US denies arms dealer’s release is part of swap deal with Iran

Amir Mirzaei HekmatiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| |
The United States government has denied that the quiet release and deportation of an Iranian arms dealer is part of a secret deal to swap imprisoned agents with Iran. A US State Department spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that Iranian citizen and convicted arms smuggler Amir Hossein Ardebili had been released from US custody and was on his way back to Iran. Ardebili was captured and abducted by US government operatives in the Republic of Georgia in 2007, during a controversial sting operation. His abduction was the culmination of a three-year-long sting operation, during which he allegedly tried to arrange a clandestine shipment of sensitive military technology from the US to Iran. He was eventually extradited to the US in 2008, and sentenced the following year to five years in prison, for operating as an “arms acquisitions agent for the government of Iran”. Last month, however, he was discretely released from prison in Minnesota and handed over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. US State Department spokesman Noel Clay said that Ardebili was on his way to Tehran via Europe, because he had “completed serving his criminal sentence and has no legal immigration status in this country”. The spokesman also pointed out that Ardebili’s five-year prison sentence was meant to include the nearly two years he spent in Georgian and US detention, prior to his 2009 trial. But some observers, including Laura Rozen at Yahoo News, speculate that there might be a connection between Ardebili’s deportation and the reversal earlier this month of a death sentence imposed by a Tehran court on a former US marine captured in Iran on spy charges. Tehran recently announced that Amir Mirzaei Hekmati (pictured), from Arizona, who was captured in Iran while allegedly on a CIA mission, is to have his death sentence voided, and will face a retrial. Read more of this post

Analysis: Why is Israel so chatty about a possible strike on Iran?

Ronen Bergman By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
This past Sunday, Israeli intelligence expert Ronen Bergman published an extensive cover story in The New York Times Magazine, titled simply: “Will Israel Attack Iran?”. He answers his question in the affirmative, saying that “after speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012”. Bergman, who a year ago wrote an excellent, well-informed account of the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh assassination, sees a “small and ever-diminishing” window of opportunity to stop the looming war.  But he says that few in Israel believe that the United States administration of President Barack Obama is willing or able to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran. Instead, the predominant sentiment in the Jewish state is that “only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves”, he writes. But the intense discussion about a possible Israeli attack on Iran begs a critical question, which is asked by Laura Rozen, Senior Foreign Affairs Reporter for Yahoo News. She asks, why are Israeli leaders so chatty on the topic? One would think that, by being so vocal about their intentions, they risk losing a major strategic advantage that Israel’s military has relied on in the past: namely the element of surprise. In her search for an answer, she did what good reporters usually do: she actually picked up the phone and called Bergman in Israel. A condensed version of their interesting discussion is provided here. In it, she queries the Israeli intelligence expert about the widespread view that, if Israeli planes were indeed preparing to strike Iran, Tel Aviv would be very discrete about it. Bergman’s response is somewhat convincing; he says that most Israeli statements on the subject are “not meant for Israeli ears” —though they often reverberate inside Israel. Read more of this post

Too much intelligence collection overwhelms US agencies

Predator drone

USAF drone

The broad debate about America’s recent intelligence setbacks has centered on the view that US spy agencies do not share enough information with each other. Several days ago, however, Politico’s Laura Rozen noticed an important remark by an anonymous former intelligence official, buried in a longer piece in The Washington Post about the Christmas Day bomber. The official told the Post that “[t]he real story line internally [in the Christmas Day bomber affair] is not information-sharing or connecting dots […]. Information was shared. It was separating noise from chaff. It’s not that information wasn’t passed around, it’s that so much information is being passed. There’s an inherent problem of dealing with all the data that is sloshing around” (emphasis added). This view may in fact be closer to reality than the more dominant ‘turf war’ argument. Read more of this post

Iran monarchists, foreign spies, behind suspicious news reports

Mohammad Reza Madhi

M.R. Madhi

There is no question that the domestic security situation in Iran is critical, and that we may soon witness crucial political shifts in the Islamic Republic. At the same time, however, observers should be cognizant of what Politico’s Laura Rozen calls “a notable uptick […] in very fishy stories” forecasting the immediate end of the Islamic government by supposed radical Western-aligned forces. IntelNews has detected several such stories in recent days, such as this unconfirmed December 31 report in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which stated that the Iranian government was moving “[h]undreds of military forces and tens of armored vehicles towards Tehran”, something which never actually occurred. Two days earlier, a report in Dutch government-owned Radio Netherlands had suggested that members of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, including Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, were preparing to abandon the country and seek political asylum in Russia. Read more of this post

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