Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Forgotten Concept of State-Sponsored Terrorism Reconsidered

After federal prosecutors charged that Iranian officials were behind a plot to pay a gang of Mexican drug dealers $1.5 million to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador in Washington DC, American officials expressed incredulity that the Iranian government would “cross the line” by sponsoring such a plot. Despite prima facie evidence of state sponsorship, including monitored telephone calls that traced directly back to officials of the covert action branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and state banking arrangements for the first part of a $1.5 million transfer, a “senior law enforcement official”– often code used for the FBI Director– told the New York Times that such a plot was inconsistent with Iran’s previous modus operandi and suggested that it might be a rogue operation not approved by the Iranian government. Anything is of course possible but such a tortured explanation shows how far the concept of state-sponsored terrorism has fallen out of fashion in America.

That was not always the case. During the Cold War, the US government routinely assumed that the Soviet Union and other adversaries engaged sponsored covert actions including political assassination, embassy bombing, and airplane hijackings and used terrorist groups and criminal gangs to camouflaged their sponsorship. The extent to which their intelligence services covertly employed terrorists from the Red Brigade, Baader-Meinhof Gang, and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is now a matter of record. How these false flag operations worked is made abundantly clear in the brilliantly-researched miniseries on “Carlos The Jackal.” For two decades, Carlos (nee Ilich Ramerez Sanchez) was able to carry out dramatic terrorist operations because he had hidden state sponsorship for them . Consider, for example, his kidnapping of the OPEC ministers in Vienna in 1975. The operation was conceived of and backed by Saddam Hussein. Iraq provided him with the weapons, explosives, and other equipment by using its diplomatic pouch to transport them to its Embassy in Vienna, as well as the false documentation and money he needed. It also arranged his escape to Algeria with his hostages. In other operations, he was assisted by Syria, Yemen, the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Sudan. Only when the Cold War ended and he lost this state sponsorship was he extradited from Sudan to France and arrested.

State sponsorship of terrorism did not end with the Cold War.. As late as April 2001, the US designated seven governments— Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan— as "state sponsors of international terrorism" and also cited Pakistani for its “support to terrorist groups and elements active in Kashmir,” as well as the Taliban, which it noted “ continues to harbor terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.” One reason that Iran headed the list was the FBI had concluded in 1999 that it used local Saudi terrorists to mask its role in killing 19 Americans with a giant truck bomb blow up the US military residences at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

Nor did Bin Laden operate without state sponsorship prior to 9-11. In his jihad against Russian forces in Afghanistan, he was supported by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. After Saudi broke with him in 1990, he was backed by Sudan and then, after 1996, by Afghanistan. In Taliban-run Afghanistan, he was able to used its Ariana airlines to move weapons and personnel to the Emirates and Pakistan (which were staging bases for his terrorist operations.) He may have also had covert cooperation from Iran. The 911 Commission learned from documents which the CIA it only a few days before its report was due to be published that the international travels of at least 8 of the hijackers who took part in the 9-11 attack were “apparently facilitated" by Iran. These men were allowed to transit through Iran without their passports being stamped and without obtaining transit visas. If their passports had been stamped by Iran they may not have been permitted entry to the US. The Commission was unable to investigate the extent of Iranian support since its Report had to be shipped to the printers .

In light of the discovery of the Iranianb plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador, It may be useful to reconsidered the concept of state sponsorship of terrorism.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TV's Reality Show

Showtime has a new psycho-thriller series called “Homeland” that concerns the search for a hidden mole by the CIA. So in the episodes to come dedicated investigators will ferret him or her out. What is interesting here is the schism between the fictional world and real world of counterespionage. In the former, the issue is discovering and getting rid of the mole. In the real world, the issue is the vulnerability of the organization itself. If the CIA can be penetrated for a sustained period of time by an enemy agent masquerading as a loyal officer, then there is a defect in its apparatus. To admit this, is to admit it is vulnerable to penetration. Such an admission will paralyze its intelligence gathering. The alternative is to view such allegations as the product of “paranoia” and “sick think,” as CIA Director William Colby termed it. This mindset maintains the illusion of invulnerability and the organization’s morale, but allows the penetration to continue.

This single most revealing document on how the CIA dealt with this dilemma is the 1995 finding of its own CIA Inspector General. His investigation determined that 6 or more agents recruited by the CIA in the 1980s and early 1990s were actually controlled by the KGB. The internal investigation further established that between 1986 and 1994 information from these double-agents had routinely been incorporated in the CIA's most highly classified product, a report signed personally by the CIA director, and provided with a distinctive blue stripe to the President, Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all received this disinformation, according to the Inspector-General. But the shocking part is not that the KGB successfully deceived the CIA but that the CIA did not reveal it had been gulled after learning its agents were controlled by Moscow. The Inspector General states “senior CIA officers responsible for these reports had known that some of their sources were controlled by Russian intelligence.” Yet they chose not to blow the KGB’s deception.

If it revealed that the KGB controlled these agents, its entire illusion of invulnerability would crumble. It would have to confront the possibility that the KGB was able to continue this operation for eight years because it had someone inside the CIA telling it how the data it was preparing was being interpreted by the CIA. James Jesus Angleton had contended that such feedback required a mole in either CIA or FBI counterintelligence. At the time, it was believed by the leadership of the CIA that its rigorous defenses , including polygraph examinations, security checks /and agents recruited in Russian intelligence, made it invulnerable to such a deep penetration. So Angleton fired by Colby and discredited.. It was only decades later moles such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen were discovered. Angleton was proven right in his assessment but the Cold war was over.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

James Jesus Angleton Reconsidered

In his newly published memoir, Dick Cheney provides such an intriguing coda to his service on the House Intelligence Committee that it could been the opening of a Le Carre novel. He writes that in May 1987 James Jesus Angleton, the former head of CIA counterintelligence, requested an urgent meeting with him to reveal to him something of “vital importance.” He immediately scheduled it but, just days before it was to take place, Angleton died, taking the unconveyed message to the grave with him. At the time, the general consensus in the intelligence community was that Angleton was paranoid about the KGB. His hunt for a mole, which had partly paralyzed the CIA had failed, and when he was fired from the CIA in 1975, CIA director William Colby called his obsession that the CIA could be penetrated by the KGB “sick think.” His idea that the KGB could plant and then sustain a mole in the CIA or FBI had not been substantiated by any evidence in 1975, and his idea that the CIA could be manipulated into cooperating in its own deception seemed totally out of touch with reality,

Yet, as it turned out after his death, he was not as far out of touch with reality as his critics inside the CIA.

First, the discovery of KGB moles Aldrich Ames, Harold Nicholson, and Robert Hanssen showed that the KGB had the capability to penetrate both the CIA and FBI.

Second, the fact that, despite lie detector tests, surveillance, and other counterespionage measures, Ames and Hanssen went undetected for more than a decade– Hanssen worked for the KGB over a period of 22 years– showed that the KGB had the ability to protect and advance their moles. ( Ames headed the CIA's Soviet Russia Division’s counterintelligence unit, Hanssen worked in the FBI’s anti- KGB operations.)

Third, the CIA Inspector General’s finding in 1995 found that in the 1980s and early 1990s the KGB had dispatched at least a half-dozen double agents who provided the CIA with disinformation cooked up in Moscow and that for eight years this disinformation had been passed in blue-striped reports signed personally by the CIA director to three Presidents even thought “senior CIA officers responsible for these reports had known that some of their sources were controlled by Russian intelligence” showed that the CIA would not necessarily expose KGB deception. So Angleton was right on all three scores.

For detils, see my most recent book -- James Jesus Angleton: Was He Right?