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.