So many things going on, between Cablegate and computer worms and nuclear physicists getting blown up in downtown Tehran, all very hard for me to get a grip on. And so in keeping with my longstanding habit I decided to go to a higher source of understanding, my old friend the late James Jesus Angleton, once upon a time the head of CIA counterintelligence, and the secret intermediary between the United States and Israel from the late 1940s to the 1970s when he was purged.
Truth be known, I say “higher source” without really knowing where he’s at; it could well be more accurate to say “lower source,” I don’t know. When I dial him up through my (unreliable) ouija board it’s clear that, wherever he is, smoking is permitted. Is that a clue? Who knows?
Anyway, I got him on my third try, and there wasn’t much static at all, so after we wished each other Happy Hanukkah I got right to the point.
ML: “Have you read the cables?”
JJA: “Some of them. It’s worse than editing a literary magazine at Yale. But I agree with you, it’s basically a reality check.”
ML: “The most fun for me has been watching the left and the Iran apologists throw a hissy fit against Obama. Every time another cable shows up that documents the push for sanctions, they think they’ve been betrayed. You know, people like Gary Sick are saying that this administration was never serious about engagement; it was all a ruse so that they could slap sanctions on the mullahs.”
JJA: “I haven’t followed all those folks; I’ve been having fun watching the Persians and the Arabs trying to explain away the fear and hatred the Arabs show for the Islamic Republic. The Iranians of course refuse to accept the notion that the cables are reports of real conversations (even though they know, or should know, that they are); they treat them as part of a vast disinformation operation against themselves.”
ML: “Right. It’s all our doing, along with the Zionists.”
JJA: “Well, sure. It’s fascinating to hear Arab monarchs in essence demanding that the United States unleash the Israelis against Iran. I think it was Gates who said — quite elegantly, I thought — that the Arabs are willing to fight Iran to the last American soldier.”
ML: “Haha, or to the last Israeli.”
JJA: “A distinction without a difference to both the Arabs and the Iranians.”
ML: “I wonder about that, because sometimes it seems to me that Middle Easterners find America — especially in Bush’s second term and now with Obama — surprisingly impotent, whereas the Israelis are ten feet tall. They can do anything.”
JJA: “Good point. Look at the story of the most recent attacks — real ones, not mere words — against Iranian nuclear physicists. It’s fairly spectacular. Two of them were driving to work in their automobiles. Both with their wives alongside. All of a sudden, mysterious motorcyclists close on the cars and attach bombs to the door on the drivers’ side. Boom! One dead physicist, one wounded and hospitalized, two injured wives. The regime blames the Americans-and-Israelis. Lots of the gossip says it’s the Israelis.”
ML: “As if the Israelis could put two killers on motorcycles, blow up two cars in downtown Tehran, and then disappear! If they could do that, they could blow up the nuclear facilities….”
JJA: “Of course. They wouldn’t need bombers and bunker busters. But stick with the event itself. Those physicists had bodyguards all the time. But not that morning. How come?”
ML: “Maybe Mossad gave them some ‘walking around’ money?”
JJA: “No way. They were told not to be around, and only the regime could give such an order.”
ML: “You suggesting that the regime blew up two of its most important nuclear experts?”
JJA: “There are more twists and turns to this than you can imagine. There’s a guy around here who knows a lot about Iran — he went to school with the guy who was killed — and he thinks that it was all staged, that the bombs were detonated with timers, that the two ‘victims’ knew it was going to happen, and that they had a full minute to get out of the cars and run away.”
ML: “And so? There’s a dead body, you know.”
JJA: “My neighbor thinks the physicist screwed up — took too long — or the timer malfunctioned and went off too soon.”
ML: “He’s an Iranian, of course, that’s an Iranian-type theory.”
JJA: “Yeah, I told you he went to school with the dead man.”
ML: “And what do you think?”
JJA: “I think the regime wanted to kill them. I think one was a Green Movement sympathizer, and the other had applied for visas for himself and his wife to go to a conference overseas. The mullahs figured he was planning to defect and so they whacked him.”
JJA: “I can’t remember; but I read it somewhere… Oh yeah, the Wall Street Journal. Listen to this:
Mr. Shahriari was Iran’s representative to a regional scientific research organization based in Jordan known as Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, or Sesame, which also has Israeli representatives, putting the scientists in a unique position to interact with Israeli counterparts.
Mr. Shahriari is the second Iranian Sesame representative of to be assassinated. In January, a bomb killed Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a physics professor and nuclear scientist, outside his home as he was about to leave for work.
Mr. Mohammadi was an avid supporter of the Green Movement opposition, raising speculation among opposition members that the government was targeting critics who might possess sensitive nuclear information and leak it to foreign countries.
“It’s possible that the two scientists targeted today were either thinking of defecting or leaking information,” said a security analyst in Tehran.
So if I had to bet, I’d give you three to one on the regime.”
ML: “Of course Iran’s not the only country pissed off about the Wikileaks cables. The Turks, for example, come off very badly.”
JJA: “And notice that the Turks are treating Cablegate as an Israeli plot.”
ML: “Natch. OK, new subject: Stuxnet, the science fiction computer worm that seems to have targeted the Iranian nuclear project, among other things.”
JJA: “Fox News has by far the best report I’ve read. Listen to this:
…Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
The target was seemingly impenetrable…it lay several stories underground and was not connected to the World Wide Web. And that meant Stuxnet had to act as sort of a computer cruise missile: As it made its passage through a set of unconnected computers, it had to grow and adapt to security measures and other changes until it reached one that could bring it into the nuclear facility.
When it ultimately found its target, it would have to secretly manipulate it until it was so compromised it ceased normal functions.
And finally, after the job was done, the worm would have to destroy itself without leaving a trace.
That is what we are learning happened at Iran’s nuclear facilities — both at Natanz, which houses the centrifuge arrays used for processing uranium into nuclear fuel, and, to a lesser extent, at Bushehr, Iran’s nuclear power plant.
That’s damned impressive isn’t it?”
ML: “Can we credit the Israelis for that one, at least?”
JJA: “I don’t know. Whoever did it probably had to have an agent inside the nuclear program, who injected the thing into an underground computer on one of those thumb drives. Maybe the Israelis recruited somebody to do that, but maybe it was the Russians–my favorite candidates.”
JJA: “They had motive and opportunity. Their people were inside, after all. And I’ve always believed that the Russians don’t really want the Iranians to have the bomb, and they want control over the whole nuclear project.”
ML: “And there could be a connection to the assassinations, right?”
JJA: “Good for you!” And I heard static, and saw sparks on the ouija board.
ML: “Yeah, if the mullahs decided that the two were in cahoots with the Russians, or for that matter with the Americans, or the Israelis…”
Smoke was puffing up now.
And I’d lost him. Maybe more to come. Maybe not. I don’t really understand ouija technology, so no promises.