Shadow Government

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish Thinking about the Iraqi Records Project

When the headlines are talking about the fate of a $400 billion-plus plane with technical difficulties, it might seem quaint to talk about a teensy-weensy defense budget cut of parochial interest to researchers, but I can not think of a better illustration of penny-wise, pound-foolish thinking, so bear with me. At issue is the news release that proposed budget cuts will close the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC) at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) at the National Defense University (NDU).

The CRRC is the repository that has prepared and published the archive of material taken in a dozen years of the war on terror. It includes unrivaled archived material from the files of al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime.

When I was in the government, I found it very frustrating that this repository was not made even more generally available. The argument that we could not release those documents generally without compromising sources and methods struck me as bizarre. Everyone in the world knew how we got those records: We invaded Iraq and took the files. There were better reasons for being careful, including the possibility of releasing sensitive personal information (such as names of people who had been abused by Saddam's regime or names of people on the payroll) so of course it had to be scrubbed. But the vast majority could be released and would be a bonanza for experts seeking to understand the recent past -- and, given the importance of the recent past, the sooner the better.

There was far less chance that the trove would contain material embarrassing to the United States. Indeed, as I have observed before, one of the key dysfunctions in the marketplace of ideas is that weak arguments criticizing U.S. policy last much longer than they would in a more information-rich and better-functioning system. More to the point: The information collected and released by the CRRC goes a very long way to rebutting some of the critiques about the run-up to the Iraq war that have the status of unquestioned conventional wisdom among academic security specialists and foreign critics of the United States.

That is why I simply do not understand why the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would seek to choke off public access to records that help us better understand the stakes in the global war on terror.

A caveat: I do not know enough of the details of the budgets of the CRRC and INSS and NDU to state confidently that the first must stay nested within the second which must stay nested within the third. I am prepared to learn that it would be better to relocate the CRRC somewhere else, provided that it can keep operating more or less as it has thus far (or even on an accelerated basis).

What I am strongly disinclined to accept unless someone provides a compelling explanation, is that it is in the U.S. national interest to close the CRRC and kick it into the larger National Archives (NARA) where, because of NARA's priorities and procedures, it will freeze the release of documents for many years to come.

Put another way, is there anyone who is prepared to argue that it is not worth spending some money on developing a deeper understanding of the dynamics of dictators and terrorists in the Middle East?

Wathiq Khuzaie /Getty Images

Shadow Government

Is Iran About to Lash Out at Its Dissidents?

The United States and five other major powers negotiating about the Iranian nuclear program agreed to a four-month extension of the talks until Nov. 24. This period is a time of peril for opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have been of great value in revealing intelligence about its nuclear cheating. It's possible that Tehran may use its negotiating leverage in this phase to attack its dissidents in Iraq, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the main resistance group that rejects clerical rule, and its largest unit, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).

Because the resistance is instrumental in exposing double-dealing by Tehran, it may attack to end dissidents' ability to reveal regime secrets. It's time for Washington, for which the regime opponents have long been a useful ray of light on the covert Iranian nuclear weapons program, to use its diplomatic leverage with Baghdad to protect them while getting the dissidents out of Iraq to safer countries, including the United States.

As the July 20 target date approached for reaching the nuclear accord, the Iranian regime's media person at the U.N. penned a letter to the Wall Street Journal, which I countered with an accompanying one. The regime spokesman launched an ad hominem attack on the main source of a Journal editorial, the NCRI, without dealing with the substance of the evidence. Because that organization has an excellent track record exposing the regime's lack of transparency and noncompliance with its financial and nuclear commitments, the PR attack failed.  

During his first news conference in June 2013, Iran's President-Elect Hassan Rouhani claimed that its nuclear programs were completely transparent but promised "even more." Because of Iran's deceitful record on financial and trade sanctions, however, Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), demonstrate there is "no such thing as a good Iranian Bank." They argue, "History will judge whether the president [Barack Obama] was right to compromise with a regime that has a long track record of nuclear mendacity." 

Despite Rouhani's claims, Tehran is not transparent in its nuclear program, particularly regarding possible military dimensions. In referring to NCRI revelations about Tehran's nuclear activities, President George W. Bush stated in 2005, "Iran has concealed its...nuclear program. That became discovered not because of compliance" with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "but because a dissident group pointed it out to the world."

The Center for Strategic and International Studies noted the NCRI role shedding light on Iran's nuclear program. A 2006 report declared, "The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revelations about Iran's secret nuclear program did prove to be the trigger point in inviting the IAEA into Tehran for inspections."

Contrary to Iran's disingenuous offers to be transparent in nuclear talks of Jan. 17, 2005 and March 23, 2005, NCRI intelligence revealed in late 2005 that Iran may be engaged in nuclear-related work at a site near the city of Qom.

Three Western allies disclosed on September 25, 2009 intelligence also about the Qom site during a G-8 economic summit in Pittsburgh, implicitly validating a resistance disclosure of the same date. And by Jan. 2012, Iran had acknowledged it had begun enrichment at revealed a heavily fortified site, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.

Meanwhile, during June 2009, the regime cracked down on country-wide demonstrations in which dissidents tied to the NCRI participated. Iraqi forces acting on behalf of Tehran then attacked NCRI associates in Camp Ashraf, Iraq in July. Iraqis killed 11, held 36 as hostages, and then only released them in October under intense international pressure.

After moving to Camp Liberty, a former American base in Iraq, on Feb. 9, 2013 rocket and mortar shells fell on the dissidents, killing six and wounding over fifty. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called these attacks, "a despicable act of violence," describing residents as asylum seekers entitled to international protection.

The most evident case of retaliation as it relates to nuclear revelations of the NCRI came on Sept. 1, 2013. The organization had in previous years uncovered a number of undeclared nuclear sites and announced them in a series of press conferences, e.g., in Washington during July. Tehran retaliated to take advantage of ongoing secret nuclear talks with Washington; it let the regime off the hook by saying very little about the assault. Yet in October 2013, the resistance disclosed additional intelligence, that time about suspect weaponization activities by Iran.

As the new date to complete the nuclear accord approaches, resistance intelligence reveals Tehran has Farsi-speaking Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force agents in positions at key locations around Camp Liberty. It houses almost 3,000 residents. Under the charge that they are working with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Iranian regime and its Baghdad proxies are in place to destroy the camp.

The prime minister of tiny Albania accepted a few hundred NCRI supporters from Iraq; now is time for President Obama of mighty America to stand his ground against Tehran and take in the remainder. Iran will not bolt the talks that promise it so much benefit. 

It is in our national interest to accept NCRI supporters because they maintain a capacity to expose Tehran's cheating on its nuclear commitments. As negotiations enter the final lap, it is critical to have ties with our friends who have a vast network of human intelligence in Iran.

John Moore/Getty Images