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General News    H3'ed 5/11/12

Bin Laden Files Dispel Iran-Qaeda Link

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This article cross-posted from Consortium News
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 Iran.

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 such agreement."

"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 prisoners.

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 2005."

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 Intelligence office.

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Gareth Porter (born 18 June 1942, Independence, Kansas) is an American historian, investigative journalist and policy analyst on U.S. foreign and military policy. A strong opponent of U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, he has also (more...)

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