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Friday, August 27, 2004

Played Again, cont.

From the NY Times, more on the Pentagon mole:

The espionage investigation has focused on an official who works in the office of Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy, officials who have been briefed about the investigation said. The F.B.I. has gathered evidence that the official passed classified policy documents to officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major pro-Israeli lobbying group, who in turn provided the information to Israeli intelligence, the officials said. [...]

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also denied any wrongdoing. The organization said in a statement: "Any allegation of criminal conduct by the organization or its employees is baseless and false." The group added, "We are fully cooperating with the governmental authorities and will continue to do so." The F.B.I. inquiry has been underway for at least a year, and has been one of the bureau's most sensitive spy cases in years, officials said. One official said that the suspected involvement of people working at a major pro-Israeli lobbying organization in the spy case led the Justice Department to move cautiously.

The fact that the Pentagon official under investigation works for Mr. Feith has also made the case politically sensitive for the Bush administration.

Before the war in Iraq, Mr. Feith created a special intelligence unit that sought to build a case for Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda, an effort that has since been heavily criticized by American intelligence professionals as an effort to justify the war. [...]

Some of the classified information that investigators suspect was passed to Israel dealt with sensitive policy discussions about the United States position toward Iran, officials said.

As a result, the investigation is likely to give rise to questions about whether Israel may have used the information to influence American policy in the Middle East.

The Pentagon analyst who officials said is under suspicion was one of two department officials who traveled to Paris for a secret meeting with Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms dealer who had been a central figure in the Iran-contra affair.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed last year that the secret meeting had occurred, but he defended it as an appropriate diplomatic effort. He said the talks went nowhere.

It was not immediately clear whether the espionage investigation was directly related to the secret meeting with Mr. Ghorbanifar. Nor was there immediate evidence of whether money had changed hands in exchange for classified information.

To which we can add (by way of diarist praktike at Dkos) this further speculation on whom the mole may be. Via a story on Ghorbanifar from Newsweek last December:

What was international man of mystery Manucher Ghorbanifar up to when he met with top Pentagon experts on Iran? In a NEWSWEEK interview in Paris last month, Ghorbanifar, a former Iranian spy who helped launch the Iran-contra affair, says one of the things he discussed with Defense officials Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin at meetings in Rome in December 2001 (and in Paris last June with only Rhode) was regime change in Iran. Ghorbanifar says there are Iranians capable of organizing a peaceful revolution against the ruling theocracy. He says his contacts know where Saddam Hussein hid $340 million in cash. With American help, he says, this money could be retrieved and half used to overthrow the ayatollahs. (The other half would be turned over to the United States.) Ghorbanifar says he told his U.S. interlocutors that ousting the mullahs would be a breakthrough in the war on terror because top Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are in Iran. ("You won't be surprised if you find that Saddam Hussein is on one of the Iranian islands.") Among other intel Ghorbanifar says he and associates gave the Pentagon: a warning that terrorists in Iraq would attack hotels. He also says he had advance info about Iranian nukes and a terrorist plot in Canada. Financial gain was never his objective, he says: "We wanted to give them the money, not to take the money."

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