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Context of 'June 2003: US Officials Meet Secretly for Third Time with Iranian Arms Merchant'

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A 2005 US indictment will reveal that two employees for a pro-Israeli lobbying group had somehow obtained classified US information about al-Qaeda and was passing it on to Israeli officials. The two employees are Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman; both work for AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) until 2004. On April 13, 1999, Rosen gives Rafi Barak, the former deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington, what he calls a codeword-protected “extremely sensitive piece of intelligence” about terrorist activities in Central Asia. On June 11, 1999, Weissman tells Barak about a classified FBI report on the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, which has been blamed on al-Qaeda and/or Iran (see June 25, 1996). In retrospect, FBI officials will determine that some, but not all, of this classified information comes from Larry Franklin, a Defense Department analyst on Iran known to be in favor of a tougher US policy regarding Iran (see 2000-2001). It is not known how or why US surveillance of Rosen and Weissman began. [National Public Radio, 8/4/2005; Eastern District of Virginia, 8/4/2005 pdf file; Jerusalem Post, 8/15/2005; Jerusalem Post, 8/17/2005]
Connection to Earlier Investigation? - However, there may be a connection to an earlier investigation. In 1997 and 1998, the FBI monitored Naor Gilon, an official at the Israeli embassy in Washington, as part of an investigation into whether a US intelligence official was illegally giving US spy plane film and other secret material to the Mossad. [Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2004]
Accusations Spark Further Investigation - The US will later accuse Rosen and Weissman of passing classified information given to them by Franklin to Gilon. In any case, the investigation will continue and grow. National Public Radio will later note that from 1999 to 2004, “Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman had regular discussions about the Middle East and about al-Qaeda with a variety of contacts,” sometimes illegally sharing highly classified information. Franklin will plead guilty to sharing classified information in 2005 (see October 5, 2005) while Rosen and Weissman are expected to be tried in 2007 or thereafter. [National Public Radio, 8/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Rafi Barak, Naor Gilon, Keith Weissman, Larry Franklin, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven Rosen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Manucher Ghorbanifar.Manucher Ghorbanifar. [Source: Ted Thai / Getty Images]The Bush administration sends two defense officials, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, to meet with Iranians in Rome in response to an Iranian government offer to provide information relevant to the war on terrorism. The offer had been backchanneled by the Iranians to the White House through Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms trader and a central person in the Iran-Contra affair, who contacted another Iran-Contra figure, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute. Ledeen passed the information on to his friends in the Defense Department who then relayed the offer to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Hadley, who expressed no reservations about the proposed meeting, informed CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. According to officials interviewed by the New York Times, the United States Embassy in Rome was not notified of the planned meeting as required by standard interagency procedures. Neither the US embassy nor the CIA station chief in Rome learns of the three-day meeting until after it happens (see December 12, 2001). When they do catch wind of the meeting, they notify CIA and State Department headquarters in Washington which complain to the administration about how the meetings were arranged. [Newsday, 8/9/2003; Washington Post, 8/9/2003; New York Times, 12/7/2003] In addition to Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, Franklin, and Rhode, the meeting is attended by Nicolo Pollari, head of SISMI, and Antonio Martino, Italy’s minister of defense. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004]
Destabilizing the Iraqi Government - According to the Boston Globe, either at this meeting, a similar one in June (see June 2002), or both, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar discuss ways to destabilize the Iranian government, possibly using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a US-designated terrorist group, as a US proxy. [Boston Globe, 8/31/2004] The meetings are suspected of being an attempt by what investigative reporters Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Gastris will later call “a rogue faction at the Pentagon… trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime-change’ agenda.” The fact that MEK members attend the meetings adds weight to the claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 234-235]
Italian Intelligence on Iraq-Niger Allegations - Additionally, according to an unnamed SISMI source, Pollari speaks with Ledeen about intelligence his agency has collected (see October 15, 2001) suggesting that Iraq made a deal with Niger to purchase several tons of uranium. SISMI already sent a report to Washington on the matter in mid-October (see October 15, 2001). Reportedly, Pollari has also approached CIA Station Chief Jeff Castelli about the report, but Castelli has since indicated he is not interested in the information. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Paul Gastris, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, Larry Franklin, Nicolo Pollari, Harold Rhode, Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, George J. Tenet, Antonio Martino

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

According to a later report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pentagon officials conceal potentially life-saving intelligence gleaned from Iranian agents. The report will find that in 2001, the officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, fail to pass along information gained from Iranian agents to US intelligence agencies, including reports that Iran has sent “hit squads” to Afghanistan to kill Americans. The findings will be based on information from highly unreliable sources: Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar and former Pentagon official Michael Ledeen, both of whom have often provided false or questionable information gathered from questionable sources (see April 3, 2005). In a series of meetings authorized by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see December 9, 2001, December 12, 2001, June 2002, July 2002, and June 2003), two Pentagon officials, including one who reported to then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith (see September 2002), meet with Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, and other Iranians. Hadley does not fully brief CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage about the meetings. The head of the DIA is briefed on the meeting but is not authorized to keep a written summary of it or to discuss it on the orders of then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. For his part, Ledeen will say he twice briefed the US ambassador to Italy about the meetings. “Any time the CIA wanted to find out what was going on all they had to do was ask,” he will say. Though the report will admit that the sources of the intelligence are unreliable, it will still criticize the Pentagon for failing to allow what it calls “potentially useful and actionable intelligence” to be shared with intelligence agencies. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, Richard Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

In Paris, Defense Department officials (including either Harold Rhode or Larry Franklin) meet with Iranian officials and Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms trader who had been a central figure in the Iran-Contra affair. The meeting reportedly resulted from “an unplanned, unscheduled encounter” that took place without White House approval. An earlier meeting involving several of the same figures had taken place seven months earlier (See December 9, 2001). [Washington Post, 8/9/2003; New York Times, 12/7/2003] When Secretary of State Colin Powell learns of the meeting, he complains directly to Condoleezza Rice and the office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. [Newsday, 8/9/2003; Washington Post, 8/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Harold Rhode, Colin Powell, Larry Franklin, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

Larry Franklin.Larry Franklin. [Source: Win McNamee / Getty Images]Larry Franklin, a member of Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith’s Office of Special Plans, and Harold Rhode, a protege of neoconservative Iran “specialist” Michael Ledeen, meets with Iranian arms merchant and Iran-Contra figure Manucher Ghorbanifar in Paris. This is the third of three meetings (see December 9, 2001 and June 2002) between these figures. While no details of the discussions that took place at this meeting are available, it is likely that, like the other two, the main focus of the meeting is the manipulation of “evidence” showing Iraq has weapons of mass destruction in order to provide “proof” that the US invasion of Iraq was justified. (Franklin will later be convicted of passing classified US intelligence to Israel, and will be sentenced to 12 years in prison—see April 13, 1999-2004 and October 5, 2005). [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] Journalists Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris later speculate that the meetings have a hidden agenda alongside the Iraq concern: the destabilization of Iran. They write, “[T]he [Defense Department]-Ghorbanifar meetings suggest the possibility that a rogue faction at the Pentagon was trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime change’ agenda not approved by the president’s foreign policy principals or even the president himself.” [Washington Monthly, 9/2004]

Entity Tags: Paul Glastris, Michael Ledeen, Laura Rozen, Douglas Feith, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Harold Rhode, Larry Franklin, Joshua Micah Marshall, Office of Special Plans

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

Defense Department analyst Larry Franklin pleads guilty to passing government secrets to two employees of a pro-Israel lobbying group and to an Israeli government official, a violation of the Espionage Act. He is later sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison. [Washington Post, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 1/21/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 173] Franklin, an Iran specialist, gave details of US policy towards Iran to Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two members of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) which the Washington Post calls “one of Washington’s most influential lobbying organizations.” He also admits to giving classified information directly to Naor Gilon, chief of political affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Gilon returned to Israel, but Rosen and Weissman have been charged in what prosecutors claim was a conspiracy to obtain and illegally pass classified US information to foreign officials and news reporters. Franklin reportedly has been cooperating with investigators in return for a relatively lenient sentence. [Washington Post, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 1/21/2006] It appears that Franklin was caught by accident in 2003 as part of a larger FBI investigation into Israeli spying that began in 2001 (see September 9, 2001). Investigators had been monitoring Gilon and were reportedly “floored” to watch Franklin sit down and eat lunch with him. [United Press International, 12/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Naor Gilon, Keith Weissman, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Larry Franklin, Steven Rosen

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

The Internet news site Raw Story learns that Iranian exile and arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar (see December 9, 2001) attempted to peddle a fabricated story of stolen uranium to US and other Western governments in the spring and summer of 2003 (see March 7, 2003 and After). The story comes from US and foreign intelligence sources, and is confirmed by former CIA station chief Bill Murray. Ghorbanifar’s story, of an Iranian intelligence team infiltrating Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion and stealing enriched uranium to use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was apparently designed to earn him money as well as to embroil both Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. It is possible that a June 2003 meeting between Ghorbanifar and two US officials was part of his attempt to peddle the story (see June 2003). Ghorbanifar was extensively involved in the Iran-Contra scandal as a middleman between Iranian government officials and members of the Reagan administration (see July 18, 1985, July 25, 1985, December 8, 1985, and December 1986). [Raw Story, 1/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Raw Story, Bill Murray, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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