Friday, October 14, 2011

War over a faked-up Mr. Magoo murder plot?

The Obama Administration has actually gone into war-propaganda mode over the alleged Iranian plot revealed publicly this week.

Two PBS Newshour reports of 10/13/2011 follow. In World Leaders Weigh Options Over Alleged Iranian Plot Inside U.S., we hear the President repeating the no-options-off-the-table diplomatic formula, which is a threat of military action, that Vice President Biden was using on Wednesday:

Here is an analytical piece from U.S. Treading Carefully to Build Case Against Iran 10/14/2011:

It seems to me that the Washington Post's Joby Warrick in that second segment may be repeating White House claims for which we don't have good evidence yet in the public record:

Specifically, they saw money being wired from Quds-controlled bank accounts and they overheard conversations through wiretaps and also participation of one of the suspects who became a cooperating witness and were able to direct the plot very directly to some members of the Iranian government, at least at a medium level.
The cooperating witness in this case is supposedly the troubled dimwit who was supposedly the Iranian agent setting up this whole thing. Have they definitely linked this goofy plot "to some members of the Iranian government" at a medium or any other level? The interviewer, Jeffrey Brown, should have pressed him on this claim. At the end, Warrick speculates on what this might mean about the Iranian government, when the actual evidence is shaky at best:

And there's -- the curious elements are just intriguing to people, but I think the real meat of this is going to be what exactly Iran is attempting to do here. If it is behind this, it does smack to some people as desperation they would try something like this. It might suggest division within the government. It might suggest an eagerness to try to retaliate for things that are going over there, for sanctions, for the Stuxnet. So it's hard to say.
A copy of the complaint is available online.

I'm hesitant to make statements about things that are not there because I haven't studied the 21 pages of the complaint line by line nor tried to follow every notable article that has appeared. But the complaint is against the now-infamous Mansour Arbabsiar and his alleged Iranian contact, Gholam Shakuri, who the complaint calls a member of the "Qods Force". The complaint says Arbabsiar and Shakuri worked with "others known and unknown". On page 5, it says "other Iran-based co-conspirators were aware of and approved the plan" (p. 6)

Page 12 is where the description of the money transfers starts. I didn't see any reference in the complaint to the accounts transferring money to the DEA informant setting the trap for Arbabsiar. Nor anything claiming that the plot had been linked "very directly to some members of the Iranian government, at least at a medium level", in Joby Warrick's formulation.

Marcy Wheeler has been analyzing this in detail, and she's very good at researching this kind of story. In Gaps in the Iran Plot Docket to Go Along with the Gaps in the Story Emptywheel 10/13/2011, she comments on the government's filings, "the only evidence they had were money transfers not tied directly to Qods Force." So she also seems to think there's no evidence in the public record that US investigators "saw money being wired from Quds-controlled bank accounts" (Warrick).

Stephen Walt was cautious but very skeptical in his first Foreign Policy post on the case. In the second (Something just doesn't add up... 10/13/2011), his skepticism has increased a lot:

Iran's leaders are not stupid, and surely they would have known that a plot like this ran the risk of triggering a very harsh U.S. response. Given that extraordinary risk, is it plausible to believe they would have entrusted such a sensitive mission to a serial bungler like Ababsiar? If you are going to attack a target in the United States, wouldn't you send your A Team, instead of Mr. Magoo?

Hence the growing skepticism, including the possibility that this might be some sort of "false flag" operation by whatever groups or countries might benefit from further deterioration in U.S.-Iranian relations. If the Obama administration can't back up their allegations in a convincing way, they are going to face a diplomatic backlash and they are going to look like the Keystone Cops. They could even face a situation where rightwing war-mongers seize on their initial accusations to clamor for harsh action (a development that has already begun), while moderates at home and abroad lose confidence in the administration's competence, credibility, and basic honesty.

So my advice to Holder & Co. is this: you better show us what you've got, and it had better be good. [my emphasis]
Reliable warmonger David Ignatius (Intelligence links Iran to Saudi diplomat’s murder Washington Post 10/13/2011) doesn't stenography for the Administration in trying to shore up the wafer-thin credibility of this tale:

A cautionary note: These are all just allegations, and raw intelligence sometimes leads to hasty conclusions. But the additional evidence does address the central puzzle of the Washington assassination plot, which is why a sophisticated organization like the Quds Force would take so many risks to go after the Saudis, and use such unlikely proxies. Answer: They’ve done it before.
But the examples he cites don't resemble the half-wit nature of the alleged Iranian plot in the Arbabsiar case.

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