US Intelligence Analyst: Obama Administration Denied Central Command Team Access to Bin Laden Documents

Michael Pregent is a former analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who focused on Iran in the course of his service. Currently an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute focused on Middle Eastern affairs, he is also a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University.

In recent weeks, allegations of Saudi government operational involvement in the 9-11 attacks have regained prominence in the American public discussion. What do you see as the political context of this trend?

With all of the recent provocations by Iran, Democrats who supported the Iran deal are now in an uncomfortable political position vis a vis their constituents based on those provocations. They’ve expressed their concerns to the President, and say they’d be willing to support sanctions against Iran for non-nuclear violations, such as the terrorism violation. But meanwhile, the President has been appealing to every Governor of every state to consider lifting their existing sanctions on Iran for non-nuclear violations such as humanitarian violations and support for terrorism and support for Hezbollah. So that’s something that also came out this week. The President, in a letter to state Governors, said, we’re asking you to lift sanctions on Iran. Many of the Governors have responded by saying, ‘We thought this was only a nuclear deal. Why are you asking us to lift sanctions on Iran for terrorism and humanitarian issues?’

The current White House is an administration that is doing everything it possibly can to make sure that the Iran deal does not unravel before the President leaves office. Iran knows this, and so it continues to pressure the US, conveying in substance that that is exactly what they’ll do if the US doesn’t give Iran access to the US banking sector and lift all existing sanctions on Iran.

In this context, there is a visible trend, both on the part of the White House and on the part of some of its most prominent supporters in Congress, to accentuate information about Saudi Arabia that is helpful to supporters of the Iran deal. Supporters of the Iran deal know that they cannot persuade Americans to feel comfortable with the Iranian government or accepting the leadership of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a security partner. But perhaps their confidence in America’s traditional allies — Saudi Arabia being prominent among them — can be eroded through the painful memories of September 11 and the allegation that the Saudi government had something to do with it. In other words, “If you don’t like Iran, Saudi Arabia is worse, or just as bad.” It’s called moral equivalency.

What is your opinion of such claims?

I reject them, because Iran is a state supporter of terrorism and Saudi Arabia is not. Neither the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia nor its security sector are targeting Americans. By contrast, both the Iranian leadership and its security institutions — notably, the Quds Force Directorate of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — are state sponsors of terror that have targeted American servicemen overseas, American citizens, and our allies.

In this highly charged political climate, the Saudi discussion is a welcome distraction from Iran while the administration puts pressure on governors to get them to play ball, because Khamenei is accusing the US of not living up to its part of the deal. Iran believes that all sanctions must be lifted. The reality of a sudden American shift towards Iran is settling in now — both in the Middle East and in the United States. Unfortunately part of the result is a push to punish a long-time ally of the United States — and Iran has to love this.

There has been a resurgence of interest in the 28-page portion of the Congressional Report on 9-11 that remains classified, which purportedly concerns alleged Saudi government involvement in the September 11 tragedy.

The 9-11 Commission was privy to the 28 pages, and yet nothing it found in that document or in any other source led to the result of a conclusion implicating the Saudi government in the 9-11 attacks. The 28-page documents would contain information that was under investigation at the time, before it was necessarily verified and before any allegations were confirmed. The notion of “28 classified pages concerning Saudi Arabia” sounds nefarious so long as it remains classified. I note that the Saudi government has been calling for the release of the material for years now. Anyway, my opinion is that the 28 pages will show that there is no direct government involvement, and that these were private citizens who were perpetrating the attack without government support. But meanwhile, I must say, there is a much larger trove of classified documents that really ought to be released which the Obama Administration seems unlikely to declassify.

What are those documents?

I’m referring to over a million documents — including papers, computer hard drives, and audio and video recordings — that were seized by the Sensitive Site Exploration Team from Osama Bin Laden’s residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Only a tiny fraction of the Bin Laden documents has been released, and we have every indication that it is a selective release. If the Administration were to have released some of the many items concerning Bin Laden’s relationship with Iran that have bearing on its material support for Al-Qaeda prior to and after 9-11, both the information and the fact the Administration knew of it would have torpedoed the Iran deal.

It has been reported that you had some involvement with those documents in your professional capacity as a Defense Intelligence Agency officer. Can you explain?

It was 2012, and I was on a team from United States Central Command (CENTCOM) that was concerned with a granular Al-Qaeda investigation. In looking at phone numbers, signals intelligence intercepts, and other things, we started to see route facilitation through Iran. There was a letter in the Bin Laden documents referring to Iran’s crucial role in the organization, warning Al-Qaeda operatives “not to mess with Iran.” We were trying to gain historical knowledge of the organization, to see how it functioned. And we started seeing stuff nobody was talking about, like Iranian facilitation of Al-Qaeda travel into Pakistan, for example. It seems to me that we were starting to piece things together and they didn’t like it.

Anyhow, we received permission from the CIA to go to the National Media Exploitation Center in McClean, Virginia to review the documents — only for the trip to be cancelled at the last minute. From what I was told, the decision came from the President’s National Security Council. The team was disbanded weeks later.

Decorated US Counter-terrorism Expert: Declassify the “28 Pages” to Heal Saudi-American Relations

Edward A. Turzanski is a Life Member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), having served with the U.S. Intelligence Community in postings throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe during the Reagan Administration. He was also a member of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Anti-Terror Advisory Committee throughout the George W. Bush Administration. He currently serves as the Templeton Fellow and Co-Chair of the Center for the Study of Terrorism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. He is also Professor of Political Science and History at La Salle University in Philadelphia, where his research focuses include Intelligence and Espionage, Terrorism and Counterterrorism, U.S. National Security Policy, the American Presidency, and Social and Cultural Commentary.

What is your view of the controversy over the release of the classified 28-page portion of a Congressional report on 9/11?

I think it is very important that the secret portion of the “9-11 Report” be disclosed in its entirety — because at this point, having the “28 pages” lurk as a phantom invites people to supply their own narrative, which in the long term is much more damaging to US-Saudi relations than disclosing what we believe to likely be in the report and then dealing with the aftermath. Let’s also keep in mind that there’s a broader context to the US-Saudi relationship — and of greater concern to those people who respect that very long, consequential relationship is the Administration’s position vis a vis Iran, which to my thinking, has been damaging to the US, to Saudi Arabia, and to other allies that the US has in the Middle East.

What is publicly known about the content of the unreleased “28 pages”?

What we have been told most frequently in the US media is that the Government of Saudi Arabia is not implicated. Getting the information out is important, and we need to deal with any fallout there might be. Each side is going to deal with justice on its terms. But again, I do stress that, keeping the information out of the public view has the corrosive effect on American confidence in Saudi Arabia and in the relationship with Saudi Arabia. I believe that is more dangerous in the long term than disclosing what’s in the report, dealing with the aftermath, and then moving on — recognizing that we do have some common interests. And those interests are not being served by the Administration’s tilt toward Iran.

For over a decade the position of the Saudi government has been to call for the release of the “28 pages.” So, who is opposing their release, and why? And how, if at all, does this controversy relate to the dispute over proposed legislation which would enable U.S. citizens to sue the Government of Saudi Arabia for damages caused by terrorism?

There are a range of possibilities. One of them, for which there is a strong likelihood, is that the State Department has its own views on what should and shouldn’t be released, because it views itself as the primary instrument of American foreign policy — the primary institution responsible to manage foreign relations, in this case specifically with Saudi Arabia — and it considers this to be injurious in the long term when it comes to the conduct of US foreign policies. I think people who know foreign policy would not be shocked by that, though if you conducted man-in-the-street interviews around the United States, you’d get some very puzzled, if not angry looks from people. If they hear there’s a piece of legislation saying Americans should be able to litigate against foreign governments for terrorist acts or other harm, they’ll say that on its face, that’s a common-sense, intelligent thing to have.

The State Department may tend to oppose any attempt to engage in that kind of litigation. The public’s immediate response would be to say, the State Department cares less about Americans and is more concerned about its prerogative to deal with foreign entities. That may be true — but at the same time, as the State Department points out with some justification, if you go down that road, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” — and don’t be surprised when foreign nationals start litigating against the US government in much larger numbers than Americans would be litigating against foreign states. So you can see where the State Department has a point. It may not make it in the most tactful way in terms of domestic public opinion or political considerations, but it’s not without some justification.

So back to your question, who would be saying, “Don’t release these documents,” it would not surprise me in the least if the State Department or some agency within the foreign policy establishment within the US government would say, “Listen, no good will come of this because it will complicate an already difficult relationship.” The issue of the 28 pages has been with us before, and it has bubbled to the surface again. If the problem is removed, we can move on, and people will be in a position where they’re looking more clearly about those common interests that call for cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia. But when you have this unresolved issue, as painful as it could be to excise in the short term, the damage done over the long term by not excising it is much greater.

Following your logic that the US-Saudi relationship is damaged more severely by the concealment of the 28 pages than its release, how does the controversy play into the political dispute over a new American alliance with Iran?

There would be more pushback against the Administration’s policies vis a vis Iran were it the case that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were seen to be a dependable ally in all instances. Now I will enter the realm of speculation — and I realize that doing so exposes me to the risk of being guided by a conspiratorial mindset. That having been said, I think that the Administration has exhibited a pattern of conduct in which it will use whatever lever it can in order to bolster relations with Iran. And I believe that’s damaging to America’s interests in the Middle East. The Iranian regime does not deserve this kind of support from an American administration. It’s just very bad for us, bad for the Saudis, and bad for our other allies in the region. So the short answer is, the Administration may be using this.

Think back for a moment: Less than a year ago, the Iranians seized American sailors in international waters, held them and exhibited them in violation of the Geneva Convention, and in response, our Secretary of State thanked the Iranian regime for treating them well and seeing to their prompt release. Now Tehran is commemorating the spectacle by commissioning a statue to be built to the lasting image of our embarrassment. This has been the experience we’ve had, especially since this very poorly-thought-through deal was signed with the Iranians, where they continue to violate the terms of the deal. When you point it out to them, they accuse the US of being the violators of the deal, and the Administration meekly accepts this. And American allies say, “Have you lost your senses? How do you allow this to happen?” The Administration wants this deal very badly. And there is an old adage that says, “Be careful how you want something. If you want it badly, you’ll get it the way you wanted it.”

Kindly clarify what you see as the relationship between the Administration’s policies and the resurgence of controversy over Saudi Arabia and September 11.

I would say there’s a broader context to show that the Administration suppresses certain pieces of information at certain times in order to build political capital for whatever purpose it has, and promulgates other pieces of information at other times to advance the same purpose. And there may be a predisposition in certain quarters of the media, first of all, not to be critical of this president; and second, to protect him in those cases where a significant policy initiative of his is at risk. Among the many examples I recall was a period in the Iranian nuclear negotiations in which Administration sources began to disclose certain aspects of the Israeli nuclear program. Doing so helped make the Iranian case, by saying, “Let’s all be reasonable here. The Iranians have reason to be afraid.”

What do you see as guiding this Administration’s tilt toward Iran in the first place?

One of the President’s core beliefs appears to be that American engagement in foreign affairs has in most cases, if not caused then certainly exacerbated conflicts. He’s determined that the best way to ameliorate these conditions is to have the US be less of an active participant. I can’t tell you why the Administration has taken such a biased position in favor of relations with Iran: I think the president is transparent in favoring the Iranians; he’s opaque in his reasons as to why. The Administration’s supporters will say that it has been a long-term goal of the United States to restore relations with Iran. That is true. That has been true ever since Carter. We have indeed looked for a way back. But the Administration had its opportunity to restore relations with Iran in a different way, I think, in June of 2009, when the “Green Movement” took to the streets in Iran — but to its lasting shame, instead of supporting the Green Movement, the Administration instead effectively congratulated the Islamic Republic of Iran on a successful presidential election.

Do you believe that the apparent American tilt toward Iran and away from its traditional allies is a policy trend that is likely to survive the present Administration?

I do believe that the Obama Administration’s position has been an aberration, if it’s judged by the long arc of American policy. I don’t think there’s anybody in any capital throughout the Middle East who would say otherwise. Whether it stays that way, it’s an open question. With respect to the future policies of a Hillary Clinton Administration, I do not know what she will do. With respect to a future Trump Administration, I do not think even he knows what he will do. But I think if you’re talking about the US Congress, there’s deep alarm over what the Administration has done, and it would be strongly disposed to try to repair relations with traditional allies. Every few years, elected officials have to stand before the voters. And to come back to the related issue of the “28 pages,” one thing I can tell you about the mood in this country is that the public is tired of double games, and does not like to be put in a position where it’s being treated as a pack of fools. You will not be able to silence the discussion in American domestic politics if you just keep everything covered up. And there are enough people in the American foreign policy establishment, including members of the House and Senate in senior leadership positions, who recognize that relations with Saudi Arabia are important and have to be conducted in a constructive way.

Former US Defense Intelligence Agency Executive: There’s a Push to Drive a Wedge Between the US and Saudi

Derek Harvey is a former US Army Colonel and Senior Intelligence Executive for the Defense Intelligence Agency. As a US Army Colonel, he served with General David Petraeus in the Middle East. He has more than 20 years of experience analyzing Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia security, terrorism, economic and political issues. He now directs the Global Initiative for Civil Society and Conflict at the University of Florida, an incubator of innovative ideas and practices for nurturing robust communities, and for tackling civil conflict, around the world.

Is the sudden revival of discussion of the classified “28 pages,” the JASTA legislation, and general allegations of a Saudi government role in the 9-11 attacks a matter of coincidence, or do you see indications of a deliberate campaign?

I’ve been trying to figure out the motivation. Of course there are numerous things going on here. There is an anti-Saudi perspective driving some of this because of the perception that Saudi Arabia has not done enough in curtailing the export of an intolerant version of Islam on the one hand, and some misinformation that is in the public discussion and exploited by others to characterize Saudi Arabia’s government as promoting jihadism or, at least, ignoring things and not taking action that are within their power to curb the radicalization and the jihadist terrorist element. But there’s no evidence of Saudi government or senior governmental leaders supporting any of those things, going all the way back to 9-11. The people that were involved in 9-11 clearly were mostly Saudi, and that was purposeful by Bin Laden, to try and help create a rupture in the relationship. But more than that, people look at things that are in many ways, normal business, and imply nefarious characteristics to the actions. For example, Saudi nationals that were here in the country — perhaps even including those that participated in 9-11 — may have benefited from Saudi programs for overseas education, or received support from a consulate or an embassy when they got into trouble someplace. But there’s no connecting the dots between those actions and these individuals’ activities related to terrorism.

It’s like saying, “We have an American citizen overseas, and he gets in trouble, and the US government assists him, but he happens to be a criminal — it doesn’t mean that the US government is supporting that person’s criminal activity. If a French ISIS volunteer traveling through Turkey, who gets support from the French consulate in Istanbul is not seeking support from the French government from his terrorism activities directly, he’s seeking it as a French citizen who happens to be in Istanbul — and the government has no idea what those activities are. To me, it’s the same thing as saying that in such a case, the French government is responsible for supporting the ISIS terrorists. No — you should have to show intent to support. And that’s the difference: there’s no intent. The normal business operations of the Saudi government to support its citizens is not supporting terrorism. With that in mind, I don’t think there’s anything in the 28 pages that should be of any concern.

I have talked to people who helped with the 9-11 Commission report, who have seen the 28 pages. But here’s the bottom line: We run into this all the time in the business of intelligence. Activities taken by certain individuals within a country, or even within a government, don’t mean that the government is actually sanctioning that activity. If you have criminal activity being taken by Americans overseas in Afghanistan or Iraq, it doesn’t mean that the US government has sanctioned that activity.

What are your concerns about the present tenor of the American public discussion with respect to Saudi Arabia?

My concern is that there’s a significant push by some to drive a wedge between the US and Saudi Arabia. The general public is not aware of the complex and deep-rooted relationship that the US has and why it’s in the US interests to maintain this relationship.

NY Psychoanalyst: “Partial Secrets” on the 9/11 Attacks Stoke Americans’ Fears About Terrorism

Psychoanalyst Ira Moses is Director of Training at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry in New York City.

What is the impact of the classification of the “28 pages” concerning the 9-11 attacks on Americans’ perceptions of their government?

Sigmund Freud said that there are three “impossible professions:” parent, psychoanalyst, and head of government. It is all too easy to doubt the motives of the government when decisions are made without the citizens being aware of all the thinking that went into the decision. And there is often a struggle in governance between the importance of transparency in order to maintain the trust of the people and the importance of keeping reports and documents classified and secret in order to maintain national security. Difficulties arise when documents and reports are partially secret, in that our minds cannot stand a vacuum or a blank slate — especially when it is in regards to one of the most catastrophic events in American history.

What is the effect on the psyche of the average American?

Without the missing information in the 28 redacted pages, groups and individuals will easily and unconsciously project their fantasies and basic assumptions to fill in the space. Individuals all too easily become quite susceptible to rumours and gossip from sources with whom the individual tends to associate. Though at one time it may have been necessary to redact the 28 pages, one wonders why there is a major increase in reports and speculation as to its contents now. One’s fantasies about the hidden material would be influenced by our fears and anxieties — somewhat like our fear of walking in the dark or a child’s fear of the bogeyman in their bedroom they cannot see. When our security is threatened, our fears may be easily intensified.

How has the recent resurgence in discussions of September 11 played into Americans’ effort to grapple with the phenomenon of terrorism in general, or more broadly understand Arab and Islamic issues?

People are vicariously traumatized by watching the news and hearing the stories of the victims in Brussels, for example. They’re anxious about all Muslims, because most Americans cannot differentiate the different forms of Islam, and thus they tend to project their fears onto all of Islam, and then feel attacked again by being called “Islamophobic,” which doesn’t really help. They are worried about their children growing up in this society. That’s where individuals are focused. They’re not into the deep policy discussions. Their minds are consumed with threats to their security and the security of their families. Even when they get to the airport, they’re anxious. And I think that they are more afraid now than they’ve ever been before.

9/11 Commission’s Former Leaders Refute Saudi Involvement in the Attacks

American political commentators and former government officials have accused the Obama Administration of a thinly veiled attempt to manipulate the American public discussion, at a time of growing disenchantment with the Iranian nuclear deal, by training the media’s attention on an alleged Saudi government operational role in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Edward A. Turzanski, a prominent former intelligence officer and present co-chair of the Center for the Study of Terrorism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Asharq Al-Awsat “The Administration has exhibited a pattern of conduct in which it will use whatever lever it can in order to bolster relations with Iran. … There’s a broader context to show that the Administration suppresses certain pieces of information at certain times in order to build political capital for whatever purpose it has, and promulgates other pieces of information at other times to advance the same purpose. And there may be a predisposition in certain quarters of the media, first of all, not to be critical of this president; and second, to protect him in those cases where a significant policy initiative of his is at risk.”

Claims along these lines were most recently sparked on April 10, when Democratic Senator Bob Graham — a supporter of the Iran nuclear deal who also played a major role in the first U.S. Government investigation into 9/11 after the perpetration of the attacks — appeared on the national television news program 60 Minutes. Graham revived discussions of the infamous “28 pages,” a still-classified portion of a report by a congressional panel investigating intelligence failures related to the 9/11 attacks. Graham suggested in the course of the interview, as have other public officials and media figures before and since, that the pages contain evidence of an operational link between the Government of Saudi Arabia and the most devastating terrorist attack ever perpetrated on American soil.

In a political culture generally skeptical of “conspiracy theories,” Lee Smith, a columnist at the right-leaning Weekly Standard, described the program as part of a broader information campaign to “make the Saudis look bad.” He assessed the effort as aiming to build support for President Obama’s policies of recalibrating traditional American alliances in the Middle East in favor of a new partnership with Iran.

Also in April, a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a judgment of $2 billion on behalf of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, including the 1983 Marine Corps Barracks bombing in Lebanon, which killed 241 American servicemen. According to the ruling, the plaintiffs in the case are entitled to collect the monies from Iranian Central Bank funds that were frozen by the United States. Public attention to the ruling was modest, however, compared to a renewed focus on legislation in Congress — called the “Justice Against Supporters of Terrorism Act” — which would make it considerably easier for the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for damages in American courts.

On April 22, a significant statement was issued by two respected former leaders of the “9/11 Commission:” former Governor Tom Kean and former Representative Lee Hamilton. The statement seeks to dispel what it describes as misconceptions which had arisen in recent weeks as a result of the intense media discussion about the “28 pages.” Among other points, it reiterates that the 9/11 Commission found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” Al-Qaeda, insisting that nothing in the 28-page document, should it be released, would prove otherwise.

Hamilton and Kean noted in their statement that the voluminous 9/11 Commission Report dwells extensively on Saudi Arabia, home to most of the 9/11 hijackers. But they also acknowledge that the Kingdom itself has become a prime target of the jihadist groups; that “Saudi Arabia has been an ally of the United States in combatting terrorism;” and that “many Saudi public servants have died in their battles with Al-Qaeda operatives.”

Former US Ambassador for Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Iran is Using Nuclear “Bonus” to Conspire Against Saudi Arabia

Robert Joseph served as the United States Special Envoy for Nuclear Non-proliferation, with ambassadorial rank. Prior to this post, Joseph was the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, a position he held until January 24, 2007. Joseph is known for being instrumental in creating the Proliferation Security Initiative and as the architect of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. He was also the US chief negotiator to Libya in 2003 who convinced the Libyans to give up their WMD programs. He is now a senior scholar at the National Institute for Public Policy and professor at Missouri State University.

You have given extensive testimony before American elected officials about the Iranian nuclear deal and its effects. What are some of the main points you made?

I testified last summer three times, before committees of the House and Senate on the Iran agreement, in opposition to the Iran agreement. Each time I pointed out a number of flaws that I believe will have a pronounced effect on the prospects for further proliferation in the region. One principal flaw of the agreement is permitting Iran to regain a large-scale nuclear infrastructure, which, if you’re viewing from the perspective of Saudi Arabia or other regional powers, provides Iran the capacity both for breakout — if they choose to cheat at monitored facilities – or for sneak out — where they would cheat at suspect sites.

And, as you know, the agreement is fundamentally flawed in the verification context as it prohibits the IAEA from inspecting sites that Iran’s leaders have said are out of bounds – military sites or national security sites that they designate as off-limits. It’s at these sites that you have a history of suspected weaponization activities according to the IAEA November 2011 report and subsequent reports.

Then you have this bogus notion of moving the breakout time from what Secretary Kerry said was 2-3 months to 12 months, which I think is an absolute illusion — because we are not likely to know when Iran would make the decision to go for a nuclear weapon — and we don’t know what the baseline is. That is, we don’t know the point from which they are starting their sprint to a bomb because Iran was allowed to successfully stonewall the IAEA investigation of potential or possible military activities that the agency suspected Iran to have conducted.
The fact that ballistic missiles were not covered is also a basic flaw, one that we now see playing out today. Iran continues to test ballistic missiles, including at a range that would make sense only for the delivery of a nuclear weapon. And the sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile activities have been lessened and are being phased out. The latest Security Council resolution is much weaker, and in fact does not legally prohibit Iran from conducting these activities.

Then you have the so-called signing bonus, billions of dollars – $100, $150 billion and counting —that the regime is now gaining access to as a result of the agreement. It is using this money to fund its missile program, its nuclear program, terrorist activities, and subversion of regional states such as the governments of Saudi Arabia or Yemen or Bahrain. Iran has once again filled its war chest, and is now using this monetary bonanza to expand its influence, presence — look at Iran’s influence and military presence in Syria, for example. The nuclear agreement has been used by Iran as a green light for pursuing very aggressively its agenda. And the notion that you’d have snap-back sanctions is also illusory. It’s simply not the case.

As you look at how events have unfolded since last July, you’ll see that Iran is moving forward with research and development of new-generation centrifuges. Much more than the first generation models. While it is certainly better that Iran today is spinning 5-6,000 centrifuges, and not 19,000. But these are first-generation centrifuges. And don’t forget that Iran has not dismantled a single centrifuge. They have simply placed the extra machines in storage which they can access at will. Iran set a red line of not dismantling anything with their centrifuge program, and in fact they didn’t.

In terms of Iran’s missile program, they’re continuing to test ballistic missiles. The US protested, but there’s very little legal ground to stand on now that the US has supported the adoption of the new Security Council resolution. Instead of re-imposing effective sanctions for their missile activities, the Obama Administration is doing everything it can to appease Iran through the relief of sanctions – all to protect what the President considers to be the legacy achievement of the JCPOA. This will likely include access to US dollar transactions. Perhaps these will be offshore but nonetheless Tehran will have access to the U.S. financial system. Importantly, the sanctions that are being lifted were imposed not only because of Iran’s nuclear activities — but also in response to its missile program, its support for terrorism, in response to its horrendous human rights record. This is one of the most authoritarian repressive regimes in the world today. And yet we’re relieving sanctions across the board.

In light of your expertise on nuclear non-proliferation issues, please assess the implications of the JCPOA with respect to the cause of preventing other countries from developing or intensifying their own nuclear programs.

I think there are very significant proliferation consequences. I come at these issues from a non-proliferation perspective, and I see this agreement and the follow on-implementation — the further concessions being made — as encouraging more proliferation.

If I’m a Saudi national security advisor, I would be very concerned about Iran’s capability to acquire a nuclear weapon in a very short period of time and be able to deliver it by ballistic missile. And I’d give very serious consideration to having a nuclear weapons capability as a deterrent to Iran’s nuclear coercion and nuclear blackmail.

Other countries in the region may make the same calculation. Beyond the Gulf and the broader Mid-East, I think that potential proliferators will look at this agreement and say, we can have it all. We can have nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and get relief from sanctions. In fact, what we have seen recently goes well beyond sanctions relief. The U.S. is now reportedly assisting Iran’s nuclear program through the purchase of nuclear materials. From a nonproliferation point of view this is a total disaster.

North Korea’s behavior — both its pronouncements as well as its continuing nuclear and missile tests — need to be seen in this broader context. There’s simply no concern in Pyongyang that there will be significant consequences as a consequence of its proliferation activities. North Korea may be emboldened by the US and international response to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

What do you see as the impact on the credibility of the United States as a voice on nuclear weapons proliferation?

It’s not just the U.S. response to the Iran nuclear challenge. I think our allies in the Gulf, in Asia, and elsewhere are seriously questioning the credibility of the U.S. In the Gulf in particular, the fiasco with regard to the Syria CW red line did enormous harm to the reputation of the US as a reliable ally. The abandonment of Mubarak, the failure to act decisively in Syria, and the flawed Iran agreement sent a powerful message that the U.S. could not be relied on to fulfill its security guarantees, and this will have a profound effect on potential proliferation.

In your estimation, what steps will aspiring nuclear powers now take for their own programs in light of the “Iranian model”?

I think that a number of countries are likely to pursue the same type of “peaceful nuclear program” that Iran has pursued. In other words, they will seek to acquire the capability for quick breakout. What the JCPOA did was undercut decades of U.S. non-proliferation policy going back to the days of Jimmy Carter that discouraged friends, allies, and others from acquiring either reprocessing or enrichment capabilities. And we consistently engaged to discourage countries from this type of activity. Once we have given the stamp of approval to Iran to pursue enrichment, how can we with a straight face tell other countries, especially our friends, that they shouldn’t do this? Longstanding U.S. policy has been sacrificed for the sake of a legacy for the current president.

Which countries do you see as fitting into this category?

I think Saudi Arabia and the UAE are perhaps in this category. Outside of the Middle East, if you look at polls in South Korea for example, a majority of the respondents indicate that the South should have its own nuclear capability to deter North Korea. There are many examples of US friends and allies questioning our credibility. They don’t like to do it publicly but are not at all shy of doing it publicly.

In the Western hemisphere, there aren’t many urgent proliferation concerns. There are the longstanding issues associated with Brazil and Argentina, but neither country seems to be moving forward with a nuclear weapons program. Both were interested in the past, but because of the change in their own security relationship, they gave up their pursuit of nuclear weapons. That may change in the future for reasons of national security, or for the desire for prestige. Who knows what the future holds. But that’s not an issue on the front burner.

You were deeply involved in the process of disarming Libya’s weapons of mass destruction programs under Qadhafi. Is there a contrast worth drawing between the Libyan and Iranian experiences?

It is useful to contrast Iran with Libya. Clearly, Iran and Libya are not the same. There are many differences that need to be taken into account. But there are also a number of important lessons from the Libyan experience that we failed to apply with Iran. In Libya, we insisted on a strategic decision on the part of Qadhafi to abandon his weapons of mass destruction programs. We sent a ship over, on which we loaded hundreds of tons of nuclear equipment. Everything associated with centrifuges, all the conversion equipment, every component of the weapons program. It was a much larger and more advanced program than we believed. We took all that material out of Libya, including its longer range missiles. The contrast with Iran couldn’t be starker, where they said their missile force was non-negotiable, as was dismantling centrifuges. In both cases, and in other areas, Iran drew a red line and stuck by it. The P5+1 countries, led by the US caved with concession after concession.

The irony of it is, although we were negotiating from strength, we agreed to an outcome that I believe is a disaster from a non-proliferation perspective. It is an agreement that will encourage proliferation. Sanctions were working. The economy was tanking, further undermining the legitimacy of the Iranian regime. It has long been my view that repressive, authoritarian regimes like Iran are most concerned about their own people, above all other threats. Think of Ceacescu in Romania. It was the concern that their own people would rise up because of the near-bankrupt economy that brought them them back to the negotiating table. But instead of keeping the pressure on, we relieved the pressure at the negotiating table. And the Iranians proved to be much better negotiators than those across the table from them. We wanted an agreement desperately. The Iranians got everything they wanted, for a few cosmetic concessions. We violated every one of our principles in terms of the outcome we established for the negotiations. We did not end their program or constrain ballistic missiles. Remember the discussion of “anytime anywhere.” We failed to effective verification or meaningful snapback sanctions. We failed to get Iran to “moderate its behavior” with this agreement. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Iran has become even more aggressive and more capable as a result of this agreement.

What are the most realistic policy options available to the next President of the United States with respect to Iran?

Looking ahead to the next presidency, if we do insist on strict adherence to the terms of the agreement, there will be a path forward for abrogating this agreement based on Iran’s behavior. Cheating is in the DNA of Iran’s leaders. And if we are serious about enforcement, we will call them on it, and that will lead to the unravelling of this agreement. Iran will cheat . Just one example, while ballistic missiles aren’t covered, how can one pursue a long range missile capability whose only usefulness is carrying a nuclear weapon? That would be stupid on part of Iran’s leaders, and they’re not stupid people.

The only solution to the Iran nuclear challenge is regime change. Regime change has to come from within. We can’t impose regime change on Iran. But we can certainly support the opposition forces – those who support a democratic and non-nuclear Iran. We can re-impose US sanctions and push to impose UN sanctions. It will take time and effort, but it can and should be done, and that would have the effect of further undermining the legitimacy of the Ayatollah regime in Tehran. We don’t need to be provocative but we need to be strong and we need to back up our words and support our friends. We need to have a fully capable military presence in the region to assure allies and defend our interests in an area of vital importance to our nation’s security. Iran’s leaders need to know that there will be severe consequences for their behavior, something that’s absolutely missing from their calculations today. They are being rewarded for bad behavior. Secretary Kerry has made clear to Iran’s leaders that when they demand something, he will find a way to give it to them.

What do you see as the “Obama legacy” in terms of American foreign policy?

President Obama will go down in history as the man who failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program and contributed to more proliferation in the region and possibly a breakdown of the entire NPT regime — exactly opposite of the priority that he established for his administration.

Should America’s traditional Arab allies wish to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs, what American policies would you judge to be appropriate?

To avoid further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, we need to be perceived as credible in terms of supporting our friends and allies. We need to provide them the assurance that their and our security are indivisible, and that they can rely on the US, including our military capabilities. We need to support the activities of the IAEA rather than undercut them. The nuclear agreement with Iran has corrupted the IAEA, as evidenced by the Agency giving a pass to Iran on its past weaponization activities. I think the IAEA has become complicit in that whitewash. We need to be seen as a country that once again says what we mean and mean what we say.

We need to defend our friends, we need to dissuade and deter our adversaries. But if other countries are determined to move forward to build nuclear weapons, we will have a more proliferated world. If a country like North Korea can acquire a relatively large and growing nuclear arsenal, any country can do it.

Look at Pakistan. We periodically sanctioned Pakistan, particularly at times in which Pakistan was not important in our national security calculations. With the war on terror, and even before that with the soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we needed Pakistan a lot more. There was a sense of acquiescing. When Pakistan demonstrated it had a nuclear weapons capability, we again sanctioned it. But with 9-11, we acquiesced. Our response to future proliferation will depend on the circumstances and on the country.

Why the US Government Rejected an American Judge’s Finding of an Iranian Role in the 9/11 Attacks

As shown by Asharq Al-Awsat in a series of reports, exclusive interviews, and U.S. federal court and government documents, an elaborate case brought to trial by September 11 victims and insurance companies against the Islamic Republic of Iran has concluded in a default judgment in favor of the plaintiffs: Judge George Daniels of New York’s Southern District has found Iran to have provided material support to Al-Qaeda prior to and after the September 11 attacks. In his detailed ruling, he validated witness testimony that the Iranian government and Hezbollah had provided training, funding, and logistical support to Al-Qaeda that was essential in enabling the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Washington DC (Shanksville, Pennsylvania) — as well as other attacks, including the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the suicide boat bombing of the U.S.S. Cole near Yemen in 2000, and the Khobar Towers bombing in Riyadh. In addition to his overall finding against the Tehran regime and its Hezbollah proxy, Judge Daniels also held that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei himself — among other senior Iranian and Hezbollah officials — bore direct responsibility for the September 11 operation.

The monetary fine, which had been estimated in excess of $22 billion, is continuously expanding as the plaintiffs’ attorneys calculate their motions for a final judgment. Yesterday, James Kreindler, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told Asharq Al-Awsat, “We’re preparing our motions for final judgment against Iran and hope to have those submitted within a couple of weeks. We’re going to do them in batches of 50 or 100 at a time, as there is information needed from each family. I expect the total will be over $300 billion.”

These stunning determinations are based on court proceedings dating back over a decade, which in turn relied on evidence that had been accessed by researchers as early as the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 tragedy. As such, the trial raises even more questions than it answers: If there has long been a body of information credible enough to persuade a federal judge to place responsibility for the most devastating terror attack in American history on the Iranian government, then what has been the response of the U.S. government, intelligence community, and successive White Houses to the same set of facts? What is the relationship between these findings on the one hand, and the set of accommodationist policies toward Iran that culminated in the establishment of the Iranian nuclear deal last October on the other? Will the staggering sums demanded by the judge actually be paid by the Iranian government? And between the Obama White House’s conciliatory policies toward Iran on the one hand and a federal judge’s uncompromising stance on the other, what future directions in Iran policy may be expected from Washington?

To answer these questions, Asharq Al-Awsat conducted an extensive investigation, including interviews with senior White House, Defense Department, and State Department officials; lawyers for the September 11 victims; and some of the most trusted experts on Iran policy in Washington.

The Legislation Behind the Ruling — and the Politics Behind the Legislation

What, to begin with, was the basis for an American court to issue rulings against a foreign government and a foreign head of state? Historically, foreign governments have been largely protected from civil action in American courts by the 1976 “Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act” (FSIA). In 1996, Congress passed the “State Sponsored Terrorism Exception,” which allowed for civil suits against terrorist states by their U.S. victims. This exception enabled a number of lawsuits to proceed successfully, but it also had serious shortcomings, which came to a head in 2007: That September, a federal judge determined that the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Ministry of Information and Security should pay $2.6 billion to family members of the victims of the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 American military personnel. But a variety of legal obstacles made it impossible for the victims to attach and execute against Iranian assets in the U.S. In response, in 2008, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, which greatly expanded the legal tools which plaintiffs could use to recover damages from Iran or any other state sponsor of terrorism.

But according to Patrick Clawson, one of Washington’s foremost Iran experts and Director of Research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, there was also a political context to the legal reforms Congress instituted: the frustration many Americans share at the lack of accountability by terrorist supporting states — particularly Iran — and the limited actions which the U.S. government has taken in response. “The people behind the legislation knew that the Executive Branch of government wasn’t doing much about these matters,” Clawson told Asharq Al-Awsat. “It was a conscious decision to enable some people to single-mindedly concentrate on Iran sponsoring terrorist attacks against Americans, and simply ignore the White House policies against Iran. And that’s what judges do: They are very good at ignoring political issues unrelated to the facts of the case and concentrating on what’s before them.”

This is the context in which New York judge George Daniels made his initial ruling against Iran — in December 2011, ten years after the September 11 tragedy — in the landmark case “Havlish, et al. v. Bin Laden et al.” That case, based on the deaths of 45 of the September 11 victims, ended in a $7 billion default judgment against Iran. The more expansive, March 2016 “Ashton” ruling was the result of the extension of the same factual determinations about Iran to 850 more September 11 victims and the claims of two insurance companies. These, in turn, are but two cases among several dozen that have now been brought to trial in American courts by victims of terrorism against the Iranian government. In all of them, Iran refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the proceedings.

This chain of legal actions and outcomes stands in contrast to the Saudi record in American courts. As readers will recall, the post-September 11 period was also marked by intense American criticism of Saudi Arabia over an attack in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, along with Bin Laden himself. Eventually, a few Saudi intellectuals themselves entered the American public discussion to voice outrage at the jihadist strain in their society, calling for reforms in religious education to address the problem. But on the issue of alleged Saudi state participation in the attacks, no American court ruling was ever made against the Saudi government itself: The United States had never designated the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” — meaning that neither the “State Sponsored Terrorism Exception” nor the “National Defense Authorization Act” apply to it. Moreover, by contrast to the Iranian government, which refused to recognize the legitimacy of the American proceedings, Saudi Arabia opted to robustly participate in any lawsuit entered against it in an American court: Its lawyers demanded the same application of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that would be applied to any other nation which the U.S. State Department does not regard as a sponsor of terrorism. Over the 15 years that have passed since September 11, all judges have abided by this principle.

The Evidence Against Iran

Iranian culpability in the 9-11 attacks was argued before the Daniels court largely on the basis of ten individuals who were accepted by the judge as “expert witnesses.” Three were former staff members of the “National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States” (also known as the “9-11 Commission”), an independent, bipartisan commission created by congressional legislation and the signature of President George W. Bush in late 2002 to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Two of the witnesses were former CIA case officers. Two others were investigative journalists who had spent years researching Iranian terrorist activities. Among the policy researchers who also testified as experts was the Washington Institute’s Patrick Clawson, who has testified in numerous other court cases involving Iranian terrorism. In addition to the Americans who testified, three Iranians, described as “defectors who had been operatives of the Iranian intelligence services and IRGC,” also presented affidavits. Though their testimony was entered under seal and is therefore inaccessible, it was possible to identify one of the witnesses as Abolghasem Mesbahi. Judge Daniels accepted the attorneys’ representation of Mesbahi as a former Iranian intelligence operative who had testified credibly in other prosecutions of Iranian and Hezbollah terrorists, including the case of the assassination of Iranian Kurdish dissidents at the Mykonos restaurant in Germany in 1992 and the Jewish community center bombing in Argentina in 1994.

The massive amount of evidence assembled, Clawson suggests, could be broken into two categories. The first — which was provided largely by the Iran scholars and the 9-11 Commission members — documented base-line Iranian and Hezbollah support for Al-Qaeda, dating back to the 1990s and continuing for years after the September 2001 tragedy, which amounted to logistical assistance, training, facilitation of transit, and providing shelter to Al-Qaeda operatives. The second category of testimony — provided by the two former CIA operatives, the former Iranian officials who testified secretly, and the investigative journalists — alleged direct and explicit Iranian operational support for the September 11 attacks, as well as other attacks.

“From a legal evidentiary standpoint,” explains Clawson, “it was not even necessary to prove the second category of claims in order to win the case.” Mere proof of providing any meaningful assistance to Al-Qaeda, with or without direct involvement in the September 11 attacks themselves, would have been sufficient to satisfy the definition of “material support” according to the legal statute. “There didn’t have to be a ‘smoking gun,’” Clawson added.

Judge Daniels ultimately validated the attorneys’ decision to introduce both forms of evidence into the record, by affirming all of it in his “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.”

But in the murky world beyond the courthouse, over three successive presidencies, the attempt to comprehensively assess and act on claims and evidence about Iran-Al-Qaeda cooperation has been hindered by shifting political priorities, analytical weaknesses in the intelligence community, interpersonal rivalries, and, ultimately, a single-minded decision by the Obama Administration to pursue a new course with the Tehran regime.

The Iran-Qaeda Connection Under the George W. Bush Administration: Competing Claims, Shifting Priorities

Eight years before September 11 — after the first attack on the World Trade Center by Islamist activists in 1993 — one American researcher became convinced that it was not the mullahs of Tehran but rather Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi government who were pulling the strings behind Al-Qaeda. Laurie Mylroie had held teaching positions at Harvard University and the U.S. Naval War College before joining Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign as an advisor on Iraq. In a lengthy journal article which became the basis for her 2000 book, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America, she argued in substance that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates were penetrated by Iraqi intelligence agents, and Saddam was trying to use Al-Qaeda to attack American targets in order to avenge American leadership in the 1990 Gulf War. Mylroie alleged that in addition to the 1993 World Trade Center plot, Saddam Hussein had also ordered the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building by white supremacist Timothy McVeigh. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, she robustly advocated for the view that Saddam was behind them as well.

A variety of American Middle East specialists on both sides of the political spectrum assailed Mylroie’s writing as shoddily researched and speculative. According to Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, “The shock of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait left Mylroie with a monomania about the Iraqi dictator that encroached on her judgment and eventually overturned her good sense. After the invasion, she self-hijacked a hitherto-promising career to prove two bizarre assertions: that Saddam Hussein had a hand in virtually every terrorist incident and, conversely, that Islamists and others did not have a part in them.” Peter Bergen, a CNN National Security Analyst who had himself interviewed Osama Bin Laden in 1997, dismissed Mylroie as a “crackpot.”

And yet Mylroie’s views were naturally of interest to elements in the George W. Bush Administration, following the September 11 tragedy, at a time when the possibility of deposing Saddam Hussein militarily was being seriously explored for other reasons.

David Schenker, who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Levant Country Director under George W. Bush, recalls that a proactive vision of a “new Iraq” had crystallized in some quarters of the administration: “There’s a school of thought I’d ascribe to people more sympathetic to the ‘democracy argument,’” he told Asharq Al-Awsat, that was that Iraq was at one point the richest, most powerful, influential states in the region, that under Saddam became the most militant, anti-American, terrorism-supporting state. If you could make a dramatic change in Iraq — from a dictatorship to a democracy — then it could have a profound impact on the region. Otherwise, we could spend decades on incremental democracy-promotion projects and get nowhere and meanwhile we lost more than 3,000 people in a single day that September.” Adherents to this school of thought were by no means friendly toward Iran, which they also regarded as a state sponsor of terrorism. In their eyes, Schenker explained, if Saddam Hussein’s regime was succeeded by a pro-American Iraqi government, the outcome would serve to weaken Iran as well: “[A US-allied Iraq] would have changed the whole strategic architecture of the region in any event, because it wouldn’t have been any longer dual containment. It would have been a US ally sitting on Iran’s border.”

This mindset naturally engendered an appetite for evidence of Saddam’s support for all forms of international terrorism.

Following the 2001 attacks, Laurie Mylroie was paid roughly $75,000 by the Office of Net Assessment, an internal Defense Department think tank, to produce a 300-page study for internal use: “The History of Al-Qaeda.” The monograph artfully fuses fact, inference, and speculation to imply that Saddam and his inner circle were responsible for September 11 — and the popular claims of an authentically transnational jihadist political movement were exaggerated. In the following excerpt, for example, Mylroie extrapolates from the fact that September 11 plotter Khaled Sheikh Muhammad had Baluchi roots:

“The Baluch have no evident motive for these murderous terrorist attacks, save one: the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein had deep and extensive ties with the Baluch on both sides of the Iranian-Pakistani border. Going back to the 1970s, Iraq used the Baluch against the Shi’a government in Tehran, with which Baghdad was long at odds, and Baghdad employed the Baluch extensively during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). Notably, these Baluch–KSM and his extended family–do not appear to be particularly religious.”

As the Bush Administration set out to present its case for war to the American public, it did not allege an Iraqi role in September 11. “The issue wasn’t raised because it was never proved,” Dov Zakheim, former Comptroller of the Pentagon under George W. Bush, told Asharq Al-Awsat. “If anybody had tried to link Iraq to 9-11, I don’t think we would have had any support.” Instead, the Administration focused on advancing the view, shared at the time by the major European intelligence agencies, that Saddam Hussein maintained weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, in September 2003, a poll by the Washington Post showed that 7 in 10 Americans (69%) believed that Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for the September 11 attacks — a view that persisted for years thereafter. Some Administration officials at the time also conveyed their belief in the link privately to visiting international diplomats.

In any event, between the indulgence of the Saddam – 9/11 theory and the substantial commitment of American blood and treasure to two simultaneous wars, there naturally developed an institutional bias against evidence of Iranian involvement which might beg the conclusion that the United States is in a state of war with Iran. Adam Garfinkle, who served in the Bush State Department as speechwriter to Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, told Asharq Al-Awsat, “Most Administration principals soon settled on Iraq as the next target after Afghanistan, and any Iran talk would have been an unwanted distraction.”

There were, to be sure, less mainstream voices, supportive of the Administration, who advocated the view that Iran was a greater threat to the United States than Iraq, and should be the primary target of American military action. Perhaps the most prominent among these was Frank Gaffney, Founder and President of the Center for Security Policy. But even Gaffney at the time did not focus his arguments on the allegation that Iran had been responsible for September 11. And more than a decade after the invasion of Iraq, important figures in the former administration maintain that the choice to attack Iraq and not Iran was appropriate. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, asked in 2011 to comment in retrospect on the “Iran-first” approach, said, “There are people who say that somehow Iran was the bigger problem; we should have gone after Iran. Iran, I’ve always been skeptical. It’s a much bigger country, a more unified country with all of its problems. But I think Iran’s real vulnerability is political. And what we should have been doing, and failed to do under the Bush Administration, and now even worse under this administration, was to support political opposition to the Iranian regime. I believe that would have put us in a very different situation than we are in today.”

Dov Zakheim, the former Pentagon Comptroller, told Asharq Al-Awsat, “The preoccupation was first with Afghanistan and then Iraq. All Iraq. There was a famous story about how [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon told Rumsfeld, ‘You have the wrong country. You should focus on Iran.’ But clearly they didn’t.”

In any case, Garfinkle, like David Schenker, recalls that champions of the Iraq war had initially hoped that challenging Iraq and Iran militarily were not mutually exclusive: “Some [in the Administration] reasoned that if Iraq could be flipped into a U.S. ally that subsequently housed U.S. bases, then pressure on Iran could later on be amped up …” As an illustration of the grounds for hope in this regard, two former Administration officials told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon would likely not have happened were it not for the presence of 150,000 American troops in the general vicinity.

Patrick Clawson also noted another factor that may have had the effect of lessening the U.S. Government’s inclination to entertain arguments for a more confrontational stance with Iran: “We badly needed Iranian assistance in closing off escape routes for the Al-Qaeda leadership when we went after the Taleban in Afghanistan,” he recalled. “That was at the time when [U.S. Ambassador] Ryan Crocker had regular meetings with Iranian officials discussing that cooperation. And we had some cooperation. You could say that was a mistake. They should have done more. Fine. The point is, there was a relationship.”

According to witnesses in the Havlish case, the initial years following September 11 were also a period in which evidence of a potential connection between Iran and Al-Qaeda had become available to the U.S. Government but was not being adequately examined. The former CIA case officers Clare Lopez and Bruce Tefft stressed this point in their interviews with Asharq Al-Awsat. It was also the view of the 9-11 Commission, which stated in its concluding report, “After 9-11, Iran and Hezbollah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with Al-Qaeda … We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. Government.”

A former Bush Administration official told Asharq Al-Awsat that to his knowledge, no follow-up investigation of Iran-Al-Qaeda links based on the 9-11 Commission recommendations was ever conducted. Another official added his recollection that the CIA had examined allegations of direct Iranian involvement in 9-11 and determined that the evidence was inconclusive.

But as the Iraq war grew bloodier and American soldiers came to be killed in increasing numbers by “Improvised Explosive Devices [IEDs],” it became clear to Administration officials that Iran was perfectly willing to cooperate with local elements in Iraq to target American servicemen and installations. President George W. Bush told a news conference in 2007: “What we do know is that the Quds Force was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq. We know that. And we also know that the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. That’s a known.” Bush nonetheless added a cautionary note, which had the effect of tempering any suggestion that the United States would retaliate against the Iranian government: “What we don’t know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did,” he said.

A forthcoming series in Asharq Al-Awsat will document how the U.S. Government gradually became aware that Iran was partnering with Al-Qaeda in Iraq in the perpetration of attacks on Iraqi, American, and other troops — as well as civilians — in the country. It will also show that a new crop of prosecutions are imminent arising from some of these killings.

But over the course of the Iraq war, several Bush Administration officials were raising questions about Iran-Al-Qaeda connections, at times posing them to the CIA. One former official told us that following conflicting reports on the Iranian government’s holding Al-Qaeda operatives under “house arrest,” he queried the CIA as to what the true nature of this ‘house arrest’ was. “The CIA was not able to explain what it was,” he said, “or what the Al-Qaeda-Iran relationship was.”

The Obama Years and the Road Ahead

President Obama signaled a clear break with the Bush Administration, early on in his first term, in his “Nowruz message” to the “people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” It is now well documented that the Administration, nearly since its beginnings, aggressively pursued an accommodation with the Iranian government, culminating in the establishment of the JCPOA last October. President Obama himself has explained his thinking that the nuclear deal is part of a security realignment in the Gulf littoral — and perhaps beyond — that would lead to a new “strategic equilibrium” between “Sunni powers” and Iran.

Naturally, this is not a political environment in which the U.S. Government is interested in reexamining the possibility that Iran played a role in the September 11 attacks.

In the context of an accommodationist White House, Patrick Clawson notes, the wave of civil court suits against the Islamic Republic of Iran has served as a conduit through which U.S. citizens could exercise their own pressure on Iran, regardless of what the President of the United States wants. “The actions by the judiciary would create a basis for harassing the Iranians,” Clawson said, “hopefully getting any money out of them, but at the very least harassing them.”

And indeed, there are indications that at least some Iranian government functionaries do feel a psychological pressure as a result of the lawsuits. On more than one occasion, the subject of the lawsuits has been raised by members of the Iranian “Majlis.” Conveying the feeling that the U.S. legal system might begin to seize billions of dollars in Iranian assets in any number of parts of the world, they have criticized their own leadership for failing to block such measures. They have also called for Iranian trials against the U.S. Government — but of course, as Clawson explains, few are under the illusion that such trials would have international weight.

As of now, among the dockets of American terrorism cases against the Tehran regime, there are a total of roughly $49 billion in outstanding American judgments — with hundreds of billions more likely in coming months, according to the attorney James Kreindler. Victims have received, to date, several hundred million dollars which were released from a fund that had been controlled by the U.S. government, as well as some additional funds from Iran. A current case before the Supreme Court is likely to enable the confiscation of a 36-story Manhattan office tower — 650 Fifth Avenue — which is owned by the Government of Iran and likely worth more than $800 million. A lawsuit against the Central Bank of Iran appears promising which would lead to the recovery of an additional $1.8 billion. But of course, these settlements together are only the beginning of what will be required for the victims’ families to receive their due compensation.

Ahead of the signing of the JCPOA, in August 2015, a group of American terrorism victims filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry — also in the Southern District of New York — asking a federal judge to stop the U.S. government from releasing billions of dollars in Iranian assets as part of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal. (The approximately two dozen victims were Americans injured or killed in suicide bombings in and around Israel from 1995 to 2006, and their family members.) Thus far the case has not translated into action.

Looking ahead to the potential of a future comprehensive settlement for all court cases, it appears that there are two potential paths toward a resolution: one conciliatory and collaborative, the other confrontational.

The conciliatory approach, as envisioned by the attorney James Kreindler, is based on the premise that Iran would like to rejoin the “community of nations.” As Kreindler told Asharq Al-Awsat, “Iran will want to get all sanctions lifted and get off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. And just like we did with Libya, Iran will want to clean up all US judgments so it will be free to engage with commerce and oil companies. To me, that will be the real and ultimate resolution of all the Iran claims.”

On the other hand, Clawson notes that new legislative measures may lead to new varieties of further sanctions to be imposed on people who deal with Iran — not only American but also foreign companies. “Congress is interested in imposing sanctions for Iranian actions recently, that would be quite far-reaching restrictions on foreign companies’ access to US financial system if those countries have dealings with Iran. [But] this administration is not interested in that.

Among prominent Presidential candidates today, despite differences in the tone of their rhetoric, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders all assert that they would abide by the Iranian nuclear accord provided Iran does the same. Only candidate Ted Cruz maintains that he would “tear up the agreement on day one.” As Asharq Al-Awsat previously reported, the Cruz campaign counts among its Middle East policy advisors Ms. Clare Lopez, the former CIA case officer who gave testimony in the Havlish case. In addition to Lopez, Cruz has sought advice from Frank Gaffney, the advocate for war on Iran during the Bush years. A widely reviled figure in the United States, Gaffney was raised by a CNN journalist on a live televised interview with Ted Cruz on March 2016. Challenged to defend his decision to appoint Gaffney a foreign policy advisor Cruz said, “Frank Gaffney is someone I respect. He is a serious thinker who has been focused on fighting jihadism across the globe. And he’s endured attacks from the left, from the media, because he speaks out against radical Islamic terrorism … Frank has been leading the effort to focus on the threat of an EMP – electromagnetic pulse — which would be a nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere that would take down our electrical grid. It could kill tens of millions of Americans. And all Iran would have to do is fire one nuke into the atmosphere. They don’t need to hit anything, they just need to get it above the eastern seaboard, and they could kill tens of millions. That is valuable work focusing on national security.”

Cruz’s comment clearly suggests that his faction of the Republican party remains willing to entertain the proposition that Iran would seek to inflict mass civilian casualties on the United States.

Former CIA Officials: Iranian – Al-Qaeda Cooperation Behind the Khobar and Riyadh Bombings

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In testimony provided to a New York federal court regarding an Iranian role in the September 11, 2001 attacks, two former CIA officers asserted that Iran and Al-Qaeda collaborated on multiple terrorist operations, including the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. The witnesses stated that the cooperation took place with the consent of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior officials. Families of the September 11 attacks’ victims, together with several insurance companies, are demanding that Iran pay the financial damages.

In a new two-part series, Asharq Al-Awsat is publishing nine documents and excerpts from court testimony which Southern District of New York Judge George Daniels went on to accept as factual in ruling that the Iranian government helped plan and facilitate the September 11 attacks. The first part includes excerpts from the testimony of the two former CIA officers: Clare Lopez, a former undercover operations officer for the Agency; and Dr. Bruce D. Tefft, a former Chief of Station for the CIA. According to their affidavits, the Iranian government provided training, logistical, and financial support which enabled Al-Qaeda to target the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Washington DC (the latter, a flight in which passengers wrested control from the hijackers and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania).

The two former officers added that high-level cooperation between the Iranian government and Al-Qaeda was a matter of state policy, with the approval of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian. Witnesses found the collaboration to have proved instrumental in the Khobar Towers bombing, attacks on two United States embassies in East Africa in 1998, and the speed boat suicide bombing of the destroyer USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. They stated further that cooperation continued after the September 11 attacks — resulting, inter alia, in the Riyadh compound bombings of May 2003, which killed 38 people and injured 160 others.

9 Documents from the NY Judiciary and Notable Excerpts from 2 CIA Agents

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New York

In March 26, 2010, extensive testimony was entered into evidence in the Havlish case against Iran, in the court of the Southern District of New York, by two long time CIA officials who were designated by the court as “expert witnesses.” Asharq Al-Awsat has retrieved the relevant documents and will present them exclusively in two parts. This first part reveals portions of the testimony which were used to argue the following points, all central to the Havlish case and others that followed.

1. The relationship between Al-Qaeda fighters and Iran was not a child of today or yesterday, but rather dates as far back as the early 1980s in Afghanistan, and involved the forging of close personal relationships between Iranian officials, an Iran-backed Afghani warlord, and the future leadership of Al-Qaeda, Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. These relationships on the soil of Afghanistan were instrumental in the chain of events that led to the September 11 attacks, as well the flight of 100s of Al-Qaeda operatives from the mountains of Tora Bora to Iran after the post-September 11 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

2. The collaboration between Al-Qaeda on the one hand and Iran and Hezbollah on the other was instrumental not only in the planning and execution of the September 11, 2001 attack, but also numerous other Al-Qaeda operations prior to it. These included the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the twin bombings of two United States embassies in East Africa in 1998, and the speed boat suicide bombing of the destroyer USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000.

3. The highly sensitive collaborations between Iranian government elements and Al-Qaeda would not have occurred without instructions to do so by the highest levels of Iranian authority, including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei himself, Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, and other officials identified in the testimony. These assertions were used to support the naming of Khamenei and Fallahian, among others, as defendants in several of the September 11 court cases.

4. It is noteworthy that in addition to the extensive content of the testimony which is accessible from the Southern District Court of New York, pages and pages of the testimony are blacked out in the documents. The redacted material is information arising from the two CIA agents’ professional dealings which were deemed “classified.” Thus it is likely that some of the allegations which were made by inference were documented more extensively through the secret testimony.

5. Finally, the testimony explains the witnesses’ view of the Iranian government’s “modus operandi” in cooperating with not only Hezbollah but also with Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other groups: the desire to attack Western and other targets while maintaining plausible deniability of its involvement.

Biography of the Two “Expert Witnesses”

A. CLARE M. LOPEZ

Between 1980 and 2000, Clare M. Lopez served as an undercover operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with four full tours in Africa, Central and South America, and the Balkans, as well as multiple Temporary Duty tours to many countries worldwide. She worked on issues related to counter intelligence, counter-narcotics, and counter-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. As a Directorate of Operations officer (now the National Clandestine Services), she met, recruited, handled, and debriefed “assets,” “defectors,” and “walk-ins,” under a range of circumstances, including denied area operations, civil war, and civil disturbance.

Subsequently, between 2005 and 2006, Ms. Lopez served as Executive Director, Director for Research, and consultant for the Iran Policy Committee (IPC), a Washington DC think tank dedicated specifically to issues involving the Islamic Republic of Iran. In those positions, she both directed and conducted extensive research and analysis on the Iranian Revolution, theocratic regime leadership and ideology, support for terrorism, nuclear weapons, and principal opposition groups. She was the principal writer of four major white papers and two published books that were briefed to Congress, the Executive Branch, and academic, think tank, diplomatic, and media communities in the Washington D.C. area.

B. DR. BRUCE D. TEFFT

Between 1975 and 1995, Dr. Bruce D. Tefft, served as an undercover operations officer and Chief of Station for the CIA, with 17 years spent abroad in Africa, South Asia, and South East Asia. He was a founding member of the CIA‘s “Counterterrorism Center” in 1995, with specific responsibilities for Iran and its support of Hezbollah and Shi‘ite terrorism. Between 2002 and 2004, following the September 11 attacks, he was a volunteer Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Advisor to the New York Police Department‘s Counter-Terrorism Bureau and Intelligence Division. Prior to his testimony in the Havlish case, Tefft had been certified as an expert witness in the United States District Court in Washington D.C. approximately seven times regarding terrorism cases against Iran and Libya.

Summary of Salient Excerpts from the Testimony

The following are summaries of 9 significant excerpts from the testimony:

– Excerpt number 1 asserts that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp, as well as its subordinate Qods force and Basij Divisions, “undertake no major action, campaign, or initiative without the personal approval, either tacit or explicit, of Supreme Leader Khamenei. Thus the collaboration with Al-Qaeda “must therefore be understood as resting completely within the context of official Iranian policy.”

– Excerpt number 2, asserting a long history of cooperation between Al-Qaeda and Iran/Hezbollah, cites a number of attacks which the witnesses believe were the fruit of that collaboration: the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, the twin bombings of two United States embassies in East Africa in 1998, and the speed boat suicide bombing of the destroyer USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000.

– Excerpt number 3 asserts that the cooperation between Iran and Al-Qaeda was not merely a matter of low-level operational dealings but rather the product of longstanding, direct and personal relationships between Al-Qaeda leadership figures Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri on the one hand and key officials in the government of Iran and its terror proxies, including both Lebanese and Saudi Hezbollah, on the other.

– Excerpt number 4 attempts to explain the “Modus Operandi” underpinning the longstanding collaboration between the Iranian regime on the one hand and Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and Hamas on the other: the ability of the Iranian regime to enjoy some measure of deniability. In doing so — particularly with respect to Al-Qaeda and Hamas — the regime was able to exploit the popular perception that two hypothetical terrorist groups identifying as “Sunni” and “Shi’ite”, respectively, cannot possible cooperate with each other, due to doctrinal differences.

– Excerpt number 5 introduces one of the key relationships which the witnesses believe was significant in forging and consolidating the Al-Qaeda-Iranian relationship: that between Usama bin Laden and Iran-backed Afghan warlord Gulbudding Hekmatyar. The relationship, they observe, dates back to the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s.

– Excerpt number 6 goes on to more specifically explain the nature and impact of cooperation between Hekmatyar and Bin Laden in the wake of the September 11 attacks. It observes that when hundreds of Al-Qaeda terrorists had to flee Tora Bora following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan post-September 11, Hekmatyar used his relationship with the Iranian regime to facilitate the passage of hundreds of Al-Qaeda terrorists into Iranian territory, where many were granted long-term safe haven.

– Excerpt number 7 recounts that in December 1991, as Bin Laden was resettling in Sudan and Saudi Arabia, then-Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani paid an official visit to Sudan, together with Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Mohsen Rezai, and Defense Minister Ali Akbar Torkan. Agreements were reached between the Iranians and their Sudanese hosts for weapons shipments, as well as the dispatch to Sudan of 1,000-2,000 revolutionary guards. The testimony cites “credible sources” as reporting that Imad Mughniya attended the Khartoum meetings. It is worth noting that the experts do not directly assert that Bin Laden himself met with Rafsanjani, Fallahian, Rezai, or Torkan during that official visit — but suggests by inference, given the tight relationship between Bin Laden and the upper echelons of the Sudanese government, that such a meeting did take place. This implicit link raises the question as to whether the portions of the testimony that were “blocked off” after being designated “classified” may provide more information about the intersection of these leadership figures in December 1991.

– Excerpt number 8 asserts that the relationship between Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, spanning multiple countries and continents, included both on the territory of Iran but also Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. According to the document, “senior al-Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. In the fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley. Usama Bin Laden reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983.

– Excerpt number 9 identifies yet another IRGC commander involved in the Al-Qaeda – Iran relationship: Iran’s former Charge d’Affaires in Khartoum, Majid Kamal. The witnesses assert that he facilitated the collaborative relationships required to enable Hezbollah to provide “advice and training” to Al-Qaeda fighters — doing so on the basis of prior experience building up Hezbollah as an armed group in the early 1980s during its formative period.

U.S. Court Witnesses: Iran and al-Qaeda Cooperated on Moving Terrorists into Europe

U.S. Court Witnesses: Iran and al-Qaeda Cooperated on Moving Terrorists into Europe
U.S. Court Witnesses: Iran and al-Qaeda Cooperated on Moving Terrorists into Europe

A New York court has rendered a judgment in excess of $22 billion against the Iran government for involvement in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The order was based on testimony from witnesses documenting a longstanding relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda which enabled the latter to perpetrate not only the September 11 attacks but also acts of terrorism before and after the New York tragedy.

The allegations, attributed to a spread of sources including Guantanamo Bay interrogations, point to material support by Iranian intelligence cadres and the IRGC-Qods Force to Al-Qaeda during the 1990s.

Several documents refer to Tariq al-Sharabi, a Tunisian man arrested in Italy in April 2001 for affiliation with al-Qaeda. Prior to his arrest, Al-Sharabi had been assured by an Al-Qaeda agent that a “ratline” of safe passage to Iran had been established for the group, as part of broader cooperation with the Tehran regime.The operative told Sharabi that Iran was increasingly displacing Pakistan as Al-Qaeda’s preferred transfer route, due to concerns that networks in Pakistan had been compromised.

Another name appearing in the plaintiffs’ documents was Ramzi bin al-Shibh: They refer to al-Shibh as the ‘executive director’ of the September 11 attacks. He had met with the hijackers’ ring leader, Muhammad Atta, earlier in 2001: They traveled together to Afghanistan via Iran to report on progress in the operation to Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri.