Monday, January 22, 2007

Nuclear Missiles

Recently the State Department announced that Iran is at least ten years away from building a nuclear bomb. This is absolutely false; Iran has already built as many as 75 nuclear fission warheads. Evidence of this will be presented after we have finished accumulating the necessary background in this and the next few postings. The State Department's misleading statement arises from a failure to lay out the technical aspects of the issue in a way that the American public can understand. For instance, if the State Department is using the term "nuclear weapon" as a nickname or euphemism for "thermonuclear weapon," then technically they are right; it will probably take Iran a decade to produce a thermonuclear bomb. But Iran already has an atom bomb; the kind of device that was used to destroy Hiroshima or Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Such a device could easily destroy Manhattan or Washington D.C.

In this posting, we will lay out the vocabulary and concepts that you will need to understand these issues.

Nuclear Fission Warheads
A nuclear fission warhead gets its immense power from the breakdown of uranium or plutonium nuclei when bombarded by neutrons. In 1945, the United States detonated the world’s first fission weapon. It was called an “atomic bomb” or “atom bomb.” Before ballistic missiles, an “atomic bomb” was really a bomb: it was actually dropped from an airplane. Nowadays, the term, “atomic bomb,” usually refers to a nuclear warhead in the nose cone of a ballistic missile or a cruise missile. A more proper name for such a weapon is “nuclear fission warhead.” This precision of naming matters because there is another type of nuclear warhead, variously called a “hydrogen”, “thermonuclear”, or “fusion” warhead, that is much more powerful.

It took the United States three years to develop the first atomic bomb. Israel developed a bomb in 18 years. Iran has had 27 years; their nuclear weapons program began in 1979.

Nuclear Fusion Warheads
A nuclear fusion warhead gets its power by driving together pairs of hydrogen nuclei to produce helium nuclei. A nuclear fusion warhead is also called a “hydrogen” or “thermonuclear” warhead. Before ballistic missiles, this weapon was known as a “hydrogen bomb” or “H-bomb.” A nuclear fusion warhead can be a thousand times more powerful than a nuclear fission warhead. In fact, you need a nuclear fission explosion to drive together large numbers of hydrogen nuclei. (In the vocabulary of the early Cold War, you need to set off an A-bomb in order to detonate an H-bomb.)

On May 29, 2006, Sadat Hosseini, the head of the technical department of Iran's Nuclear Research Center, announced that Iran has been conducting research into nuclear fusion for the past five years. Nuclear fusion technology can only be used for two things: producing electrical power and making a thermonuclear warhead. But no one has yet succeeded in making cost-effective electrical power from nuclear fusion. This means that Iran's fusion research can only have been directed at making a nuclear fusion warhead: a hydrogen bomb.

Triggering a Nuclear Explosion
A fission warhead, or a fission explosive designed to trigger a fusion warhead, can be detonated in one of three ways:

• By slamming together two sub-critical masses of enriched uranium or plutonium.

• By compressing a sub-critical mass of plutonium until its density becomes critical.

• By firing a stream of neutrons at a sub-critical mass.

A critical mass is an amount of uranium or plutonium large enough and dense enough to trigger a nuclear chain reaction. A chain reaction occurs when uranium or plutonium atoms break down and emit subatomic particles, notably neutrons. These neutrons then collide with and break down other atoms, causing more free neutrons. The breaking up of atoms in this way produces large amounts of energy that are quickly converted into heat. The heat is so intense that it vaporizes all matter in its vicinity, and sends out a tremendous shock wave. The devastation caused by a nuclear explosion is caused by the intense heat, the shock wave, electromagnetic radiation, high-energy subatomic particles, and radioactive nuclear waste materials that disperse at high speeds all over a city.

Delivering a Nuclear Warhead
A nuclear warhead can be delivered to its target in one of three ways:

• By secretly transporting it into a city, and then detonating it locally or remotely.

• By placing it inside a bomb, and dropping the bomb upon the target. (This is now sometimes referred to as a gravity bomb.)

• By placing it in the nosecone of a missile and firing the missile at the target.

The first option — manual delivery — has recently garnered much attention in the press and in fiction, especially in recent movies and television programs. However, transporting the components of a nuclear bomb by hand is difficult, delicate, and dangerous, especially from outside the target country. The Soviet Union is reputed to have built dozens of suitcase-sized atomic bombs. But these weapons are not city-killers; they are too small.

The second option is no longer viable against a modern state. Western countries and many others have radar and missiles that can detect and destroy an approaching bomber. However, the advent of stealth technology, which effectively renders a stealth jet invisible to radar, may bring back the threat of the nuclear gravity bomb.

Therefore, the main nuclear threat today comes from ballistic missiles and cruise missiles that have been specifically designed or altered to contain a nuclear warhead.

Ballistic Missiles
A ballistic missile is a rocket which, after an initial powered flight upward, continues on to its target under the influence of gravity, alone. (The first ballistic missile, the V-2, was invented by the Nazis.) An intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is one that can fly between 2,000 and 8,000 miles. Long-range ICBMs have to pass up through the earth's atmosphere, travel through space, and then reenter the atmosphere in order to reach their targets.

It took the United States 14 years to develop its first ICBM. Iran didn't bother to develop its own ICBMs: it simply bought and copied them:

• Iran purchased between 90 and 100 SCUD-B short-range missiles from North Korea. The North Koreans built a rocket plant near Isfahan so that Iran could mass-produce its own copies of this missile. The Iranians are now building copies of the SCUD-C, known in Korea as the No-Dong, probably at the same factory. The No-Dong missile can reach Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

• More ominously, it bought ICBM-class liquid-fueled engines from Russia, and solid-fueled engines from China; it was not difficult to wrap Iranian-made rocket housings around them. Iran is developing at least one long-range ballistic missile that can reach the United States. In this design, four Russian RD-216 booster rockets are strapped together to form the first stage of the missile. A Chinese-made rocket is used for the second stage.

Cruise Missiles
A cruise missile is designed to fly hundreds of miles at low altitude, changing its path as needed to avoid obstacles and detection, and deliver a payload at a precise target location. (It is possible to program a cruise missile to fly into one particular window in one particular building.) Cruise missiles require advanced computer technology packed into a very small space. It would be difficult for Iran to develop the engineering capability to build cruise missiles; so they’ve bought it instead:

• In January, 2004, the United States Congress learned that Iran was acquiring cruise missile technology from Pakistan.

• On January 28, 2005, Ukraine announced that an earlier Administration had illegally sold 12 Soviet KH-55 “Granat” nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran. The KH-55 can carry a 200-kiloton warhead. The Iranians have reverse-engineered the missile and are now mass-producing copies of them at the Khaibar missile base in Karaj.

In recent years, there has been a blending of missile technologies: some cruise missiles can now reach targets that at one time could only be reached by ICBMs; some ICBMs can now alter their flight paths before they drop on a target.

Missile Defense Systems
The United States and Canada are protected from long-range bomber and missile attacks by an array of detection and defensive systems. One of them, administered by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD,) was designed to deter attacks from over the North Pole from by the Soviet Union. Such systems now protect the entire North American continent from attacks from afar.

The Pentagon claims that we can shoot down incoming ballistic missiles. But I doubt that we have a complete missile defense shield. If we did, it would be common public knowledge. Otherwise its existence could not act as a deterrent to other nuclear powers. (Israel does have a missile defense shield; it consists of Israeli-designed Arrow Interceptor missiles.) If we do not have a missile shield, Iran can strike us at will with ballistic missiles. So can China, the Russian Federation, and other nuclear powers. But as we will see, unlike these other countries, Iran has everything to gain by striking us, and little to lose.

Moreover, these Cold War-era missile defenses are only effective against large ballistic missiles. Such missiles typically have to ascend into space before they can fall on a target. This makes them relatively easy to detect, gives the target population hours to take shelter against the explosion, and allows us to counterattack by launching our own long-range ballistic missiles before the incoming rockets can destroy them on the ground.

But our Cold War-era missile defense plans did not foresee the advent of cruise missiles. A cruise missile can be launched at sea level, and can be programmed to fly so low that our defensive radar systems cannot see it. On September 11th, 2001, a key part of al-Qaeda's strategy was to fly the hijacked planes down below the radar line so that no one could see where the planes were heading. If we cannot detect a slow-flying jumbo jet, then we cannot detect a small missile traveling faster than the speed of sound.

Mutual Assured Destruction
During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union had enough ICBMs to destroy each other. Both countries could also detect an incoming strike, and counterattack before the enemy's missiles reached their targets. The result was a tense stand-off that, fortunately, forestalled a nuclear war. This policy was referred to as "mutual assured destruction," for if one side attacked, the other would be destroyed, too.

Today, in the Middle East, there is a scaled-down version of the mutual assured destruction policy in place between Iran and Israel: if Iran launches a nuclear attack on Israel, Tehran will be destroyed. At least one Israeli submarine is on patrol at all times in the Indian Ocean in order to do this.

Mutual assured destruction works if the two rival nations are roughly equivalent in power. But the safety afforded by mutual assured destruction does not apply when one of the rivals is significantly bigger than the other. Such is the case between America and Iran; simply put, we have much more to lose than Iran does.

Therefore, while it is folly for Russia to attack us, and folly for Iran to attack Israel, it is not folly for Iran to attack us; they have much to gain and little to lose. They have fewer cities than we do, and many of their people are still living as their ancestors did in the Middle Ages; on family farms in small communities, or with small herds of domesticated animals on open land. On the other hand, by attacking America, Iran would gain enormous and instantaneous prestige throughout the Muslim world.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Weapons

We now come to the most serious threat Iran poses to America: the use of nuclear missiles against New York City and Washington D.C. This is a large, complex topic, and will require several postings to explain. In order to simplify the task, we will begin by listing several little-known or little-appreciated facts about nuclear energy, nuclear warheads, ballistic and cruise missiles, and nuclear war. We will then connect this knowledge to the Iranian nuclear program and to the nuclear deterrent policies of the United States and the United Nations. In this posting, we will begin by looking at nuclear energy and its relationship to nuclear weapons.

There is no way to prevent a nuclear reactor from being misused to produce an atomic bomb.
A nuclear reactor can be used to provide electrical power, and to produce radioactive isotopes for medical use. (To kill tumors, and to trace blood flow.) However, there is no way to prevent the peaceful use of atomic energy from being co-opted to produce an atom bomb. (The term "dual use" is sometimes used to express the idea that a nuclear reactor can be used for both peaceful and warlike purposes.)

This presents nuclear scientists and regulators with a dilemma: On the one hand, a well-constructed nuclear reactor is a relatively safe, clean source of electrical power whose waste products do not contribute to global warming. On the other, these waste products — especially plutonium — are very good for making nuclear weapons.

The promise of cheap abundant electrical power is especially attractive to undeveloped nations. This potential benefit to developing economies has blinded the United Nations. On July 29, 1957, the U.N. established the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to govern the worldwide development of electrical power from nuclear reactors. At the same time, the IAEA was charged with enforcing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT.) Signatories to the NPT pledge to use nuclear power for peaceful applications only. But it is impossible to prevent a signatory nation from secretly using its reactors to produce atomic bombs.

At least three NPT signatories have broken the treaty, despite frequent IAEA inspections.
Iraq, Iran, and North Korea signed the treaty; Israel did not. Therefore, under international law, it was legal for Israel to develop an atomic bomb; but it was illegal for Iraq, Iran, and North Korea to do so. Nevertheless:

• In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the NPT, and, on October 9, 2006, detonated an atomic bomb.

• In 1991, David Kay, an American inspector for the IAEA, discovered that Saddam Hussein had no less than three separate programs to develop nuclear weapons. The most advanced of these had been severely set back in 1981 by the Israelis when they bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor. U.N. economic sanctions imposed after the First Gulf War decimated the other development programs.

• As we will see in the next few postings, Iran has also broken the treaty, and now has in its possession as many as 75 nuclear fission warheads.

Pakistan's A.Q. Khan helped three countries to break the NPT.
Between 1989 and 2003, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's lead nuclear scientist, secretly sold nuclear weapons design specifications and know-how to the governments of Libya, North Korea, and Iran. He also attempted to sell them to Iraq. Khan peddled his knowledge and expertise through intermediaries headquartered in Dubayy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE.) His activities were probably unknown to the Pakistani government until 2003. In December 2003, Libya announced that it was stopping its development of nuclear weapons.

Israel has both atomic and hydrogen bombs.
Israel did not sign the NPT, and was therefore free to develop nuclear weapons. Israel is reported to have the capacity to produce between 10 and 15 nuclear fission warheads per year. (By comparison, Iran can produce 25 per year.) Israel has also produced at least three hydrogen bombs.

It takes a lot of uranium to power a nuclear reactor; but it only takes a little to make an atomic bomb.
A nation that uses atomic reactors to produce electricity must have a steady supply of large amounts of uranium. On the other hand, an atomic bomb can be constructed from as little as 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of enriched uranium. (Uranium enrichment is described below.)

An oil-rich country doesn't need a nuclear reactor.
Commercial-scale nuclear reactors are very big and very expensive. They are dangerous to build, and produce large amounts of toxic, radioactive nuclear waste that must be buried in a safe location far away from people. Although generally safe, nuclear reactors have been known to malfunction and even explode, releasing deadly radioactive gases into the air.

One of the benefits of a nuclear reactor is that it does not produce excessive carbon dioxide as a waste product. Carbon dioxide from coal and oil-burning electrical generators has contributed to global warming. However, oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran do not need nuclear reactors. They have huge oil reserves, and relatively little industry. They can easily supply their people with cheap electrical power from oil-burning generators without significantly contributing to global warming.

The easiest way to power a nuclear reactor is through uranium enrichment.
The least expensive fuel for a nuclear reactor is uranium. Natural uranium contains very little u-235, the uranium isotope usually used as fuel in a nuclear reactor. Only 0.72% of natural uranium is u-235.

In order to use natural uranium to create atomic fission, it has to be refined. (This process is also called “enrichment.”) Usually, uranium is refined by converting it into uranium hexafluoride gas, spinning it in a centrifuge, and then separating the light and heavy gases. The light gas is then centrifuged again, and again, until at least 4 percent of the gas consists of fissible material. (Nuclear fuel; uranium-235.)

However, there is nothing to prevent the gas from being repeatedly centrifuged again. (This is done in a cascade: an array of as many as 50,000 centrifuges.) When at least 90 percent of the gas is fissible, you've got the makings of an atom bomb.

On April 11, 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had successfully enriched uranium. (What he did not say, however, is that Iran had already used enriched uranium to produce an atomic bomb.) The world community reacted negatively, and began to seek ways of curtailing Iran's nuclear program. In a clever stroke of diplomacy, Russia proposed to relieve Iran of its need to enrich its own uranium by enriching it for them. But once Russia has purified Iran's uranium to 4 percent, there is nothing to prevent Iran from boosting its potency to 90 percent: all Iran needs is a secret installation containing a centrifuge cascade. There is evidence that Iran has at least one such secret cascade.

Iran’s Proxy Armies in Iraq

When the American-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, Saddam’s reign of terror ended, and Iraqis were grateful and jubilant. But within months, Iraq fell into a bloody internal war so severe that the Coalition was powerless to stop it. For us, this brutal insurgency has been devastating: as of January 19, 2007, no fewer than 3,030 Americans have perished.

To the American public, the conflict in Iraq looks like the American Civil War, with the Sunni minority playing the role of the North, and the Shiite majority playing the role of the South. But, for the most part, what is happening in Iraq is not a civil war: it is the systematic destruction of a fragile, nascent democracy by its next-door neighbor: Iran. To continue with the Civil War analogy, it is as if Canada had secretly invaded the United States in 1861, killed a group of Northerners, killed a group of Southerners, funded both the Union and Confederate armies, and then scuttled every effort to make peace.

How is it possible for Iran to exert so much influence on events inside Iraq? The answer is simple and astonishing: Iran has no fewer than three proxy armies operating inside Iraq:

• The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC,) a uniformed branch of the Iranian government.

• The Mahdi Army, led by the young radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al Sadr.

• Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which until recently was led by the man known publicly as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Proxy Army # 1: The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
One of the oddities of fascist regimes is the multiplicity and redundancy of their armed forces. Iran has a regular army and navy; but it also has a separate military organization called the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC.) The IRGC was created by Ayatollah Khomeini during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Khomeini saw the new organization as an armed intelligence service. (Iranians speak a language called Farsi. The Farsi name for the IRGC is “Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Islami.” Hence, the IRGC is also referred to as “the Pasdaran” or “Sepah.” There is also a kind of IRGC reserve called “the Basij.” The IRGC also has a special branch called “the Qods Force,” which conducts foreign terrorist activities.)

By far the most blatant manipulation of Iraq by the Iranian government has been accomplished through the direct intervention of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. IRGC officers of all ranks have simply infiltrated Iraq by the hundreds. Under their direction, there may be as many as 90,000 Iranians inside Iraq:

• In 2003, at least 52 IRGC officers were trained in Tehran to infiltrate Iraq and aid in the opposition of American forces.

• In April, 2003, a pro-Iranian cleric took over the mosque in the city of Kut — a city of 300,000 near the Iranian border — and proclaimed himself mayor. The IRGC provided him with a militia, weapons, money, and logistical support.

What is remarkable about these developments is that a regular, uniformed branch of the Iranian military is operating freely inside Iraq. How did they get there?

The answer is that we let them in: During the run-up to the Second Gulf War, IRGC officers approached the United States Army. They offered to infiltrate southern and central Iraq through its porous border with Iran. From these positions, the IRGC would then forward valuable intelligence to American forces. The Army agreed, and the IRGC moved in. Initially, the IRGC made good on its promise, and helped the Coalition defeat Saddam. Then, with the Iraqi military destroyed, the Iranians shut down the channel to the U.S. Army, and began to use their intelligence officers to strangle the newborn Iraqi democracy.

In 2003, the United States Army certainly knew that Iran has been hostile to the United States since 1979. Why, then, did the Army agree to accept the Iranian Trojan Horse? My guess is that, like the President, the Army did not fully realize the extent to which Iran had murdered Americans. Furthermore, the invasion of Iraq has been, for America, a war conducted on the cheap: it is now clear that we went into Iraq without sufficient men and resources. The Army probably jumped at the chance of saving money by employing the Iranians.

Proxy Army # 2: The Mahdi Army
On June 8, 2003, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former President of Iran, held a meeting with the young Iraqi Shiite cleric, Moghtada Sadre (known in the West as Muqtada al Sadr.) Sadr is the son of Ayatollah Seyed Mohammed Sadr, the onetime leader of all Iraqi Shiites, who was murdered by Saddam Hussein in 1999. On behalf of the government of Iran, Rafsanjani proposed to fund an Iraqi Shiite militia — the Mahdi Army — with Sadr as its leader. Rafsanjani specifically compared Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Mahdi Army in Iraq. Both, he said, were funded by Iran: Hezbollah was created to throw the Israelis out of Lebanon; the Mahdi Army was created to throw the Americans out of Iraq.

Sadr accepted, and Iran thereby created its second proxy army inside Iraq. By April, 2004, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had sent Sadr over $70 million to fund the Mahdi Army; it is likely that Iran has continued to support Sadr at this level of annual funding ever since.

Sadr did not disappoint his handlers in Tehran: In early 2004, Sadr almost succeeded in derailing the American turn-over of authority to the new interim government of Iraq. Coalition authorities had recently shut down Sadr's newspaper because it was inciting violence. (One article alleged that Americans were mounting suicide bombing attacks against Iraqis.) Sadr mobilized his Shi'a followers to demonstrate. On April 4, fighting broke out in Najaf, Basra, and a section of Baghdad called Sadr City. The Mahdi Army killed dozens of Coalition soldiers. Sadr’s actions also triggered violence by Sunni rebels in Baghdad, Samarra, Ramadi, and Fallujah. Thus, all of this killing was either financed or instigated by Iran.

Proxy Army # 3: al-Qaeda in Iraq
We have already described Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s rise to power in Iraqi Kurdistan. By 2003, he had commandeered a militia called Ansar Al-Islam. However, as we have already seen, Zarqawi and his commanders were all members of al-Qaeda. Most of them were veterans of the Afghan insurgency against the Soviets. While most of Zarqawi’s 600 fighters were in northern Iraq, their officers were in Iran, and have remained there, more or less, ever since. (Zarqawi, himself, shuttled continually between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and his native Jordan.)

In this roundabout way, the government of Iran used al-Qaeda to create its third proxy army inside Iraq, while keeping its leadership mostly inside Iran. From this strong position, Iran proceeded to wreak havoc on American interests through Zarqawi:

• In March, 2003, the American-led coalition launched a massive offensive against Ansar Al-Islam. Zarqawi lost one-third of his men. Undeterred, Ansar Al-Islam simply slipped across the border into Iran, rebuilt its strength, and reentered Iraqi Kurdistan.

• On August 20, 2003, Zarqawi exploded a truck bomb at the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations, killing the U.N.’s special representative and 16 others. This drove the U.N. out of Iraq.

• On April 9, 2004, 26-year-old Nicholas Berg, an American civilian, was kidnapped in Baghdad. On May 11, Zarqawi (or possibly one of his closest lieutenants) personally beheaded him, and then released a video tape of the execution. It was a coldly calculated act designed to seize the leadership of all Sunni extremist groups in Iraq. Within days, several of these militias announced their merger under Zarqawi’s new banner group, called Tawhid wal Jihad, or “Unity and Holy War.” The militias included the former Ansar Al-Islam, Ansar Al-Sunna, Jaysh Mohammed, Al-Jamaa Salafiya, Takfir wal Hijra, and Jund Al-Sham. Overnight, Zarqawi’s forces grew from 600 to as many as 1,500, and now included specialists in explosives, missiles, and chemical weapons.

• In July 2004, Zarqawi began calling on Iraqi Sunnis to kill Iraqi Shiites.

• In September 2004, Zarqawi kidnapped and executed two more American civilians: Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley.

• On October 23, 2004, Zarqawi murdered 50 Iraqi National Guard recruits as they left their training camp near Kirkuk. This was a major blow against the newly-elected Iraqi government, which was struggling to assert control of the country in order to reduce its dependence on America.

• By the end of October, Zarqawi had killed 675 Iraqis and 40 foreigners.

• On February 22, 2006, Zarqawi destroyed the Shiite Askariya Mosque in Samarra, igniting a new round of violence between Shiites and Sunnis.

All of this killing — including the assassinations of Nicholas Berg, Eugene Armstrong, and Jack Hensley — was financed and supported by Iran.

Zarqawi’s organization recently underwent one more name change: it is now known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. This is a calculated move designed to give the impression that Zarqawi’s militia has linked up with Osama bin Laden’s. But in reality, Zarqawi and his commanders were official members of al-Qaeda from the beginning.

With three separate armies — the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Mahdi Army, and al-Qaeda in Iraq — Iran is now firmly in control of the armed conflict in Iraq. This means that, ultimately, it is Iran who is killing our soldiers. The IRGC and al-Qaeda in Iraq are Sunni; the Mahdi Army is Shiite. Iran is playing both sides against each other, against the newly-elected government of Iraq, and against the armed forces of the United States and its allies.

Iran’s Proxy Army in Afghanistan
When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, Iran initially opposed them. Then the American-led coalition ousted the Taliban. Protected by the Coalition, the Afghani people elected a democratic government headed by President Hamid Karzai. American forces remained to support the new government. This was not to Iran’s liking: from their viewpoint, the American military was beginning to encircle Iran; first in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq.

To counter the influence of the United States in the region, the clerics in Tehran made peace with the Taliban, and began to support and supply them. This, in effect, transformed the Taliban into an Iranian proxy army. Iran wasted no time deploying it:

• Beginning in December, 2003, a force of 20,000 former Afghan Taliban members trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps began infiltrating southern Afghanistan. Their goal was to topple the democratic government of President Hamid Karzai. During a six-month period in 2005, these insurgents killed 48 American soldiers.

• On February 18, 2004, a train exploded in Neyshabur, Iran. It was destined for Afghanistan and contained 17 wagons of TNT. (The Iranian railway system is owned by the State.)

• In June, 2004, Khamenei gave $10 million to anti-Karzai insurgents in Afghanistan.

The Iranian Attack Model
It is time to review, for the last time, the Iranian Attack Model that was presented in postings 3 and 4. As we review each of its seven features, we will list examples of its application that have been documented in this and other postings:

1. The chief instrument of Iranian geopolitics is the IRGC, a uniformed branch of the Iranian military.
The IRGC was directly involved in the Marine barracks bombing; the Khobar Towers bombing; the assassination of Robert Dean Stethem; the attacks of September 11, 2001; and the insurgencies in Iraq. The IRGC is also responsible for deploying Iran's nuclear missiles. (We will learn more about this in the next few postings.)

2. Iranian acts of aggression are carefully planned and executed, from beginning to end, by Iranian citizens working for the Iranian government.
The Marine barracks bombing and the Khobar Towers bombing were both planned by Iranian diplomats in Damascus, Syria, and by members of Iran's MOIS. The hijacking that led to the assassination of Robert Dean Stethem was probably ordered by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The attacks of September 11th were approved and ordered by all five of Iran's top political leaders, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Iranian Head of State; the IRGC, MOIS, and the Office of the Supreme Leader all participated in the planning. The Iraqi insurgency led by Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army is being funded by the government of Iran through Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

3. The final phase of each attack, however, is carried out by proxies who may or may not be Iranian citizens.
The Marine barracks bomb was detonated by an Iranian. The Khobar towers bomb was built, deployed, and detonated by members of Saudi Hezbollah. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem was done by a Hezbollah militiaman. The attacks of September 11th were carried out by al-Qaeda, which was acting, in part, as an Iranian proxy. In Iraq, suicide bombers, both Shia and Sunni, are being armed and funded by Iran. The takeover of the town of Kut was led by an Iraqi cleric supported by the IRGC.

4. The Iranians hide their culpability by attacking where non-Iranian radical groups can easily be blamed.
The Marine barracks bombing took place in war-torn Lebanon. The Khobar Towers bombing occurred in Saudi Arabia, in which several small armed groups are trying to topple the Monarchy. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem occurred during an airline hijacking that, on the surface, looked like hijackings previously perpetrated by Palestinians and other Muslim extremists. The attacks of September 11th, except for their use of commercial jetliners as flying bombs, looked like many other hijackings done by several radical Muslim groups. The activities of the Mahdi Army, al-Qaeda, and the IRGC are hidden in the noise of other insurgencies in Iraq.

5. The Iranians' weapon of choice is a suicide truck or car bomb.
The Marine barracks was destroyed by a suicide truck bomb. The Khobar Towers facility was not a suicide because it was perpetrated by Sunnis; until recently, suicide has not been typical of Sunni extremists. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem was not a suicide attack because Imad Fayez Mugniyeh is too narcissistic to kill himself. The attacks of September 11th simply substituted suicide plane bombs for suicide truck bombs. Car and truck bombs are now common in Iraq, and are routinely used by Iran's proxy armies.

6. Each attack advances the geopolitical ambitions of Iran.
The Marine barracks bombing succeeded in expelling American forces from Lebanon. The Khobar Towers bombing contributed to the reduction of American troops in Saudi Arabia. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem humiliated the United States and obtained the release of 766 Lebanese Shiites from prison in Israel. The attacks of September 11th united radical Islam around Osama bin Laden, who is now, in effect, a minister in the government of Iran. The loss of 3,030 soldiers has caused many Americans to call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

7. Each attack is funded by Iranian petrodollars.
The IRGC is enormously expensive to maintain; it is no less than a complete duplicate of the regular Iranian Army. The Mahdi Army receives at least $70 million in funding per year from Iran; Hezbollah receives in excess of $100 million per year. In 2004, Khamenei gave $10 million to insurgents in Afghanistan, probably the Taliban.

War by Proxy
We can now see how Iran is succeeding in its drive to dominate world politics. Like their Pan-Arabist predecessors, the clerics in Tehran are calling for Muslims worldwide to unite behind them, and are using their oil wealth to destabilize their rivals. But unlike their predecessors, the clerics have an enormous advantage: Iran possesses no fewer than eight proxy armies:

1. In Iraq, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
2. In Iraq, the Mahdi Army.
3. In Iraq, al-Qaeda in Iraq.
4. In Afghanistan, the Taliban.
5. In Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah.
6. In Lebanon, Islamic Jihad.
7. In Lebanon and in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas.
8. Worldwide, al-Qaeda.

During the early Cold War, the Soviet Union supported armed insurgencies in China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Yemen, Congo, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, and Cuba. When Iran added al-Qaeda to its roster of proxy armies, it automatically acquired an organized, armed presence in 60 countries. Not since the days of Joseph Stalin has one nation been in control of so many militias in so many countries. Iran has become an Islamic Comintern.

Joseph Stalin knew, however, that he could not sustain communist insurgencies worldwide unless he could counter the United States militarily. But America had the atom bomb. Stalin made it his highest priority to get it, too, and in 1949, he succeeded. This lesson was not lost on the Iranians.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Justifications for Invading Iraq

It is now well-established that President Bush's justifications for invading Iraq were thin and unsupported by real evidence at the time. CIA Director George Tenet, and Vice-President Dick Cheney, were responsible for failing to unearth sufficient evidence to justify the invasion; and Secretary of State Colin Powell was complicit with them in presenting to the U.N. evidence that in reality proved nothing. In addition, it is now clear that Vice-President Cheney rammed his opinion — that Saddam was a credible threat to America — down the throats of the CIA and all other opponents within the Administration. The Vice-President went so far as to dispatch his own staff members to CIA headquarters in Langley to bully analysts there into coughing up the evidence he needed.

Based upon this evidence, the Administration claimed that:

• Iraq had aided al-Qaeda in attacking America.

• Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was the link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

• Iraq had weapons of mass destruction sufficient to be a threat to America.

We now know that all of these claims were false. Nevertheless, they were not outright lies: the Administration applied the wrong template to the evidence, and thus came up with the wrong conclusions. What was missing from this template was the fact that Iran had participated in the attacks of September 11, 2001. Had the evidence been examined in this light, the Administration might have acted differently.

Claim # 1: Iraq Aided al-Qaeda
Sometime during 1998, al-Qaeda began recruiting disaffected Muslim students in Germany to become suicide pilots. Hamburg was the perfect place for such recruiting:

Hamburg has a high concentration of Arab students, both graduate and undergraduate. Among them are many young men who have been separated from direct contact with their families for four to six years, sometimes more. Even among the best-adjusted of these boys, their first exposure to the liberal West, especially in free-wheeling Hamburg, can be an overwhelming shock. Deeply religious and conservative youngsters may develop a smoldering hatred for this environment, even while they benefit from its educational institutions. Such young men tend to congregate in local mosques. Here, in the company of fellow Muslims, they find relief and fellowship. Mohammad Atta was such a man. (Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta. [316])

He was discovered in the Al Quds Mosque by a Syrian member of the Muslim Brotherhood named Mohammad Haydar Zammar. Under his tutelage, by 2000, Atta had agreed to become one of the 9/11 pilots. (Zammar also assisted in the recruitment of Ziad Jarrah as a pilot, and Ramzi Binalshibh as the coordinator of the attacks.) From 1998 through 2000, Zammar traveled to Iran to consult on the project with al-Qaeda. (Binalshibh also traveled frequently to Iran.)

Atta first entered America by flying from Prague in the Czech Republic in April, 2000. Then on April 8, 2001, he flew back to Prague. According to an unsubstantiated report, Atta met with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir Al-Ani. Al-Ani was a member of the Iraqi foreign intelligence service, and was acting as vice-counsel to the Iraqi ambassador to the Czech Republic. (Two weeks later, Al-Ani was deported by the Czech authorities.)

Here the trail goes cold: thus far, no one has been able to say with certainty that this meeting was directly related to the attacks of 9/11. Therefore, the Administration’s guess that Iraq was involved in the attacks is not substantiated by the evidence.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss the Prague connection simply because it cannot be causally tied to 9/11: the story suggests that al-Qaeda had ready access to high-ranking government officials inside Saddam Hussein’s government. This is important, not because it implicates Saddam, but because it shows that even when Iraq was in the grip of an absolute dictator, al-Qaeda was able to operate within and through Iraq.

Unbeknownst to the Administration in Washington, there was a second and more sinister link between Iraq and al-Qaeda: In 1991, bin-Laden, a Saudi national, having been expelled by the Saudis some years earlier, took up residence in Sudan. Besides being a terrorist, bin Laden was a wealthy businessman: the eldest son of the Yemeni founder of Arabia’s biggest construction firm. As a contractor to the Sudanese government, bin Laden established numerous large industries; among them, the Al-Hijrah construction company and the Al-Shifa chemical works.

What is little known is that, sometime during the 1990s, bin Laden began to staff his companies with Iraqis. At least nine of these executives were al-Qaeda members. During this period, Al-Shifa began developing VX, a deadly nerve gas. Iraq supplied the chemical formulas used to manufacture it, probably through an Iraqi company, Samarra Drug Industries.

The Al-Shifa chemical works was destroyed by the United States on August 20, 1998; and the Administration’s claim that Iraq possessed significant quantities of chemical weapons has so far not been vindicated. But it would be a mistake to dismiss the Sudan connection simply because large quantities of VX were not found in Iraq. Like the Prague connection, what it shows is that al-Qaeda had ready access to powerful corporate officers inside Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Because al-Qaeda is now a branch of the Iranian government, quite likely, it is Iran, not Iraq, that has large stockpiles of VX gas.

More importantly, the Al-Shifa connection shows, once again, that even when Iraq was in Saddam’s iron grip, al-Qaeda was able to operate through Iraqi nationals and Iraqi corporations. The newly-elected government of Iraq is struggling to its feet. It has almost no army and few policemen. If al-Qaeda — an organization of a few hundred men — was able to accomplish so much when Iraq was strong, imagine what Iran — with a military of 768,000 troops — can do now that Iraq is weak.

Claim # 2: Zarqawi was the Link Between al-Qaeda and Saddam
In 1999, a Jordanian called Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a second-tier officer of al-Qaeda. (Zarqawi’s real name was Ahmed Fadil Nazzal al-Khalayleh. He was killed by Coalition forces on June 7, 2006.) Bin-Laden’s confidence in Zarqawi was based on Zarqawi’s management of al-Qaeda’s interests in Herat in western Afghanistan. Herat is near Mashhad, which is just inside the eastern border of Iran. By 1999, the Afghan Taliban government and Iran had agreed to open the Herat-Mashhad corridor to each other. This allowed al-Qaeda members to slip easily in and out of Afghanistan via Iran.

As September 11 approached, bin Laden knew he would need a fallback area into which al-Qaeda could retreat when the United States began its inevitable retaliation against him. He chose Iraqi Kurdistan, and dispatched Zarqawi to develop a corridor from Mashhad into northern Iraq.

Beginning in November, 2001, hundreds of al-Qaeda members left Afghanistan via the Herat-Mashhad corridor. The majority, including bin Laden, are still guests of the Iranians. Zarqawi stayed in Afghanistan. It took him almost a year to travel through Iran, Jordan, Syria, and finally back to Iraqi Kurdistan. One year later, when the United States invaded Iraq, Zarqawi’s branch of al-Qaeda was well-positioned to infiltrate central Iraq from its base in the north. By this time, he had 600 Arab fighters, mostly veterans of al-Qaeda who had used the Herat-Mashhad-Kurdistan pipeline he created.

However, there is no evidence that Zarqawi coordinated his efforts with Saddam Hussein. On the contrary, since the First Gulf War of 1990, all of Iraqi Kurdistan has been protected by Coalition troops from interference by Saddam. The Administration in Washington guessed wrongly about Zarqawi; but they weren’t altogether wrong in guessing that al-Qaeda was operating inside the borders of Iraq.

Claim # 3: Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction
“Weapons of mass destruction” is a catchphrase that means “chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.” President Bush and his Cabinet asserted that in 2003, Saddam Hussein had significant numbers of such armaments. Since the Administration also believed that Saddam had links to al-Qaeda, Washington concluded that Saddam could easily use these weapons against us by giving them to terrorists. As it turns out, the Administration was wrong on the details but right on the big picture.

• Saddam did, in fact, have weapons of mass destruction; but not many. What little he had are probably no longer in Iraq.

• Weapons of mass destruction are, indeed, in the hands of a dangerous regime that is likely to give them to terrorists; but the regime in question is Iran, not Iraq.

In 1991, David Kay discovered that Saddam had no less than three separate programs to develop nuclear weapons. The most advanced of these had been severely set back in 1981 by the Israelis when they bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor. U.N. economic sanctions imposed after the First Gulf War decimated Iraq’s economy, and with it, the other development programs. So, when the Second Gulf War began, if Saddam had nuclear bombs, they were few in number.

The number of such weapons matters. It does a country little good, for example, to possess only one atom bomb: once it has been used, the country is powerless to forestall a nuclear counterattack. Hence, even if Saddam had nuclear bombs in 2003, his ability to mount a serious attack was limited. Iran, on the other hand, was, in 2003, well on its way to possessing a stockpile of 25 nuclear warheads, and ballistic missiles to deliver them.

Since 2003, Coalition forces have been scouring Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. So far they have found none; but this is hardly surprising:

• First of all, just because we can’t find them doesn’t mean they’re not there. In any case…

• It took the United States six months of preparation before we could land troops in Iraq. Almost certainly, Saddam knew we were coming. He could have hidden his weapons inside Iraq or elsewhere.

• Even after the initial invasion, there was a period of chaos and looting in which the Baathists could have spirited away weapons without intervention by Coalition troops.

• During the First Gulf War, Saddam sent 24 of his French-built Mirage F1 fighter-bombers to his erstwhile enemy, Iran, for safekeeping. According to a credible expatriate Iranian source, when the Second Gulf War began, Saddam sent 40 percent of his weapons of mass destruction to Iran, and the rest to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria.

Here again, President Bush and his Cabinet — as in their allegation that Iraq had cooperated with al-Qaeda — were looking at good evidence with the wrong set of glasses. Had they seen the evidence in the proper context — that our real enemy was Iran, that Iran was cooperating with Saddam, that Syria was doing Iran’s bidding, and that Hezbollah was entirely under Iran’s control — they might have acted differently.

The Double-Swap in Iraq

During the Vietnam War, it was difficult for American forces in South Vietnam to know when they were fighting local insurgents (the Viet Cong) and when they were fighting invaders from another nation (the North Vietnamese Army.) The two were not equal; to defeat one required a different set of resources and tactics than the other. But usually, American soldiers did not know the difference, mostly because both enemies were careful to remain invisible as much as possible.

On October 17, 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Terry Allen ordered two Companies of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry into an area west of the village of Chon Thanh. This was a region known to be held by the Viet Cong; but a few nights earlier, the Viet Cong had cleared out. Almost simultaneously, without the knowledge of the Viet Cong, a division of the North Vietnamese Army had dug into the area on their way south to another engagement. As the two American Companies walked confidently toward the North Vietnamese trenches, they were cut down by overwhelming fire; almost every American soldier was killed. The next day, the North Vietnamese melted away, anxious to make it to their original destination on time. The United States Army did not find out what really happened until years later.

The battle of Chon Thanh shows that, when the enemy remains invisible, it is possible for one opponent to be completely replaced by another. At Chon Thanh, the swap happened by accident. However, this kind of substitution can be done deliberately and repeatedly.

When we invaded Iraq, unbeknownst to us, we were subjected to an invisible double swap: we wound up fighting not one, but three different opponents — and three different wars — in quick succession. In this case, the swapping was partly intentional and partly accidental:

1. Our first opponents were the regular armies of Saddam Hussein, including his elite Republican Guard. We won this first war quickly and decisively, and the Iraqi people were jubilant and grateful.

2. Our second opponents were a mixture of Baath Party members and other officials from Saddam's regime, and opportunists from other nations, mainly intelligence officers from Iran. They mingled with the crowds of looters, removing or destroying caches of arms, equipment, and documents. (Some of them simply walked out of Saddam's offices carrying the computers.) We lost this second war, mainly because we didn't even realize it was happening.

3. Our third opponent is Iran. By 2004, the Iranian government had no fewer than three proxy armies operating inside Iraq. Through these substitutes, Iran has now killed at least 2,000 of the 2,434 U.S. soldiers who have died in hostile action in Iraq. (Another 596 have died in accidents and other incidents. These are the latest figures as of January 19, 2007.) We are losing this third war.

It is doubtful that our soldiers even realize that this double-swap has occurred. Iraq is not in the grips of a civil war: Iran is masterminding 90% the killing, including attacks upon Shiite Muslims. The remaining 10% is being done by hoodlums and misguided tribal patriots.

In the postings that follow, we will see how Iran's aggression against our soldiers in Iraq conforms to the Iranian Attack Model, which was described in postings 3 and 4. By analyzing Iran's use of proxy armies in Iraq, we will see more clearly how Iran is using warfare by proxy to dominate world politics.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Iranian Attacks Thwarted Since 9/11

As of 2003, Al-Qaeda had become a branch of the Iranian government. It immediately began to function as an Iranian proxy army, much like Hezbollah. With contacts in 60 countries, al-Qaeda was now poised to strike at Iran's bidding at American targets from many directions. The attempts were not long in coming.

However, 9/11 had dramatically changed the international environment in which Iran and al-Qaeda operated. Police and intelligence agencies worldwide were now actively hunting for terrorists, and conscientious Muslims in Western countries and in the Middle East were now vigilant and cooperating with the authorities.

The Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant
On August 14, 2003, 19 Pakistanis were arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The terrorists were planning to fly a hijacked commercial jet into the Seabrook nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire. The plan was to break open the reactor's containment dome in order to cause an explosion and release of radioactive debris similar to that of Ukraine's Chernobyl disaster of April 26, 1986. It is likely that the Pakistanis were al-Qaeda operatives, and therefore under the command of the Iranian government.

The Twelfth Imam Operation
On August 25, 2003, a credible expatriate Iranian living in Paris warned Congress that Iran was planning to use al-Qaeda to perpetrate a massive, apocalyptic attack upon the continental United States. Called “The Twelfth Imam Operation,” it was originally scheduled for November 25, 2003. The re-election of George W. Bush briefly halted the planning; however it had now been revived. Manhattan was the likely target. Manhattan had been shown to be vulnerable on two occasions: the 1993 attack on the underground parking garage of Tower One of the World Trade Center, and the attack of September 11, 2001, which destroyed both Towers. Furthermore, Manhattan was emblematic to Iran: to them, it is the seat of a presumed world-wide Jewish conspiracy against Muslims.

The Twelfth Imam Operation did not materialize; at least not in 2003. Nor did any large terrorist plot against America emerge in the next two years. However, as we will see in a moment, it is possible that the Twelfth Imam Operation was actually launched in Great Britain in 2006.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center
In June, 2004, two Iranian diplomats were caught making clandestine video tapes of Manhattan’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center. Two months earlier, Dr. Hassan Abassi, a theoretician for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) announced that Iran had spies at 29 sites within the United States. These sites were carefully chosen so that as many Americans as possible would be killed when the targets were struck by Iranian missiles.

The London Hijacking Plot
During the week of August 6, 2006, Pakistani authorities arrested two British citizens and five Pakistanis. They were suspected of being involved in a plot to hijack planes in Britain. The Pakistanis alerted the British government. On Thursday, August 10, British authorities followed up by arresting 24 suspects. The conspirators were plotting to blow up as many as ten passenger jets bound for the United States from Britain. They planned to assemble explosives on board from separate gels and liquids concealed in their carry-on luggage. On Friday, August 11, Italian authorities followed up by arresting 40 more people in connection with the plot.

At least one of the British conspirators was recruited by a member of the Tabligh. There were strong indications that the plot had been hatched by al-Qaeda: two suspects were connected to Pakistani al-Qaeda operatives. If the plot was al-Qaeda's doing, then it was also Iran's. This opens the possibility that the London conspiracy was actually the long-anticipated Twelfth Imam Operation.

By now, it should be clear that Iran will not rest until it has successfully killed a large number of Americans. In order to maximize the impact of the next attack, Iran intends to exceed the death toll of 9/11. In this posting we have seen how Iran attempted to kill thousands of American civilians during the past four years. However, from the beginning, the Iranians have shown a marked preference for attacking American soldiers. We now return to this theme by analyzing the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After the Attacks

On September 12, 2001, at a meeting of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, General Mohammad Ahayi said the following words (or the equivalent) to his fellow commanders: “Did you see how we,” banging his fist to his chest, “brought them down! How we brought America to its knees?” A Colonel in the Qods force who attended and later defected to the West testifies that when Ahayi said “we” he meant Iran.

In November, 2001, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Iranian Head of State, transferred one million Swiss francs into the Swiss bank account of a high-ranking al-Qaeda officer.

Although 9/11 struck a devastating blow to America, the clerics in Tehran were not quite satisfied. After all, they had failed to kill many American soldiers at the Pentagon. But in 2003, American soldiers in large numbers came within reach of the clerics by invading Iraq. It was an opportunity not to be missed.

Cooperation Between Iran and al-Qaeda

Iran and al-Qaeda were unlikely partners. Iran is predominantly Persian; al-Qaeda is Arab. Iranians speak a language called Farsi; members of al-Qaeda speak Arabic. Most Iranians are Shiite Muslims; al-Qaeda members are Sunni. Initially, these cultural and religious differences caused friction between Iran and al-Qaeda. However, they soon put aside their differences for the most ancient of reasons: their possession of a common enemy. That enemy is us.

Early Contacts in Sudan
In the early 1990s, Iran and al-Qaeda began to reach out to each other. In 1992, for instance, an IRGC general, Mohammad Baqr Zolqadr, was running a Revolutionary Guards training camp in Sudan. He began communicating with al-Qaeda through Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's second in command. It is conceivable that Zolqadr wanted to copy the organization and curriculum of al-Qaeda’s terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Bin Laden had been in Sudan since 1991, where his construction company was working on projects for the Sudanese government. It is possible that Zolqadr was put in touch with Zawahiri by the government of Sudan.

Perhaps as a result of these initial meetings, throughout the 1990s, Zawahiri, traveled frequently to Iran as a guest of Ali Fallahian and Ahmad Vahidi. Fallahian is the Iranian Minister of Information and Security (MOIS.) Vahidi is the commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force. Section 43 of MOIS and the Qods Force are dedicated to conducting foreign terrorist attacks.

Sometime during the early 1990s, a group of Iranian clerics began meeting regularly in Sudan with another al-Qaeda founder, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim. In 1994, Imad Fayez Mugniyeh also came to Sudan to meet with Salim. The purpose of these meetings was to cement the relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda. Presumably, this was to facilitate joint operations sometime in the near future.

The Islamic Underground Railway
In order to attack us, terrorists from the Muslim world — whether foot soldiers or coordinators — must do a lot of traveling. They must consult with each other, often in several countries. Eventually, some of them must fly to the United States. But men flying from Muslim nations directly into America are carefully scrutinized by Western immigration and customs officials. In order to evade detection, Muslim extremists tend to travel into central Europe, where air transport to America is easily obtained and less carefully watched.

In order to facilitate this travel, people who sympathize with the terrorists have built a network of clandestine paths made up of airline routes, roadways, and safe houses. Some of these paths go from one Muslim country to another. Others link Muslim countries to central Europe. Some of the way stations along these paths lie inside Muslim-dominated regions of Western nations.

Iran is a relatively large country located at the geographic center of the Muslim world. It happens to have a totalitarian government that is hostile to the West. It should hardly be surprising, then, that many of these clandestine trails pass through Iran and are managed by the Iranian government. The foot soldiers and coordinators of 9/11 made frequent use of them.

The Iran-Hamburg Trail
During the five years leading to 9/11, Iran managed the first leg of an al-Qaeda trail that proceeded through Afghanistan, Chechnya, Macedonia, Bosnia, and finally, Hamburg, Germany. Many of the 9/11 conspirators used it. For example:

• From 1998 through 2000, Mohammad Haydar Zammar — the Tabligh who recruited 9/11 pilots Mohammad Atta and Ziad Jarrah, and attack coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh — used the Iran-Hamburg trail to travel to Iran in order to coordinate his activities with al-Qaeda.

• During the same period, Ramzi Binalshibh used the trail to get into Afghanistan in order to confer with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

• Each of the pilots had to meet with bin Laden in Afghanistan in order to receive his approval. It is likely that the Hamburg pilots used the Iran-Hamburg trail for this purpose. However, on other occasions they used a trail managed by Mohammad Haydar Zammar that went from Hamburg, through Turkey and Pakistan, to Afghanistan.

The Herat-Kurdistan Trail
On Bin Laden’s orders, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Ahmed Fadil Nazzal al-Khalayleh) developed a second trail. This one led from Herat, Afghanistan, to Mashhad, Iran, to Tehran, and finally into northeastern Iraq: the region known as Iraqi Kurdistan. After 9/11, this trail was used to evacuate al-Qaeda and hundreds of al-Qaeda foot soldiers and their families from Afghanistan.

The Egypt-Afghanistan Trail
A third trail was created by the Iranians to ferry large numbers of Egyptian Islamic Jihad commanders through the Iranian city of Mashhad into bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan. Originally, the purpose of this conduit was simply to supply jihadists for the Afghan insurgency against the Russians. It may also have been used during the run-up to 9/11: a few days before September 11, the Iranians suddenly shut down this path, presumably to cover up their support of the attacks.

The Saudi Arabia-Iran Trail
A fourth trail went from Saudi Arabia, through Beirut, and into Iran. Fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals. Imad Fayez Mugniyeh used this fourth trail to transport many of them to Iran for training.

It should now be clear that Iran had been supplying operational support to al-Qaeda well before 9/11. Face-to-face meetings occurred regularly between high-ranking officials of the Iranian government and al-Qaeda. Iran was already deeply involved in supporting Muslim insurgents throughout the region. It already possessed a well-oiled bureaucratic apparatus for supporting foreign terrorism: no fewer than three government ministries were dedicated to this task. Iran managed a number of clandestine paths through its territory so that jihadists could move easily from their home nations into bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan. When Ayman al-Zawahiri came calling in January 2001 to request support for 9/11, the infrastructure he needed was already in place.

Al-Qaeda is now a Branch of the Iranian Government

At some point before the attacks, bin-Laden had realized that al-Qaeda was going to need a new home. He knew that after the targets in America had been destroyed, the Americans would come gunning for him. They knew where he was: in the mountains of east Afghanistan near the Pakistani city of Peshawar. He needed a new base of operations. Bin Laden chose Iraqi Kurdistan, and dispatched one of his second-tier commanders, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to secure al-Qaeda’s new home. Zarqawi established the necessary infrastructure in Iraq, and obtained permission from the Iranians for al-Qaeda to pass through their country clandestinely. The plan was to cross from Herat, Afghanistan, to Mashhad, Iran; then through Tehran into northeastern Iraq. Since Saddam Hussein was no longer in control of Iraqi Kurdistan, his knowledge and approval were not needed.

Iran Expropriates al-Qaeda
Sometime during November 2001, 19 Arab men, 11 of them high-ranking al-Qaeda members, and their families crossed the border from Herat into Mashhad. One of them was Saad bin Laden. Officers of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) escorted them to Tehran. Soon afterward, 900 more al-Qaeda fighters and their families made the border crossing. By previous agreement, their passports were not stamped by Iranian border guards. However, they did receive letters of transit signed by an Iranian official, just in case they ever needed to prove they were in Iran legally. The refugees expected to rest in Tehran, and then push on into Iraqi Kurdistan. The Iranians, however, had other plans:

They had realized that, by keeping bin Laden’s top commanders inside Iran, they could expropriate al-Qaeda’s worldwide terror network in one gulp. The beauty of this tactic was that no one, including al-Qaeda cells in 60 countries, would realize that Iran was now running the show.

The Al-Qaeda commanders were not exactly coerced; on the other hand, they were not exactly given a choice. By the end of the year, all 150 of them had been sequestered in Tehran. They were well-treated. They were given land, homes, salaries, and benefits. Schools were provided for their children. Communications and logistics were provided so that they could continue planning attacks. They could even leave Iran to manage preparations in the targeted nations. Their families, however, stayed behind. All in all, life in Tehran proved to be more than bearable. The wilds of Iraqi Kurdistan were soon forgotten. By the end of the year, Iran’s expropriation of al-Qaeda was complete.

However, the story had one more sinister twist: by keeping bin Laden’s top commanders in Iran, the Iranian government had effectively taken them hostage. If America were to realize that Iran had materially supported al-Qaeda in the attacks of September 11th, Iran could trade al-Qaeda in exchange for a pledge that we would not invade Iran.

Iran Expropriates Osama bin Laden
Unlike his commanders, bin Laden had a much wider choice of options for leaving Afghanistan. Apparently, however, he chose to follow his own plan and make the crossing from Herat to Mashhad. (He was last seen in Afghanistan on November 9, 2001.) The Iranians gently enticed him into their silk-lined prison. In bin Laden’s case, staying in Iran made good sense; he needed medical attention. Tehran could provide it; Iraqi Kurdistan could not. To sweeten the deal, Tehran allowed bin Laden to continue as al-Qaeda’s figurehead. Bin Laden got to play the role of Caliph of a resurgent, militant, worldwide Islam; Iran got to conduct worldwide terror without incurring any of the blame.

Iran’s expropriation of bin Laden had the same cynical twist that had been applied to the expropriation of his commanders: he too was now a hostage, and a valuable one. However, this may now be academic: apparently bin Laden’s health has gotten worse. He has been spotted trailing an intravenous tube. He no longer videotapes his pronouncements; they are released in audio form only. And Zawahiri has begun to take on bin Laden’s role as spokesman.

Al-Qaeda as a Branch of the Iranian Government
In this roundabout way, Iran used the attacks of 9/11 to commandeer a proxy army with worldwide reach. In order to manage bin Laden, 150 of his top commanders, and their families, and to keep their presence inside Iran a secret, Iran needed many resources. Al-Qaeda’s top echelon was not going to take kindly to their new prison unless it was a comfortable one. They and their families had many needs. Iran began to build an administrative infrastructure to provide them. Someone was needed to manage it, but that person could not be bin Laden. The clerics solved this problem by appointing a minister to oversee al-Qaeda, while allowing bin Laden direct access to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

By 2003, Iran had transformed al-Qaeda into an official — albeit secret — branch of the Iranian government. From this point forward, whenever al-Qaeda killed, regardless of where the killing took place, Iran was responsible.

Within the international community of nations, if any doubts remained that Iran was firmly in control of al-Qaeda, they were dispelled forever on April 26, 2006. On that day, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei threatened to attack U.S. targets around the world if America attacked Iran. Only by using a clandestine network of Islamic terrorists can Khamenei make good his threat. That network is al-Qaeda.

Iran's Role in 9/11

During the early part of 2001, Iran began providing assistance to al-Qaeda in preparation for the attacks. In the process, Iran tried to expropriate the project from al-Qaeda via an extraordinary friendly takeover. The Iranians believed that they gradually took on more and more operational support, while exercising more and more influence over al-Qaeda. But in reality, bin Laden never relinquished control over his pet project, which he called "the planes operation."

As we will see in a later posting, Iran gave al-Qaeda operational support throughout the 1990s. Probably the most important service Iran provided was assistance with travel. However, during the run-up to 9/11, the Iranian government took five specific actions that far exceeded their routine activities and that specifically supported the planes operation:

1. The meeting at Varamin to establish a joint operations center.

2. The meeting at Jamaran to order the attack.

3. The Presidential Directive from Khamenei giving specific instructions to MOIS.

4. The construction of the target wall in Sultanatabad.

5. The coordination of travel arrangements for the muscle hijackers.

The Meeting at Varamin
Ayman al-Zawahiri made his request for operational support during a four-day meeting in January, 2001. The Iranian government hosted the meeting in the town of Varamin, a suburb of Tehran. Zawahiri brought with him from Afghanistan 29 other al-Qaeda leaders. The Iranian government was represented by several men. Four are important to our story:

• Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri was a former Speaker of Parliament, and was now the head of Iran’s Office of the Supreme Leader. Nateq-Nouri’s position was equivalent in the United States to that of the White House Chief of Staff. Thus, Nateq-Nouri was acting as the personal representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the true leader of Iran.

• Mustafa Hadadian reported to Nateq-Nouri. He was head of Section 110, a group that ran intelligence operations for the Office of the Supreme Leader. This included planning for overseas terrorist attacks, and providing physical security for visiting terrorist dignitaries like Zawahiri. Hadadian had been involved in the planning and execution of the Khobar Towers bombing.

• Ali Akbar Parvaresh was an officer in the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS.) MOIS is equivalent to America’s CIA. Parvaresh had assisted in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires. He was now a member of Section 43, a branch of MOIS dedicated to carrying out foreign terrorism.

• Imad Fayez Mugniyeh (Imad Fayez Mugniyah) was an officer of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC.) The IRGC has no known equivalent in the United States. It is a uniformed militia dedicated to espionage and foreign intrigue, separate from the regular Army. Mugniyeh was a member of the Qods Force, a branch of the IRGC that carries out foreign terrorist attacks. He was born in Lebanon, but became a naturalized citizen of Iran. By 2001, he had become the world’s most wanted terrorist, having performed bombings, abductions, torture, and assassinations in several countries. He had been a field commander in the Beirut Marine barracks bombing, in the Khobar Towers attack, and in the assassination of Robert Dean Stethem.

What is remarkable about this roster of four men is that it represents three separate branches of the Iranian government that are each dedicated to performing acts of foreign terrorism: Section 110 of the Office of the Supreme Leader, Section 43 of MOIS, and the Qods force of the IRGC.

Zawahiri announced that al-Qaeda was planning major operations against both Israel and the United States. He asked the Iranians for special equipment, for assistance in laundering money in Dubayy, and for help with travel documents so that al-Qaeda operatives could move from Iran to Europe without being noticed by customs and immigration officials.

The four-day meeting went well. Twelve of Zawahiri’s men stayed in Iran, and set up an operations headquarters in the city of Karaj. Zawahiri and the others returned to Afghanistan.

The Meeting at Jamaran
On May 4, 2001, the Iranians hosted another meeting with al-Qaeda. This time it was a meeting between top officials. Bin Laden sent his eldest son, Saad, along with at least two body guards. The meeting was held in Jamaran, a rich suburb of Tehran. At the time, the Iranian government was run by a committee of five senior leaders. Saad bin Laden met with all of them:

• Ali Khamenei was the Supreme Leader, Iran’s Head of State. The Supreme Leader is equivalent to the President of the United States. However, the Supreme Leader is elected by the Assembly of Experts, and serves for life.

• Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was a former President of Iran, and is probably Iran’s wealthiest citizen. At the time of the meeting, Rafsanjani was Head of the Expediency Discernment Council. Its purpose is to advise the Supreme Leader, and resolve conflicts between Parliament and the Council of Guardians.

• Mohammad Yazdi was Head of the Council of Guardians. The Council consists of Islamic clerics and lawyers. It interprets the constitution and determines if laws passed by Parliament are constitutional. Yazdi’s position was equivalent in part to that of the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

• Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi was Chief of the Judiciary. He too played a role similar to the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. However, he had different duties than Mohammad Yazdi. Shahroudi was born in Iraq, but became a naturalized citizen of Iran.

• Ayatollah Ali Meshkini was the Chairman of the Assembly of Experts. The Assembly consists of 86 experts in Islamic law. Their purpose is to elect the Supreme Leader. There is no analog for the Assembly of Experts in the government of the United States.

For three hours, Saad bin Laden described the current plan for the forthcoming attacks. The five leaders then ordered Section 43 of the MOIS to cooperate with al-Qaeda and implement the plan. Bin Laden remained in Iran for three weeks meeting with operational leaders of Section 43.

The Presidential Directive from Khamenei
On May 14, 2001, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dictated a Presidential Directive to Nateq-Nouri that was then conveyed to Section 43. In it Khamenei said that:

• Iran must “…strike at [America’s] economic structure, their reputation…and their internal peace and security.”

• Iran should “…not leave any evidence behind that can impact negatively on us in the future.”

• MOIS should improve al-Qaeda’s plan, especially the coordination between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah operatives.

• The interface between Iran and al-Qaeda should be limited to two people: Mugniyeh for Iran and Zawahiri for al-Qaeda.

Hamid Reza Zakeri, one of the former Iranian intelligence officers who warned the CIA of the plot, has in his possession an original of Khamenei’s letter. It is printed on high-rag-content paper with a repeating watermark. The watermark contains the seal of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Farsi name of the Intelligence Section of the Supreme Leader’s Office. (Farsi, not Arabic, is the predominant language spoken in Iran.)

The Target Wall in Sultanatabad
Iranian military and internal security forces are headquartered in the northern suburbs of Tehran. One of these regions, Sultanatabad, houses a prison that also serves as the headquarters of the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS.) In the entry hall of this building is a display area where MOIS and the IRGC post photographs of Iranian dissidents who have been targeted for assassination.

During the summer of 2001, a huge display was erected along the target wall. It included three-dimensional models of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the White House; and photographs of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and the Presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland. Suspended from the ceiling was a 9-foot-long model missile, with a black warhead, aimed directly at the model of the Pentagon. The words, “Death to America!” were printed in Arabic along its side.

It was now apparent that Iran had greatly expanded the scope of bin Laden’s original plan. It wasn’t enough to topple the World Trade Center. Nor was it enough to destroy the Pentagon. War is a conversation. The combatants speak to each other through their actions. The attack was to be a fiery diatribe against the West. Here is the lengthy, detailed message Iran wanted to send to Americans:

• By destroying the World Trade Center, Iran would be saying: “These towers symbolize your economic colonialism, the prevalence of rich Jewish merchants in your economy, their financial support of Israel, and their worldwide Jewish conspiracy against Muslims. We reject your support for the Zionists.”

• By destroying the Pentagon, Iran would be saying: “This building symbolizes your military imperialism, your support for the state of Israel, and the arrogance of your military. We have once more revealed to the world that you are weak, cowardly, and stupid.”

• By destroying the White House, Iran would be saying: “This building represents the arrogance and imperial aspirations of George W. Bush, and of the entire Bush dynasty. By killing the President, we reject their continual interference in our affairs, and their support for the State of Israel.”

• By destroying Camp David, Iran would be saying: “We reject the Camp David Accords of 1978, which resulted in a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and those of 2000, which resulted in a road map to peace between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.”

• By destroying CIA headquarters, Iran would be saying: “We hereby repay the CIA for the 1953 coup against Mohammad Mosaddeq.” (We will discuss Mosaddeq and the coup that overthrew him in a later posting.)

This kind of hysterical tongue-lashing is not typical of Sunni Islam, al-Qaeda, or bin Laden. But as we will see, it is consistent with the Iranian national character. On May 9, 2006, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote an open letter to President Bush. It is full of the same rambling rhetoric.

The 15 Saudi Musclemen
Beginning in the second half of 2000, bin Laden began recruiting the muscle hijackers. These were unmarried, unemployed men with no more than a high school education who were between 20 and 28 years of age. All but one of them were Saudis. Two were already in the United States, having failed to make the grade as pilots. (Actually, one of them, Khalid al Mihdhar, left the United States in June 2000 without permission from al-Qaeda, but returned in July 2001.) Their job was to overpower and if necessary kill any passengers or crew members that resisted the hijackings. They also brought a lot of money (perhaps as much as $50,000.00 each) to the conspirators who were already in America. In all, al-Qaeda attempted to obtain as many as 25 musclemen, but they managed to send only 15.

Like the pilots before them, the musclemen needed extensive logistical support, particularly with travel. Iran facilitated their journey. The Iranians helped the muscle hijackers to travel from Saudi Arabia to and from Afghanistan via Iran for training. When the trainees were ready, the Iranians flew them through various routes from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Afghanistan through Pakistan and Iran to Dubayy in the United Arab Emirates. There they boarded planes bound for the United States. Much of this travel was facilitated by Imad Fayez Mugniyeh.

It is notable that Zawahiri requested help in attacking not only the United States, but also Israel; and that Khamenei’s letter mandates cooperation with Hezbollah. Hezbollah was created and has been financed exclusively by Iran. It is Iran’s proxy army in Lebanon. Iran frequently uses Hezbollah to bomb targets in Israel. These facts strongly suggest that al-Qaeda and Iran intended to attack Israel and the United States on the same day. Why no attacks materialized in Israel is an open question.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Iran's Involvement in 9/11

The story of Iran's involvement in 9/11 begins in January 2001. That is when Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s second in command, came to Tehran with a request for operational support for the attacks. Until that moment, 9/11 was nothing but a plan and a team of raw recruits loosely organized into independent cells within America. The plan was going, but it was not going well: It was changing almost daily. There weren’t enough pilots. The pilots weren’t completely trained. Some of the conspirators hardly spoke English. Some of them had difficult personalities. They quarreled. One almost quit. They were naive and careless. The INS and FBI were already on their trail.

What the conspirators needed was the steady hand of a cadre of experienced security, espionage, and foreign terrorism agents. Such mentors and managers can only be found within the government bureaucracy of a major state: one with unlimited funds, and consulates and contacts in many countries. That is why Zawahiri turned to Iran.

The government of Iran generally deliberates carefully before making a major decision. But the Iranians must have jumped for joy when they heard what al-Qaeda had been planning. Here was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Iran to deal a massive blow to its sworn enemies, Israel and the United States. (As late as January 2001, al-Qaeda was planning to strike in both countries on the same day.) Even better, so long as Iran covered its own tracks, al-Qaeda and bin Laden would take the blame. Iran would get off scot free. It could then play this game again and again. In the process, bin Laden would become a folk hero among oppressed Muslims worldwide, thereby uniting all of militant Islam. This would bring Iran closer to the day when it could emerge from the shadows and seize the leadership of the Muslim world.

Iran Tries to Expropriate the Plan, al-Qaeda, and bin Laden
This windfall was too important to entrust to bin Laden. So the Iranians began deliberately to expropriate from al-Qaeda…

1. The planning and execution of the attacks;
2. Al-Qaeda, itself;
3. And Osama bin Laden.

By the end of the year, they believed that they had succeeded in stealing all three. Here is where the story gets strange:

The Iranians did, in fact, obtain items 2 and 3. They thought they had obtained Item 1 as well; but bin Laden was cagier than the Iranians. In exchange for operational support from the Iranian government, bin Laden let them think that they were in charge. The Iranians immediately began to make demands. In particular, they wanted to greatly expand the list of targets, and were willing to foot the bill in order to do so. But bin Laden had worked too long and too hard for his triumph against the West. He was not about to jeopardize the attack by overreaching. Bin Laden appeared to acquiesce; but later he informed the Iranians that he simply could not get enough hijackers into America to carry out the expanded plan. (This wasn't entirely disingenuous; in fact, al-Qaeda did try to get more conspirators into the United States, but the additional hijackers were unable to get visas. One succeeded in entering America, only to be turned back by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS.)) In the meantime, bin Laden made good use of the diplomatic reach and money laundering expertise of the Iranian government.

While Iran only thought that it had expropriated the plan, it did in fact manage to expropriate al-Qaeda and bin Laden, himself. By November of 2001, the American-led Coalition had toppled the Taliban and was now bombing al-Qaeda strongholds, training camps, and safe houses. Bin Laden and his top-level commanders, a large number of al-Qaeda fighters, and their families fled through Iran to Iraqi Kurdistan. Waiting for them in Iraq was a fall-back stronghold that had previously been secured for bin Laden by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But the refugees never made it to Iraq. They crossed the border from Afghanistan into Iran, and, under the protection of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC,) traveled as far west as Tehran. There, as we will see, the Iranian government enticed them to stay. They have been living there ever since.

Why the Warnings were Ineffective
We can now understand why Hamid Reza Zakeri and Abdolghassen Mesbahi were so convinced that Iran was going to attack the United States. Their informants inside the Iranian government saw plentiful evidence. As we will see, Iran established operational centers in Karaj and Tehran that included models and photographs of the targets. Hundreds of government employees — including Zakeri, himself — had seen the models. For many months after the attacks, senior Iranian officials bragged that it was Iran that had brought America to its knees. Only when the 9/11 Commission Report was published in July 2004 did the Iranians have to confront the reality that they had contributed little to the attack's success.

We can also understand why the CIA had trouble accepting the warnings they received from Zakeri and Mesbahi. Why would a relatively small nation attack the world's only superpower? It seemed suicidal. America would counterattack with overwhelming force. On the other hand, during the summer of 2001, the CIA was receiving daily bulletins suggesting that al-Qaeda was planning something big. But Zakeri and Mesbahi either failed to realize or failed to mention that Iran was attacking America through al-Qaeda.

Neither the hijackers, nor the Hamburg Cell, nor their recruiters, nor the money launderers knew that Iran was involved. Neither did the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. Only the highest officials of the Iranian government knew.

Details Missing from the Conventional Story of 9/11

It is now well-known that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were planned over a five-year period by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We also know that al-Qaeda had help. Most of it came from a rich sovereign state that already possessed a substantial infrastructure dedicated to performing acts of foreign terrorism; a state with which al-Qaeda had had long-standing operational ties. That sponsor state was the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In this posting, we begin to narrow our focus from worldwide Islamic terrorism down to Iran and al-Qaeda. We will narrow this focus even more tightly in subsequent postings. For now, let us begin by examining key facts that were overlooked in the conventional story of the attacks:

Over the years, bin Laden has had five state sponsors.
Bin Laden’s headquarters was initially in Pakistan. There he was supported financially by Saudi Arabia and operationally by the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI.) After failing to establish a base in South Yemen, he moved to Sudan, then Afghanistan, and finally to Iran. In each of these countries — except possibly Saudi Arabia — the Head of State knew that bin Laden was conducting insurgencies or terrorist activities against other governments, and actively protected and supported him.

Bin Laden's sponsorship by a succession of states is not unprecedented: Yasser Arafat (Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini,) leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO,) was expelled from Jordan and Lebanon before settling in Tunisia.

In the West, bin Laden’s group has only recently become known as “al-Qaeda.”
Bin Laden began using the name in 1990. Previously, members of bin Laden’s organization had called the group by different names at different times. So had others. For example, before 1996, Iranian intelligence agents simply referred to them as “Taliban.” The name “al-Qaeda” was not widely used until U.S. intelligence officers began to take an interest in them in 1998.

The name was incorrectly translated from Arabic several times. The current consensus is that “al-Qaeda” means “the base.” However, Federal prosecutors initially thought it meant “the basic rule.” Robin Cook, the former British Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons, wrote in the Guardian that “al-Qaeda” actually means “the database.” In his view, “al-Qaeda” originally referred to a computerized list of jihadists from many lands; thousands were pouring into Peshawar, Pakistan, to join the Muslim insurgency in Afghanistan against the Russians.

Before 9/11, bin Laden’s associates probably did not use the name “al-Qaeda” often; it has value primarily in the West as a convenient moniker for our enemy. However, today al-Qaeda is a branch of the Iranian government, and our real enemy is Iran.

The hijackers were not members of al-Qaeda.
Not one of the 19 hijackers was a member of al-Qaeda. Neither were any of the men who recruited them. The attackers were foot soldiers recruited indirectly by members of al-Qaeda. The pilots all made a brief visit to bin Laden’s camp in Afghanistan to meet him face-to-face. But they were never accorded official membership in his group. (In contrast, Zacarias Moussaoui, the man who was planned to be the fifth pilot, was a low-level al-Qaeda operative.)

Few men are as devoted to their own personal survival as the members of al-Qaeda. They are all Arabs of the dominant Sunni sect of Islam. Suicide is not part of their ethos. Al-Qaeda members are mostly upper and middle-class professionals, not warriors. Some of them have PhDs. The foot soldiers — the men who actually carry out the bombings — are another matter: Some of them are upper or middle-class. These are idealists, fanatics, or disaffected students. But most are out-of-work jihadists or just angry, desperate unemployed men.

There are Muslim organizations dedicated to recruiting young men for charitable, religious, and social work. These agencies search for recruits throughout the Muslim world. One of these agencies is the Tabligh. The Tabligh is often described as an Islamic version of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a missionary sect of Islam, but some of its recruiters are sympathetic to al-Qaeda. Mohammad Haydar Zammar was such a man. He recruited two of the 9/11 pilots, Mohammad Atta (Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta) and Ziad Jarrah, and the coordinator of the hijackers, Ramzi Binalshibh (Ramzi bin al-Shibh.) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — next to bin Laden, the highest-ranking al-Qaeda member to have a direct hand in the plot — regularly patrolled Tabligh training camps, looking for recruits.

Typically, an al-Qaeda member approaches a recruiter, gives him a profile of the type of foot soldier needed, and then waits for the recruiter to find a willing candidate. However, in some cases, al-Qaeda members do their own recruiting. Usually they look for foot soldiers within the country that is being targeted for attack; but sometimes they recruit a foot soldier in another nation, and then fly him to the targeted country.

Al-Qaeda is no longer an independent terrorist group.
From its inception in 1989, when bin Laden gained firm control, until about 1996, when planning for the attacks began, al-Qaeda was an independent organization. By 2001, all of its permanent members resided in Afghanistan.

However, ever since May 4, 2001, al-Qaeda has been a secret branch of the Iranian government. Bin Laden and all his top commanders are now living and working in Iran.

Between 1996 and 2001, al-Qaeda lived a symbiotic life. It cooperated with many other terrorist groups, and depended on intelligence and logistics from many sponsor states. It also had its own funding: bin Laden’s personal fortune, and worldwide contributions from Islamic charities that funneled part of their money to al-Qaeda. It had significant support from Iraq; but this evaporated as Saddam Hussein’s reign collapsed. In the end, al-Qaeda found Iran to be its most willing and most capable partner.

Al-Qaeda is a relatively small organization.
There are al-Qaeda-related cells in 60 countries. One would think that this necessitates a large number of members, but that is not so. Each cell has only a handful of members, because it is easier to keep secrets if the group is small. For the same reason, the permanent core of al-Qaeda has never consisted of more than about two hundred. Currently, al-Qaeda consists of about 150 men.

Al-Qaeda members are not volunteers.
Full-time members of al-Qaeda receive a regular salary. For example, in 1994, a typical high-ranking al-Qaeda commander got paid $1,400.00 per month. Members are not always happy with their salaries. One al-Qaeda bureaucrat thought he wasn't being paid enough, and began embezzling money from bin Laden's businesses. He later panicked and defected to the West.

Now that al-Qaeda is a part of Iran's government bureaucracy, members' salaries are paid from the treasury of the Iranian people.

Bin Laden was not the only planner of the attacks.
The attack had a succession of planners. These included Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Osama bin Laden, Saad bin Laden, Imad Fayez Mugniyeh, Ramzi Binalshibh, and finally Mohammad Atta.

The plan changed constantly between 1996 and 2001. As September 11 approached, the plan changed almost daily. Initially, bin Laden, himself, did not know that both towers of the World Trade Center had been targeted. No one in the world suspected that the towers would collapse.

As late as July, 2001, there were two more targets: the Presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, and the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia. This would have required a total of six pilots. The conspirators only managed to obtain four.

The attacks were expensive and required a huge amount of preparation.
The attacks took five years of planning, logistics, recruitment, training, and preparation. During the final year, hundreds of men were involved. Few of them were al-Qaeda members. Many were Iranian. Large divisions of at least three agencies of the Iranian government were dedicated to the task. All of Iran’s top political leaders, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, knew of the plan, approved it, and ordered their employees to support it.

Since secrecy was essential, all important communications in the field had to be done in person. This required an immense amount of travel, usually by air. (Ziad Jarrah, the Flight 93 pilot, took six trips abroad after he got into the United States, including visits to Europe, Beirut, and the Bahamas. He also traveled to California, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, and New Jersey.) There were many airline tickets, reservations, visas, and passports obtained. Some of the chief players habitually traveled first-class.

Everyone who traveled needed hotels, rental cars, railway or mass transit tickets, food, entertainment, communications, and spending money. Conspirators had to call home periodically or visit at least once to allay suspicions. The pilots had to pay for training, first on small single-engine planes, then later on Boeing jets. They also had to pay for time on Boeing flight simulators, and for actual flight time on jumbo jets. They had to pay rent during the many months of training. They moved often.

All of this required a great deal of money. It had to be sent to the United States on a regular basis without arousing suspicion. Most of it came via wire transfers that originated in the United Arab Emirates. If a conspirator ran out of money between the periodic transfers, Binalshibh made up the difference via wire transfers from Germany. Some of the hijackers were still being supported by their families. (Jarrah, for example, received $2,000.00 per month from his family in Beirut.) In a pinch, those who were not receiving regular support simply telephoned their families, and asked for money.

Eighteen months before the attacks, the Iranian government purchased a Boeing 757/767 flight simulator through European Airbus. The Iranian who made the purchase was in the United States on the day of the attacks. One of the towers of the World Trade Center was brought down by a Boeing 767; the Pentagon was struck with a Boeing 757.

The execution of the plan did not go smoothly.
As the day of the attack approached, the conspirators encountered a host of unexpected problems, made blatant mistakes, and had serious disagreements among themselves. At least six conspirators, and perhaps as many as ten, never made it into the United States. Some of the hijackers caught the attention of the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and FBI almost immediately; one was actually deported.

On a training flight on December 26, 2000, Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi landed their rented Piper Cherokee at Miami International Airport. Unable to restart the engine, they panicked and abandoned the plane near a runway.

In July 2001, Ziad Jarrah, one of the pilots, threatened to withdraw from the plot because of a personal rivalry with Mohammad Atta. Binalshibh managed to broker a peace between them.

After three months and 50 hours of flight time, Zacarias Moussaoui still could not fly solo; Binalshibh had to drop him from the roster of pilots. Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar couldn’t make it as pilots either; Binalshibh dropped them, too. Binalshibh, himself, was desperate to get into the United States in order to coordinate the attacks more closely. Despite many attempts, he never succeeded in getting a visa.

Nawaf al-Hazmi (or perhaps his traveling companion, Hani Hanjour) got a speeding ticket; so did a Ziad Jarrah; so did Mohammad Atta.

On the night before the attacks, some of the hijackers tried to hire prostitutes.

The passengers on Flight 93 stormed the cockpit and saved the White House from destruction. The flight that struck the Pentagon did relatively little damage to the building.

The CIA was explicitly warned in advance of the attacks.
At least two Iranian defectors warned the CIA and FBI in advance of the attack:

On July 26, 2001, a former Iranian intelligence officer named Hamid Reza Zakeri (a pseudonym) defected to the West through Azerbaijan. Zakeri was a security specialist in Section 110 of the Office of the Supreme Leader. The Office of the Supreme Leader is equivalent to the Office of the White House Chief of Staff. In Azerbaijan, Zakeri was extensively questioned by the CIA. He told the CIA that Iran was planning to attack five targets within the United States on September 11. The CIA ignored the warning.

On September 10, 2001, a former Iranian intelligence officer named Abdolghassen Mesbahi called the German police, asked to enter their witness protection program, and told them that Iran was planning to attack America. Mesbahi was a former member of the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS. Inside Iran, MOIS is known by its Farsi acronym, which was originally VEVAK but is now VAJA.) MOIS is the Iranian equivalent of the CIA. Mesbahi was a credible witness who had testified against Iran's top terrorism leaders in a German court in 1997. He was well known to the German police.

Mesbahi told the Germans that Iran intended to hijack commercial jets and fly them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Germans were uncooperative. He tried the FBI; no reaction. Then the planes slammed into their targets. Mesbahi switched tactics. Having failed to prevent the attacks, he could at least make sure that America knew who had perpetrated them. Mesbahi contacted, directly or indirectly, the American ambassador to Germany, Senator Joseph Lieberman, and finally the CIA. No one listened.

What is notable about these warnings is that they did not mention al-Qaeda or bin Laden. Both defectors were very clear on this point: in their minds, it was Iran that was going to attack America.