In the wake of the assassination of yet another Iranian scientist on Wednesday, The New York Times has belatedly reported on covert actions carried out by the United States and Israel and directed against Iran, something that I have been describing both in the print edition of TAC and also on this blog site. The article, by Scott Shane suggests that the Times would be well served by acquiring a journalist or at least an expert source who understands something about intelligence operations.
There is the usual editorializing in the text, including the assertion that Western leaders believe Iran is making “halting but determined progress toward a nuclear weapon.” I’m not sure which leaders were polled to provide that judgment. The ubiquitous Hillary Clinton is also quoted as saying that Iran has to “…end its provocative behavior, end its search for nuclear weapons and rejoin the international community.” The assumption that Iran is seeking a weapon cannot be demonstrated and is contradicted by the findings of the US intelligence community’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate and the review of the same document conducted in 2009-2010, but somehow it seems to keep popping up every time Hillary speaks.
But more interesting is the automatic assumption that it is Israel that is behind the assassinations and sabotage. It is not, though Mossad almost certainly collaborates with CIA in some endeavors, most particularly in the recent creation of the Stuxnet computer virus. Neither Israel nor the US sends its own intelligence officers into a hostile environment like Iran to conduct operations. Instead they use local people who are recruited to do the job. Israel has little actual contact with Iranians and Mossad does not have nearly the reach and resources that the US government has to recruit and train agents and to establish communications with them before sending them back into Iran. The US intelligence agencies have ongoing relations with the Mujaheddin e-Khalq (MEK) terrorist group that has been the subject of much dispute of late and it undoubtedly obtains some of its cannon fodder from that source. But is also actively pursues Iranians who show up in visa lines in US Consulates in places like Istanbul, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. In many cases, the Iranians are recruited, trained, and sent home to be used on special missions. Iran has been successful in rolling up a number of these networks but others surely remain. Washington also has an ability to identify targets in the Iranian nuclear program that Israel lacks, through interception of telephone and electronic transmissions, and from the debriefing of Iranian travelers and defectors.
Readers of the NYT article are being led to believe, possibly deliberately, that the US has little or nothing to do with assassination and sabotage operations inside Iran. In reality, a principal US role in such activity is a sine qua non.