Posted tagged ‘Iran secret deals’

Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway

April 24, 2017

Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway, Politico, April 24, 2017

Sean McCabe for POLITICO

The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.

The saga of how the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench into its own Justice Department-led counterproliferation effort continues to play out almost entirely out of public view, largely because of the highly secretive nature of the cases and the negotiations that affected them.

That may be about to change, as the Trump administration and both chambers of Congress have pledged to crack down on Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a government-wide review of U.S. policy toward Iran in the face of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time.”

Over the past year, the system has kicked back into gear, with some new cases filed and movement in existing ones. Some, however, involve activity dating to 2008, including the prosecution of some of Ravan’s suspected associates in the Iraq IED case. Privately, some prosecutors and investigators are hopeful that the Trump administration’s more hard-line approach to Tehran will mean more support for their efforts.

***********************************

By dropping charges against major arms targets, the administration infuriated Justice Department officials — and undermined its own counterproliferation task forces.

When President Barack Obama announced the “one-time gesture” of releasing Iranian-born prisoners who “were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses” last year, his administration presented the move as a modest trade-off for the greater good of the Iran nuclear agreement and Tehran’s pledge to free five Americans.

“Iran had a significantly higher number of individuals, of course, at the beginning of this negotiation that they would have liked to have seen released,” one senior Obama administration official told reporters in a background briefing arranged by the White House, adding that “we were able to winnow that down to these seven individuals, six of whom are Iranian-Americans.”

But Obama, the senior official and other administration representatives weren’t telling the whole story on Jan. 17, 2016, in their highly choreographed rollout of the prisoner swap and simultaneous implementation of the six-party nuclear deal, according to a POLITICO investigation.

In his Sunday morning address to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as “civilians.” The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”

In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran.

And in a series of unpublicized court filings, the Justice Department dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives. The administration didn’t disclose their names or what they were accused of doing, noting only in an unattributed, 152-word statement about the swap that the U.S. “also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.”

Three of the fugitives allegedly sought to lease Boeing aircraft for an Iranian airline that authorities say had supported Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization. A fourth, Behrouz Dolatzadeh, was charged with conspiring to buy thousands of U.S.-made assault rifles and illegally import them into Iran.

A fifth, Amin Ravan, was charged with smuggling U.S. military antennas to Hong Kong and Singapore for use in Iran. U.S. authorities also believe he was part of a procurement network providing Iran with high-tech components for an especially deadly type of IED used by Shiite militias to kill hundreds of American troops in Iraq.

The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.

When federal prosecutors and agents learned the true extent of the releases, many were shocked and angry. Some had spent years, if not decades, working to penetrate the global proliferation networks that allowed Iranian arms traders both to obtain crucial materials for Tehran’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs and, in some cases, to provide dangerous materials to other countries.

“They didn’t just dismiss a bunch of innocent business guys,” said one former federal law enforcement supervisor centrally involved in the hunt for Iranian arms traffickers and nuclear smugglers. “And then they didn’t give a full story of it.”

In its determination to win support for the nuclear deal and prisoner swap from Tehran — and from Congress and the American people — the Obama administration did a lot more than just downplay the threats posed by the men it let off the hook, according to POLITICO’s findings.

Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort.

And as far back as the fall of 2014, Obama administration officials began slow-walking some significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the U.S. These previously undisclosed findings are based on interviews with key participants at all levels of government and an extensive review of court records and other documents.

“Clearly, there was an embargo on any Iranian cases,” according to the former federal supervisor.

“Of course it pissed people off, but it’s more significant that these guys were freed, and that people were killed because of the actions of one of them,” the supervisor added, in reference to Ravan and the IED network.

The supervisor noted that in agreeing to lift crippling sanctions against Tehran, the Obama administration had insisted on retaining the right to go after Iran for its efforts to develop ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads and cruise missiles that could penetrate U.S. defenses, and to illegally procure components for its nuclear, military and weapons systems.

“Then why would you be dismissing the people that you know about who are involved in that?” the former official asked.

A SHREWD CALCULATION

The saga of how the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench into its own Justice Department-led counterproliferation effort continues to play out almost entirely out of public view, largely because of the highly secretive nature of the cases and the negotiations that affected them.

That may be about to change, as the Trump administration and both chambers of Congress have pledged to crack down on Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a government-wide review of U.S. policy toward Iran in the face of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time.”

On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared that even if Iran is meeting the terms of its deal with the Obama administration and other world powers, “they are not living up to the spirit of it, I can tell you that. And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully, and we’ll have something to say about that in the not-too-distant future.”

At left, President Barack Obama delivers a statement Jan. 17, 2016, on the relations between the U.S. and Iran. At right, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet July 7, 2015, in Vienna, Austria, during the nuclear talks between the E3+3 and Iran. | AP and Getty Photos

Such reviews are likely to train a spotlight on an aspect of the nuclear deal and prisoner swap that has infuriated the federal law enforcement community most — the hidden damage it has caused to investigations and prosecutions into a wide array of Iranian smuggling networks with U.S. connections.

Valerie Lincy, executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, said Obama administration officials made a shrewd political calculation in focusing public attention on just those seven men it was freeing in the United States, and portraying them as mere sanctions violators.

That way, she said, “They just didn’t think it was going to make too many waves. And I think they were right.”

But Lincy, who closely tracks the U.S. counterproliferation effort against Iran, said that by letting so many men off the hook, and for such a wide range of offenses, Washington has effectively given its blessing to Iran’s continuing defiance of international laws.

Former Obama administration officials deny that, saying the men could still be prosecuted if they continue their illegal activity. But with their cases dropped, international arrest warrants dismissed and investigative assets redirected, the men — especially the 14 fugitives — can now continue activities the U.S. considers to be serious threats to its national security, Lincy said.

“This is a scandal,” she said. “The cases bear all the hallmarks of exactly the kinds of national security threats we’re still going after. It’s stunning and hard to understand why we would do this.”

Even some initial supporters of negotiating with Iran said the disclosures are troubling.

“There was always a broader conceptual problem with the administration not wanting to upset the balance of the deal or the perceived rapprochement with the Iranian regime,” said former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate, who later turned against the accord. “The deal was sacrosanct, and the Iranians knew it from the start and took full advantage when we had — and continue to maintain — enormous leverage.”

Most, if not all, of the Justice Department lawyers and prosecutors involved in the Counterproliferation Initiative were kept in the dark about how their cases were being used as bargaining chips, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials.

So were the federal agents from the FBI and departments of Homeland Security and Commerce who for years had been operating internationally, often undercover, on the front lines of the hunt for Iranian arms and weapons smugglers.

It wasn’t just that prosecutors and agents with years of detailed knowledge about the cases were left out of the consultations about the significance of the 21 men let go in the swap. The lack of input also meant that negotiators were making decisions without fully understanding how the releases would impact the broader and interconnected matrix of U.S. investigations.

At the time, those investigations were providing U.S. officials with a roadmap of how, exactly, Tehran was clandestinely building its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and maintaining its military with the unwitting assistance of so many U.S. weapons parts and technology companies. The cases were also providing key operational details of how the Iranian procurement networks operate, and who in Tehran was calling the shots.

“So when they downplayed it, it really infuriated people,” said Kenneth MacDonald, a former senior Homeland Security official who helped establish the multi-agency coordination center at the heart of the National Counterproliferation Initiative.

“They’d spent months or years on these cases and the decisions were made with no review of what the implications were,” said MacDonald, who retired in 2013 but keeps in contact with agents as co-principal investigator at the DHS-affiliated Institute for Security Policy at Northeastern University. “There was absolutely no consultation.”

A SYSTEM IN LIMBO

In a series of interviews, senior officials from the Obama White House and Justice and State Departments said the prisoner swap was a bargain for the U.S., given the release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati and three others. Iran also promised cooperation on the case of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who had disappeared in Iran nearly a decade earlier and was believed to be either imprisoned or dead.

Those senior officials acknowledged that all but a handful of people were kept in the dark, but said top representatives of the Justice Department and FBI helped vet the 21 Iranian proliferators and that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch herself participated in blocking some other individuals demanded by Tehran from inclusion in potential prisoner trades.

“The condition was that they not be engaged in anything remotely attached to violence or proliferation activities,” said one senior Obama administration official familiar with the swap negotiations. “And none of them were in any stage where they were providing assistance to the [Tehran] government.”

That may be true for the seven men granted clemency in the United States, but it certainly wasn’t the case for the 14 fugitives.

“These were people under active investigation, who we wanted very badly because they were operating at such a high level that they could help us begin to find out what was happening inside the black box of how Iran’s procurement networks really operate,” said Aaron Arnold, a former intelligence analyst at CPC2, the FBI’s special Counterproliferation Center unit dedicated to thwarting Iranian nuclear and weapons smuggling. “Without that kind of strategic insight, it leaves our analysts, but more importantly, our policy-makers just guessing at what Iran is up to and how to stop it.”

Fifteen months later, the fallout from the nuclear deal and prisoner swap — and questions about the events leading up to them — continue to reverberate through the Justice Department and the specialized units at the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department created to neutralize the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear and military ambitions.

The National Counterproliferation Initiative, created with much fanfare a decade ago, has suffered greatly, many participants said, even as they acknowledged that metrics are hard to come by. Much of the work is done in secret, and in long-range efforts that can’t be publicly disclosed, much less measured in annual arrest or conviction statistics.

But key enforcement efforts are in limbo as the result of stalled or stymied investigations and prosecutions, and the trail of some high-value targets has gone cold, numerous participants said.

At least six times in the run-up to the nuclear deal, federal investigators scrambled to get Justice and State Department approval to lure top Iranian targets into traveling internationally in order to arrest them, according to one top Obama administration Justice Department official and other participants. But the requests weren’t approved and the targets vanished, depriving the U.S. of some of its best opportunities to gain insight into the workings of Tehran’s nuclear, missile and military programs, the sources said.

“We would say, ‘We have this opportunity and if we don’t do it now, we’ll never have the opportunity ever again,” the recently departed Justice Department official recalls. But, he added, “There were periods of time where State Department cooperation was necessary but not forthcoming.”

Obama Secretary of State John Kerry declined to comment through a former senior State Department official, who said certain requests might have been delayed temporarily because they came at particularly sensitive times in the negotiations, but only with the concurrence of the White House and Justice Department.

But even now, many experienced agents and prosecutors say they are reluctant to pursue counterproliferation cases for fear that they won’t go anywhere. They say they have also received no helpful guidance on what they can — and cannot — investigate going forward given the complicated parameters of the Iran deal and lifting of nuclear sanctions. Some said they are biding their time to see how hard-liners in the new administration, including Trump himself, deal with Iran.

But others have grown so frustrated that they have moved on from the counterproliferation effort, taking with them decades of investigative experience and relationships cultivated with other government agencies and cooperating U.S. companies, a number of current and former officials said.

And critical momentum has been lost, many say, as the 10-year anniversary of the initiative in October approaches.

“This has erased literally years — many years — of hard work, and important cases that can be used to build toward other cases and even bigger players in Iran’s nuclear and conventional weapons programs,” said former Justice Department counterproliferation prosecutor David Locke Hall, adding that the swap demolished the deterrent effect that the arrests and convictions may have had. “Even though these men’s crimes posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, the [Obama] administration has essentially told them their efforts have produced nothing more than political capital that can be traded away when politically expedient.”

One senior Obama administration official who served at the White House and DHS disagreed, saying much of the intelligence about Iranian networks remains usable even though the 21 cases were vacated, and that counterproliferation agents are a resilient bunch who will continue to do their jobs.

When asked whether the counterproliferation effort has struggled, one current Justice Department spokesman said no and quipped, “We are still in the export violation prosecuting business.”

That may be the case, said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, a physicist and former weapons inspector whose decades of scientific research into Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program brings him into regular close contact with federal authorities.

But like others involved in ongoing U.S. counterproliferation efforts, Albright said he witnessed many instances since late 2014 in which important investigations and prosecutions were hindered. Albright, who serves as an expert witness in Justice Department Iran trafficking prosecutions, added that federal agents have told him of numerous cases of “lure memos” and other requests never approved by the State Department.

“You can’t keep turning these down and expecting them to want to keep doing this,” said Albright, who added that efforts to lure suspects to countries where they can be arrested are essential in getting beyond the lower rungs of middlemen for Iran. He said he could not disclose specific details, but said, “The amount of rejections has risen to the level where people were worried that it would kill the counterproliferation effort.”

“They had wanted all of these things prosecuted, they were on a roll, they were freaking out the Iranians and then they were told, boom, stop,” Albright said of the Obama administration’s counterproliferation efforts. “And it’s hard to get them back again. We are shooting ourselves in the foot, destroying the infrastructure that we created to enforce the laws against the Iranians.”

The repercussions from the prisoner swap are especially strong in Boston, where authorities had worked for years to build the case against Jamili, the suspected Iranian nuclear procurement agent, and his China-based associate Sihai Cheng.

The two were secretly indicted in 2013 along with two Iranian companies, and Cheng pleaded guilty in mid-December 2015 to four criminal counts. He acknowledged conspiring with Jamili to knowingly provide more than 1,000 high-tech components known as pressure transducers to Iran, which authorities say advanced its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Less than a month later, though, as the prisoner swap unfolded, Boston prosecutors got orders from Washington to file court papers vacating the charges against Jamili and dropping the Interpol arrest warrant for him.

It wasn’t until later that the case agents and prosecutors learned that the Iranian negotiators had specifically demanded that Jamili be included in the swap, said Arnold, the former analyst at the FBI’s Counterproliferation Center Iran unit, where he headed a financial intelligence team tracking the money flows of the Iranian networks.

A GLOBAL CAT AND MOUSE GAME

By the time of the nuclear deal and prisoner swap, the U.S. government had spent 35 years in pursuit of Iran’s ever more sophisticated web of smugglers, traffickers, transport operatives and procurement agents.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter declared that Iran constituted an unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. security after Islamic revolutionaries overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took hostage 52 Americans. Tehran began calling the United States “the Great Satan” and vowed its destruction, in part by using proxy forces like Hezbollah.

A raft of economic sanctions against Iran and Iranian entities were put in place, followed by other restrictions on U.S. parts and technology that Tehran needed for military or other restricted applications, including its squadrons of F-class fighter jets that Washington sold it during friendlier times. Its ambitious ballistic missile program became a grave concern over the years, especially when it became apparent that Tehran was using U.S. commodities to engineer inter-continental versions that could reach the United States, and to top them with nuclear, conventional or even chemical and biological weapons.

And as Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program ramped up, so did the U.S. effort to stop it.

Overseas, U.S. intelligence operatives shadowed Iranian procurement agents, cultivated informants and used cyberweapons to sabotage Iran’s clandestine program. The U.S. military tried to interdict illicit shipments headed for Tehran. The Treasury Department issued endless rounds of targeted sanctions, but each time it restricted access to global markets for suspect individuals and companies, Tehran would simply create new ones. And successive administrations tried the diplomatic route to slow or stop Iranian proliferation, including Tehran’s efforts to share weapons and research with other enemies of the United States, without success.

In response, federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors were deployed to shut down the Iranian procurement networks and dam the rivers of U.S. parts and technology illicitly flowing to Iran in violation of export control laws.

That proved virtually impossible, given the hundreds of trading, shipping and transport companies Iran employed, and the complex payment schemes and often unwitting procurement agents it used to get the products via other countries with lax export controls.

Meanwhile, since at least 1982, the Government Accountability Office began issuing stinging reports about how the lack of coordination and information-sharing among U.S. agencies severely hampered efforts to bring criminal cases against traffickers.

After the 9/11 attacks, those turf battles intensified. The cases often took years to investigate, and federal agents from two or even three agencies would sometimes discover they were conducting international undercover operations against the same target, a top former Homeland Security official recalls.

Securing convictions from American juries was also a huge challenge given the complex nature of the cases, especially when the procurement networks were buying so-called dual-use components that also could be used for less nefarious purposes.

Two post-9/11 cases exposed gaping holes in the global counterproliferation safety net. In the United States, Israeli-born trafficker Asher Karni was arrested for illegally shipping suspected U.S. nuclear components to Pakistan for its atomic bomb arsenal. And in Pakistan, metallurgist Abdul Qadeer Khan was caught selling his country’s nuclear capability to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

At left, an Iranian security employee walks in a part of the uranium conversion facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, in 2005. At right, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities on April 8, 2008. Ahmadinejad announced on Iranian state television during the visit that Iran had begun the installation of some 6,000 new centrifuges, adding to to the 3,000 centrifuges already at the facility. | Getty

Both cases ratcheted up Washington’s fears that the vast underground of WMD trafficking rings could sell their wares to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

In 2007, the Bush administration responded by establishing the National Counterproliferation Initiative, charging the Justice Department with coordinating and expanding U.S. efforts to dismantle the procurement networks.

Task forces were established around the country, with special training for prosecutors and agents in how to collectively build cases that would not only put front-line traffickers in prison, but also map the illicit networks and target their leadership.

From the outset, Iran cases were front and center, especially in cities like San Diego, Houston and New York with large military, industrial or technology sectors. Boston, in particular, seemed a favorite of the Iranian networks.

Soon, the multi-agency teams were homing in on key players in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and another network procuring the IED components that Tehran’s fearsome Revolutionary Guard used to assist Iraqi insurgents killing American troops in Iraq.

An early high-value target was Amin Ravan, who by 2008 was working with a Singapore firm on behalf of the Aerospace Industries Organization, described by a secret State Department cable that year as “the umbrella organization and key procurement center for all Iranian industries responsible for developing and manufacturing missiles.”

Another was Behrouz Dolatzadeh, the suspected assault weapons buyer for Tehran. Authorities say he had been active as far back as 1995 in illegal arms smuggling and other illegal activities in connection with a sprawling business empire linked to Iran’s hard-line leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

By 2011, the Justice-led task forces had developed so many promising leads that the FBI, Commerce and Homeland Security Department had created special units to better coordinate efforts. Together, they also improved liaisons with overseas law enforcement agencies instrumental in interdicting shipments headed for Iran.

And working with U.S. intelligence agencies and the State Department, the task forces successfully lured several key Iranian operatives out of Tehran and China for capture elsewhere, including two who would end up on Obama’s prisoner swap list.

Dolatzadeh was indicted under seal in Arizona in February 2012, lured to the Czech Republic to inspect weapons en route to Iran, and arrested. And Ravan, already linked to the IED network, was secretly indicted in Washington in November 2012 and captured soon after in Malaysia.

And after a three-year undercover investigation, U.S. authorities lured a major Iranian proliferator named Parviz Khaki to the Philippines in May 2012 and arrested him on charges of conspiring to smuggle nuclear-related U.S. equipment to Iran.

“By dismantling this complex conspiracy … we have disrupted a significant threat to national security,” John Morton, then-director of DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said at the time.

All three investigations provided U.S. officials with unprecedented insight into Iran’s secret procurement efforts, current and former task force members said. But Dolatzadeh and Ravan were released by courts overseas, and Khaki died in custody, before the U.S. could extradite them.

The counterproliferation teams also enlisted the help of American companies, providing them with Iran’s massive shopping list of needed items and hotlines to call when they got a nibble.

“It took a long time to mature, but by 2013 to 2014, it became very evident that we were getting a lot of great leads,” recalls Randall Coleman, who as assistant FBI director oversaw the bureau’s fledgling Counterproliferation Center and special coordinators in all 56 field offices.

“We were very aggressive, and as a result of that, our caseload went up about 500 percent,” Coleman said. “It really exploded. We were rocking and rolling.”

One of the most promising cases was in Boston, where federal agents were deep into their investigation of the illicit flow of parts to Iran from a Massachusetts firm, MKS Instruments, and its Shanghai subsidiary.

With help from MKS, which was not suspected of wrongdoing, agents initially focused on Cheng and gathered evidence that he had been indirectly supplying Iran with components with nuclear applications for years. The trail led to Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, an Iranian company designated by European authorities as an entity involved in developing and procuring parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“Time is important, not only for you, for me, for your end user, but also for your nation,” Cheng wrote in a 2010 instant message to a suspected Iranian accomplice. “I personally believe the war will break out in 2 years and that will be the start of World War Three.”

But the agents’ curiosity was also piqued by another message from back in 2007, in which the Iranian accomplice, Seyed Jamili, asked Cheng for thousands of pressure transducers, for “a very big project and secret one.”

The project, authorities determined, was Iran’s clandestine uranium nuclear enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, where the transducers helped run thousands of gas centrifuge cascades to reach weapons-grade capability. There was even a photo of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touring Natanz, with the centrifuges — and MKS transducers clearly visible — in the background.

International U.S. arrest warrants were secretly issued for the two men, and authorities nabbed Cheng when he traveled to London to watch a soccer match in February 2014. After he was extradited and brought to Boston that December, authorities began to realize that Jamili was a far more important cog in Iran’s proliferation network than they had suspected.

It was Jamili who had recruited Cheng with the promise of big and easy money, they determined, and who had been using his Iranian import-export firm as cover for personally recruiting other procurement agents on trips to China and possibly other countries.

Around that same time, negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran were heating up, and so were the top-secret prisoner swap talks on the sidelines of them.

AN OPERATIONAL SLOWDOWN

By the winter of 2014, federal agents and prosecutors began to detect waning support at the higher rungs of the Obama administration for their counterproliferation efforts against Iran, according to numerous officials involved. Also, they said, Justice Department management — and an interagency Iran working group — suddenly were scrutinizing Iran cases more closely, asking a lot more questions and holding up requests and approvals that in the past had been routine.

No specific guidance or order was given, some said, but the message was clear.

“They didn’t want to have cases just popping up in the workup to the agreement or shortly after the agreement. The administration would not look good if there were [cases documenting] these acquisition attempts. And the Iranians kept doing it,” MacDonald, the former senior Homeland Security official, said of Tehran’s illegal procurement efforts.

“They were never told no, just to wait,” MacDonald said of the agents. “It was a common theme among the people working these cases. The official response was that nothing had changed, that if you brought the case forward, it would be worked. But unofficially, that was just not the case.”

Some of the cases involved significant investigations into nuclear and missile proliferation that required State Department approval, including visas to lure suspects to the U.S. for arrest, said MacDonald, who had also served on the White House Task Force on Export Control Reform. “I’ve been told that the highest levels of the State Department weren’t processing those, and the cases couldn’t move forward.”

A former senior State Department official said that in most cases, State Department and White House could only provide nonbinding guidance on how ongoing law enforcement operations might affect the sensitive negotiations. Ultimately, he said, the Justice Department was responsible for pushing back and protecting the integrity of its investigations and prosecutions.

And while it’s possible that federal law enforcement officials missed opportunities as a result of State Department delays, “I am not aware of a single case where they lost out on some key arrest or information, or some proliferation activity was allowed to continue,” the former senior State Department official said, adding that some lures and extraditions were approved “until the very end of our tenure.”

Clockwise from upper left: A U.S. plane sits on the tarmac of Geneva’s airport Jan. 17, 2016, awaiting the arrival of some of the Americans freed by Iran in a prisoner swap with the United States. The prisoners were former Marine Amir Hekmati, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini, private investigator and retired FBI and DEA agent Robert Levinson, Massachusetts student Matthew Trevithick and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari (not pictured). | AP and Getty Photos

Richard Nephew, a former top Iran sanctions official at the State Department and National Security Council, said any delays were “much more a case of managing the diplomatic initiative than letting the bad guys get away with stuff. If we found out in the NSC that something involved active law enforcement activity, then we were advised to stay the hell away from it.”

A top Obama Justice Department official rejected the notion that the State Department didn’t undermine important cases. He said prosecutors and investigators sometimes acceded to requests for delays they believed to be reasonable. But they became infuriated at times, he said, especially when opportunities to lure and arrest key Iranian proliferators were lost due to delay or outright rejection by State.

“The impediment was not the leadership of DOJ but the other agencies that DOJ has to work with to bring these cases successfully,” the Obama Justice official said. “They can kibosh it, they can pocket veto it, they can tell us no, they can punt it down a couple of steps.”

Justice Department officials demanded “high-level conversations” with the State Department and White House, but “not a whole lot” changed, the Obama Justice official said. “Did it fix the issue? I don’t think it did. I remember people up and down at DOJ being frustrated with the inability to move things.”

A senior former federal law enforcement official involved in counterproliferation efforts agreed, saying the FBI was especially impacted. “Did some of these other agencies’ actions … undermine what we were trying to accomplish in terms of the Iran network in the U.S.? Yes. But you are treading into waters where people don’t like what you are doing because it affects other things they are trying to do, diplomatically and politically.”

Ultimately, the dysfunction created by the slowdown spread far beyond the enforcement agencies and damaged relationships with partners in private industry and foreign governments, former DHS official MacDonald and others said.

By early 2015, the Obama administration’s oft-publicized desire for securing an Iran deal “was politicizing all of the ongoing investigations,” Arnold said. He visited his former CPC Iran Unit colleagues that August while briefing Treasury and FBI officials on the Iran deal, reached a month earlier, as a counterproliferation expert at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

“There was a fear that as negotiations went on, the White House wouldn’t want to get caught in a flap” created by a high-profile arrest or criminal case, Arnold said.

For agents and prosecutors, the headlines such an incident would create would antagonize not only their superiors but also a White House intent on proving to Tehran that it was committed to reaching an accord. On the flip side, it could also provide ammunition to the proposed deal’s many critics in Congress and elsewhere, who were claiming that Iran was aggressively continuing its clandestine procurement efforts even as it pledged good behavior.

But agents and prosecutors had an even more powerful reason to throttle back on Iran proliferation cases, according to Arnold and others.

Despite repeated requests, many were not given guidance or reassurances that the nuclear deal being negotiated in secret wouldn’t render unprosecutable new and ongoing cases, especially high-priority ones against nuclear traffickers, Arnold said. So agents had no confidence that their work would bear fruit.

“It was absolutely insane,” Arnold said. “People didn’t know what to do.”

“From the summer of 2015 on, there was a serious slowdown” as many counterproliferation officials shut down prosecutions and investigations voluntarily, Arnold said. “During that time, CPC wasn’t as aggressive as it should have been.”

The senior Obama administration official acknowledged that the twin sets of negotiations influenced the overall U.S. counterproliferation effort against Iran, especially the timing of individual investigations, prosecutions and international efforts to bring suspects to justice.

Such competing equities are unavoidable when high-level matters of diplomacy and geopolitics are under consideration, the official said. At those times, the White House must be guided by broader policy objectives, in this case de-escalating conflict with Iran, curbing its nuclear weapons program and freeing at least four American prisoners.

“The White House wouldn’t be getting involved in saying yea or nay to particular arrests or cases or the like” that are the purview of the Justice Department, the administration official said. “It was not uncommon, though, that before we were going to undertake a law enforcement action that we thought would have foreign policy implications, we would alert folks at the White House so that there could be appropriate notice given to a foreign government. That happens.”

The former official also acknowledged the complaints by agents and prosecutors about cases being derailed but said they were unavoidable, and for the greater good.

“It’s entirely possible that during the pendency of the negotiations, that folks who were doing their jobs, doing the investigations and bringing cases, having no understanding of and insight into the other process, were frustrated because they don’t feel like their stuff is moving forward,” said the Obama official. “Or they were not getting answers, because there are these entirely appropriate discussions happening on the policy side.

“That doesn’t strike me as being, a, unusual or, b, wrong,” the official added. “But I completely understand why it’s frustrating.”

The Justice Department refused repeated requests to make available for interviews anyone related to the counterproliferation effort since the Iran deal, or to provide information about its role in the negotiations.

But in a statement to POLITICO, the Justice Department said the negotiations “did not affect the Department’s determination to investigate and charge worthy cases” and that it continued to “investigate, charge, and prosecute viable criminal cases … throughout negotiations of the JCPOA,” the formal term for the Iran deal. The Justice Department said it filed federal charges against 90 individuals and entities for violations of export controls and sanctions implicating Iran between 2014 and 2016, many under seal. It did not provide information about cases under seal for those or other years, making it impossible to place those numbers in the proper context.

Also, some of those cases involve the 21 Iranians let go in the swap. And because numerous individuals and entities often are charged in a single case, the statistics suggest a slowdown in counterproliferation efforts, according to current and former investigators and a POLITICO review of DOJ cases.

The timing of arrests, prosecutions and other investigative activities “may be informed by a variety of factors, including, especially in the national security context, collateral foreign policy consequences and impacts on American lives,” the Justice Department said. “Once an individual is charged, the Department works to ensure that the defendant, whether located in the U.S. or abroad, is held accountable. In seeking to apprehend defendants located abroad, however, we need assistance from other departments, agencies, and countries, and sometimes we cannot accomplish an arrest without it.”

Senior Obama administration officials also said the negotiations over the nuclear deal and, even more so the prisoner swap, required such extraordinary secrecy that only a tiny number of people were involved.

But as the nation’s top law enforcement official — and as a participant in the negotiations —Lynch failed in her responsibility as attorney general to protect the integrity of the Justice Department’s investigations and prosecutions from any political interference, some current and former officials believe.

Lynch, through an aide, declined to comment.

(A timeline graphic is at the link below. — DM

Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, raised the issue of Justice Department independence in 2015, when as a senator he asked incoming Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates about whether she knew that she had “the responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper?”

Earlier this year, this issue arose again when Trump fired then-Acting Attorney General Yates for doing just that and refusing to defend his executive order on immigration. By doing so, Trump had “placed the independence of the Justice Department at stake,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). “The attorney general is the people’s attorney, not the president’s attorney.”

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis also emphasized the importance of such a firewall recently when addressing Trump’s claim that Obama had ordered wiretaps of him or his campaign. “A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” Lewis said.

Many front-line current and former authorities disagree, and say the Iran deal and prisoner swap is a glaring example of that.

“A lot of people were furious; they had cases in the pipeline for months, in some cases years, and then, all of a sudden, they were gone — all because they were trying to sell the nuke deal,” a former Department of Commerce counterproliferation agent said. “Things fell apart after that. There are some really good cases out there and they are not going forward. They just let them die on the vine.”

A MASTERMIND EMERGES

Top Obama administration officials insist that the nuclear deal does not impede any of the broader U.S. efforts to go after Iran’s vast nuclear, missile and conventional weapons procurement efforts. Even so, many participants said the way forward is still sufficiently unclear that they can’t, or won’t, proceed.

Over the past year, the system has kicked back into gear, with some new cases filed and movement in existing ones. Some, however, involve activity dating to 2008, including the prosecution of some of Ravan’s suspected associates in the Iraq IED case. Privately, some prosecutors and investigators are hopeful that the Trump administration’s more hard-line approach to Tehran will mean more support for their efforts.

Like many others, though, Albright said he is concerned that the counterproliferation effort has suffered significant and lasting damage, even if much of it involves classified efforts that may never become public.

“How much damage was done to the law enforcement side of this from us pulling back from these prosecutions?” he asked. “We have to pick up the pieces.”

Albright said that is especially the case in Boston, where he testified for the government against Cheng.

A few weeks after the prisoner swap, a judge sentenced Cheng to nine years in federal prison, even more than the prosecutors asked for, for his role in the conspiracy.

Cheng’s lawyer, Stephen Weymouth, accused federal prosecutors of unfair treatment, saying they threw the book at his client, a relatively small fish, while dropping all charges against the “mastermind,” Jamili.

Since the swap, federal authorities have learned more about Jamili, including intelligence tying him directly to Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, a top Iranian nuclear official who supervised a key “commercial affairs” initiative at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, according to officials familiar with the case. Authorities believe Jamili was on the phone with Ahmadi-Roshan on Jan. 11, 2012, when unknown assailants on a motorbike killed him by attaching a bomb to his car. Tehran accused Israel’s Mossad in the attack.

But the federal agents’ efforts to pursue such leads, even in the U.S., have been complicated by the general uncertainty hanging over the broader counterproliferation effort, according to Arnold, the former FBI analyst.

At left, young supporters of Lebanon’s militant Shiite Hezbollah movement carry portraits March 18, 2017, of the founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as they march in the southern Lebanese town of Kfar Hatta during the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter. At right, an S-200 surface-to-air missile is driven past Iranian military commanders Sept. 22, 2015, during the annual military parade in Tehran marking the anniversary of the start of Iran’s 1980-1988 war with Iraq. | Getty

“Part of the frustration is that there is strong evidence Iran is still conducting illegal procurement operations and the FBI can’t really go forward with these cases,” said Arnold, who has been closely following the Jamili-Cheng case as part of a Harvard research project into nuclear proliferation networks.

That frustration is especially acute when it comes to Jamili and the 13 other fugitives. When dropping the charges, the Justice Department said it was doing so in large part because it was unlikely that the U.S. would ever be successful in capturing or extraditing them anyway.

Some federal officials familiar with the cases scoffed at that, noting that they have lured many Iranians to places where they could be arrested, and that others were tripped up by sealed Interpol warrants while traveling. In Jamili’s case, said one, “he has traveled so we know there’s a chance we could get him.”

Despite decades of intensive investigations, Arnold said, U.S. officials still have a “major air gap” when it comes to understanding the intermediaries like Jamili involved in the Iranian networks — who are between foot soldiers like Cheng and government officials running the nuclear and weapons programs.

“All of a sudden, we’re no longer playing whack-a-mole, and we suddenly have this key player who is directly involved and has insider knowledge as to how this whole process works,” he said. “So to see him being traded away is frustrating.”

Iran violating U.S. deal with secret nukes research, opposition group says

April 21, 2017

Iran violating U.S. deal with secret nukes research, opposition group says, Washington TimesRowan Scarborough, April 21, 2017

In this photo obtained from the Iranian Mehr News Agency, Iranian army members prepare missiles to be launched during a maneuver at an undisclosed location in Iran on Nov. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour) **FILE**

The council and MEK have a good track record over the years of disclosing Iranian nuke programs that operated under the radars of Western intelligence agencies. It boasts an extensive spying network inside the Defense Ministry, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other organs of the hard-line Islamic state ruled by religious mullahs.

The MEK said METFAZ is operating in a secret location unbeknownst to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s nuclear watchdog. In official communications, the regime refers to it as the code name “Research Academy.”

********************************

Iran is cheating on its historical deal with the U.S. by secretly conducting research into nuclear weapons components such as bomb triggers and enriched uranium, the main Iranian opposition group said Friday.

The regime is doing engineering and weaponization testing at a walled military complex south of Tehran, a location which Iran has declared off-limits to inspectors, said the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its main operational arm, the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran (MEK).

“This is the site that has been kept secret,” said Alireza Jafrazadeh, NCRI’s Washington office deputy director. “There is secret research to manufacture the bomb and basically cover up the real activities of the Iranian regime.”

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated by the Obama administration, has become a major foreign policy issue for the Trump White House as it evaluates whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran. Iran has benefited with billions of dollars in freed-up funds while it pursues interventions in Iraq, Syria and Yemen against U.S. interests.

The NCRI-MEK report came the day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lambasted Iran for its expansionist terrorist activities in the region which he said violated the spirit of the JCPOA. He called the deal a “failed approach” since Iran can break out and build bombs after 10 years.

The JCPOA outlaws the type of weaponization work described by the NCRI-MEK report.

The State Department reported this week that Iran was abiding by the deal hammered out by former Secretary of State John Kerry and approved by Russia and other powers.

The NCRI rebutted that conclusion during a press conference in Washington by saying it is providing new information on Iranian misdeeds.

The council and MEK have a good track record over the years of disclosing Iranian nuke programs that operated under the radars of Western intelligence agencies. It boasts an extensive spying network inside the Defense Ministry, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other organs of the hard-line Islamic state ruled by religious mullahs.

The NCRI asserts that Iran’s so-called “declared” sites were not disclosed by Iran, but by the intelligence work of MEK.

The heart of the NCRI-MEK intelligence report is a research operation known as the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND) and its seven subdivision, which MEK said it first exposed in 2011.

“They are carrying out their research in various fields related to the manufacturing of a nuclear weapon,” the council’s report said. “In some of these fields, new initiatives have also been undertaken in order to keep the real objectives of the research a secret and to cover up the real activities.”

One those subdivisions, the Center of Research and Expansion of Technologies on Explosions and Impact (METFAZ) works on triggers and explosive yields, the statement said. The MEK disclosed METFAZ’s existence in 2009.

The MEK said METFAZ is operating in a secret location unbeknownst to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s nuclear watchdog. In official communications, the regime refers to it as the code name “Research Academy.”

The council investigation said that for the mullahs to continue METFAZ’s work undetected, they downsized a center in Sanjariana and transferred the research and testing to a new site in the military district of Parchin 20 miles south of Tehran.

“We are disclosing this for the first time today,” Mr. Jafrazadeh said. “They felt this was optimum location for shielding the actives of METFAZ.”

Reporters asked Mr. Jafrazadeh why the U.S.’s latest 90-day report to Congress say Iran was complying if it is now cheating.

He answered that the assessment is based on the IAEA monitoring known sites and measuring technical metrics, such as the amounts of enriched uranium.

He said that what the council is disclosing is secret weaponization work that now needs to be investigated. He said the council provided its report in the last few days to the Trump administration and the IAEA.

“We’re talking about an extensive covert operation by the Iranian regime,” he said.

Mr. Jafrazadeh said that when the IAEA visited a limited number of sites at Parchin in 2015, Iran had cleansed them of weaponization evidence.

“It needs to be inspected immediately,” Mr. Jafrazadeh said. He predicted this new intelligence report will prompt Iran to “clean out” its illicit work.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said that “inspection of our military sites is out of the question and is one of our red lines.” A number of Iranian leaders have repeated that warning in recent months.

The MEK provided satellite photos and descriptions of the exact locations of nuclear research inside the Parchin complex, such as “Plan 6” which is located at “the end of Babaj highway, Khojir-Parchin military road, after the tunnel on the southern side of Mamlo Dam.”

The site is protected by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the dominant security force inside Iran.

The report described the musical chairs this way: “The move resulted in the subsiding of activities at the Sanjarian site. The Iranian regime has done its utmost to keep the Research Academy, which is an important site, a secret from the eyes of international organizations. The reason for the move was based on the conclusion reached by regime officials that the probability for the IAEA to get access to Parchin in the future is extremely low, which means that the site is an optimal location for shielding the regime’s activities in this regard.”

To bolster its findings, the MEK released what it said are the nuts and bolts of Iran’s cheating, such as the identities of 15 METFAZ personnel and their jobs descriptions, and addresses of various secret sites.

The SPND network is headquartered in Tehran in the “Nour Building,” near the Defense Minister which supervises operations.

“In order to understand the regime’s secret and illicit activities, it is critical that the IAEA inspect and monitor not only the Research Academy, but also all other sites related to SPND,” the NCRIR-MEK said. “This will help shed light on the scope of the regime’s secret military and nuclear activities.”

It added, “The weaponization program must be totally dismantled. There is no reason to maintain SPND, and all its subordinate organizations, including METFAZ. They have no peaceful, energy use whatsoever and, their only function is to facilitate the development of the nuclear bomb.”

Mr. Jafrazadeh termed as “ridiculous” Iran’s restrictions on military site inspections since it is the military that oversees nuclear bomb research.

The NCRI received a boost this week when Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, attended a council event in Tirana, Albania, its new home after spending years in Iraq.

He met privately with NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi.

The Washington Times asked the State Department to respond to the NCRI-MEK investigation.

A spokesman referred to Mr. Tillerson’s April 18 letter to Congress certifying that Iran is in compliance. Mr. Tillerson added that the Trump administration will conduct a review of whether the suspension of economic sanctions under JCPOA is in the U.S’s interest.

“Notwithstanding, Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods,” Mr. Tillerson wrote.

After Syrian Gassing, Trump Must Expose the Iran Deal

April 10, 2017

After Syrian Gassing, Trump Must Expose the Iran Deal, PJ Media, Roger L Simon, April 9, 2017

Among the more disturbing questions emerging from the renewed use of gas by Bashar Assad is whether Barack Obama and his loyal minions (Kerry, Rhodes, Rice, etc.) actually knew the Syrian leader still had chemical weapons, even though they trumpeted the opposite to the American public on numerous occasions. Either they lied or were so extraordinarily credulous they believed — apparently without verification — the Syrians had truly rid themselves of those WMDs, in which case Obama — not Trump — was Vladimir Putin’s personal “useful idiot.”

(It may even be time to take a second look at the contention of some that Saddam transferred his chemical weapons to Syria way back when, which would be a surprise vindication of Bush 43.)

Whatever the case, it’s “heavy water” under the bridge at this point, but should alert us even more to the absolute necessity of revealing everything known about the also Obama-instigated Iran Deal, all its myriad hidden codicils and clauses that remain mysterious to the citizens of this country in whose name they were allegedly signed. That agreement too could be the product of useful idiocy, a sucker punch from the mullahs.  The devil, in this case, is very much in the details, few of which we know, except that the Iranians refused to give a baseline development level for their nuclear weapons program in this first place. In a sense, that made everything else moot.

Nevertheless, Iran has been the beneficiary of this deal to the tune of billions of dollars, some evidently in cash, much of which has been and is being spent in Syria, if not directly on chemical weapons, on a war that no less than the former chief rabbi of Israel, himself a Holocaust survivor, has called another Holocaust.  Iran is also using the money to finance Hezbollah in that war, simultaneously arming those terrorist thugs with tons of modern weapons, including long range missiles, even while the mullahs use Hezbollah’s guerrillas as cannon fodder to spare Iran’s own quasi-terrorist Revolutionary Guard. The Islamic Republic’s obvious goal is to control both Syria and Iraq by proxies.  A victorious Assad would be Iran’s boy as much as Russia’s, possibly more.

The Trump administration should expose this deal in its entirety to public view now.  If that means Iran pulls out of the agreement — as they have warned — so be it.  The transparency is worth whatever minimal insurance against a nuclear-armed Iran might be inherent in these evanescent documents.  After seeing just how much insurance against chemical weapons was inherent in Obama’s deal with Putin over the crossing of our then-president’s “red line,” one could be skeptical that there is any at all.  Indeed, what little we know of the Iran Deal leads one to believe that it would be simple for the mullahs to be as busy as ever on their nuclear program.  That they are allied with North Korea makes this all the more likely.

Further to be investigated is Obama’s peculiar desire to make a deal with these same mullahs from the very beginning of his administration or even before. Indeed, Obama representatives have been accused of meeting with both Hamas and Iran during his first presidential campaign. These meetings are better documented than Trump’s supposed collusion with Putin, which seems so unlikely now.

In a continuation of that behavior, Obama later famously ignored the pleas for support by the Iranian pro-democracy demonstrators during the Green Revolution of 2009.  “Obama, you are either with us or are you with them!”  they chanted.  Obama was evidently with them. He didn’t want to disrupt his rapport with Ahmadinejad in order to make his dreamed-of deal. (You can see it all on YouTube here.  As we used to say in the sixties, “Which side are you on?”)

Obama and Kerry then welcomed the election of Hassan Rouhani, whom their cheering section in the willfully ignorant mainstream media ludicrously called a “moderate” when he was, if anything, worse than Ahmadinejad and has since been responsible for many more murders of political prisoners than his predecessor.  They made their deal with Rouhani, who is obviously now cooperating in the maintenance of peace…. Well, not exactly.

What’s behind all this? As I said at the outset, this is disturbing — liberalism and progressivism turned upside down, at least according to their own self-described principles. Everything is situational. That Democrats like Schumer and Pelosi were so positive about Trump’s actions in Syria is a sure sign that not so deep down they were more than a little uncomfortable when Obama did nothing after a similar gassing.  Like a lot of people I would imagine, they had to bury their feelings and opinions in the name of party loyalty, what the French called mauvaise foi.  They should have felt the same way yet more intensely after Obama’s execrable non-reaction to the Green Revolution.  Maybe they did, but we’ll never know until someone leaks it out in a memoir. We didn’t need to send in the Marines.  All Obama would have had to have done was to say a few words of encouragement echoed by the international community and the revolution might have happened.  It was close enough.

Thank God there’s a new sheriff in town. Maybe there will be some hope for the citizens of Iran, eventually, some support for regime change after eight years of kowtowing to the mullahs.  But for now lets at least clear up the terms of the mysterious deal, its provenance and its usefulness, if any.  No time like the present.

Time for Trump to Release Full Details of the Iran Nuclear Deal

February 4, 2017

Time for Trump to Release Full Details of the Iran Nuclear Deal, PJ MediaRoger L Simon, February 3, 2017

iranianmissileA ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mahmood Hosseini/TIMA

Does anyone know what’s really in the Iran nuclear deal with all its unpublished side agreements and secret verbal pledges?

Certainly not the American public, on whose behalf it was putatively negotiated. And probably not most, if not all, members of Congress who were bypassed in its negotiation and “signing” in a manner that doesn’t seem remotely constitutional.

Despite the yeoman efforts of Jay Solomon, Omri Ceren and others, the full extent of the deal is still a mystery. We don’t know in anywhere near full detail what Obama and Kerry, with the aid and comfort of wannabe fiction writer Ben Rhodes, hath wrought, though we do—pace Solomon, Ceren, etc.—have some sense that where compromises were made they almost universally favored Iran. Obama, for reasons again mysterious, seemed desperate to get a deal.

We also know that Iran has already broken at least one U.N. resolution:

The Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile flew 600 miles before exploding, in a failed test of a reentry vehicle, officials said. Iran defense minister Brigadier Gen. Hossein Dehqan said in September that Iran would start production of the missile.

U.N. resolution 2231 — put in place days after the Iran nuclear deal was signed — calls on the Islamic Republic not to conduct such tests. However, this is at least Iran’s second such test since July. The resolution bars Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests for eight years and went into effect July 20, 2015

Some Iranian officials claim that Obama & Co. gave them verbal permission during the negotiations to test missiles up to 2000 kilometers, enough to reach Israel, but not Europe. That’s nauseating, if true. Again, we don’t know, although we do know the Iranians insist they will continue with their tests.

Trump, however, has responded properly and forcefully by imposing new sanctions on 13 Iranian people and a dozen of their companies. He made his views evident to all in, unsurprisingly, a tweet: “Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!” Via his national security adviser General Flynn, he further made clear that “nothing’s off the table.”

But most importantly, are the Iranians also breaking the original nuclear deal? Well, we don’t know because, as noted, we don’t know what it is. Not only that, as many have reported and PJM’s Michael Ledeen predicted quite some time ago, neither side has actually signed the deal in the first place. So it may not even exist. It’s a tree growing unseen in the wilderness or, perhaps more accurately, one of those Hollywood-style “verbal agreements”—enforceable only when opportune. It’s maximum plausible deniability all around.

That means nothing really happened. In the end, Iran can do anything it wants, or can get away with, in the nuclear realm just as it obviously believes it can do anything it wants in the missile launching realm.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but what reason could there be, at this point, not to release the so-called terms of this so-called deal—other than the embarrassment of the officials involved? America has a right to know what has been done in its behalf. Instead of BS transparency, we need real transparency. So do the citizens of many others countries that are in the crosshairs of the newly-enriched (by us) Iran with its expansionist goals that have been brutally apparent since this imaginary signing in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and who knows where else.

The time is long since past for the complete details of this quondam deal to be released. I suspect they would be more than a little disturbing. Do it, Mr. President.

According To Iranian Officials, Obama Administration Gave Unwritten Consent In The Nuclear Talks And In The JCPOA Negotiations For Iran To Develop Ballistic Missiles With A Range Of Only 2,000 km – That Is, Capable Of Striking Israel But Not Europe

February 3, 2017

According To Iranian Officials, Obama Administration Gave Unwritten Consent In The Nuclear Talks And In The JCPOA Negotiations For Iran To Develop Ballistic Missiles With A Range Of Only 2,000 km – That Is, Capable Of Striking Israel But Not Europe, MEMRI, A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon and U. Kafash*, February 2, 2017

“Likewise, the Zionist regime is the most important enemy of Iran in the regionregion, and is less than 1,200 km away. Therefore, short- and medium-range missiles are sufficient to strike U.S. bases near Iran, and long-range missiles are sufficient to strike the occupied territories [Israel]. The diagram shows several of these American bases and [also] the missiles that are counting [down] to the moment [when they will be able to] strike them.”

*********************

Introduction

On January 30, 2017, U.S. sources announced that Iran had conducted a failed test of a new ballistic missile, the Khorramshahr. According to reports, the missile exploded after a 965-km flight.[1] Both Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif (on January 31) and Defense Minister Dehghan (on February 1) stressed that Iran “asks permission from no one in the matter of its defense program.”[2]

It should be emphasized that contrary to statements by Iranian regime spokesmen who say that Iran’s missile program is defensive, missiles with a 2,000-km range are strictly offensive and strategic. This is why Iran has faced constant demands to stop developing them.

In the years that preceded the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks, Iran developed ballistic missiles with ranges of 2,500-5,000 km that threaten Europe and even the U.S.

Dr. Hassan Abbasi, theoretician of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and director of the IRGC Center for Borderless Security Doctrinal Analysis, said in 2004: “We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization and for the uprooting of the Americans and the English.

“Our missiles are now ready to strike at their civilization, and as soon as the instructions arrive from Leader [Ali Khamenei], we will launch our missiles at their cities and installations… And because of Khatami’s policies and dialogue between the civilizations, we have been compelled to freeze our plan… and now we are [again] about to carry out the program… The global infidel front is a front against Allah and the Muslims, and we must make use of everything we have at hand to strike at this front, by means of our suicide operations or by means of our missiles.”[3]

The London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat also reported, on June 14, 2004, that the Shihab 4 and Shihab 5 long-range missile projects had been revived, on orders from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.[4]

It should be noted that a December 14, 2013 report on Iran’s missile program published by the IRGC-affiliated Mehr news agency immediately following the Geneva Agreement provided details on the various Shihab models. According to the report, Shihab 3D missiles, with a range of 2,200-3,000 km, “can easily reach the occupied territories [Israel]… and cover their entire area.” The report also stated that the Shihab 4 has a range of 3,000 km and the ability to launch satellites into orbit, and that “very little information” has been published about the Shihab 5. The diagrams in the article also feature a Shihab 6 model.[5]

U.S. Approves Iranian Development Of Missiles With A Range Of Only 2,000 km – That Is, Capable Of Reaching Israel

However, after U.S.-Iran negotiations began, and at the end of their first stage, in Geneva in November 2013, Iranian officials began reporting that Iran’s missile program for missiles with ranges above 2,000 km was being restricted.

Thus, for example, immediately after the interim agreement was reached in Geneva, on December 10, 2013, and in reference to it, IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said that Iran is capable of producing missiles with a range of over 2,000 km but that Khamenei had restricted the IRGC to a 2,000-km range: “We want to increase the range of the IRGC’s missiles, but despite this, the Leader [Khamenei] has restricted us to a range of 2,000 km. We have the capability to increase the range of our missiles, and our missiles should obviously reach Israel… The regime’s red lines were not crossed during the nuclear talks with the P5+1 [Group] and in the Geneva Agreement.”[6]

Indeed, IRGC commanders stressed that the most important thing for the regime was missiles capable of striking Israel; see, for example, comments by IRGC Aerospace and Missile Division director Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who said following a 2016 missile launch: “For us, Israel’s evil is totally clear, and the 2,000-kilometer range of our missiles [is intended] to confront the distant Zionist regime.”[7]

Extensive quotes regarding the Iranian regime’s explicit intent to target Israel with its missiles can be found in MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1135, Iranian IRGC Missile Unit Commanders: We’ve Developed 2,000-km Range Missiles And Equipped Hizbullah With 300-km Range Missiles; Fars News Agency: Israel’s Illusions About Its Natural Gas Fields Will Be Buried In The Mediterranean, December 3, 2014, and Special Dispatch No. 6349, Iran Launches Long-Range Missiles Emblazoned With Slogan: ‘Israel Should Be Wiped Off The Face Of The Earth’, March 16, 2016.

1298aIranian missile emblazoned with the slogan ‘Israel Should Be Wiped Off The Face Of The Earth” (Fars, Iran, March 9, 2016)

On November 17, 2014, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency posted a diagram explaining that Iran “makes do” with a range of 2,000 km, which it considers “desirable” and which covers all of Israel: “On the Firing Line – The commanders of the army of the Islamic Republic [of Iran] have said several times that with its attainment of long-range missiles with a range of up to 2,000 km, Iran has arrived at the range ceiling that it considers desirable, and that ‘in the meantime’ there is no need to increase this range. Although the U.S. is 11,000 km from Iran, in recent years it has approached the borders of Iran, [and therefore] its military bases, equipment, and forces are a target for Iran’s missiles.

“Likewise, the Zionist regime is the most important enemy of Iran in the region, and is less than 1,200 km away. Therefore, short- and medium-range missiles are sufficient to strike U.S. bases near Iran, and long-range missiles are sufficient to strike the occupied territories [Israel]. The diagram shows several of these American bases and [also] the missiles that are counting [down] to the moment [when they will be able to] strike them.”[8]

Additionally, Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said on August 18, 2015 in response to a reporter’s question on the manufacture of missiles with a range greater than 2,000 km: “We do not produce missiles with ranges greater than 2,000 km.”[9]

Is U.S. Permission For Iran To Develop Missiles With Ranges Up To 2,000 km – Which Reach Israel – A Secret Annex Of The JCPOA, Or Simply Unwritten Consent?

In statements, IRGC officials hinted that restrictions on the range of Iranian missiles so that they reach Israel but not Europe were part of the Iran deal. Thus, for instance, IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari referred to the IRGC’s November 2, 2015 consent to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, saying: “One of the points in this resolution was the matter of restrictions, which some military elements feared. Therefore, we held meetings in [Iran’s] Supreme National Security Council, and also went to the Leader [Khamenei]. The [Iranian] negotiating team told the Westerners that we do not agree to these restrictions. They [the Westerners] said that these issues must be included in the resolution. Even when I met with the Leader, he said that there were no restrictions on developing defensive capabilities. The only restriction relates to nuclear missiles, which, obviously, we never wanted.”[10]

The next day, on November 3, 2015, Iranian Army chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi referred to Jafari’s remarks, saying: “I confirm statements by the IRGC commander that Iran’s missile activity is not restricted. We will follow two restrictions: The first is mentioned in the JCPOA, in the matter of no nuclear planning, and the second is the range of 2,000 km, which has already been noted previously by all elements in Iran.”[11]

It should be noted that the Hebrew version of this news, which IRIB published on November 4, 2015 explicitly mentioned, in both the headline and the text, that the JCPOA allows Iran to possess ballistic missiles of a range of 2,000 km. The Hebrew news item read:

Firouzabadi: The Nuclear Agreement Promises Iran Missiles With 2,000-km Range

“The chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Maj.-Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, stressed that the state, under orders from the general commander [i.e. Khamenei] of the IRGC, undertakes, inter alia, to restrict nuclear planning, but that it is entitled to produce missiles with a range of 2,000 km.

“Firouzabadi made these statements yesterday (Tuesday) to a group of Islamic regime leaders and officials, and referred to [statements by] the IRGC general commander emphasizing that Iran would commit to the sections of the nuclear agreement with the West that include a restriction on nuclear planning, and that in addition, Iran is entitled to possess missiles with a range of 2,000 km.”[12]

These statements indicate that although the permission given to Iran to develop missiles capable of striking Israel is likely not a secret annex of the JCPOA, it still constitutes unwritten consent that is an integral part of the nuclear deal. It is convenient for both sides not to publish this understanding in written form – for Iran because it rejects any public reference to its missile program, which it defines as defensive but is in fact offensive; and for the Obama administration, because there would be repercussions if it were to be revealed that it had given Iran permission to develop missiles capable of striking Israel.

It should be noted that UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015) constitutes an additional concession by the Obama administration to Iran, in comparison with the previous resolution 1929 (2010). This concession has two components:

One, UNSCR 1929 banned Iran from conducting any activity concerning missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, while UNSCR 2231 replaced the word “capable,” which refers to objective specifications, with the word “intended,” which concerns fluid political matters.

Two, while UNSCR 1929 banned Iran from conducting any missile activity, UNSCR 2231 rescinds this ban.

Following Iran’s May 9, 2016 missile test, which took place after the JCPOA’s Implementation Day – and which embarrassed the Obama administration – IRGC Aerospace and Missile Division director Amir Ali Hajizadeh said: “The Americans are telling [us]: ‘Don’t talk about missile affairs, and if you conduct a test or maneuver, don’t mention it.'”[13]

*A. Savyon is Director of MEMRI’s Iran Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI; U. Kafash is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

 

[1] Foxnews.com, January 30, 2017.

[2] Yjc.ir, January 31, 2017; Tasnim (Iran), February 1, 2017.

[3] Shargh (Iran), June 5, 2004; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 28, 2004. Also see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 181, The Internal Debate in Iran: How to Respond to Western Pressure Regarding Its Nuclear Program, June 17, 2004; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 723, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Official Threatens Suicide Operations: ‘Our Missiles Are Ready to Strike at Anglo-Saxon Culture… There Are 29 Sensitive Sites in the U.S. and the West…’, May 28, 2004; and MEMRI TV Clip No. 252, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Official In Tehran University Lecture (Part II): We Plan To Target US Nuclear Warheads On US Soil; Should Take Over England, May 22, 2004.

[4] A military source in the Iranian Defense Ministry stated: “In a meeting last week with Revolutionary Guards commanders, Khamenei said that Israel was planning to attack Iran’s nuclear installations and the Iranian military soon, and therefore defense and military preparedness should be boosted as soon as possible. Khamenei stressed that the increase in petroleum prices allowed Iran to allocate a larger budget to its military projects. [Iran’s] Ministry of Defense received $1 billion to resume its Shihab 4 and Shihab 5 project. It is known that in the past, Iran conducted an experiment with Shihab 3 missiles whose range is 1,200 kilometers [and which can reach Israel], but [President] Khatami halted the project of the Shihab 4, whose range is 2,800 [which covers Western Europe], and the Shihab 5, whose range is 4,900-5,300 km [and which can reach the U.S.], because he thought it was a project incompatible with Iran’s strategic interests and defense needs.” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 14, 2004.

[5] Mehrnews.com, December 14, 2013.

[6] ISNA (Iran), December 10, 2013.

[7] Fars (Iran), March 9, 2016. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6349, Iran Launches Long-Range Missiles Emblazoned With Slogan: ‘Israel Should Be Wiped Off The Face Of The Earth’, March 16, 2016.

[8] Tasnim (Iran), April 17, 2014. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1135, Iranian IRGC Missile Unit Commanders: We’ve Developed 2,000-km Range Missiles And Equipped Hizbullah With 300-km Range Missiles; Fars News Agency: Israel’s Illusions About Its Natural Gas Fields Will Be Buried In The Mediterranean, December 3, 2014.

[9] Yjc.ir, August 18, 2015.

[10] Fars (Iran), November 2, 2015.

[11] Mashregh (Iran), November 3, 2015.

[12] Hebrew.irib.ir, November 4, 2015.

[13] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6430, IRGC Aerospace And Missile Force Commander: The Americans Are Telling Us ‘Don’t Talk About Missile Affairs, And If You Conduct A Test… Don’t Mention It’, May 15, 2016.

Iran Demands ‘Compensation’ for U.S. Breach of Nuke Deal

January 11, 2017

Iran Demands ‘Compensation’ for U.S. Breach of Nuke Deal, Washinton Free Beacon, , January 10, 2017

Abbas Araqchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs and top nuclear negotiator, meets the press in Vienna, Austria, on Feb. 24, 2015, after talking with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano on Tehran's nuclear program. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs and top nuclear negotiator. (Kyodo)

The call for further compensation comes just days after the Obama administration was forced to admit that it had been providing Iran with around $700 million in assets every month since the nuclear deal was approved.

*******************************

Iran is demanding further “compensation” from the United States following claims America violated the nuclear agreement by passing new sanctions on the Islamic Republic, according to comments by senior Iranian officials following meetings with the Obama administration in Vienna.

The demand for further concessions by the Obama administration comes on the heels of reports that the United States has deflated the total amount of cash, gold, and other assets provided to the Islamic Republic during the past several years. The sum is believed to be in excess of $10 billion.

Iran has threatened to retaliate against the United States in recent weeks following the passage late last year by Congress of the Iran Sanctions Act, or ISA, which will continue to economically penalize Iran for the next 10 years.

The call for further compensation comes just days after the Obama administration was forced to admit that it had been providing Iran with around $700 million in assets every month since the nuclear deal was approved.

Ahead of a series of meetings Tuesday with senior U.S. officials, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi again accused the United States of violating the nuclear agreement and demanded compensation for the purported breach.

“The extension of the ISA is a breach of the U.S. obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and must be compensated in an effective way,” Araqchi was quoted as telling reporters in Vienna.

The latest meetings about the nuclear deal were orchestrated by Iranian officials, who remain angry about the passage of new sanctions.

Araqchi made clear on Monday that Tehran is “serious” about retaliating against the United States for its passage of new sanctions, stating the Islamic Republic has already made moves to restart contested work on nuclear powered submarines and other weapons.

The Washington Free Beacon reported on Monday that official estimates about the amount of money awarded to Iran by the Obama administration are actually higher than previously known.

A State Department official told the Free Beacon that it would not prejudge its meetings with Iran when asked if further concessions are on the table.

“While we are not going to prejudge the outcome of any meeting, we will discuss ongoing implementation of the JCPOA as we always do,” the official said.

The total worth of the cash, assets, gold, and bullion given to Iran is in excess of $10 billion, according to Bahram Ghasemi, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry.

“I will not speak about the precise amount,” Ghasemi was quoted as saying in Persian language reports independently translated for the Free Beacon.

The $10 billion figure is actually a “stingy” estimate, Ghasemi claimed, adding that the cash and gold sent by Washington to Iran’s Central Bank was subsequently “spent.”

“This report is true but the value was higher,” Ghasemi was quoted as saying.

“After the Geneva conference and the resulting agreement, it was decided that $700 million dollars were to be dispensed per month” by the United States, according to Ghasemi. “In addition to the cash funds which we received, we [also] received our deliveries in gold, bullion, and other things.”

Will Team Trump Air Obama’s Iran Secrets?

November 21, 2016

Will Team Trump Air Obama’s Iran Secrets? Power Line, Paul Mirengoff, November 21, 2016

For years, Republicans and conservatives have charged that President Obama has shielded embarrassing intelligence and other information regarding Iran in order to limit opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and Obama’s conciliatory approach to Tehran. The charge seems well-founded. After all, it took Sens. Tom Cotton and Rep. Mike Pompeo to discover secret side agreements attached to the nuclear deal.

Eli Lake suggests that the Trump administration may well stop covering for the mullahs. Certainly, as Lake argues, Trump’s early high level personnel picks suggest so.

Trump’s nominee for CIA Director is none other than Mike Pompeo. Not only did he and Sen. Cotton uncover side deals to the nuclear agreement, he also pressed hard for answers about the cash payments the U.S. delivered to the mullahs in exchange for the release of hostages.

Pompeo wrote to Attorney General Lynch asking for answers as to how the cash payments were approved by the Justice Department. Lynch stonewalled him. Perhaps Jeff Sessions will be more cooperative.

Mike Flynn is the other key appointment for purposes of airing Obama’s Iran secrets. Lake points out that in 2011 General Flynn ran a team at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that reviewed the troves of material captured in the 2011 Osama bin Laden raid.

Under Obama, only a small fraction of these documents have been declassified and released. After he retired from the military, Flynn charged that the disclosures were selective.

Flynn noted, for example, that some documents captured in the bin Laden raid show a much tighter relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda than previously disclosed. In The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies (written with Micheal Ledeen), Flynn states: “One letter to bin Laden reveals that al-Qaeda was working on chemical and biological weapons in Iran.”

Given Obama’s desire to deal with Iran and, indeed, for a rapprochement, you can see why the administration shielded such intelligence. Given the well-deserved contempt by Pompeo and Flynn for Obama’s Iran policy, you can see why they might want relevant facts to come to light. As a general matter, these are facts the public has a right to know.

If such facts are made public, Obama won’t have much standing to complain. Lake reminds us:

Obama himself in 2008 campaigned against the sitting president’s policies on waterboarding and enhanced interrogation. One of the first things his government did when he took office was to declassify and release the legal memos that justified and revoked these practices.

It looks like the Republicans are about to return the favor.