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Our Defenders at the CIA

News flash: Top-secret intelligence memos written during the last years of the Bush administration describe covert activities—in intelligence parlance, a "false flag" operation—by Israeli Mossad officers, posing as American CIA agents, who recruited assassins from Jundallah, an obscure Pakistan-based Sunni Muslim terrorist organization, to target Iranian nuclear scientists.  Jundallah had a history of targeting Iranian civilians; indeed, American intelligence was barred from "even the most incidental contact" with them.  Yet the Israelis brazenly negotiated with them under British and American noses in London; and in doing so, they put American lives at risk by inviting Iranian attacks in kind.  According to a CIA source, when the news reached the White House, President Bush "went ballistic."

Relevant Links
Did Israel Run a False Flag Operation?  Michael Rubin, Contentions. Rather than allow the intelligence community to sway policy with innuendo, Petraeus should either back the accusation or declare it baseless.
The Mossad  Elliot Jager, Jewish Ideas Daily. Historically, Israel’s Secret Intelligence Service has been a lightning rod for international condemnation. 

Or so Mark Perry would have you believe in his recent article in the magazine Foreign Policy.

A reader might benefit from knowing who Mark Perry is.  Perry has run an organization called the Conflicts Forum, which specializes in what it calls "dialogue with a wide range of leading Islamists," prominently including Hamas and Hezbollah.  In 1989 he became "unofficial advisor" to Yasir Arafat, head of the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization.  Perry maintained his role until Arafat's death in 2004.

None of this background is disclosed by Foreign Policy.

Not accidentally, Perry's claims appear to be nonsense.  The Israeli government, whose policy is not to confirm or deny involvement in intelligence operations, has broken its general silence to call his story "absolute nonsense."  There is external corroboration of Israel's position.  In recent years, three high-ranking Israeli intelligence and defense officials have been forced to resign their posts because of Israeli actions that U.S. officials deemed against American interests—actions far less damaging than the "false flag" operation Perry describes.  Yet Meir Dagan, who was chief of Mossad at the time of the alleged operation, not only kept his job but remained a Washington favorite.

So, what to make of the memos?  Who were the two CIA sources that told Perry about them?  Who were the six "currently serving or recently retired" CIA sources who confirmed the "level of anger among senior intelligence officials about Israel's actions?"  Perry provides so little detail about his sources—How many current?  How many retired?  When?  What were their roles in the Bush administration's venomous internal policy debates?—that it is hard to tell. 

Conceivably, the memos were fabrications.  More likely, they exist but were wrong, for honest or dishonest reasons.  In Perry's own account, they were written for an exculpatory purpose: to rebut press accusations that it was the United States that was fomenting assassinations in Iran.  When the U.S. intelligence community becomes embroiled in this kind of public controversy, the quality of the data and analysis it produces is—well, less than impeccable.  That, surely, is the lesson of the American debate over the existence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. 

The recent assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists have revived accusations of covert U.S. support for such actions.  And—surprise!—here come Perry's sources again, leaking further purported evidence of American innocence and Israeli guilt.  The reader is entitled to some suspicion.

Perry's article is subtly deceitful, not to mention deeply hypocritical.  There is no discussion of the Iranian nuclear program except to say there is a "covert, bloody, and ongoing campaign aimed at stopping" it.  There is no discussion, for or against, of the targeting of individuals engaged in such a program.   Since "false flag" operations are not unusual, Perry must show why this one was especially heinous; therefore, he emphasizes, graphically, the particular danger to Americans from Jundallah's provocation of Iran through terrorist acts against Iranian civilians.  This alarm about the consequences of terror comes from the man who advised Arafat and pushes "dialogue" with Hamas and Hezbollah.  This solicitude toward civilians is shown by a man who makes no mention of the terror wreaked by Iran on its own citizens.  Indeed, Perry's priority, in addition to tarnishing Israel's image, seems to be the softening of Iran's, a country that comes off in his telling as the hapless victim of a malevolent Jewish plot, actualized by Jundallah's Sunni madmen over protestations from a weak-willed America.

Apparently, the "false flag" issue that so enraged President Bush was "resolved" when President Obama came into office and scaled back U.S.-Israel covert cooperation vis-à-vis Iran.  If this is true, Perry hasn't done President Obama much of a favor by revealing it.  But the veracity of this statement, like the rest of Perry's article, is hazy. 

The one certainty about Perry's piece is that it is provocative.  That was doubtless among the motivations for its publication on the part of the editors of the Washington Post-owned Foreign Policy.  But then again, the magazine has, more generally, established itself as an industry leader in online Israel-bashing, hosting not only a blog by Stephen Walt, co-author of the notorious book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, but a panoply of anti-Israel products.  A recent example is an article lambasting the Republican presidential candidates' near-unanimous support for the Jewish state.

Perry is at his most vivid in describing CIA anger at Mossad aggressiveness.  "Israel regularly proposes" targeting Iranians, one unnamed source says: "They come into the room and spread out their plans," and "we say to them . . . [T]he answer is no."   (This is the same Israel that was so close-mouthed about the Jundallah caper?)  As if in defense of the CIA's and Foreign Policy's position, Perry quotes an intelligence official—unnamed, naturally—as saying, "Israel is supposed to be working with us, not against us. If they want to shed blood, it would help a lot if it was their blood and not ours. . . .  [T]hey're supposed to be a strategic asset.  Well, guess what? There are a lot of people now, important people, who just don't think that's true."  That much is evident in the pages of Foreign Policy, which has found itself an entrenched prospect and seems to be enjoying the view.

Jonathan Neumann is the Tikvah Fellow at Commentary, the current issue of which features his essay on Occupy Wall Street and the Jews.

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Alex Joffe on January 18, 2012 at 9:06 am (Reply)
Perry was also the source of an allegation, published in Foreign Policy in 2010, that David Petraeus, then head of CENTCOM, stated in a briefing to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen that Israeli intransigence was eroding American credibility in the Middle East and endangering American lives. Petraeus stated later that his remarks had been taken out of context and called Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to apologize. In some respects Perry is a junior grade Seymour Hersh, a conduit for disgruntled mid and low level intelligence and military personnel who wish to influence public opinion and policy. Like Hersh, Perry's politics are well-known. His piece should be seen as a covert volley in the American debate over what to do about Iran and as a foreshadowing of the coming debates about the U.S. relationship with Israel.
sam fox on January 18, 2012 at 10:44 am (Reply)
The predictable whitewashing to be expected from a Tikvah fellow. Israel is regularly listed among the top five countries engaged in espionage against the United States.
henry tobias on January 18, 2012 at 10:50 am (Reply)
Foreign Affairs is a left-leaning journal. The articles on the Middle East that I have read there are usually nonsense, even though the authors are supposed experts.
Raymond in DC on January 18, 2012 at 11:33 am (Reply)
When I first encountered this story, it immediately failed the "smell test." I just don't see Israel sub-contracting a hit to a third party, certainly not to a member of a terrorist group: These are complex operations requiring not just skill but trust in one's co-conspirators. Israel has long followed the maxim that if you want something done right, you do it yourself. Besides, Israel has enough problems with the United States so that it wouldn't do something as reckless as operating under false CIA cover.
Archie1954 on January 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm (Reply)
Nonsense? Perhaps and perhaps not. Many times, Israel is known to have used other countries' passports, for instance, to do evil deeds in third countries. Consider the use of Canadian passports several years ago and the use of British passports more recently when killing a target in Dubai or some other Middle East country. Calling it nonsense is inappropriate, as past actions would say otherwise.
LT COL HOWARD on January 18, 2012 at 3:00 pm (Reply)
Jonathan Neumann is correct. I will vouch for the accuracy of his article. I am glad that you have brought this to the attention of your readers.
HOWARD LAITIN on January 18, 2012 at 3:10 pm (Reply)
An excellent article. It is unfortunate that the lead, an ironic description of Perry's article, was misleading to the casual reader, who would assume that the first paragraph was an actual summary of the content of this article.
LT COL HOWARD on January 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm (Reply)
Sam Fox, at least ten major friendly countries mount major spying operations within the United States. These include France (technical), Germany (technical), England (political and technical), China (heavily involved technical), Japan (heavily involved technical), Saudi Arabia (political), Israel (technical and political), Dubai (economic, technical, political), Canada (economic, political). Then there are the unfriendly countries: Russia, Iran, Cuba etc., and various terrorist groups. In turn, the United States operates extensive economic, political, and technical efforts in numerous foreign countries. In Lebanon (where I operated), most agents were triple agents. They did this to stay alive.

Archie 1954, the Dubai assassination was an inside job. The subject was forced by the Syrians to travel without a contingent of bodyguards. He was assigned a specific hotel and, in that hotel, a specific room (whose lock Dubai claimed the Israelis had hacked). Only the Dubai authorities could determine, at his check-in, the room to which he was assigned. For several hours, his movements were completely unaccounted for––this in a nation with multiple levels of surveillance cameras. He did not have his own transportation, yet no taxi or limousine driver was found who had taken him to his unknown destination and back. A large amount of cash was missing. Thus, the assumption is that this was an inside job, a weapons purchase in which the funds had been paid but the weapons had not been delivered.
Hershl on January 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm (Reply)
Perry was an advisor to Yasser Arafat, not exactly someone without an agenda. The mainstream press has yet to expose this inveterate propagandist and spin doctor. What a disgrace. Perry should be punished for his crimes.
Brad Brzezinski on January 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm (Reply)
Israelis' use of other countries' passports is irrelevant to this story. (Are they supposed to use Israeli passports to get into Dubai and other Arab countries? Israel has not been proven to have carried out the Dubai assassination. It seems likely, but it's an odd case and there are other possibilities.) At the beginning of tNATO's recent Libya escapade, several members of the British special forces were caught carrying multiple fake passports, including non-British ones. British protests about Israeli use of British passports are pure posturing. Michael Ledeen has posted an item about the murder of Iranian scientists that indicates the Iranian regime is the most likely culprit. This conclusion is based on work by an Iranian writer in London who discovered that the victims were not very relevant to the nuclear program.
Henry Tobias on January 19, 2012 at 4:22 am (Reply)
If we all knew what was going on in the world of "covert operations," they wouldn't be "covert." All is speculation.
Jay Johnston on January 19, 2012 at 6:06 am (Reply)
The U.S. government, especially the State Department and CIA ,has sided with any Moslem country that is a major producer of oil since the FDR administration. The CIA is incredibly incompetent, considering its available resources, compared to Mossad. I would not be surprised if, in addition the usual anti-semitism within the US government, the CIA and the U.S. military are envious of what their counterparts in Israel accomplish with a fraction of the budget of their U.S. counterparts.

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