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Profile: Hillary Mann
Hillary Mann was a participant or observer in the following events:
State Department official Hillary Mann, walking home after being evacuated from the United Nations building after the two World Trade Center attacks, is contacted by a senior Iranian diplomat on her personal cell phone. Mann and the Iranian, whom she will refuse to name but will describe as a cultured man in his fifties with salt-and-pepper hair, have been secretly meeting in a small conference room at the UN. He says the attacks were most likely the work of al-Qaeda, and then says, “I hope that we can still work together.” In the following weeks, the Iranian official will maintain contact with Mann, offering backchannel support for the US and the chance for more full-fledged, open diplomatic contacts. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
An Iranian diplomat has been maintaining secretive, “backchannel” contact with State Department official Hillary Mann for months; his efforts to reach out to the US government through Mann have increased since the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001). In one meeting with the diplomat, in the Delegates’ Lounge of the United Nations, the diplomat tells Mann that Iran is ready to cooperate unconditionally with the US. Reporter John Richardson will later note that the statement has “seismic diplomatic implications.” Richardson will continue: “Unconditional talks are what the US had been demanding as a precondition to any official diplomatic contact between the US and Iran. And it would be the first chance since the Islamic revolution for any kind of rapprochement.” Mann will recall: “It was revolutionary. It could have changed the world.” Mann will say, “They specifically told me time and again that they were doing this because they understood the impact of this attack on the US, and they thought that if they helped us unconditionally, that would be the way to change the dynamic for the first time in 25 years.” When she discusses the meetings with a reporter in 2007, Mann will say, “As far as they’re concerned, the whole idea that there were talks is something I shouldn’t even be talking about.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Shortly after State Department official Hillary Mann joins the National Security Council staff as its resident Iran expert, she flies to Europe with senior State Department official Ryan Crocker to establish contact with Iranian government officials. Iran has let the US know through back channels that it is ready to re-establish diplomatic relations (see Fall 2001); Mann’s efforts were critical in the early stages of diplomatic contacts (see September 11, 2001). Mann and Crocker meet with Iranian diplomats in the old United Nations building in Geneva, and the two sides hammer out an agreement for Iran’s assistance in the war against the Taliban. The Iranians agree to provide assistance if any American fliers are shot down near their border with Afghanistan, let the US ship food across their borders, work with the Americans to intercept Iraqi oil being shipped out of the Persian Gulf, and even help capture some “really bad Afghans,” particularly anti-American warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom they agree to quietly put under house arrest in Tehran. In addition, the Iranians offer the US tactical assistance in the war against the Taliban, including sharing their deep knowledge of the Taliban’s strategic capabilities. Simultaneously, special envoy James Dobbins has a successful meeting with the Iranian deputy foreign minister in Bonn, Germany, discussing Iranian involvement in establishing a new government for Afghanistan. Mann will recall one meeting with Iranian officials shortly after the US began bombing Taliban targets (see October 19, 2001); an Iranian interrupts a rather desultory conversation about a future Afghani constitution by pounding on the table and shouting, “Enough of that!” He then unfurls a map of Afghanistan and begins jabbing his finger at points on the map, telling Mann and her colleagues that the Americans need to bomb this and that target. [Esquire, 10/18/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 245-246]
Three weeks after the “Karine A” is seized, allegedly filled with Iranian weapons destined to be used against Israel (see January 3, 2002 and After), President Bush names Iran as one of the world’s “axis of evil” nations (see January 29, 2002). State Department official Hillary Mann, who has been facilitating secret backchannel discussions with Iranian officials for over a year (see September 11, 2001 and Fall 2001), later confirms that the “Karine A” incident helped prompt Iran’s inclusion in Bush’s speech. The speech prompts the Iranians to skip the monthly meeting with Mann in Geneva. When they resume their meeting in March, the Iranians, according to Mann, are disturbed by Bush’s characterization. “They said they had put their necks out to talk to us and they were taking big risks with their careers and their families and their lives,” she will recall. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Two weeks after the White House flatly rejected a comprehensive diplomatic offer from Iran (see May 4, 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell approaches State Department official Hillary Mann, who wrote the original memo recommending that the Iranian proffer be considered. Powell tells Mann: “It was a very good memo. I couldn’t sell it at the White House.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Three key intelligence advisers are forced to resign, or fired, by neoconservative Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council (NSC)‘s presidential adviser on the Middle East (see December 2002 and December 2002). Flynt Leverett was the senior director for Middle East affairs on the NSC; Hillary Mann was a foreign service officer on detail to the NSC as its director for Iran and Persian Gulf affairs; and Ben Miller was a CIA staffer and an NSC expert on Iran. All three are forced out because they disagree with Abrams’s views towards Israel. Miller also questioned Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi’s fitness to become the new leader of Iraq. Leverett will later say: “There was a decision made… basically to renege on the commitments we had made to various European and Arab partners of the United States [in favor of Israel]. I personally disagreed with that decision.” According to Yossef Bodansky, the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terror and Unconventional Warfare, Abrams “led Miller to an open window and told him to jump.” Bodansky will also confirm that Mann and Leverett are ordered to leave the NSC by Abrams. [Unger, 2007, pp. 291]
Hillary Mann, the Bush administration’s former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs, tells Newsweek that some advisers in the administration are looking for an excuse to attack Iraq. “They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,” he says. Newsweek notes, “With Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident’s spiraling into a crisis are higher than they’ve been in years.” [Newsweek, 2/17/2007]
National Public Radio reports that Saad bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, has probably been assassinated by the US in Pakistan. The assassination was performed by a Predator drone, using Hellfire missiles. Saad was not the intended target of the missiles and was not a missile target at all, but was just “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to a counterterrorism official. [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009] US drones are operated by the CIA in Pakistan. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
Uncertainty about Death and Role - The exact date of Saad’s death is unclear, and it is reported only as “sometime this year.” The death is also not completely certain, as the US does not obtain a body to conduct tests on. However, a senior US counterterrorism official will say the US is “80 to 85 percent” certain that Saad is dead. Saad had escaped from house arrest in Iran around December 2008 or January 2009 (see (Between December 2008 and January 2009)). [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009] The relatives with whom he was imprisoned in Iran will indicate he had no involvement with terrorism during the seven years he was held in Iran. [Times (London), 12/23/2009] However, the counterterrorism official says Saad was active in al-Qaeda, but was not a major player. “We make a big deal out of him because of his last name,” he adds. [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009]
Missed Intelligence Opportunity - Others point out that Saad might have been much more valuable if he’d been captured alive, if only because of what he knew about his father. Hillary Mann Leverett, a former adviser to the National Security Council, claims that the US had several opportunities to interrogate Saad during the years he was in Iran (see Spring 2002 and Mid-May 2003). She says, “The Iranians offered to work out an international framework for transferring terror suspects, but the Bush administration refused.” She adds: “We absolutely did not get the most we could. Saad bin Laden would have been very, very valuable in terms of what he knew. He probably would have been a gold mine.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
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