Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Speaking of Operation Merlin

more starroute, from the comments to this "The Neocon desire to invade Iran" post:
On September 25, 2003, the House Intel Committee blamed the intelligence agencies for the failure on WMD's. I don't know if that was the precipitating factor for the CIA request the next day that the Plame leak be investigated, but it's struck me as a possibility.

See, for example, this Washington Post story titled "House Probers Conclude Iraq War Data Was Weak.
hmmm - interesting.

more starroute
There was a flurry of activity involving Iran between June and October of 2003. My impression is that the invasion of Iraq was putting pressure on Iran to be more accomodating towards the US -- and that a prime objective of whatever backroom intriguing was going on was to attempt to sabotage any actual agreement.

Even before the war, claims about Iran's nuclear program had been building up. In December 2002, there were allegations that Iran had a gas-centrifuge facility for uranium enrichment, which Iran denied. However, on February 10, 2003 Iran acknowledged it was building a nuclear-energy facility at Natanz. On February 12, Larry Franklin and the AIPAC folks started their discussions of US policy towards Iran. On February 21, El Baradei and his team visited Iran and were shocked to find that the centrifuges were of Pakistani design.

Things really heated up in June, though. There was the Rhode-Ghorbanifar meeting in Paris, probably early in the month, which allegedly had the objective of preventing a deal whereby Iran would hand over some high-ranking al-Qaeda members and in return the US would stop supporting the terrorist MEK or even hand over MEK members. (This from Juan Cole citing the Jerusalem Post.) According to Eurasianet, there was a conflict at this time between the Neocons and the State Department over whether to ally with MEK against the Iranian government.

At about the same time, there were pro-democracy student demonstrations going on in Iran, which George Bush endorsed on June 15; on June 16, El Baradei called on Iran to allow more intrusive nuclear inspections; and on June 17, the French arrested 165 MEK members at their headquarters near Paris. It's apparent that something was going on behind the scenes -- perhaps an abortive attempt to foment an Iranian uprising -- but whatever it was, it seems to have died down again after the arrests.

On July 10-13, the IAEA held discussions with Iran and asked for full transparency. This led to the visit of an IAEA team to Iran on August 9-12 to inspect their nuclear sites. On August 15, Colin Powell listed the National Council of Resistance of Iran as an MEK alias and ordered its US offices closed and its assets frozen. The NCR claimed that it was being listed as part of negotiations whereby Iran had agreed to let in the IAEA and turn over the al-Qaeda operatives it was holding. The IAEA reported on August 26 that it had found particles of highly enriched uranium at Natanz, but Iran argued (ed: correctly, as it happens, AFAIK) that they must have come in with the imported centrifuges.

All of this can be seen in the context of Michael Ledeen's claims that in early August, Ghorbanifar had introduced him to an informant who knew where highly enriched uranium was hidden in Iraq. If the June events were aimed at an Iranian popular uprising, the August events seem to have been more narrowly targeted at developing a causus belli.

By October, however, the A.Q. Khan network had been exposed and Iran had agreed to accept tougher IAEA inspections. At that point whatever behind-the-scenes plotting had been going on since June seems to have died out. According to the Larry Franklin indictment, on October 24, he and Naor Gilon spoke on the phone about how work on the US policy towards Iran with which they have been concerned seemed to have stopped.
(More on Ghorba's claim about uranium in iraq)
As reported by MSNBC:
Ledeen says that in early August, Manucher Ghorbanifar—an Iranian businessman whose claims of contacts among Tehran moderates touched off the Iran-contra scandal—put him in touch with an informant claiming to know where highly enriched uranium was hidden in postwar Iraq.

LEDEEN TOOK THIS info to top Defense contacts, who passed it to the CIA (which in the 1980s ordered its operatives to shun Ghorbanifar). Ledeen says agency spooks did meet in Iraq with Ghorbanifar’s subsource. The contact soured when the CIA demanded a sample of the alleged nuclear material.
However, here's the really interesting part of that little caper -- this from the new Woodward book, as quoted at American Prospect:
At another point Kay got a cable from the CIA that the vice president wanted him to send someone to Switzerland to meet with an Iranian named Manucher Ghorbanifar.

“I recognize this one,” Kay said when he saw the cable. “This one I’m not going to do.” . . .

This time, Kay read, Ghorbanifar claimed to have an Iranian source who knew all about Iraqi nuclear weapons, but who wanted $2 million in advance, and who would not talk directly to the U.S., only through Ghorbanifar.

Kay discovered the latest Ghorbanifar stunt involved Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, a former NSC colleague of Oliver North who had been involved with Ghorbanifar in the Iran-contra days.
So Cheney was right in the middle of it -- and willing to pay $2 million for the privilege? Verrrry interesting...
lemme re-re-re-repeat, starroute speak, you listen.

it's remarkable that cheney was not only trying to direct Kay to specific geo-coordinates, and also that he was trying to recruit ghorba (altho as larisa has reported, cheney and ghorba are still working together in a bunch of areas). As i mentioned earlier, i suspect that there's some 'camouflage' in the story that Cheney & Libby were directing Kay to Lebanon - and if i'm correct about that, then i suspect that there's a very good reason that they are trying to misdirect. was cheney trying to point Kay to wherever the hell he had organized to plant WMDs in iraq?

it's also remarkable that cheney and/or ghorba demanded that ghorba be the point-person on this deal, and secondarily that cheney got the CIA to contact Kay when the CIA had already ruled Ghorba outta bounds.

also remarkable, if Cheney was really willing to pay Ghorba $2m for his nonsense - that's 8% of one osama. i wonder if cheney was going to get a cut of the $2m. Larisa has reported that Ghorba's story was trying to implicate both Iraq and Iran:
"The story that was peddled -- which detailed how an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq prior to the start of the war in March of 2003, and stole enriched uranium to use in their own nuclear weapons program -- was part of an attempt to implicate both countries in a WMD plot. It later emerged that the Iranian exile was trying to collect money for his tales, sources say."
One thing I dont quite understand is how to reconcile the demands for the $2m up-front - either they wanted to justify iraq and implicate iran, or they wanted the $$$$. They ended up getting neither. Compare and contrast with Operation Merlin:
"The Russian, who had defected to the US years earlier, still couldn't believe the orders he had received from CIA headquarters. The CIA had given him the nuclear blueprints and then sent him to Vienna to sell them - or simply give them - to the Iranian representatives to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."
If it really was an op to implicate Iran and justify the Iraq war, then they probably should have been willing to forgo the $2m - unless Cheney was getting a cut. I don't get it.

Speaking of Operation Merlin, anon in the comments to the same post adds, intriguingly:
"Merlin's was able to wisthand some "hits" despite the outing of NOC. The glitch was a final nail in that program. The NOC running Iran case workers was outed, but the agents and case workers were not - at least not all of either type. 2004 is interesting for the glitch. I read somewhere on this blog about inputs and outputs/Iran. Have your brilliant readers failed to connect the dots?"
hmmm. taking anon at face value, 'NOC' is presumably Plame. So Merlin was initiated in 2000, Plame was outed mid 2003, the glitch was at some point in 2004. The inputs/outputs to Iran are obviously a reference to larisa's Plame/Iran story. So, again taking anon at face value, if we take Merlin to be limited to the bungled attempt to give Iran dodgy nuke plans, which the Russian agent immediately (in 2000) realized was nonsense, anon seems to be suggesting that Merlin was somehow still alive in 2003 when Plame was outed, and even beyond then, into 2004 until the 'glitch' which somehow flushed out the extant remnants of the program.

i dont know about my much-vaunted 'brilliant readers' - but consider me somewhat flummoxed. ok - so plame was following the ins and outs of iran's program. Plame was outed in 2003, Merlin was outed in 2000 (privately, at least) - but the program was still alive somehow - so they needed the 2004 'glitch' to flush out the rest of the program (and the people involved)

AQ Khan was outed in January 04 - and 'he' was supplying Iran with the nuclear-black-market technology - was the 'glitch' somehow related to his outing?

anon? anyone? help me out here.


viget said...

I'll take a stab.

Perhaps Op Merlin was a tracer/sting operation whose purpose was to identify the players and routes in the nuclear proliferation black market. In order to appear credible, CIA NOCs and their agents had to offer something to their black market liasons, i.e. credible looking parts and/or plans that were in some ways defective. (I also might note, again, pure speculation here, that these decoys made for the CIA MIGHT be what actually appears in those CIA pictures of the Obhedi stash. See, for example EW's post here for an example of those pictures. Makes sense, if the CIA was already in the biz of manufacturing defective, credible-looking centrifuge parts and/or plans.) This is also supported by Risen's claim that part of op Merlin was outed by the Russian who realized that the blueprints to be given to Iranians were wrong.

These mini-sting operations could be conducted in concert with local law enforcement/intel agencies (if they're trusted), and then pressure could be brought to bear on the liasons to flip and reveal their contacts, and in so doing, work their way up the chain.

Or, the parts/plans/whatever might also have embedded tracking devices that could lead the CIA and other agencies to the locations of secret labs and/or facilities.

And here's a wild-assed speculation! What if, Bolton, through his normal duties as head of State's Nonproliferation office, found out about Op Merlin (or other ops like it) and the CIA teams running it (of which Plame, I'm sure, was just one part) and told his good buddies Cheney and Rumsfeld about it. These guys had been looking for a causus belli for a while for Iraq, and now they've just been handed one on a silver platter, courtesey of our own CIA.

Who cares if the parts and the plans are totally fake? The CIA can't speak out for fear of blowing their op and endangering national security. And it would be easy to game the intel, because the CIA already knew where all the faulty parts were!

So, in their zeal to go to war, the neocons might have totally destroyed a black-market tracing op, just so they could have their gamed intel.

Talk about sacrificing national security. It would also explain why the CIA was so pissed at the admin, and why Plame was outed; maybe she was threatening to go public like her husband had.

As for the glitch, I don't know. Maybe it's that communications error described at the beginning of the Risen passage. I'd love to know how the CIA could be so incompetent as to pass along information that allowed that double agent to ID virtually their entire spy network in Iran. You'd think they'd have that kind of info heavily classified and guarded, hopefully not even safe enough to leave Langley. Hard to believe, really.

starroute said...

Just a side note, but even though Khan only confessed in January 2004, his operation had already been implicated -- at least to those in the know -- no later than February 2003, when the IAEA found that Iran was using centrifuges of Pakistani design. Although the quote below somewhat muddies the sequence of events, it's clear that the IAEA was trying to clarify this question in September, 2003, in the wake of its inspection visit to Iran in August. The seizure of centrifuges bound for Libya on October 4, 2003 and Libya decision to come clean only precipitated what was already in the making:

After the seizure of the BBC China and Libya’s subsequent cooperation after its decision to renounce its efforts to produce nuclear weapons, the Khan network was exposed, and Pakistan came under intense pressure to deal with Khan and his associates. Pressure had already been building on Pakistan to rein in Khan. In September 2003, the IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution requesting all countries (diplomatic code for Pakistan) to help the IAEA resolve questions about procurements for Iran’s secret centrifuge program tied to Pakistan that had risen independently of the BBC China and Libyan cases.

The Pakistani government nonetheless initially resisted arresting Khan, whom most Pakistanis considered a national hero. U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell recalled in December 2004 that he had called President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in early 2004, telling him, “We know so much about this that we’re going to go public with it, and within a few weeks, okay? And you needed to deal with this before you have to deal with it publicly.” According to Powell, “[T]he next thing we knew, A. Q. Khan had been put in custody.” After his arrest in February 2004, Khan confessed to selling sensitive
technology and equipment to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.

Link (pdf)

Kathleen said...

I never believed the 'glitch' story. I think it was to finish off the whole team, starting with outing Plame. Anon and I are on the same page.

How many dots do we need to get the picture? Of course they want war with Iran and Iraq, and Syria and North Korea and whoever the hell else they can make billions off of by fomenting war everywhere.
W stands for Wall to Wall War!!!

Are we going to have to get into pointilism here to get this picture? We have been selling arms to both sides of wars that we fomented for how many years???? Iran-Contra, folks. It's even the same bozos, lugging the cash.

With the old cliche in mind, "It takes one to know one", just apply the One Percent Doctrine to Darth.

Glitch, my ass.

They are projecting their own stupidity on to us. They are waaaaay past 'denial". They are in deep disassociation, shcitzo. Think about it. They want us now to believe that booze can turn you into a gay pedophile.

Does that mean they'll pass a bill requiring alcoholic beverages to come with a warning on the label?


Kathleen said...

P.S. Maybe the $2m was to pay for the Iranian equivalent of a "Curveball"? Some crook who needed out fast and would say whatever. It worked before.

Darth Cheney would be getting billions through Halliburton.

Kathleen said...


Maybe the $2m was for a new set of forgeries, you know, yellowcake from Niger in Iran?

LeeB said...

Hee!! Waste not; want not . . . Kathleen is bound and determined to use up that stolen stationery! ROFL ;-)

Excellent explanations, y'all. This entire thing makes my head hurt.