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Monthly Archives: August 2009

Aw, the Poor CIA

August 30th, 2009 - 4:11 pm

With all the stories and commentary about the Obama/Holder “attack” on the CIA, I thought it was time to resume my conversation with the late James Jesus Angleton, the former chief of CIA counterintelligence.  The untrusty ouija board needed a recharge, and that takes several hours, so it wasn’t until late Sunday afternoon that I finally made contact.  The familiar high-pitched but gravelly voice came through loud and clear.

JJA:  There you are!  I thought something bad had happened to you.

ML:  Well I was in the hospital for a while, and then the rehab wing, and they don’t permit ouija boards…

JJA:  What about cigars?  That must have been a bit of a strain (coughs and chuckles, simultaneously).

ML:  Well, there were signs up all over the place, “smoke free campus,” but I found a little garden between two wings where I could smoke.

JJA:  Good for you!  It’s getting harder and harder to find a suitable place here (NB:  I have never been able to figure out precisely where “here” is;  and I don’t want to ask him whether it’s “up here” or “down here” if you see what I mean…).  But so far I manage.

ML:  Have you been following the big CIA story?  Holder appointed a special prosecutor to decide if anyone should be prosecuted for torture.

JJA:  Yes, I’ve seen them (cough, no chuckle).

ML:  And so?

JJA:  And I’ve seen lots of commentary about how “nobody at Langley will risk doing anything the slightest bit out of line,” and how morale is awful.  That sort of thing.

ML:  Seems logical doesn’t it?  I thought you’d be sympathetic to them.

JJA:  Well obviously I’m sympathetic to the poor bastards who are going to be dragged in front of the usual grand jury.  That really stinks.  Especially because, as usual in Langley, everything is always in the hands of the effing lawyers, one way or the other.

ML:  Right you are.  First they get told by the lawyers that they can do it–from blowing cigar smoke at the terrorists to waterboarding them–and then a new batch of lawyers comes along and prosecutes them.

JJA:  You don’t know the half of it.

ML:  Do tell…

JJA:  For decades now–DECADES–you had to get approval from some lawyer before you could do anything.   Lawyers signed off on wartime targets (really!  you couldn’t drop a bomb with a lawyer’s approval).  And during the war in Iraq, if somebody shot at the Marines, they had to call their base and get an ok to shoot back, unless it was really hot and heavy.  The rules can change any time.  I mean, I know a lot about that.  We’d been opening the mail for a very long time…

ML:  But you weren’t prosecuted.

JJA:  No, I was purged.  That’s probably better, it saves you the grand jury and maybe your own trial later on.  But it’s the same concept, isn’t it?  You do what everybody thought was normal, ok, and routine, and then somebody comes along and decides it was wrong, and you get your head chopped off (he actually referred to a different part of the anatomy, or better different PARTS of the male anatomy, but this is a family publication).

ML:  Don’t you think it’s legitimate to go after malefactors?

JJA:  Of course I do.  And I even think it’s fine to change the rules.  You know, Hegel and all that…ideas change and we have to change too.  But what is NOT fine is to change the rules, and then go after your predecessors, who were playing by an entirely different set of rules.  That’s immoral.  But…

ML:  But what?  That seems pretty clear.

JJA:  Well nothing in this game is clear, you know, it’s different shades of gray, not sharp lines and colors.

ML:  Ok, but what?

JJA:  But everybody knows that it’s all political now.  And CIA has been all about politics for, uh, decades.  Since they’ve shown themselves to be utterly pathetic about doing intel, they do the political thing, they leak stuff (sometimes accurate, sometimes not), they sabotage folks they don’t like…you know all this.  It’s really hilarious to see Cheney, of all people, out front defending them.  He was their favorite target for eight years, after all.

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The Death Spiral of the Islamic Republic II

August 29th, 2009 - 8:31 pm

In the middle of the night, at 1:30 in the morning of Friday, August 14th, there was a large explosion at the monster petrochemical facility of the Iranian Pars Petrochemical Company in Bandar Assaluyeh.  It is the biggest such plant in Iran, and the second largest in the whole Middle East (second only to one in Saudi Arabia).

The explosion, which took place in pipes carrying Liquid Petroleum Gas (which is mostly propane), caused fires throughout the facility.  It took at least three hours before the fires were brought under control.  At least two persons died (fortunately, at that hour personnel was at a minimum) and at least 30% of the plant was completely destroyed.   Pars was forced to shut down the entire facility.  Early estimates predicted it would remain closed for a month or two, and as of this writing it is still shut down.

The incident was almost certainly an act of sabotage by the regime’s enemies, and the whole story has been spiked.  But the effects can be seen as far away as Tehran.  Due to the chronic shortage of gasoline, many of the city’s 3500 buses and thousands of taxis had been converted to run on LPG.  They were grounded after the attack on Pars, amounting to almost all of the two thousand LPG-run buses and, at a minimum, hundreds of taxis.  Some of them are now being switched back to gasoline, but, given the country’s notorious lack of efficiency, it is a slow process.  All this not only increases the ongoing distress of Iranian commuters, but heightens the country’s vulnerability to a potential cutoff of foreign gasoline, which has been proposed by bills now on the Congressional agenda.

This event has still not hit the major media, but it is well known to the leaders of the Islamic Republic, who were already facing an internal crisis of unprecedented magnitude.  The regime’s internal enemies are getting stronger and more brazen, despite the bloody crackdown of recent months.  The protests against the supreme leader, the president, and the top leaders of the regime, encompass every major city in the country.  Every night chants of “Death to the Dictator!” ring out from rooftops and from within prisons.  Whenever large numbers of people congregate, it becomes an occasion for an anti-regime demonstration, as took place in Tehran the other night during a soccer game in Azadi stadium.

Labor protests continue apace.  As the indispensable Green Brief tells us,

“Reports have emerged that there is a strong possibility of workers’ strikes in Iran. Reports suggest that over 200,000 workers have not been paid their wages in months and this could lead to strikes in the very near future. This comes as the workers in Fars province’s main automobile factory have been on strike over the issue for the past five days. Other reports suggest that unemployment in Tehran alone has risen by 3% in the past few months.”

Above all, the horrors perpetrated by the regime against the peaceful demonstrators following the fraudulent June 12th elections are by now undeniable, supported by a torrent of testimony, and, in recent days, grim photos and even videos from the central cemetary in Tehran.  It has now been established that the regime was overwhelmed by the magnitude of their own slaughter, and, faced with the problem of how to dispose of hundreds of bodies (many of which carried unmistakable marks of torture and sexual abuse), stashed them in meat lockers in and around Tehran.  Testimony from cemetery workers tells of receiving frozen bodies in the middle of the night from security forces.

Some of this evidence is circulating on the Web; other documentation–audio and video alike–is being used within the political universe as part of a vicious war of all against all–and, notably, by the dissident Green Wave Movement of Mir Hossein Mousavi–that characterizes the death spiral of the Islamic Republic.  Worse yet, according to Afshin Ellian, the highly reliable law professor at the University of Leiden in Holland, Supreme Leader Khamenei has received secret messages from Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, criticizing the bloodthirsty behavior of Khamenei’s people.  Sistani has apparently echoed the statement earlier this week from Grand Ayatollah Montazeri that the regime is neither “Islamic” nor “a Republic,” but a tyranny.  Disrespect for the regime was also publicly displayed by the family of the founding father.  In a break with protocol, Hassan Khomeini, the Ayatollah’s grandson, ostentatiously did not welcome Ahmadinejad and his administration when they visited the Imam Khomeini Shrine. Nor did he attend the swearing-in ceremony for the new government.

As Machiavelli warned his prince, the most dangerous thing for any leader is to provoke the contempt of the people.

All this pressure led the supreme leader to make a speech a few days ago that can best be described as a suicide note.  After years of blaming the widespread protests, strikes and mockery of the regime on foreign agitators (including me and other Western critics), Khamenei gainsaid it all.  “The judiciary should not base its judgment on rumors but on hard evidence. I do not accuse the leaders of recent events (read Mousavi and others) to be in the service of England or America. It is not proven that they worked for America or England.”  As an Iranian friend of mine put it, Khamenei didn’t turn 180 degrees, he went the full 360.

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The Mahdi Replies

August 19th, 2009 - 3:08 pm

On July 12, the Iranian news agency ISNA published a letter written by
Chief of Staff Hassan Firouzabadi to the Shi’ite Messiah, the Hidden Imam.  He asked for assistance for the regime, defended the brutality of the Basij against peaceful Iranian demonstrators, and laid blame for the disturbances on the West.

Thanks to highly-placed sources in the armed forces, I have received a copy of the Hidden Imam’s reply to Firouzabadi, which follows here, without comment.

My Dear Hassan,

To tell you the truth I had given up on you.  THIRTY YEARS since your last letter?  Is that what passes for filial piety nowadays in the Islamic Republic?  The very visible Imam himself, the beloved Ayatollah Khomeini, spoke to me frequently.  It didn’t matter if things were going well or badly, he stayed in touch.   And Ahmadinezhad, who has his qualities, arranged to have all members of his government swear loyalty to me, and had the signed document delivered to me in my well.  But not you!  I only hear from you when you’re in a jam.

Needless to say, Hassan, I didn’t need that letter to see that you’re in a jam.  It doesn’t take a messiah to recognize that, everybody knows it, from the bazaars to the oil fields.  You’re afraid that you’re not up to it, that unless I intervene you might lose (otherwise you wouldn’t bother to write, would you?).

You’re right to be afraid.  You should be very afraid.

You want me to bail you out, as I did back in ‘79, when things were touch and go in Iran.  It was a tough fight, but you prevailed, although just barely.  It’s going to be tougher now, because back then people were angry at the shah for their misery.  Today, when they’re even more miserable, they blame you and your cohorts.

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The Torturers and the Secretary

August 14th, 2009 - 6:07 pm

By now, most people know that the Iranian regime treats its dissidents with unrestrained barbarity.  Even the leading dead tree media have reported anecdotally on the torture of prisoners and the bashing, beating, axing and stabbing of protestors in the streets of the major cities.  But it is not easy to get a clear picture of the dimensions of the savagery.  It’s hard to get the real numbers on the bloody repression the mullahs have unleashed on their people, and one reason–perhaps the most important one–is that the regime is doing everything in its power to conceal the facts, typically using the same cruel methods that filled the prisons in the first place.

Officially, the regime claims only 37 dead since the demonstrations began on the 12th of June, but about 1800 persons remain unaccounted for.  The real figure is very close to five hundred known dead.  And, according to reliable sources, the morgues still have a stockpiles of about 400 corpses. Each day three to four corpses are released to relatives.

The release of the cadavers follows a singularly macabre procedure. Close relatives, such as mothers, are ordered to report to a particular prison. Upon arrival they are immediately – and totally unexpectedly – jailed for two days. After these two days they are told that they can be released but that they first have to sign a secrecy pledge about their treatment and a declaration that their loved one had died of “innocent causes,” such as a car crash. The regime uses several other non-torture related death causes, such as brain injury, heart surgery, etc.

After signing the papers the relative can receive the corpse. Upon receipt of the corpse of the [mainly young] man or woman, the real cause of death–brutal torture–becomes obvious.  They see their loved one totally beaten up,  nails pulled out, evidence of rape, bodies covered with so many burns that it is difficult to recognize the dead person, and the like.

Despite the secrecy pledge, these horrendous details are now emerging and even members of the usually very loyal part of the clergy are now disgusted and upset.  Indeed, there is so much disgust with the supreme leader and his men, that the country is inundated by leaks from the highest level of the regime.

The most famous of these leaks were contained in a letter written by one of the leaders of the opposition Green Movement, Mehdi Karroubi, to his sometime ally, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who still sits in the country’s two most powerful “legislative” bodies, the Guardian Council and the Council of Experts.

Karroubi’s letter was published on August 9th in a newspaper close to his group, and then reprinted on the reformist Norooz web site.  The principal accusation was the sexual torture of prisoners.  Citing “people who hold sensitive positions in the regime,” Karroubi wrote:

Some of the detainees say that [certain] people [in the prisons] are raping girls who have been arrested, causing them vaginal tearing and injuries. They are also raping young boys, causing them depression and severe physical and emotional harm… so that [after their release] they hide in the corners of their homes.

In light of the gravity of [these allegations], I expect you, as head of the Assembly of Experts, [to form] a committee to will investigate and deal with this matter objectively and transparently…

Although the rape of prisoners is a longstanding practice in the Islamic Republic, the letter produced a considerable outcry.  The Parliament appointed a special investigator, who said he could not digest the horrible details (or perhaps face the consequences to himself if he submitted an accurate report), and promptly resigned.  But his resignation was rejected.  Meanwhile Karroubi himself has left Tehran for his native Lorestan, where he can count on the protection of his people.

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The Death of the Islamic Republic

August 9th, 2009 - 6:21 pm

The show trials now on display in Tehran have several purposes.  First, to purge the regime’s ranks of those who have shown tolerance or enthusiasm for the dissidents who are now calling for “death to the dictator.”  Second, to intimidate anyone contemplating action against the regime.  Third, to gauge the attitude and resolve of the West, in order to calculate just how far the regime can go without a potentially damaging reaction.

That is why Saturday’s procession of “spies and traitors” included French and British citizens or employees.  The reaction must have been encouraging to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, his son, and his band of loyalists:  thus far, the Brits and the French have limited themselves to diplomatic tongue clicking, with nary a whisper of serious sanctions, and no sign of active support for the millions of Iranians who pray, and fight, for freedom.

As the distinguished scholar and analyst Afshin Ellian tells us nearby, the regime has already prepared arrest warrants for the leaders of the national uprising, and an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards has been charged with carrying out the arrests.  Such a move is fraught with peril for the regime.  The arrest of the dissident leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, would surely throw the country into convulsion, and, if it lasted long enough, might convince some Western leaders  to finally defend its own ideals, and thus the Iranian people.

There is no doubt, as Professor Ellian stresses, that Khamenei’s people desperately want to crush the opposition.  Those nightly chants and daily protests take a toll on the oppressors, and, as we have seen, even organizations such as the Revolutionary Guards will refuse to attack unarmed civilians, and occasionally intervene to protect demonstrators from the assaults of the Basij thugs.  There has been an erosion of faith in the regime in many quarters, and we can see signs of a violent internal struggle.  Two RG planes have gone down in recent weeks, and scores of officers, along with their counterparts from the Lebanese Hizbollah, have been killed.  In addition, there have been several near-misses, pointing to sabotage of aircraft.  By whom?  I don’t know, but they certainly needed–and obtained– some help from the security and maintenance people working for the Guards.

The show trials themselves document internal conflict.  If it were not so, the regime would hardly need to purge high-ranking intelligence officials, and the clear implication of the trials is that more victims are in the queue.

Like every regime that lacks popular consensus, the leaders of the Islamic Republic blame their troubles primarily on foreigners.  It is the predictable response of those who know that their policies, and perhaps even their legitimacy, would not be sustained by an appeal to the “electorate.”  Thus, for example, the Chinese tyrants blame the Uighur uprisings on the machinations of an emigre grandmother, Rebiya Kadeer, who lives in Washington, rather than on the rage of an oppressed people.  The mullahs must silence their opponents, but time is not on their side.  As with Gorbachev, the mullahs are showing a talent for being cruel enough to inspire anger, but not enough to dominate their critics.

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It’s All Appeasement, All the time. Why?

August 3rd, 2009 - 1:24 pm

I studied fascism primarily because I wanted–desperately–to understand how so many people could have appeased it.  Did they–and by “they” I mean the European victims of the Holocaust and the European and American targets of the Axis–not see the evil?  Did they not hear the words of the tyrants who constantly called for the destruction of the Western democracies, the enslavement of the inferior races, and the imposition of a new order?  Did they not see the armies on the march, the concentration camps being built, and the ruthless campaigns against the racially unworthy, from the Jews to the gays, the gypsies and the mentally challenged?

Why did it take Pearl Harbor to bomb us into action?  Why did the Soviet and European Communists–intended victims of Nazism–make a Grand Bargain with the Fuhrer?  Why did the Jews, with rare exceptions, go quietly onto the cattle cars?

Nearly fifty years later, I think I understand at least part of it, and, alas, that understanding applies to the current appeasers as well.  You’ll find it discussed at length in my forthcoming book, Accomplice to Evil, which identifies many sources of the willful blindness that has long been a central part of the foreign policies of the Western democracies.  The three most important factors seem to me to be:

–the Enlightenment theory of human nature, according to which “we are all the same, and we are all basically good”;

–Baudelaire’s profound insight, most recently presented in the great movie “The Usual Suspects”:  “the greatest trick the devil ever played on mankind was to convince us that he does not exist”;

–the terrible costs and risk of failure if we recognize our evil enemies for what they are, and defend ourselves against them.  Politicians don’t like that;  they’d rather leave it to their successors.

If you look at some of the recent commentary on Iran, some of it from very serious, knowledgeable and experienced policy makers, you will find the willful denial of evil in full bloom.  Take, for example, the astonishing essay by Francis Fukuyama in the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday, in which he describes Iran in these terms:

A real tyranny would never permit elections in the first place–North Korea never does–nor would it allow demonstrations contesting the election results to spiral out of control…

Following which he opines on how gradual Constitutional change might produce “a genuine rule of law democracy within the broad parameters of the 1979 constitution,” but concludes it is unlikely, and that the most likely outcome of the present internal conflict is “conflict with other countries in the region.  This could easily consolidate its legitimacy and power.”

How quickly we forget Comrade Stalin, a “real tyrant” who staged many elections, or Saddam Hussein, who was triumphantly reelected with 99% of the popular vote in Iraq after Gulf War I, or for that matter the Fuhrer himself, who did very well at the polls.

Are we really expected to believe that the evil torturers and terrorists who compose the elite of the Iranian Islamic Republic  pay close attention to the letter of the constitution?  Its importance lies primarily in transferring all meaningful power to men with turbans, theocratic tyrants who have been waging war against the Iranian people, and against the infidels (most importantly, us and the Israelis) ever since 1979.  But Fukuyama has nothing to say about this war, nor the many Americans who have been murdered by the mullahs’ terrorists and soldiers.

He is at one with the deep thinkers around President Obama.  Although it is painful, everyone should read the long essay by Roger Cohen, in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

Cohen interviewed the whole Iran policy crowd, headed by Dennis Ross, whose penchant for negotiating with anyone and everyone has been welcomed by presidents of various party and ideological convictions.   He just wants to make a deal, and Cohen puts it very clearly:

Ray Takeyh, an Iranian-born adviser to Dennis Ross, the veteran Mideast negotiator who has been working on Iran for the Obama administration, told me before the election. “We’re trying to deal with Iran as an entity, a state, rather than privileging one faction or another. We want to inject a degree of rationality into this relationship, reduce it to two nations with some differences and some common interests — get beyond the incendiary rhetoric.” Takeyh’s words reminded me of Ross, who in his book “Statecraft” defined the term’s first principles as, “Have clear objectives, tailor them to fit reality.”

Chamberlain could not have done better.  Takeyh, Ross and their colleagues, up to and including the president, do not even identify the evil that rules in Tehran, nor the death that the mullahs have visited on their own people lo these many decades, nor the death they have spread in our own ranks. Do they know that Iran declared war on us thirty years ago?   If so, it is not a factor in their policy making.

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Medical Care

August 1st, 2009 - 12:33 pm

I feel like i’ve lived through a particularly challenging Ionescu play for the past several weeks.  I’ve been through “major surgery” (hip replacement), stayed several days in the hospital thereafter, and then got wheeled into the “rehab section” where i was given therapy to rebuild my hip and leg muscles.  That will continue for quite a while, it seems.  The surgery’s pretty easy, and invariably effective.  It’s the therapy that is most challenging.

But I digress (probably some of the happy pills remain lurking in my bloodstream).  While I was soldiering on, my radio was giving me reports of the big fight over “health care,” with the president and his phalanxes telling the American people that our health care system is “in crisis,” and we’d better fix it until it’s tooo late.  And I kept asking myself, “but how can anyone possibly believe this”?  Certainly no one who has had a serious problem.

When I checked in to the hospital, I got a document that basically said “welcome!  we’re going to give you the best care possible, and if you are unhappy with it, here is how to complain so that we can make it better for you.  and by the way, in the event you can’t pay for it, not to worry.  you’re covered.  nobody gets rejected here, let alone thrown out, because of inability to pay.”

In fact it’s even better than that.  The hospital is a good hospital, probably not a great hospital (not in a class with, say, the Cleveland or Mayo Clinics, for example, or Cedars Sinai or Mass General or the incredible center in Houston), but that’s in fact only the start.  Once discharged, they continue to help you.  So, for the past couple of weeks, a registered nurse has come to the house twice weekly to draw blood and take my “vitals,” and a therapist–a really good therapist, by the way–comes three times a week to give me new exercises and monitor my progress.

You really can’t ask for better treatment.  What a great system!  What a country!  And those who can’t pay for it are covered…so where is the crisis?

Not that there aren’t problems.  I made some suggestions to the doctors and nurses, in fact.  But a crisis it ain’t.  It looks to me like a system that needs tweaking, especially concerning the role of the attack dog lawyers.  It really doesn’t look at all like a system that has to be scrapped and redesigned from scratch.  And that’s the picture from the inside, not some abstract analysis.

If you want an example of something that should be razed to the ground and built from ground zero, take the Intelligence Community.  Please.  But leave us the basic elements of our health care system.

Which is what most people seem to think.  And they’re right.