Following revelations of a George W. Bush administration
policy to hold Iran responsible for any al-Qaeda attack on the U.S. that could
be portrayed as planned on Iranian soil, former national security adviser Zbigniew
Brzezinski warned last week that Washington might use such an incident as a
pretext to bomb Iran.
Brzezinski, the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter from 1977
through 1980 and the most senior Democratic Party figure on national security
policy, told a private meeting sponsored by the nonpartisan Committee for the
Republic in Washington May 30 that an al-Qaeda terrorist attack in the United
States intended to provoke war between the U.S. and Iran was a possibility that
must be taken seriously, and that the Bush administration might accuse Iran
of responsibility for such an attack and use it to justify carrying out an attack
Brzezinski suggested that new constraints were needed on presidential war powers
to reduce the risk of a war against Iran based on such a false pretense. Such
constraints, Brzezinski said, should not prevent the president from using force
in response to an attack on the United States, but should make it more difficult
to carry out an attack without an adequate justification.
Brzezinski's warning came after Fox News' chief Washington correspondent Jim
Angle reported on "Special Report with Brit Hume" May 14 that, according
to unnamed U.S. official sources, U.S. officials had urged Iran in two face
to face meetings to deport the terrorists to their countries of origin, told
them about al Qaeda efforts to get a nuclear device, and "warned that if
any terrorist attack against Americans were to come from Iranian territory,
it would be held responsible."
Angle quoted a former official as saying that Iran "understood how bad
it would be...if there were another terrorist attack and it was learned it had
been planned in Iran."
Former Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet wrote in his recently-published
memoirs that U.S. intelligence had learned by early 2003 that a senior al-Qaeda
operative who had been detained in Iran was in charge of the organisation's
efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. Tenet said that information was passed on
to Iranian officials "in the hope that they would recognise our common
interest in preventing any attack against U.S. interests."
The Bush administration has made persistent claims over the past five years
that Iran has harbored al-Qaeda operatives who had fled from Afghanistan and
that they had participated in planning terrorist actions – claims that
were not supported by intelligence analysts.
Pentagon officials leaked information to CBS in May 2003 that they had "evidence"
that al-Qaeda leaders who had found "safe haven" in Iran had planned
and directed terrorist operations in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Then Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also encouraged that inference when he declared on
May 29, 2003, that Iran had "permitted senior al-Qaeda officials to operate
in their country."
The leak and public statement allowed the media and their audiences to infer
that the "safe haven" had been deliberately provided by Iranian authorities.
But most U.S. intelligence analysts specializing on the Persian Gulf believed
the al-Qaeda officials in Iran who were still communicating with operatives
elsewhere were in hiding rather than under arrest. Former national intelligence
officer for Near East and South Asia Paul Pillar told IPS in an interview last
year that the "general impression" was that the al-Qaeda operatives
were not in Iran with the complicity of the Iranian authorities.
Former CIA analyst Ken Pollack, who was a Persian Gulf specialist on the National
Security Council staff in 2001, wrote in The
Persian Puzzle, "These al-Qaeda leaders apparently were operating
in eastern Iran, which is a bit like the Wild West." He added, pointedly,
"It was not as if these al-Qaeda leaders had been under lock and key in
Evin prison in Tehran and were allowed to make phone calls to set up the attacks."
Although most elements in the Bush administration appear to oppose military
action against Iran, Vice President Dick Cheney has reportedly advocated that
course. He has also continued to raise the issue of al-Qaeda officials in Iran.
Cheney told Fox News in an interview May 14, "We are confident that there
are a number of senior al-Qaeda officials in Iran, that they've been there since
the spring of 2003. About the time that we launched operations into Iraq, the
Iranians rounded up a number of al-Qaeda individuals and placed them under house
Cheney did not say that the al-Qaeda officials who were communicating with
other operatives outside Iran were under house arrest.
As recently as last February, Bush administration officials were preparing
to accuse Tehran publicly of cooperating with and harboring al-Qaeda suspects
as part of the administration's strategy for pushing for stronger UN sanctions
against Iran. The strategy of portraying Iran as having links with al-Qaeda
was being pushed by an unidentified Bush adviser who had been "instrumental
in coming up with a more confrontational U.S. approach to Iran," according
a report by the Washington Post's Dafna Linzer on Feb. 10.
As Linzer revealed, the neoconservative faction in the administration was still
pushing to link Iran with al-Qaeda despite the fact that a CIA report in early
February had reported the arrest by Iranian authorities of two more al-Qaeda
operatives trying to make their way through Iran from Pakistan to Iraq.
The danger of an al-Qaeda effort to disguise an attack on the U.S. as coming
from Iran was raised in an article in Foreign Affairs published in late
April by former NSC adviser and counterterrorism expert Bruce Riedel.
In the article, Riedel wrote that Osama bin Laden may have plans for "triggering
an all-out war between the United States and Iran," referring to evidence
that al-Qaeda in Iraq now considers Iranian influence in Iraq "an even
greater problem than the U.S. occupation."
"The biggest danger," Riedel wrote, "is that al-Qaeda will deliberately
provoke a war with a 'false-flag' operation, say, a terrorist attack carried
out in a way that would make it appear as though it were Iran's doing."
In a briefing for reporters about the article, Riedel said al-Qaeda officials
have "openly talked about the advisability of getting their two great enemies
to go to war with each other," hoping that they would "take each other
Riedel, now a senior fellow with the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at
the Brookings Institution, was one of the leading specialists on al-Qaeda and
terrorism, having served in the 1990s as national intelligence officer, assistant
secretary of defense, and NSC specialist for Near East and South Asia up to
Supporting the warnings by Brzezinski and Riedel about an al-Qaeda "false
flag" terrorist attack is a captured al-Qaeda document found in a hideout
of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq in 2006. The document, translated and released
by Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie, said "the best solution
in order to get out of this crisis is to involve the U.S. forces in waging a
war against another country or any hostile groups."
The document, the author of which was not specified, explained, "We mean
specifically attempting to escalate tension between America and Iran, and America
and the Shi'ite[s] in Iraq."
(Inter Press Service)