Friday, January 06, 2006

James Risen doesn't know what he knows

Michael Ledeen uses his favorite (and annoying) foil, channelling the ghost of CIA counterintel "legend" James Jesus Angleton, to show two huge scoops that James Risen, the NYT journo who broke the NSA surveillance story, revealed in his new book. Ignore the dopey conversation with the dead guy motif while you check out these excerpts that evidence the CIA's incompetence.

ML: . . . The first [scoop] dates back to Clinton. It’s about an operation called "Merlin," and consisted of feeding doctored information about the design of nuclear weapons to the [Iranian] mullahs via a Soviet scientist who had defected "years earlier" to the United States. The concept was to get the Iranians to use the snafued version in their bombs so that they would fizzle instead of explode.

JJA: Right. We’ve been doing such things for years, and for good reason . . . Nothing wrong with the concept.

ML: Except that we never did it with nuclear stuff before, did we? And Risen’s got expert testimony that the Iranians could easily have sorted out the good parts of the blueprints from the disinformation, so that in the end we would have actually helped them.

JJA: Yes, I saw that. You can always get somebody to say that any given idea is idiotic. But you’d need to know a lot more than Risen knows to be able to judge it, in this specific case. And that points us to the really interesting question, the one that Risen doesn’t bother to ask, let alone answer.

ML: I’m following you. If we knew enough — in 2000, mind you — to be able to design an effective disinformation program, then...

JJA: Then (he started shouting in that gravelly voice of his) THEY KNEW THE IRANIANS HAD A NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM SIX YEARS AGO.

ML: But they were forever testifying, in those years, that they really didn’t know.

JJA: The damn fools.

ML: Well, maybe they had a political problem. They certainly knew that Clinton wasn’t going to do anything about it, so why should they make the case? There’s a long history of this, including the CIA’s failure to sufficiently warn about al Qaeda, etc. etc...

JJA: Nononono! They did make the case — that’s Risen’s real scoop, and he doesn’t even know it. They had to make the case in order to justify the operation. You couldn’t have "Merlin" unless you knew there was an Iranian nuclear-weapons program. . .

* * *
JJA: . . . And that takes us to the true idiocy of "Merlin." It’s not, as Risen has it, that we might have inadvertently helped the mullahs design a better weapon; they had all the help they needed on that one. That was a component of a Soviet bomb. The true idiocy was the apparent failure to realize that the Iranians could find out all about the defector, because their nuclear program was being helped by the Russians, who had to know all about this guy. And the Russians also knew all about that "firing set," because they’d designed it in the first place. So the buffoons in the DO should have known — I mean, five minutes’ deep concentration would have gotten them there — that this particular deception could not possibly work.

Somewhat ridiculous by the CIA -- Iran's dealings with the Russians have been extensive for many years. But wait! There's more. This excerpt discusses the CIA employee who sent information to the "wrong agent" inside Iran, which enabled the mullahs to roll up our whole network (such as it was):

ML: And Risen continues, "the Iranian who received the download was a double agent. The agent quickly turned the data over to Iranian security officials, and it enabled them to ‘roll up’ the CIA’s network throughout Iran..."

JJA: There you go. We had fallen for a classic deception, just as we did during the Cold War with Cubans and East Germans (remember that it turned out that most all the presumed "spies" in those countries were double agents) . . . All that should raise some serious questions in the minds of the policymakers, don’t you think?

ML: Yeah, like: if we are constantly tricked by the mullahs, why should anyone believe anything the CIA has to say about Iran?

JJA: Pfui. Risen says that "in the spring of 2005, in the wake of the CIA’s Iranian disaster, Porter Goss...told President Bush...that the CIA really didn’t know how close Iran was to becoming a nuclear power."

ML: But that doesn’t parse! They had known enough, years before, to launch "Merlin."

JJA: Or they didn’t, in which case there’s no excuse at all for "Merlin." In fact, it looks like the real disinformation program was running the other way. . .

The CIA, our very own 1950s style MI6.

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