Since the late 1980s Ghorbanifar has been the subject of two CIA "burn notices." The Agency believes Ghorbanifar is a serial "fabricator" and forbids its officers from having anything to do with him. Moreover, why were mid-level Pentagon officials organizing meetings with a foreign intelligence agency behind the back of the CIA -- a clear breach of US government protocol?
Of additional concern is the suggestion that one agenda at these meetings may have been in pursuance of coordinating efforts with the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iranian dissident group based in Iraq. The problem is that the Mujahedeen Khalq are listed by the State Department as a terrorist group. This raises all varieties of moral, political, and ethical considerations.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for Douglas Feith, yet another of his minions from his Pentagon office is the
subject of an investigation. Michael Maloof, who was stripped of his security clearance a year ago after the FBI linked him to a Lebanese-American businessman under investigation by the FBI for weapons trafficking, is at the center of a probe by the House Judiciary Committee into the dealings of Feith's office. This investigation is looking into the possibility that Maloof and others were involved in illegal activity designed to destabilize the Syrian government. The details remain murky at this nascent stage of the process, but the behavior alleged is of particular concern for an administration that is trying to portray an image of strong leadership.

I will try to keep abreast of this tripartite of intelligence breakdowns as the story evolves. For a more complete background of these stories, and up to the minute coverage of details as they emerge, check out Laura Rozen's site
War and Piece.

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