Faster, Please!

The Great Assassination Plot: Angleton Deconstructs It

“Do you believe it?”

I had just started talking to the spirit of James Jesus Angleton, the legendary chief of CIA’s counterintelligence, back when there were still a few folks who took such things seriously.  The Ouija board seemed to be in good shape, and his raspy, high-pitched voice, which more often than not sounded like a whisper, came through very clearly.

Obviously, I wanted to know what he thought about the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

JJA:  “I was going to ask you the same question.  After all, you’ve probably talked to somebody who actually knows something.  I’ve only got the news reports.”

ML:  “Yeah, but nobody’s saying a lot about the details of the case, since it’s going to trial and all…”

JJA:  “I get that.  But the Iranian guy apparently talked, didn’t he?”

ML:  “Yes, he did.  That’s pretty much standard for them, by the way.  I’m told it’s rare for Iranians to clam up.  However, now he’s pleaded ‘not guilty,’ so we’ll have to see how much of what he said will be admitted, and all that.”

JJA:  “Indeed.  But we’re not a jury, and it would seem on the face of it that if he confessed—as he seems to—then the government’s claim is certainly believable.”

ML:  “That was the opinion of a grand jury, anyway.”

JJA:  “Right-o.  But grand juries tend to believe prosecutors, as we know…”

ML:  “In fact, here in DC it is said that a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich.”

JJA:  “Chortle.”  And he started chortling, until that cough of his kicked in, and there was a pause.

ML:  “Got some water?”

JJA:  “I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about the liquid refreshment we get here, but it was delicious and effective.”

ML:  “I’m glad of that!  But getting back to the assassination plot, are you surprised at the number of experts who don’t believe it?”

JJA:  “Not only that;  I’m impressed at how much they think they know, even though none of them has seen anything approaching the full case.  There’s an undersecretary of the Treasury—David Cohen, I think his name is–running around describing the case to leaders of allied countries, and he seems to have made an impact with the Canadians and the French, both of whom have said that it justifies increased sanctions.”

ML:  “I agree.  And the Brits, as usual, were brought in early, trying to locate the Iranian co-conspirator, but without success. We’re in the usual funny situation concerning classified information, aren’t we?  Those who have seen it can’t talk about it, while those doing the talking haven’t seen it…”

JJA:  “That’s how it should be.”

ML:  “Somehow I knew you’d say exactly that.”

JJA:  “The other things that impress me are the claims that it couldn’t have been the Iranian Quds Force—that is, the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards—because they are so professional and smart, they couldn’t possibly have done this thing, which is unprofessional and stupid.”

ML:  “Yeah, very funny.  My friend and colleague Reuel Gerecht tried to disabuse some congressmen on this score.  Did you see it?  He said:

Well, let me tell you, the truth is Iranian operations are almost always sloppy. That’s the way they have been. Do not the mix up the notion that the operations are sloppy and therefore they cannot be lethal.

…I tracked Iranian operations all over the place in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of those operations succeeded – that is they killed individuals. Most of those operations, again, it didn’t take you very long to put all of the pieces together again. The Iranians really don’t hide all that much. That is the real truth.

JJA:  “Well said.  Furthermore, we know they have sent assassins to both North and South America.  Many Iranian leaders have been indicted for the bombings in Buenos Aires in ’93 and ’94—probably because the Argentines reneged on a promise of nuclear assistance to the mullahs—and then there’s the guy they sent to Canada, posing as a political and religious refugee, whom they enlisted to assassinate Salman Rushdie.”

ML:  “But an-ex CIA guy, Bruce Riedel, says that if they were working with someone in a drug cartel, that would be a major departure from their previous behavior.  He thinks it’s fishy, fishy, fishy.”

JJA:  “Really!  From what I hear, it’s well established that the Iranians are up to their necks in drug trafficking.  After all, they operate at the source, inside Afghanistan, and you’ve written many times that Supreme Leader Khamenei is a consumer of opium.  So they are in that network.  They couldn’t operate without joint ventures with mafias and drug cartels.  If there were better open reporting on Iran’s activities in Latin America, this would be common knowledge.”

ML:  “I’d love to know your sources for that kind of information.”

JJA:  “You kidding?  Look at all the Americans killed by the cartels in Mexico alone.  They’re here with me now…”

ML:  “Ah.  Good point.  And what about the claim—made by the Congressional Research Service’s Kenneth Katzman—that the Quds Force only recruits true believers?”

JJA:  “Take the full quote, please:

“Iran does not use non-Muslim groups or people who are not trusted members or associates of the Quds force,” Katzman said. “Iran does not blow up buildings in Washington that invites retaliation against the Iranian homeland.”

He’s saying that Quds uses non-Muslims who are trusted, if I’ve parsed it correctly.  And that last sentence is really quite remarkable, as it betrays not only a lack of imagination about just what would have happened if the plot succeeded, but also apparent refusal to believe the 9/11 Commission’s strong conviction that there was an Iranian involvement in that plot.”

ML:  “Yeah, they did blow up a building in Washington on 9/11, didn’t they?”

JJA:  “I’ve got some eyewitnesses here, we have discussed it quite a bit.”

At which point there was a sudden burst of static.

ML:  “And what about the lack of imagination?”

JJA:  “Suppose we hadn’t penetrated the conspiracy, and there was a car bomb in front of a restaurant, killing the Saudi, along with all those poor souls unlucky enough to be eating there.  Number one, how would we even know the target, let alone the killer?”

ML:  “And suppose we actually tracked it back to a member of a drug cartel, the Zetas, or whatever.  Why would we assume that they were out to get an Arab diplomat?”

JJA:  “Exactly my point.  Think it through;  maybe it wasn’t all that amateurish, you know?”

ML:  “So we’re gonna have to wait for the trial, right?”

JJA:  “(static) …investigative journalists could do their job…”

ML:  “Oh, hang on a minute, don’t run off, I forgot to ask you about the big press conference.  Lots of folks were baffled by it.  Some—the usual frantic suspects—think it’s the prelude to an American or Israeli attack on the nuclear sites.  Anything to it?”

JJA:  “(static, coughing)…How many times have we heard that one?  Obama wants to bomb Iran?  (static)  Not even Bush…”

Smoke was coming out of the Ouija board.

JJA:  “Where’s that creep Hersh anyway?  How many times…”

And he was gone.

You probably know that Seymour Hersh was Angleton’s nemesis, which might explain the smoke.