Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hmmm. This could end badly

This may possibly be the stupidest piece of foreign policy business I've heard of since Dubya the Conqueror decided to go all macedonian in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates.I'm the last person to say that the United States needs to load up to cockpunch yet ANOTHER Middle Eastern country. But...if a military arm of a foreign country caught actually planning to assassinate allied diplomats and attack allied embassies on your soil isn't a casus belli...what the hell is?
"The men accused of plotting the attacks were Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, both originally from Iran, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan. Mr. Holder said the men were connected to the secretive Quds Force, a division of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that has carried out operations in other countries. He said that money in support of the plot was transferred through a bank in New York, but that the men had not yet obtained explosives."
It's a sad commentary on the degree to which I believe my own government has utterly fucked up its conflict with Islamic groups including the government of Iran along with its credibility with regards to "terrorist plots" that I am inclined to be skeptical that these mooks were really under orders from Tehran.And the downsides of an open war with Iran make it nearly impossible to believe that the bombs are about to start falling.But...assuming that the DoJ is correct and someone in Tehran sent these guys out to commit mayhem in Washington, D.C., I'd say that this says something pretty disturbing about the levels of either stupidity, or aggression, or both, in the IRGC, the Quds Force, or some other faction in the Iranian government.We know the levels of stupidity and aggression on our own side.The last thing we need is to find ourselves playing chicken with another outfit with a chicken-like brain for international relations.End badly? Y'think?

Sheesh.

31 comments:

  1. Isn't it a fantastic story???

    Iran = Bad guys (we don't like them, and we told you so!)
    Iran = Terrorists (yes, the Quds force do this stuff all the time)
    Attack on US soil = Homeland security is relevant
    Links to Mexican Cartels = Immigration and border patrols and the existential threat of Mexican drug traffickers
    Target Saudi diplomat = pissed off Saudis
    No mention of AQ link = hasn't been discounted, just wait!

    Could we really have dreamed up such a perfect, well thought out ruse? Nope, we ain't that good. This smacks of unbelievable so bad that it is probably absolutely true. Ballsy, and frankly, not really IRGC's MO, but all together possible. My bet, this was a somewhat independent action that was supported, at some level, by Iranian surrogate forces, but probably not part of any grand plan by Iranian masters. Let's be honest, as fantastic as this sounds, we know with almost dead certainty that Qud forces have been supporting (participating?) in attacks killing US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet the bombs aren't falling on suspected bomb factories inside Iran. My guess, lots of hot air coming, some more sanctions and tough talk.

    And hey, this is more believable than the Iranians' story that the US uses a Top Secret Earthquake machine to lay waste to Iran from time to time.

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  2. bg: It is like a bad spy movie, innit?

    The thing is, in a weird sense I've alwasy kind of given the IRGC a "pass" on their dirty work in central Asia. We're the outsiders there, they have a job to do as the would-be regional power, and that has ALWAYS included taking a slap at the outsider's attempts to gain power. If the Iranians were to stand around whilst armed GIs ramped and roared all around them the other locals would justifiably start thinking that for Islamic hardcores they were pretty pussified.

    But "terror attacks" on U.S. turf? That's a whole 'nother breed of cat. You'd like to think that the adults running the levels above the Quds stud-farm stalls would have put a hobble on their little ponies before letting them pull the country into this sort of potentially disastrous mess.

    I agree that this is unlikely to lead to shooting war. What bugs me is the implications here that the Iranians either have someone cuckoo enough to think this is a good idea high enough in their hierarchy to make it go, or their supervision of the 2011-Iranian-version of Ollie North isn't nearly as good as they think it is.

    Either one would be bad for both of us...

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  3. Hmmm, let's consider the most basic question. What would Iran hope to gain by carrying out such an operation? Their understanding of strategy is arguably sound, so what's the payoff for such a high level of risk?

    Considering that, I don't think this dog will hunt.

    Rather it comes across as something that Doug Feith would come up with . . .

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  4. That's what bugs me about this, seydlitz; it makes no geopolitical sense. If the Quds guys want to take a slap at the Saudis, there's a ton of better, simpler ways to do it.

    It just seems stupid, and while I'll give the IRGC full marks for fanaticism and general irascibility I've never thought they were stupid.

    And yet, it also seems too stupid to be a piece of neocon war-drum-beating maskirova. ISTM that if you wanted to gin up war with Iran there are less-implausible ways to do it.

    It's just weird. Either somebody in Iran is hopped-up on Red Bull and soju or somebody in the U.S. has been slamming 5-hour-energy and watching WAY too much "Mission: Impossible".

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  5. FDCHief-

    We do "info-ops" all the time, so why not this one? Remember who the target audience is, since what other group in the world at this point would believe anything the US government says . . . and the last two guesses don't count!

    It's not much crazier than Saddam's "drones of death" BS Bush sold the US Senate during the runup to the Iraq War of 2003 . . .

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  6. Really like the first pix of the chubby cat and the eagle btw. My wife laughed when she saw it, since it reminds us soooo much of a certain denizen of this abode . . .

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  7. Chief,

    I don't know where you get the pictures for your posts, but this is pure genius.

    Seydlitz,

    I tend to agree with bg. While possible, it's seems pretty unlikely that this is entirely fiction - the information is coming from the Justice Department, and is based on evidence collected by law enforcement that will be seen in court - not some unknown intelligence source like curveball. A lot of people would have to be part of a conspiracy, or be complete dupes, or both. The details, that we know now, would be hard to fabricate while keeping the fabrication secret. Also, if this is an info-op, the timing doesn't seem right. If you're going to create a complex info operation to deceive the American public, wouldn't you time it so that it is likely to cause some action?

    Secondly, I agree with what you said regarding the Iranians and their strategy, but there are two importance considerations to keep in mind. First is that Iran isn't homogenous - in fact there are a lot of internal factions that run the gamut from reasonable to the radical. Secondly, they are not less subject to fuckups and "going off the reservation" than any other country. With any government there are going to be times when the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. That this plot doesn't fit with Iran's strategy indicates to me that it wasn't sanctioned at the highest levels and was more likely a rogue operation.

    Additionally, Iran has done similar things before in south America so while BG is right that this doesn't exactly fit Iran's MO, it isn't completely outside the box. The IRGC has also become a much more powerful force within Iran over the past couple of decades and it is more autonomous than it used to be. It's unclear how much oversight the leadership actually has over the IRGC, but what is clear is that they do have the capability to attempt something like this plot.

    Of course, this is just my initial take bases on what little evidence is available. I'm sure more information will be coming out in the future.

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  8. I agree with Seydlitz. Unless it has something to do with crazy internal Iranian politics, I can't see any payoff to Iran. The downsides, on the other hand are considerable.

    On the American side, I can see lots of benefits to an agitprop operation and little downside (except for perhaps the risk of escalating into a shooting war, which for some elements would no doubt be a plus).

    The FBI has a history of taking unstable people and encouraging them in a conspiracy. Then they swoop in and "foil" the attack. This case has a similar smell to it.

    IMO, the balance of probabilities lies with the agitprop operation.

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  9. Might be of interest . . .

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2011/10/post-6.html

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  10. Andy - "the information is coming from the Justice Department, and is based on evidence collected by law enforcement that will be seen in court - not some unknown intelligence source like curveball."

    What you say makes sense but I fear, based on recent history, that it is inaccurate. It seems likely that this will be heard in some sort of Star Court which will keep the evidence away from the public's eye.

    I haven't formed a real opinion yet as there isn't enough verifiable information yet but it seems likely that one of two things is occurring right now:
    1) A major US psy-op program against the US public and potentially world opinion
    and/or
    2) Somebody in Tehran is discovering that the US has not cornered the market on remarkably stupid behavior

    In the meantime, I note that the media now has to split its attention between Occupy Wall Street and this new crisis.

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  11. I have to think that there is something here; as the saying goes, with all this crap lying around there's got to be a pony somewhere.

    I guess the thing is that this suggests a somewhat worrying level of chaos within the Iranian ruling junta. I think Andy has a point; the IRGC/Quds people have gotten a lot of props for their work against us in Iraq and to some extent in A'stan. With the Iraq Follies finally going dark this winter, the nasty thought that occurs to me is that some looneys in the Quds Force really thought that this would be the logical progression of following the gringos home.

    And the implication is that we've badly mistaken the control that the Iranians have over their spooks. The quote I read by the "Center for the Study of Terrorism" in London says that "Quds Force, although it's a highly specialized department, it is subject to strict, iron-clad military discipline. It's completely controlled by the military hierarchy of the IRGC, and the IRGC is very tightly controlled by the highest levels of the administration in Iran."

    If this is indeed a genuine operation by Iranian intelligence officers - and there is at least enough evidence to suspect that it is - then our assessment of the Quds/IRGC as unlikely to get involved in a pointless, self-destructive act unsanctioned by their own government is badly mistaken.

    Like I said; the way the DoJ and the federal law-enforcement agencies have sorta shat the bed re: "Islamic terror" (Ael points our correctly that many of the supposed "terrorists" the FBI has nabbed since 9/11 turn out to be individual whackos often prodded by agens provocateurs into their acts) means that I'd like to see more solid proof - like an actual indictment and trial - before I believe this. But the prima facie case looks pretty nasty.

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  12. It's already falling apart . . .

    http://www.juancole.com/2011/10/wagging-the-dog-with-irans-maxwell-smart.html

    You would have thought that after "curveball", we'd have learned something, but that seems doubtful . . .

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  13. Juan Cole isn't the most absolutely reliable of news sources but I think he's on to something here.

    I'm now leaning towards the theory that this was a US government psy-op primarily aimed at disrupting news coverage on the Occupy Wall Street movement. Furthermore, it seems to have been hastily and poorly done. I wonder what that means.

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  14. Another alternative is that this was the work of an Iranian dissident group which tried to set Iran up. In a way, that would make more sense given the how amateur this attempt appears to be.

    Seydlitz,

    Juan Cole doesn't mention that there were phone calls to this guy's "cousin" in Iran that were monitored by the feds, so his claim that "there is no Iran connection here" isn't quite accurate. Here's the relevant portion form the DoJ briefing:

    In October 2011, according to the complaint, Arbabsiar made phone calls at the direction of law enforcement to Shakuri in Iran that were monitored. During these phone calls, Shakuri allegedly confirmed that Arbabsiar should move forward with the plot to murder the Ambassador and that he should accomplish the task as quickly as possible, stating on Oct. 5, 2011, “[j]ust do it quickly, it’s late . . .” The complaint alleges that Shakuri also told Arbabsiar that he would consult with his superiors about whether they would be willing to pay CS-1 additional money.

    It seems to me a lot depends on who this contact in Iran (Shakuri) actually is.

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  15. To all,
    Has the CIA ever done the same thing ??!
    Who casts the 1st stone.
    How is any of this worse than dropping drone born missiles outaa the sky?
    jim

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  16. BTW, there's more detail in the actual complaint. Doesn't really support Cole's lone nut theory, but also isn't proof of Iranian government complicity. Some good info though.

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  17. I guess the thing I find unconvincing, Andy, is the whole "Iranian official #1/#2" business. I suspect that it's to protect some sort of source/technique, but the end result is that we're left with the two goons' statements and the assertion by the FBI that they did, in fact, have two Iranian "officials" in the IRGC/Quds Force involved.

    If this was 1999 or 2000 that might fly, but we've had so much flippin' be-very-afraid-the-Iranians-are-after-your-precious-bodily-fluids since 2003 it's hard to just accept that these guys were really who they were supposed to be and not some OTHER couple of stooges living out their Quds Force fantasy.

    Again, this does worry me - I'm not trying to write it off. And I'm very sure that there ARE Quds Force officers who would like to do us and the Saudis some harm. It's just friggin' frustrating that we've shot ourselves in the foot so many times by lying and bullshitting about ME issues that it's so difficult to feel confident about this...

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  18. Chief,

    I share your concerns and think we need to consider all theories. Obviously this guy had contacts in Iran - after all, he called them! But who is this Shakuri fellow and the other Iranians? Is he really Qods? We don't really know. The guy who was arrested was able to pick out a Qods guy from seven pictures, but that's pretty thin as far as evidence goes.

    Someone in Iran is obviously involved but their affiliations aren't very clear atm. They could be a dissident group. They could be Qods. They could be a criminal syndicate. Too early to tell one way or another.

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  19. Cole's comments were from a NYT article, I linked to him due to his clear format.

    The suspect had business, assets and family in Iran so he was in contact with various people there, and maybe there is a drug link . . .

    But to link this with high-ranking Qods officers and then link this whole dubious plot with high officials in the Iranian government?

    It's laughable. From what I've seen so far very flimsy, so I go with the most obvious explanation . . . US propaganda/information ops directed towards the American people/whatever international audience is listening . . . It's not like it hasn't happened before . . .

    I found this interesting . . . notice Mann's expressions when the woman's talking . . . and her point about "missing the main story" . . .

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xln6z5_fmr-diplomat-iran-plot-makes-no-sense_news

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  20. The guy who I buy vegetables from in Oregon City has relatives in Qom; if knowing someone in Iran was evidence of Islamic espionage and terrorist connection a pantsload of downtown Brooklyn would be in jail...I thought that the indictment relied a hell of a lot on "so-and-so, who stated he was an officer in the Quds Force..." sort of thing. Made things less clear to me rather than moreso.

    And I have to say that the thing that I found LEAST convincing was the whole "Mexican drug cartel connection". My understanding is that the Quds is supposed to be Iran's SOF and fairly good at what they do. They want to take down the Saudi ambassador...OK, let's assume they do. First, why use some whacko Mexican gunsels? You couldn't find some local D.C. hoods who can figure out which end of the MAC-10 the bullets come out of? And, second, why present yourself as Iranian? Why not be "a Saudi revolutionary" or "a Mossad agent" or some other thing? I mean, the narcos aren't exactly known as the world's covert ops specialists, and you'd think that any Quds officer who watched the news would know that.

    Instead the Mexican involvement seemed like the sort of thing I'd come up with if someone forced me to write a political thriller. "Hmmmm...waitaminnit...ummm...Ha! I got it! So the evil Iranian agents make contact with the vile Mexican drug lords! They hire elite Zeta shooters to take down Jack Ryan...I mean, the Saudi ambassador!" It sounds more like a scenario from an episode of "24"...

    That's one of the things that makes me suspect, like seydlitz, that this is could either be a couple of Iranian mooks pretending to be big time operators...or a Mossad black ops disinformation operation...or who the fuck knows...instead of a genuine Iranian op.

    But if it IS a genuine Iranian op, then we're going to have to make room for the Quds Force in the All-Time Dumb Fuck Intelligence Hall of Fame.

    More than anything at this point, the fact that the corporate media isn't asking the very questions we're asking here just reinforces my conviction that the U.S. public endorses a lot of the dumbass things they do because the very people supposed to be giving them information are as fucking credulous and dopey as a couple of supposed Iranian spooks contracting Mexican dopers as hitmen...

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  21. Actually, I take back my snarl at the U.S. news media...a bit.

    The L.A. Times has a sorta-editorial up questioning whether a nation who kills its enemies abroad has any grounds to get shirty about...another nation planning to kill its enemies abroad. And here - http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2011/10/post-6.html - is a pretty good piece in CNN which does indeed ask a lot of the questions we're asking here.

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  22. Ah, a much more believable story-line is developing.

    Gareth Porter suggests that the Iranians were trying to move heroin (no doubt from Afghan poppies). Thus, the reason for their contacting Mexican drug gangs.

    The fed's spotted the contact and spun it into a terrorist plot by controlling the man in the middle.

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  23. Ah, Chief, you're leaving out American Exceptionalism.

    Seydlitz, your video doesn't play for me, wrong country, apparently.

    Pluto, I've been reading JC off and on for years, and IMO he doesn't miss much.

    Above all, and this has been implied by the discourse here, it's already NATIONAL ELECTION TIME!

    I'm thinking this would make a great Adam Sandler movie. Can't recall the title right off hand, but he's done something similar.

    bb

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  24. This whole thing smells of Bush . . . but then maybe it's just BO wishing to be like Bush . . .

    bb-

    Should be on CCN's website. The former official is Hillary Mann Leverett and she knows her stuff.

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  25. I know who she is, she'd been on Olbermann's MSNBC show several times, but not seen since.

    It is a good thing to hear she's back on TV.

    bb

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  26. Ael - y'know, that makes the first real sense I've heard on this farrago. Plus it has the added benefit (for Iran) of hooking more devil infidels on Satan's Secret Sauce. Interesting.

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  27. FDChief-

    "that makes the first real sense I've heard on this farrago"

    Disagree. As to responses, the first real sense on this thread was in the first comment, but that shifted to the political with the third . . . you're still dealing with that subordinating element, however obliquely, imo.

    "Drugs" simply allows us to shift the whole affair to some shadowy "illegal activity" . . .

    Although the US Government is clearly involved in such activity . . . to their own gain . . . with little accountability.

    Should one attempt to describe the "gambling house" that has become "public service", or even that in the Quangos . . . each for themselves . . . Hobbesian really . . . ?

    Say no more, say no more . . .

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  28. You mean "This smacks of unbelievable so bad that it is probably absolutely true."?

    I agree bg had some good points, but ISTM that the main guy Arbabsiar just looks too whack to be even involved in "...a somewhat independent action that was supported, at some level, by Iranian surrogate forces". And he's also so whack that it's hard to see the DoJ trying to use him as part of a maskirova or some sort of false-flag op (though the example of the infamous "curveball" does make me wonder).

    But the idea that some goofball in Iran saw him as a chance to get into the heroin trade? What's the downside? If it works, it's $$ for the Iranian handlers, possibly an in to the U.S. underworld. If it doesn't, he's a whackjob and you can toss him. The FBI gets ahold of him, their imaginations work overtime until he becomes Iran's 007 - giving the DoJ what THEY want - a newsworthy "Eeeeevil IRanian Plot" story. Everybody's happy.

    "Should one attempt to describe the "gambling house" that has become "public service", or even that in the Quangos . . . each for themselves . . . Hobbesian really"

    I'm afraid I'm missing this - are you saying that the average GS-9 has become some sort of crazy risk-taker? That they are at each other's bureaucratic throats? And why would that be involved in this?

    Just wondering.

    Saw a couple of other sensible opinions the other day, too. This one is from a Congressional Research Service guy, Ken Katzman: “He (Arbabsiar) appears to have some relations in the Quds forces, and it’s certainly possible he contacted them and maybe they indulged him and didn’t want to say no, or due to familial relationships or whatever, they perhaps didn’t stop him as vigorously as they should have because of the relationship. But the idea that this was a fully vetted and thought-through plan seems to fall apart to me, to my mind...”

    And a former Agency guy named Faddis says “Another thing that strikes me as possible is that this individual was trying basically to con the Iranians - in other words, that he approached them with the idea that he’s going to try to build himself up because he’s frankly desperate for money. And so he’s going to represent that he is capable of things he’s really not capable of. And then the Iranians take some actions to attempt to flush that out and determine what he is, and is not, capable of..."

    The notion of Arbabsiar as a scam artist with a cousin in the Quds Force dreaming of becoming a super spy with contacts in the Mexican mafia and the Taliban heroin dealership seems more reasonable to me than either the notion of this as deep Iranian skulduggery or complex Bushie fakery...

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  29. FDChief-

    That there's some drug angle I've conceded, but don't see much beyond that. Attempting to tie this to the Iranian government or Quds is reaching, even ridiculous, and shows us more about the US government than the Iranian. Attempting to get into the mind of the used car dealer and his motives is wild speculation at this point. More likely the key player was the "Narc"/informer.

    "Complex Bushie fakery"? When has it ever been complex? More opportunistic by nature, and arrogant, with their minions echoing the same in the MSM . . . with the basic assumption that the rubes will believe anything, just as we see today.

    My point about "gambling house" is the effect downsizing all government entities in the US and UK at least are experiencing. Over at SST they've been talking about how scams, I mean notable successes like this, are used to promote certain agency interests as opposed to competing agency interests . . . I see something similar in the "quango" where I work, but just not as blatant. It stopped being about "mission" or "public service" some time ago and currently is about simple survival. Every one knows the pie's getting smaller, especially the career bureaucrats, so "gambling house" as a metaphor works for me at least . . .

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  30. FDChief: "And yet, it also seems too stupid to be a piece of neocon war-drum-beating maskirova. ISTM that if you wanted to gin up war with Iran there are less-implausible ways to do it."

    Why not? Stupid got them a lot of payoff, and being found out is no problem at all. And it's been pointed out that the FBI's standard 'terrorist plot' always seems to involve one fool and a half-dozen FBI undercover guys. It's a set-up until proven otherwise.

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