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Context of 'Mid-July 2005: GOP Congressmen Meet with Iranian Disinformation Peddlers, Advance Unsupported Allegations of Iranian Terror Plans'

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Recovering from cancer surgery, President Reagan authorizes National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane’s plan to open a dialogue with Iran through the auspices of Iranian gunrunner Manucher Ghorbanifar. McFarlane believes the US can win influence with Iranian moderates by helping Iran in its war with Iraq. Reagan believes the thaw in relations may help win the release of US hostages being held in Lebanon by Iranian-backed terrorists. [PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, Robert C. McFarlane, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Israeli representatives meet with Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar for the first time, to discuss brokering the secret US-Iranian arms deals authorized by President Reagan (see July 18, 1985). Israel will sell arms to Iran, and the US will replenish Israeli stockpiles. [PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Outgoing National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and National Security Council staffer Oliver North fly to London to meet with Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms merchant. Also present at the meeting are David Kimche, of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Israeli arms dealer Yaacov Nimrodi. McFarlane tells Ghorbanifar that the US wants to end arms sales to Iran, though the US wants to continue pursuing diplomatic relations. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The US will in actuality continue selling arms to Iran (see January 7, 1986 and January 17, 1986).

Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, David Kimche, Oliver North, Yaacov Nimrodi, Robert C. McFarlane

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo.Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo. [Source: Raul Vega / Corbis]ABC News reporter Barbara Walters covertly provides the White House with documents from Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, according to a Wall Street Journal article published in March 1987. The documents, prepared by Walters and given to the White House at Ghorbanifar’s request, report that Ghorbanifar believed, correctly, that National Security Council staffer Oliver North diverted profits from the sale of arms to Iran to Nicaragua’s Contra insurgents (see April 4, 1986). Walters will provide the White House with further documents on the arms sales in January 1987. The documents are given to Walters either just before or just after her interviews with Ghorbanifar and Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi for the ABC News program 20/20. The documents will eventually be turned over to the Tower Commission (see February 26, 1987). The White House will claim that the documents contain little more than reiterations of Ghorbanifar’s comments to Walters in the interview. ABC News will say that Walters’s actions—essentially acting as an information peddler or middleman between the Arab arms merchants and the US government—are “in violation of a literal interpretation of news policy.… ABC policy expressly limits journalists cooperating with government agencies unless threats to human lives are involved.… Ms. Walters believed that to be the case.” ABC does not explain why Walters believes “threats to human lives” were involved; this assertion also contradicts ABC’s assertions that the documents contained little more that what was said in the interview. [New York Times, 3/17/1987; Nation, 3/28/1987]

Entity Tags: Barbara Walters, Contras, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Oliver North, Reagan administration, Adnan Khashoggi, ABC News

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

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

Representative Curt Weldon.Representative Curt Weldon. [Source: H. Rumph Jr / Associated Press]Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) becomes embroiled in a plot by Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar to contrive a secret uranium exchange between Iran and Iraq. According to Ghorbanifar’s story (see January 11, 2006), just before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a team of Iranian intelligence agents infiltrated Iraq and stole enriched uranium for use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The story is later proven to be false, and based on a desire for money and to embroil Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. After first being contacted by a mysterious Iranian source through a friend and a colleage on March 7, Weldon repeatedly flies to Paris to meet with the source he later calls “Ali,” who is later shown to be Fereidoun Mahdavi, a former minister in the Shah’s Iran who now works as a secretary for Ghorbanifar. Mahdavi has already tried, and failed, to interest several Western intelligence agencies in the stolen uranium tale. He finds Weldon to be far more credulous than the intelligence agencies. According to an intelligence source interviewed in 2006, “Ali provided information that indicated Iranian intelligence had sent a team to Baghdad to extract highly enriched uranium from a stockpile hidden by Saddam Hussein.” Ali tells Weldon that an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq and stole the uranium for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. According to the story, “the team successfully extracted the stockpile but on the way back to Iran contracted radiation poisoning.” Weldon immediately informs CIA Director George Tenet. Weldon will later write in his book Countdown to Terror: “Tenet appeared interested, even enthusiastic about evaluating Ali and establishing a working relationship with him. He agreed to send his top spy, Stephen Kappes, the deputy director of operations, along with me to Paris for another debriefing of Ali.… On the day of our scheduled second meeting with Ali in Paris, Kappes bowed out, claiming that ‘other commitments’ compelled him to cancel. Later, the CIA claimed to have met with Ali independently. But I discovered this to be untrue.… Incredibly, I learned that the CIA had apparently asked French intelligence to silence Ali.” Weldon is wrong; the CIA’s Paris station chief, Bill Murray, investigates the claims and finds Ghorbanifar (whom either he or the agency mistakenly believes to be “Ali”) to be what the agency calls a “fabricator.” Murray goes so far as to take either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi to Iraq to have them retrace the route of the Iranian intelligence mission. “Ali” is unable to do so, and Murray learns that the entire story was concocted in hopes of a large payoff: “Soon it became apparent that Ali and his sources were fabricators and were trying to extract large sums of money,” one intelligence source will say. (Murray will later deny going to Iraq with either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi, but will call “the source” “not credible.… The sensational charges that the source made could not be substantiated.” Weldon, not to be denied, takes his story to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who pressures the CIA to investigate further. One former CIA officer later says, “CIA reluctantly, after pressure from Rumsfeld, followed up by detaching one of their weapons experts from the team that was hunting WMD in Iraq.” Again, this effort proves that Ghorbanifar’s story is completely false. In 2006, reporter Larisa Alexandrovna will call Weldon an “innocent bystander taken in by an internationally known con man and the lure of spook-like activities than an inside player with an agenda or material participant in these events. The Ali composite seems to have used Weldon as a conduit by which to provide the CIA with information.” One intelligence official will observe, “If you were going to launder intel to make up a war, you could easily send some fool on an errand.” [Raw Story, 1/11/2006] Weldon will meet again with Mahdavi, and will write about a lurid Iranian terror plot, the “12th Imam” scheme, based on his tales (see June 8, 2005 and Mid-July 2005). He will claim that the CIA has “routinely” ignored “credible” information about these and other plots.

Entity Tags: Stephen Kappes, Central Intelligence Agency, Bill Murray, Curt Weldon, Larisa Alexandrovna, Donald Rumsfeld, George J. Tenet, Fereidoun Mahdavi, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Larry Franklin.Larry Franklin. [Source: Win McNamee / Getty Images]Larry Franklin, a member of Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith’s Office of Special Plans, and Harold Rhode, a protege of neoconservative Iran “specialist” Michael Ledeen, meets with Iranian arms merchant and Iran-Contra figure Manucher Ghorbanifar in Paris. This is the third of three meetings (see December 9, 2001 and June 2002) between these figures. While no details of the discussions that took place at this meeting are available, it is likely that, like the other two, the main focus of the meeting is the manipulation of “evidence” showing Iraq has weapons of mass destruction in order to provide “proof” that the US invasion of Iraq was justified. (Franklin will later be convicted of passing classified US intelligence to Israel, and will be sentenced to 12 years in prison—see April 13, 1999-2004 and October 5, 2005). [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] Journalists Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris later speculate that the meetings have a hidden agenda alongside the Iraq concern: the destabilization of Iran. They write, “[T]he [Defense Department]-Ghorbanifar meetings suggest the possibility that a rogue faction at the Pentagon was trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime change’ agenda not approved by the president’s foreign policy principals or even the president himself.” [Washington Monthly, 9/2004]

Entity Tags: Paul Glastris, Michael Ledeen, Laura Rozen, Douglas Feith, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Harold Rhode, Larry Franklin, Joshua Micah Marshall, Office of Special Plans

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

The neoconservative American Enterprise Institute’s vice president, Danielle Pletka, says that guidelines set by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in August restricting the Pentagon’s communications with Iranian reformers have hindered analysts’ efforts to collect important information. (see August 2003) “I think information is a commodity we trade in freely in the United States,” she says. “The idea that informational meetings with Iranians should be off-limits to members of our government that deal with nonproliferation and national security seems to me to be foolish in the extreme.” [New York Daily Sun, 12/2/2003]

Entity Tags: American Enterprise Institute, US Department of Defense, Danielle Pletka, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

In his new book, “Countdown to Terror,” Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA), the vice chairman of the House Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, accuses the CIA of dismissing an informant who he says has valuable information on Iran. Weldon’s source claims to have knowledge that Osama Bin Laden is in Iran and that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered a terrorist assault on the US called the “12th Imam attack.” But according to Bill Murray, a former CIA Station Chief in Paris who met with Weldon’s source on four occasions, the information provided by the informant was believed to have originated with Iranian gunrunner Manucher Ghorbanifar, a “known fabricator,” familiar to the CIA since the 1980s (see December 9, 2001 and December 2003). Murray compares Ghorbanifar to Ahmed Chalabi, whose false claims about Iraqi WMD were fed to US intelligence, Congress, and the public during the lead-up to war with Iraq. [American Prospect, 4/1/2005; New York Times, 6/8/2005] Murray later identifies Weldon’s source, whom Weldon nicknames “Ali,” as Ghorbanifar’s associate Fereidoun Mahdavi. According to Murray, Mahdavi is a complete liar. “Mahdavi works for Ghorbanifar,” Murray will say. “The two are inseparable. Ghorbanifar put Mahdavi out to meet with Weldon.” Weldon was accompanied on at least one visit to “Ali” by Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. [American Prospect, 6/10/2005; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]

Entity Tags: Laura Rozen, Peter Hoekstra, Manucher Ghorbanifar, House Intelligence Committee, Curt Weldon, Ahmed Chalabi, Bill Murray, Fereidoun Mahdavi

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Curt Weldon’s book ‘Countdown to Terror,’ which warns of the so-called ‘12th Imam’ plot.Curt Weldon’s book ‘Countdown to Terror,’ which warns of the so-called ‘12th Imam’ plot. [Source: Barnes and Noble]House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) and committee member Curt Weldon (R-PA) meet secretly in Paris with an Iranian exile calling himself “Ali.” The purpose of the meeting is unknown, but is soon disclosed by current and former US officials who request anonymity because they do not want to risk angering either of the congressmen. [McClatchy News, 7/20/2005] Weldon has just published a book, Countdown to Terror, which alleges that the CIA routinely ignores intelligence about Iranian-sponsored terror plots against US targets, and that Iran is planning a spectacular terrorist strike against the US, which he calls the “12th Imam plot.” Weldon also writes that Iran is very close to producing nuclear weapons, and that Osama bin Laden is hiding inside Iran. “Ali” is one of Weldon’s primary sources of information; much of Weldon’s book is composed of “intelligence memos” “Ali” sent him in 2003 and 2004.
'Ali' an Associate of Iranian Disinformation Peddler - Unfortunately, according to CIA station chief Bill Murray, “Ali” is really Fereidoun Mahdavi, a former minister of commerce for the long-deposed Shah of Iran, and a longtime business associate of discredited arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. Like Ghorbanifar, Mahdavi is a known fabricator and source of disinformation. “The two are inseparable,” Murray says. “Ghorbanifar put Mahdavi out to meet with Weldon.” Murray also says Weldon broke government regulations by not informing the US ambassador to France of his 2003 and 2004 meetings with Mahdavi. Worse, Weldon denied having any meetings planned with Mahdavi, then proceeded to meet with Mahdavi in a hotel just around the corner from the US embassy. When asked by reporter Laura Rozen about the meetings between himself and Weldon, Mahdavi says he is stunned and perplexed to learn that Weldon wrote a book, and that the congressman never told him about any book plans. Mahdavi confirms that much of the information he gave Weldon came from Ghorbanifar, who was the subject of a CIA “burn notice” almost 20 years ago. In halting English, Mahdavi says: “Many information that I have given to Weldon is coming from Ghorbanifar. Because Ghorbanifar used me, in fact, to pass that stuff because I know he has problems in Washington.… I am well known in Tehran. How can I call Tehran? But Ghorbanifar is something else. He has all the contacts within Iran. Nobody has so many information and contacts that he has. Now if he is using that information through me to try to buy power indirectly, that is his business. I do it because I have known him for many years.” In Weldon’s book, one memo he receives from “Ali” reads: “Dear Curt. An attack against an atomic plant by a plane, the name mentioned, but not clear it begins with ‘SEA’,” perhaps indicating Seattle. Another memo reads: “Dear Curt:… I confirm again a terrorist attack within the United States is planned before the American elections.” Rozen calls the memos “comically overwrought.”
Interfering with Real Intelligence Work - Murray is less than impressed with Weldon’s literary effort. “Most of us [CIA officers] have been consumed with preventing real terrorist threats to the US for the past four years,” he says. “And virtually everything Ghorbanifar and his people come up with diverts us. I have hard-working people working for me, and they don’t have time for this bullsh_t.” [American Prospect, 6/10/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 336]
Ongoing Disinformation Campaign against Iran - CIA analysts have examined Mahdavi’s “intelligence” and deemed it worthless. They do believe, however, that Mahdavi is engaged in an effort to destabilize the Iranian government, and is using Weldon and perhaps Hoekstra for those ends. Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro says Mahdavi “is just part and parcel of the longest-running, ongoing fabrication in US history.” [McClatchy News, 7/20/2005] In October 2006, one intelligence source will say that the Paris meeting was part of a larger intelligence disinformation campaign designed to plant propaganda in foreign news sources with the hope that it will filter into American news reporting and be presented as legitimate reporting. The idea is to promote the need for military action against Iran, and perhaps the overthrow of the Iranian government by the US military. [Raw Story, 10/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Fereidoun Mahdavi, Peter Hoekstra, House Intelligence Committee, Curt Weldon, Laura Rozen, Bill Murray, Vincent Cannistraro, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The Internet news site Raw Story learns that Iranian exile and arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar (see December 9, 2001) attempted to peddle a fabricated story of stolen uranium to US and other Western governments in the spring and summer of 2003 (see March 7, 2003 and After). The story comes from US and foreign intelligence sources, and is confirmed by former CIA station chief Bill Murray. Ghorbanifar’s story, of an Iranian intelligence team infiltrating Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion and stealing enriched uranium to use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was apparently designed to earn him money as well as to embroil both Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. It is possible that a June 2003 meeting between Ghorbanifar and two US officials was part of his attempt to peddle the story (see June 2003). Ghorbanifar was extensively involved in the Iran-Contra scandal as a middleman between Iranian government officials and members of the Reagan administration (see July 18, 1985, July 25, 1985, December 8, 1985, and December 1986). [Raw Story, 1/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Raw Story, Bill Murray, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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