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Deep Background

A special group at the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, very similar to the group that tracked the activity of al-Qaeda through the 1990s, has been working on the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah over the past three years.In the wake of the failed Israeli incursion into Lebanon last summer, the White House asked these Hezbollah analysts to provide a comprehensive assessment of the organization, its tactics, and its leaders. A team of analysts headed by an experienced senior officer completed the report over a month ago and concluded, surprisingly, that Hezbollah is actually a collection of diverse interest groups, and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, far from being a fanatic controlled by Tehran, is a fairly nuanced and astute politician who has maintained his independence from the Mullahs. It also indicated that Hezbollah’s threat to American interests has been seriously overstated. The report recommended that the U.S. government make an effort to establish a dialogue with Nasrallah in an attempt to moderate his organization’s more extreme policies; it suggested strongly that Nasrallah would likely be receptive to such an approach. The more politically sensitized senior managers of the CIA analytical division took one look at the report, were shocked by its conclusions, and sent it back to the Counter Terrorism Center for reconsideration and redrafting in a form that would be more politically acceptable to the White House.

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Reports that an Iranian scientist working on Iran’s nuclear program has been assassinated by the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, appear to be the latest in a series of deliberate fabrications. Ardeshire Hassanpour, who died on Jan. 15, was an award-winning and internationally known scientist who worked at a plant in Isfahan where uranium hexafluoride gas is produced. The gas is used in the centrifuge-based enrichment process to generate nuclear fuel for the main Iranian research center at Natanz, and initial reports suggested that Hassanpour had died of “gas poisoning,” though the Iranian authorities did not hint of any unusual circumstances or foul play. Hassanpour’s death was first reported without additional comment by Prague-based Radio Farda, which broadcasts in Farsi into Iran and is funded by the U.S. Department of State. It was subsequently reported by the U.S.-based private information service Stratfor, which has close ties to Israeli intelligence and suggested that the Mossad was possibly involved. The story was then picked up and further relayed by Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London, which has often served as an outlet for Israeli disinformation and has also been reporting very alarming but usually erroneous information about Iran. Several U.S. intelligence sources believe that the Israelis have only limited intelligence capabilities inside Iran and that the story of Hassanpour’s assassination is, in fact, a fabrication produced by Mossad to frighten Iranian scientists working on Iran’s nuclear program, making them worry that they might be assassinated next. Hassanpour is certainly dead, but he most likely died in an accident, not because he was targeted and killed.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA Officer, is a partner in Cannistraro Associates, an international security consultancy. 

about the author

Phil Giraldi is a former CIA Case Officer and Army Intelligence Officer who spent twenty years overseas in Europe and the Middle East working terrorism cases. He holds a BA with honors from the University of Chicago and an MA and PhD in Modern History from the University of London. In addition to TAC, where he has been a contributing editor for nine years, he writes regularly for Antiwar.com. He is currently Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest and resides with his wife of 32 years in Virginia horse country close to his daughters and grandchildren. He has begun talking far too much to his English bulldog Dudley of late, thinks of himself as a gourmet cook, and will not drink Chardonnay under any circumstances. He does not tweet, and avoids all social media.

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