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Context of 'Late December 2001: US Decides to Accept Iran’s Help against Al-Qaeda but Offer Nothing in Return'

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Manucher Ghorbanifar.Manucher Ghorbanifar. [Source: Ted Thai / Getty Images]The Bush administration sends two defense officials, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, to meet with Iranians in Rome in response to an Iranian government offer to provide information relevant to the war on terrorism. The offer had been backchanneled by the Iranians to the White House through Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms trader and a central person in the Iran-Contra affair, who contacted another Iran-Contra figure, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute. Ledeen passed the information on to his friends in the Defense Department who then relayed the offer to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Hadley, who expressed no reservations about the proposed meeting, informed CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. According to officials interviewed by the New York Times, the United States Embassy in Rome was not notified of the planned meeting as required by standard interagency procedures. Neither the US embassy nor the CIA station chief in Rome learns of the three-day meeting until after it happens (see December 12, 2001). When they do catch wind of the meeting, they notify CIA and State Department headquarters in Washington which complain to the administration about how the meetings were arranged. [Newsday, 8/9/2003; Washington Post, 8/9/2003; New York Times, 12/7/2003] In addition to Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, Franklin, and Rhode, the meeting is attended by Nicolo Pollari, head of SISMI, and Antonio Martino, Italy’s minister of defense. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004]
Destabilizing the Iraqi Government - According to the Boston Globe, either at this meeting, a similar one in June (see June 2002), or both, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar discuss ways to destabilize the Iranian government, possibly using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a US-designated terrorist group, as a US proxy. [Boston Globe, 8/31/2004] The meetings are suspected of being an attempt by what investigative reporters Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Gastris will later call “a rogue faction at the Pentagon… trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime-change’ agenda.” The fact that MEK members attend the meetings adds weight to the claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 234-235]
Italian Intelligence on Iraq-Niger Allegations - Additionally, according to an unnamed SISMI source, Pollari speaks with Ledeen about intelligence his agency has collected (see October 15, 2001) suggesting that Iraq made a deal with Niger to purchase several tons of uranium. SISMI already sent a report to Washington on the matter in mid-October (see October 15, 2001). Reportedly, Pollari has also approached CIA Station Chief Jeff Castelli about the report, but Castelli has since indicated he is not interested in the information. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Paul Gastris, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, Larry Franklin, Nicolo Pollari, Harold Rhode, Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, George J. Tenet, Antonio Martino

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

In late November 2001, State Department officials write a paper suggesting that the US has an opportunity to work with Iran to fight al-Qaeda. The CIA seconds the idea, and is willing to exchange information and coordinate border sweeps with Iran. However, neoconservatives led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argue that the US cannot engage with Iran and other officially declared state sponsors of terrorism. In late December 2001, at a meeting of deputy cabinet officials, it is decided that the US will accept tactical information about terrorists from countries on the state sponsors list but offer nothing in return. This policy is called the “Hadley Rules” after Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who chairs the meeting. One month later, President Bush publicly lists Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil,” greatly reducing Iran’s cooperation regarding al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] However, the policy appears to be largely focused on Iran, as the US continues working with countries on the state sponsors list like Sudan and Syria against al-Qaeda (see June 13, 2002 and Early 2002-January 2003).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Stephen J. Hadley, US Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

Two days before the CIA is to issue an assessment (see August 2002) on Iraq’s supposed links to militant Islamic groups, Defense Department officials working in the Office of Special Plans (OSP) deliver a briefing in the White House to several top officials, including I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The briefing is entitled “Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” and is an updated version of a briefing presented in July 2002 (see July 25, 2002). The OSP, working under Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, is aggressively promoting any evidence it can find to support a decision to invade Iraq (see September 2002).
bullet The briefing claims that the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda is “mature” and “symbiotic,” and marked by shared interests.
bullet It lists cooperation in 10 categories, or “multiple areas of cooperation,” including training, financing, and logistics. [Savage, 2007, pp. 292; New York Times, 4/6/2007; Washington Post, 4/6/2007]
bullet An alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between an Iraqi spy and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is listed as one of eight “Known Iraq-Al-Qaeda Contacts.” It claims that there is a “known contact” between Atta and the Iraqi intelligence agency, a claim already rejected by the CIA. [Savage, 2007, pp. 293; Washington Post, 4/6/2007]
bullet The briefing claims that “Fragmentary reporting points to possible Iraqi involvement not only in 9/11 but also in previous al-Qaeda attacks.” [Washington Post, 4/6/2007]
bullet It includes a slide criticizing the rest of the US intelligence community, which says there are “fundamental problems” with CIA intelligence gathering methods. It claims other intelligence agencies assume “that secularists and Islamists will not cooperate, even when they have common interests,” and there is a “consistent underestimation of importance that would be attached by Iraq and al-Qaeda to hiding a relationship.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/11/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 293; Washington Post, 4/6/2007]
Around the same time, the briefing is also presented with slight variations to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet. The slide criticizing other intelligence agencies is excluded when a version of the briefing is given to Tenet. A later report by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General will conclude the briefing was entirely incorrect and deliberately ignored intelligence by the CIA, DIA, and other intelligence agencies that contradicted its conclusions (see February 9, 2007). [Washington Post, 4/6/2007] The CIA has already found the majority of the information in the presentation either completely false or largely unsupported by reliable evidence. [Savage, 2007, pp. 293]
Unusual Briefing - This briefing, delivered at the same time the White House is pressing Congress to authorize the upcoming war with Iraq (see October 11, 2002), is, in the words of author and reporter Charlie Savage, “highly unusual.” Usually, high-level administration officials making national security decisions rely on information vetted by top-flight analysts at the CIA, in order to ensure the information is as accurate and politically neutral as possible. No CIA analyst has ever found a meaningful link between Hussein and al-Qaeda; the few reports of such claims were seen as highly dubious. But Cheney and his supporters consider the CIA slow, pedantic, and incompetent, and believe Feith’s OSP can provide better—or at least more amenable—intelligence. Savage will write: “In Feith’s shop and elsewhere in the executive branch, neoconservative political appointees stitched together raw intelligence reports, often of dubious credibility, without any vetting or analysis by professional intelligence specialists. The officials cherry-picked the files for reports that supported the notion that Iraq had an active [WMD] program and that it was working hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda, ‘stovepiping’ such reports to top decision makers (and leaking them to the press) while discounting any skepticism mounted by the professionals.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 292]
Dismantling Intelligence Filtering System in Favor of Politically Controlled Intelligence Provisions - What the presentation accomplishes, according to former CIA intelligence analyst Kenneth Pollock, is to support a conclusion already drawn—the need to get rid of Saddam Hussein—by using slanted, altered, and sometimes entirely fabricated “intelligence.” The White House proceeded to “dismantle the existing filtering process that for 50 years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information.” Savage goes one step farther. He will write that the presentation is part of a larger White House strategy to alter the balance of power between the presidency and a key element of the bureaucracy. By setting up a politically controlled alternative intelligence filtering system, he will write, “the administration succeeded in diminishing the power of the CIA’s information bureaucracy to check the White House’s desired course of action.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 294]

Entity Tags: Office of Special Plans, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Kenneth Pollock, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Douglas Feith, Charlie Savage, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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