Column … half left … march!

This post has its origins in my recent discussion of the way in which Reuters news agency presented the tangled tale of Shahram Amiri earlier this month.  I like the way that Reuters explicitly distinguished between fact, assertion and speculation in their reporting.   Therefore, I thought I’d try to adopt some of Reuters’ methodology in continuing my half-assed analysis of this case:  for the remainder of this post, I will clearly label the statements below with the appropriate tags in square brackets.  See what you think.

[Assertion:]  When Shahram Amiri resurfaced in July 2010, my initial reaction was to note the  temporal proximity with 2010’s other big espionage story:  the Russian sleeper spy ring roundup and swap.  [Fact:] The FBI had supposedly been investigating this collection of agents (perhaps not really a network if they were unknown to each other) for more than a decade.   The eventual spy swap yielded a mixed quartet of former Russian intelligence officers and a technical specialist.   [Speculation:] Maybe it was an even trade.  Maybe the US came out ahead.   [Assertion:] But it could have occurred at almost any time in the past five years:  why now?  [Speculation:]  Well … perhaps to divert media attention from what was about to hit the news quite soon.  (Construct a parallel timeline and judge for yourself.)   [Fact:] At least that’s the direction I thought this post would go when I began to think about writing it.

[Fact:]  I began following the Shahram Amiri story when Iranian media first publicly complained about his disappearance in October 2009.  At the time, and until quite recently, I believed that that Shahram Amiri’s disappearance [Assertion:] was just another in a series of US intelligence community “extra-legal seizures” of Iranian operatives extending back at least five years or so.

[Assertion:]  Anyone with a solid foundation in intelligence history and a basic –or not so basic– knowledge of US intell sources and methods will by now have reached the conclusion that the 3-letter men agencies are engaged in a protracted campaign to scoop up Hizbollah functionaries and Revolutionary Guard cadres from far-flung corners of the globe.  Usually, the US has worked closely with elements of the local intell services in carrying out these missions.  █████ and ██████ come to mind, among other locales.

[A:]  The goals of this campaign are two-fold:  to disrupt Hizbollah armament acquisition networks, and to collect HumInt about Iran’s putative nuclear weapons research programs.  Both of these goals have much more to do with Israel’s national security than our own, but being seen to guarantee Israel’s security is one way of keeping its status as a US strategic liability within manageable limits.  [F:]  It’s not in US interests to have Netanyahu start a Mideast war primarily to shore up his domestic political position, [A:] (his usual m.o.).

Meanwhile, in Occupied Kurdistan …

[F:]  In August 2009 three American “hikers” were seized by Iranian border guards after they [Unconfirmed:] “inadvertently strayed” into Iran from Iraq.  Let’s not concern ourselves with the issue of whether they were: [U:] innocent hikers, [Speculation:] US intelligence agents, or [S:] somebody else’s expendable false-flag recruits.  [A:]  What matters is that [F:] Iran has repeatedly (but semi-officially) proposed making their release conditional on the release of a dozen or so Iranian citizens (including Amiri) held by the US in “extra-judicial confinement.”   In other words, a swap.

[F:]  Publicly, the US has been having none of it, [A:] undoubtedly on principled grounds of proportionality.  [Bleak humor:] A trade of three stooges for a dozen all-star Revolutionary Guards almost certainly would be voided by the Commissioner’s Office as grossly one-sided and not in the best interest of The Game.  [F:] This stalemate prevailed for the remainder of 2009 and thus far into 2010.

Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location …

[U:]  From summer 2009 through spring 2010, Shahram Amiri was repeatedly debriefed –either willingly or unwillingly– by [S:] CIA personnel [U:] concerning his knowledge of Iranian nuclear research programs.  [F:] An article from the ([U:] left-leaning) InterPress Service news agency asserts Shahram Amiri told CIA that Iran no longer has an active nuclear weapons program, [F:] apparently confirming the intelligence community’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which came to the same conclusion three years ago.

No matter how you feel about the ideological orientation of IPS, [A:] you do have to like –or you should– the way that IPS’s Gareth Porter based his reporting on the statements of a named source (retired CIA) willing to go on record, and whose assertions were made based on access to serving CIA officials with knowledge of Shahram Amiri’s debriefing.  [F:] The IPS article goes on to contrast their source’s statements with professions made by WaPo and NYT journalists in various articles published during April and June 2010.  The IPS piece asserts that [A:] WaPo, NYT and ABC News reporting has been promoting a “false narrative” that:

[I]ntelligence briefings for Security Council members had included “information about nuclear weaponization” obtained from Amiri. … [J]ournalists have evidently been guided by personal convictions on the issue that are aligned with certain U.S., European and Israeli officials who have been pressuring the Barack Obama administration to reject the 2007 [NIE] estimate.

In an aside, [F:] Porter notes that former DNI Dennis Blair was quoted in one such WaPo article as saying that a new assessment of Iranian’s nuclear program had been delayed by “information coming in and the pace of developments.”  [A:]  WaPo reporters implied that Shahram Amiri’s information confirmed the presence of an active Iranian nuclear weapons program.

What … and so what?

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve waded through a turgid morass of fact and assertion along a path that seems to have no discernible direction.  All those facts and assertions add up to a whole lot of “what,” but things are quite a bit scanty in the “so what” department.  Why should anyone care?   That’s where the value of explicitly labeled speculation can really make itself felt:  by considering a wide range of hypotheses, the potential significance of the Shahram Amiri saga in the greater scheme of things may gradually emerge.

First, consider the possibility that [Speculation:] the Shahram Amiri affair (in its entirety) is somehow linked to the resignation of DNI Dennis Blair.  Let’s examine how that might be, through a series of alternate hypotheses that have not yet been tested against unavailable evidence.  Remember: these are alternative possibilities that need not all be in the realm of the actual.   Indeed, some of them may be mutually exclusive possibilities.

[S:]  For any of several motives, a faction or factions within the US intelligence community seek to reverse the findings of the 2007 NIE and claim that Iran has an active, clandestine nuclear weapons development program.  Let’s call this IC effort  “Projekt EIN.”

[S:]  In advancing Projekt EIN, this faction(s) used and abused information purportedly from/attributed to Shahram Amiri as “evidence” supporting their thesis.

[S:]  Members or allies of said faction(s) may have been on ODNI staff.

[S:] Dennis Blair himself (pick one … or more):

[S:]  was an active participant in Projekt EIN or actually commissioned it.

[S:]  was aware of Projekt EIN only as a “red team” or “rewind analysis” exercise, but was unaware of/neglected to control deliberate leaks from participants who had their own agendas.

[S:]  was entirely unaware of the existence of Projekt EIN and its “conclusions.”

[S:] was set up by rivals in the IC as the fall guy/patsy to be blamed for attempting a disastrous rerun of the 2002-2003 Iraq WMD intelligence fabrication campaign.

[S:] Regardless of Blair’s level of (non)involvement, he had to go when Team Obama learned of Projekt EIN and its politically catastrophic implications.  Whether Blair was actively involved, only partially aware, or blissfully ignorant, it sure didn’t look as though he was on top of things at ODNI.  That’s enough to make your president lose confidence in you.

[A:]  Of course, all the speculation above is based on the assumption that Team Obama is actually opposed to reversing the 2007 NIE.  That might be the most egregious speculation of all.

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