An intelligence insider is warning the public about this latest CIA mass release of purported Osama Bin Laden files from devices found in the Abbottabad, Pakistan compound, saying that it has a specific political agenda with content that has been carefully and selectively published by the CIA in order to manipulate the public. This surprising insider testimony comes as Iran hawks argue they’ve found “proof” of an Iran and al-Qaeda connection, and as no information has yet to surface from the files regarding how bin Laden came to be living for years in the neighborhood of Pakistan’s most visible military academy and within clear sight of the Pakistani government and allied US intelligence services.
Yesterday the CIA published to its public archives website 18,000 document files, about 79,000 audio and image files and over 10,000 video files taken from devices found in the deceased al-Qaeda leader’s compound six and a half years ago. Among the most significant items provided is what the CIA says is bin Laden’s personal hand-written journal. This is the fourth major release of bin Laden documents since the first trove of materials was published in May 2015.
Image source: Screenshot from Newsy Newslook
Though currently the media has seized on some of the more sensational oddities of the files – for example, retro video games, Pixar children’s movies, viral YouTube clips like ‘Charlie bit my finger’, RT News programming, Bin Laden’s son Hamza’s wedding, videos of the compounds barnyard animals, CNN documentaries, conspiracy movies, and other random things – foreign policy establishment hawks are seizing upon something quite different: they say the trove reveals al-Qaeda links with Iran.
And this bin Laden-Iran conspiracy theory is now curiously driving much of the media coverage of the release. At the same time, it appears the collection of nearly 500,000 total files may have little or nothing to say about how bin Laden and his family came to be “hiding” in plain sight of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment for years. For example, one of Pakistan’s own largest international English newspapers, The Express Tribune – which lists as a partner organization The New York Times – quickly (and conveniently) put out a headline which reads, Bin Laden had no help from state elements in Pakistan: CIA files.
Of course, this flies in the face of the exhaustive investigative reporting from both within and outside of mainstream news organizations which points to official Pakistani and Saudi aid given to bin Laden while he was holed up at the compound possibly since 2006. As the CIA had complete control over what was released and what was withheld – and this latest release lacked even an inter-agency process – we shouldn’t expect much if anything that will contradict the official bin Laden raid narrative.
But more significant are the Iran and al-Qaeda connection claims – something emphasized by the first publication to publish news of the files, the Long War Journal, which happened to work directly with the CIA and was granted favored access. The claims are emphasized in NBC’s coverage, which quotes anonymous “intelligence officials”, under the headline Newly Released Bin Laden Document Describes Iran, Al Qaeda Link:
The trove also provides new insight into the often adversarial relationship between al Qaeda and Iran — the Sunni Muslim terror group and the Shiite republic — in the form of a 19-page report described by the Long War Journal as “a senior jihadist’s assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran.”
Two U.S. intelligence officials characterized the document to NBC News as “evidence of Iran’s support of al Qaeda’s war with the United States.”
According to the officials, the document traces the history of the relationship starting with the escape of a group of Al Qaeda officials and their families from Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion in September 2001. Bin Laden dispatched the group of Al Qaeda leaders, known as the Al Qaeda Management Council, to Iran.
At various points in the relationship, the document reveals, Iran offered Al Qaeda help, in the form of “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.”
But at other points in the relationship, according to the document, there were angry rifts, leading to forced detention of key Al Qaeda officials.
To the cursory reader with even a basic understanding of Middle East geopolitics and religion, the first thing that will stand out is the extreme unlikelihood that the hardline Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran would sponsor Sunni fundamentalists which have historically been at war with Iran. Furthermore, it has already been well-known that al-Qaeda has long had a presence in Iran’s restive Arabic speaking Sunni heartland in the country’s west (about 10% of Iran’s population is Sunni) – a sizable minority community which has suffered a tenuous existence of perpetual tension with the Tehran government over the decades.
But then to go even further with the claim that Iran hatched a plan to train al-Qaeda operatives at Hezbollah camps in Lebanon is even more extraordinary. It is as likely as George Bush’s now debunked claim that Saddam Hussein sponsored al-Qaeda. Hussein was a Baathist and secular nationalist dictator who actively persecuted extremists opposed to Baathist rule.
Neocons and Iran hawks often accuse Iran of allowing the presence of al-Qaeda family members (who fled Afghanistan after 2001) on its soil, and that this is tantamount to being a “state sponsor” of terror, yet as the US State Department’s own Country Reports on Terrorism notes : “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody.” This is hardly indicative of Tehran’s backing of the al-Qaeda terror organization – a movement which consistently denounces Iranian Shia as apostates and heretics.
The 19-page report itself has yet to be translated into English, with only very minimal English snippets made available by Long War Journal (LWJ) to the press, though LWJ admits that other files “show that al Qaeda kidnapped an Iranian diplomat to exchange for its men and women. Bin Laden himself considered plans to counter Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East, which he viewed as pernicious.” So there are deeply contradictory viewpoints regarding Iran all in the same purported bin Laden documents. And as one commentator notes, LWJ happened upon this single and potentially “spiked” 19-page Arabic document extraordinarily quickly out of a cache of up to half a million files.
Meanwhile, one Obama-era White House official and former career CIA analyst isn’t buying it, but is instead cautioning the public regarding the entire release just posted to the CIA’s website. Edward “Ned” Price is, ironically, the establishment intelligence official who resigned in protest of President Trump over “the way he has treated the intelligence community.”
Though Price clearly has his own axe to grind, his criticisms focus on “Iran hawk” CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the agency’s intelligence establishment – thus it’s interesting that a career CIA official who has touted his “insider” status to attack “outsider” Trump in the past would now go on the attack and claim CIA malfeasance in manipulating the public.
In a lengthy tweet thread Wednesday, Price warned that we are witnessing intelligence manipulation reminiscent of the lead-up to the Iraq War, but this time with Iran in the crosshairs:
CIA released what it claims are the final public files from Bin Laden’s lair. I’m all for transparency, but this isn’t about that. In January, the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], which led the declassification effort, released what it said was the final tranche of Bin Laden files. The DNI-led review was overseen by career intel officials, who concluded that, with the January files, all those of public interest were released. But a funny thing happened when CIA Director Pompeo came into office. I’m told he re-launced a review of the files. In doing so, he took officers away from important missions to pore—and re-pore—over the millions of documents.
How can we be sure this was a CIA effort? Unlike previous releases, today’s files are hosted on CIA.gov, not the DNI site. Why would he do that? It seems he’s convinced the unreleased files would tie al-Qa’ida to Iran. He said as much at the gathering of a conservative group, FDD [the Foundation for Defense of Democracies], opposed to the Iran deal in September. As luck would have it, CIA provided an advance copy of today’s files to Long War Journal. The ploy is transparent despite the fact that the newly-released documents don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.
What’s not as transparent are the motives of Pompeo, the administration’s leading and most influential Iran hawk. But these moves suggest he’s reverting to the Bush administration’s playbook: Emphasize terrorist ties as a rationale for regime change. Remember Cheney on Meet the Press, pointing to Atta’s supposed Prague meeting with Iraqi officials?
It was a key element of the the march to war. History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme. Need to remain vigilant to ensure Pompeo isn’t able to write it.
As headlines continue to spread about the supposed “Iran-Qaeda” connection in the bin Laden files, it is indeed important to remember the fake intelligence and outright lies and manipulation that made the “case” for the invasion of Iraq. It is also important to remember that CIA officials have been among the foremost vehement and staunch defenders of the official Osama bin Laden narrative, yet in this case they alone have full control of what what was released.
And it is surprising that such an establishment CIA insider as Ned Price would be the first to say the latest bin Laden files are being deceitfully crafted to sell a narrative that will be used to convince the public on regime change in Iran. It will be interesting to see what else emerges as academics and journalists continue to pour through the files.