Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (Photo credit: His official website)
The U.S. Treasury Department's claim of a "secret deal" between Iran
and Al-Qaeda, which had become a key argument by right-wing activists
who support war against Iran, has been discredited by former
intelligence officials in the wake of publication of documents from
Osama bin Laden's files revealing a high level of antagonism between
Al-Qaeda and Iran.
Three former intelligence officials with experience on Near East and
South Asia told IPS they regard Treasury's claim of a secret agreement
between Iran and Al-Qaeda as false and misleading. That claim was
presented in a way that suggested it was supported by intelligence. It
now appears, however, to have been merely a propaganda line designed to
support the Obama administration's strategy of diplomatic coercion on
Under Secretary of Treasury David S. Cohen announced last July that
the department was "exposing Iran's secret deal with Al-Qaeda allowing
it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory." The charge was
introduced in connection with the designation of an Al-Qaeda official
named Yasin al-Suri as a terrorist subject to financial sanctions.
The Treasury claim has been embraced by the right-wing Weekly
Standard and others aligned with hardline Israeli views on Iran, as
primary source evidence of an alliance between Iran and Al-Qaeda.
But Paul R. Pillar, former national intelligence officer for Near
East and South Asia, told IPS the allegation of a "secret deal" between
Iran and Al-Qaeda "has never been backed up by any evidence that would
justify such a term" and that it is "a highly misleading
characterization of interaction between Iran and Al-Qaeda."
Pillar said the recently released bin Laden documents "not only do
not demonstrate any agreement in which Iran condoned or facilitated
operations by Al-Qaeda, they contradict the notion that there was any
"I've never seen anything that suggests that happened," said another
former intelligence official, referring to an Iran-Al Qaeda agreement.
"I'm very skeptical about that."
A third former intelligence official said Treasury's "secret deal"
claim "doesn't pass the BS test" and noted that it is perfectly aligned
with the Obama administration's policy of pressure on Iran. The official
said the Treasury Department's push for its "secret deal" line is
emblematic of a larger split in the intelligence community between those
for whom intelligence is secondary to their role in "counterterrorism"
policy and the rest of the community.
"The counterterrorism types are like used car salesmen," the former
official told IPS. "They are always overselling something. They have to
show that they are doing important work."
The actual text of the July 28, 2011, "designation" of Yasin al-Suri
suggests that the claim of such a "secret deal" is merely a political
spin on the fact that Iran dealt with al-Suri on the release of
It says that Yasin al Suri is an Al-Qaeda facilitator "living and
operating in Iran under agreement between Al-Qaeda and the Iranian
government." Iranian authorities, it said, "maintain a relationship with
(al-Suri) and have permitted him to operate within Iran's borders since
The designation offers no other evidence of an "agreement" except for
the fact that Iran dealt with al-Suri in arranging the releases of
Al-Qaeda prisoners from Iranian detention and their transfer to
Pakistan. The official notice of a $10 million reward for al-Suri on the
website of the "Rewards for Justice" program under the Diplomatic
Security office of the State Department also indicates that the only
"agreement" between Iran and Al-Qaeda has been to exchange prisoners.
"Working with the Iranian government," it said, "al-Suri arranges the
release of al Qaeda personnel from Iranian prisons. When al Qaeda
operatives are released, the Iranian government transfers them to
al-Suri, who then facilitates their travel to Pakistan."
Neither the Treasury Department nor the State Department, which
joined the February 2012 press briefing on the reward for finding
al-Suri, referred to the fact that Iran had been forced to deal with
al-Suri and to release Al-Qaeda detainees in order to obtain the release
of the Iranian diplomat kidnapped by Pakistani allies of Al-Qaeda in
Peshawar, Pakistan, in November 2008.
In one of the documents taken from the Abbottabad compound and
published by West Point's Counter-Terrorism Center last week, a senior
Al Qaeda official wrote, "We believe that our efforts, which included
escalating a political and media campaign, the threats we made, the
kidnapping of their friend the commercial counselor in the Iranian
Consulate in Peshawar, and other reasons that scared them based on what
they saw (we are capable of), to be among the reasons that led them to
expedite (the release of these prisoners)."
In response to the IPS request for clarification of the "secret
agreement" claim, John Sullivan, a spokesman for the Treasury
Department's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, declined to
answer any questions on the subject or to allow IPS to interview Eytan
Fisch, the assistant director of the Terrorism and Financial