December 6, 2007
Was General Ashgari a Double Agent?By James Lewis
In March of 2007 Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Ali-Reza Ashgari defected to the West through Turkey. General Ashgari is the highest-ranking defector from Iran ever, a huge bonanza for our understanding of the Khomeinist regime's intentions and capabilities with regard to nuclear weapons.
If he is for real. Troubling circumstantial evidence suggests that he is not.
This week, a public summary of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran made worldwide headlines. Contrary to endless public statements made over three decades from Khomeini to Ahmadi-Nejad, contrary to the 2005 NIE, contrary to the recent UN report, and contrary to Israeli intelligence, the new NIE claims that Iran's nuclear weapons program was stopped in 2003 and, by implication, has not been restarted since then.
We're safe! Nothing more to worry about from maniacs with nukes.
So -- what happened between the National Intelligence Estimate of 2005 and today's NIE to give the US intelligence community "high confidence" to confirm an end to Iran's nuclear bomb program in 2003?
The defection of General Ashgari (along with several other high-ranking Guard officers) is a plausible explanation for the new Intelligence Estimate. We don't know what Ashgari reported to Western intelligence. Chances are that much of his information was accurate, if out of date. He would need to give that much to gain credibility.
But there is a famous history of the CIA jumping on Soviet double agents -- Golitsyn and Nosenko -- who poisoned the wells of US intelligence with great success. These phony Soviet defectors could be the model the Iranians are emulating.
Iran might have dropped phony defections to give ammunition to the many liberal opponents of President Bush's Iran policy, who are sprinkled throughout our intelligence and foreign policy apparatus.
The new NIE might be the result of Iranian phony defector reports. Since we seem to have very poor human intelligence inside the Khomeinist regime, the Guard defectors (there were several of them) might be greeted by Democrat partisans in the bureaucracy like manna from heaven. The new phony intelligence would confirm their passionately held biases - a routine technique in disinformation ops.
Dropping phony defectors would be a smart strategy, and the A'jad regime prides itself on such things.
Defectors can paralyze US intelligence. It's nearly impossible to tell truths from lies or paranoid exaggerations, a maze that famously destroyed the career of CIA counter-intelligence chief James Jesus Angleton in the 1960s. Phony defectors do not even have to be believed, as long as they confuse US intelligence enough to undermine truthful information. They kick sand in our eyes.
A few public facts suggest that Ashgari may have been a plant. He left a wife and children behind in Iran, ready blackmail victims to control his behavior abroad. His defection coincided with other high Guard officers disappearing, perhaps to confirm Ashgari's phony message. In Tehran there was no visible purge, or even public expressions of heightened suspicions, after the spectacular loss of face due to a high-level defection -- contrary to Ahmadi-Nejad current accusations of "treason" against his pragmatist enemies in the regime. And finally, after the biggest (presumed) scandal revealing treachery in the trusted Guards, there was no loss of power or prestige for the massive Guards faction of the regime.
Ahmadi-Nejad just seemed to shrug off the Ashgari defection. The obvious question is why?
According to former Reagan Administration CIA official Herbert Meyer, writing yesterday in American Thinker, "It's no exaggeration to say that Iran holds the key to whether we will have a nuclear war."
The stakes could not be higher.
James Lewis blogs at dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/