January 15, 2012

False Flag

A series of CIA memos describes how Israeli Mossad agents posed as American spies torecruit members of the terrorist organization Jundallah to fight their covert war against Iran.


Burieddeep in the archives of America's intelligence services area series of memos, written during the last years of President George W. Bush's administration, that describe how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to theterrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. Accordingto two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollarsand toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallahoperatives -- what is commonly referred to as a "false flag" operation.

Thememos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another whois intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertlysupporting Jundallah -- a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization.Jundallah, according to the U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinatingIranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.

Butwhile the memos show that the United States had barred even the most incidentalcontact with Jundallah, according to both intelligence officers, the same wasnot true for Israel's Mossad. The memos alsodetail CIA field reports saying that Israel's recruiting activities occurred underthe nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital ofone of Israel's ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIAoperatives met with Jundallah officials.

Theofficials did not know whether the Israeli program to recruit and use Jundallahis ongoing. Nevertheless, they were stunned by the brazenness of the Mossad'sefforts.

"It'samazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with," the intelligenceofficer said. "Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. Theyapparently didn't give a damn what we thought."

Interviewswith six currently serving or recently retired intelligence officers over thelast 18 months have helped to fill in the blanks of the Israeli false-flagoperation. In addition to the two currently serving U.S. intelligence officers,the existence of the Israeli false-flag operation was confirmed to me by four retiredintelligence officers who have served in the CIA or have monitored Israeliintelligence operations from senior positions inside the U.S. government.

The CIAand the White House were both asked for comment on this story. By the timethis story went to press, they had not responded. The Israeli intelligenceservices -- the Mossad -- were also contacted, in writing and by telephone, but failed torespond. As a policy, Israel does not confirm or deny its involvement inintelligence operations.

There isno denying that there is a covert, bloody, and ongoing campaign aimed atstopping Iran's nuclear program, though no evidence has emerged connecting recentacts of sabotage and killings inside Iran to Jundallah. Manyreports have cited Israel as the architect of this covert campaign, whichclaimed its latest victim on Jan. 11 when a motorcyclist in Tehran slipped a magnetic explosive deviceunder the car of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a young Iranian nuclear scientist. Theexplosion killed Roshan, making him the fourth scientist assassinated in the pasttwo years. The United States adamantly denies it is behind these killings.

Accordingto one retired CIA officer, information about the false-flag operation wasreported up the U.S. intelligence chain of command. It reached CIA Director ofOperations Stephen Kappes, his deputy Michael Sulick, and the head of theCounterintelligence Center. All three of these officials are now retired. TheCounterintelligence Center, according to its website, is tasked with investigating"threats posed by foreign intelligence services."

Thereport then made its way to the White House, according to the currently servingU.S. intelligence officer. The officer said that Bush "went absolutelyballistic" when briefed on its contents.

"Thereport sparked White House concerns that Israel's program was putting Americansat risk," the intelligence officer told me. "There's no question that the U.S.has cooperated with Israel in intelligence-gathering operations against theIranians, but this was different. No matter what anyone thinks, we're not inthe business of assassinating Iranian officials or killing Iranian civilians."

Israel'srelationship with Jundallah continued to roil the Bush administration until theday it left office, this same intelligence officer noted. Israel's activities jeopardizedthe administration's fragile relationship with Pakistan, which was coming underintense pressure from Iran to crack down on Jundallah. It also undermined U.S. claimsthat it would never fight terror with terror, and invited attacks in kind onU.S. personnel.

"It'seasy to understand why Bush was so angry," a former intelligence officer said. "Afterall, it's hard to engage with a foreign government if they're convinced you'rekilling their people. Once you start doing that, they feel they can do thesame."

A senioradministration official vowed to "take the gloves off" with Israel, accordingto a U.S. intelligence officer. But the United States did nothing --a result that the officer attributed to "political and bureaucratic inertia."

"In theend," the officer noted, "it was just easier to do nothing than to, you know,rock the boat." Even so, at least for a short time, this same officer noted,the Mossad operation sparked a divisive debate among Bush's national securityteam, pitting those who wondered "just whose side these guys [in Israel] areon" against those who argued that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Thedebate over Jundallah was resolved only after Bush left office when, within hisfirst weeks as president, Barack Obama drastically scaled back joint U.S.-Israelintelligence programs targeting Iran, according to multiple serving and retiredofficers.

Thedecision was controversial inside the CIA, where officials were forced to shutdown "some key intelligence-gathering operations," a recently retired CIAofficer confirmed. This action was followed in November 2010 by the StateDepartment's addition of Jundallah to its list offoreign terrorist organizations -- a decision that one former CIA officer called"an absolute no-brainer."

SinceObama's initial order, U.S. intelligence services have received clearance tocooperate with Israel on a number of classified intelligence-gatheringoperations focused on Iran's nuclear program, according to a currently servingofficer. These operations are highly technical in nature and do not involvecovert actions targeting Iran's infrastructure or political or militaryleadership.

"Wedon't do bang and boom," a recently retired intelligence officer said. "And wedon't do political assassinations."

Israelregularly proposes conducting covert operations targeting Iranians, but isjust as regularly shut down, according to retired and current intelligenceofficers. "They come into the room and spread out their plans, and we just shakeour heads," one highly placed intelligence source said, "and we say to them -- 'Don'teven go there. The answer is no.'"

Unlike the Mujahedin-e Khalq, thecontroversial exiled Iranian terrorist group that seeks the overthrow of theTehran regime and is supported by former leading U.S. policymakers, Jundallahis relatively unknown -- but just as violent. In May 2009, a Jundallah suicidebomber blew himself up inside a mosque in Zahedan, the capital of Iran's southeasternSistan-Baluchistan province bordering Pakistan, during a Shiite religious festival.The bombing killed 25 Iranians and wounded scores of others.

The attack enraged Tehran, whichtraced the perpetrators to a cell operating in Pakistan. The Iranian governmentnotified the Pakistanis of the Jundallah threat and urgedthem to break up the movement's bases along the Iranian-Pakistani border. ThePakistanis reacted sluggishly in the border areas, feeding Tehran's suspicionsthat Jundallah was protected by Pakistan's intelligence services.

The 2009 attack was just one in along line of terrorist attacks attributed to the organization. In August 2007, Jundallahkidnapped 21 Iranian truck drivers. In December 2008, it captured and executed 16 Iranian border guards -- thegruesome killings were filmed, in a stark echo of the decapitation of Americanbusinessman Nick Berg in Iraq at the hands of al Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. InJuly 2010, Jundallah conducted a twin suicide bombing in Zahedan outside a mosque,killing dozens of people, including members of the Islamic Revolutionary GuardCorps.

The State Department aggressivelydenies that the U.S. government had or has any ties to Jundallah. "We haverepeatedly stated, and reiterate again that the United States has not providedsupport to Jundallah," a spokesman wrote in an email to the Wall Street Journal, following Jundallah's designation as a terroristorganization. "The United States does not sponsor any form ofterrorism. We will continue to work with the international community tocurtail support for terrorist organizations and prevent violence againstinnocent civilians. We have also encouraged other governments to takecomparable actions against Jundallah."

A spate of stories in 2007 and2008, including a report by ABC Newsand a New Yorker article, suggested that the United States was offeringcovert support to Jundallah. The issue has now returned to the spotlight withthe string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and has outragedserving and retired intelligence officers who fear that Israeli operations areendangering American lives.

"This certainly isn't the firsttime this has happened, though it's the worst case I've heard of," former Centcomchief and retired Gen. Joe Hoar said of the Israeli operation upon beinginformed of it. "But while false-flag operations are hardly new, they'reextremely dangerous. You're basically using your friendship with an ally foryour own purposes. Israel is playing with fire. It gets us involved in theircovert war, whether we want to be involved or not."

The Israeli operation left anumber of recently retired CIA officers sputtering in frustration. "It's goingto be pretty hard for the U.S. to distance itself from an Israeli attack onIran with this kind of thing going on," one of them told me.

Jundallah head Abdolmalek Rigi wascaptured by Iran in February 2010. Although initial reportsclaimed that he was captured by the Iranians after taking a flight from Dubaito Kyrgyzstan, a retired intelligence officer with knowledge of the incident toldme that Rigi was detained by Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan. The officer said that Rigi wasturned over to the Iranians after the Pakistani government informed the United States that itplanned to do so. The United States, this officer said, did not raise objections to the Pakistani decision.

Iran, meanwhile, has consistentlyclaimed that Rigi was snatched from under the eyes of the CIA, which it allegessupported him. "It doesn't matter," the former intelligence officer said ofIran's charges. "It doesn't matter what they say. They know the truth."

Rigi was interrogated, tried, andconvicted by the Iranians and hanged on June 20, 2010. Prior to hisexecution, Rigi claimed in an interview with Iranian media -- which has to be assumed was underduress -- that he had doubts about U.S. sponsorship of Jundallah. He recountedan alleged meeting with "NATO officials" in Morocco in 2007 that raised hissuspicions. "When we thought about it we came to the conclusion that they areeither Americans acting under NATO cover or Israelis," he said.

While many of the details of Israel'sinvolvement with Jundallah are now known, many others still remain a mystery --and are likely to remain so. The CIA memos of the incident have been "blue bordered,"meaning that they were circulated to senior levels of the broader U.S. intelligencecommunity as well as senior State Department officials.

What has become crystal clear,however, is the level of anger among senior intelligence officials aboutIsrael's actions. "This was stupid and dangerous," the intelligence officialwho first told me about the operation said. "Israel is supposed to be workingwith us, not against us. If they want to shed blood, it would help a lot if itwas their blood and not ours. You know, they're supposed to be a strategicasset. Well, guess what? There are a lot of people now, important people, whojust don't think that's true."


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