To paraphrase Lincoln, if we could first know where Iran is and whither Iran is tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. To evaluate the Iran deal, we need, to the degree possible, to understand the Iranian regime, its nature and its history, its past and present behavior.
Whither are they tending?
The bad news is that the Obama administration doesn’t want us to have all the information available to judge that regime and its behavior. The good news is that Congress can insist the information be provided.
Here’s an important instance. We have been told by six current or former intelligence officials that the collection of documents captured in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound includes explosive information on Iran’s relationship with al Qaeda over the past two decades, including details of Iran’s support for al Qaeda’s attacks on Americans. Some of these officials believe this information alone could derail the deal. We haven’t seen it. But the American people should see it all before Congress votes on the deal in September.
“There are letters about Iran’s role, influence, and acknowledgment of enabling al Qaeda operatives to pass through Iran as long as al Qaeda did their dirty work against the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, tells The Weekly Standard. “What Congress should demand is to see all the UBL [Osama bin Laden] documents related to Iran and all the documents related to intentions of AQ into the future—they are very telling.”
Derek Harvey, a former senior DIA official who has been described by several U.S. generals as the top intelligence analyst in government, helped run the exploitation team. He says,
The UBL treasure trove of information almost certainly contains extremely valuable, insightful information, and potentially explosive, that would illuminate the duplicitous Iran relationship with Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda writ large.
Michael Pregent, a member of the DIA team that examined the documents, confirmed some of the revelations about Iran. As he put it,
The documents indicate that Iran facilitated the safe passage of al Qaeda operatives, provided safe houses during travel, and had an agreement in place—a you-don’t-mess-with-us-and-we-won’t-mess-with-you clause. The guaranteed safe passage through Iran into Afghanistan and Pakistan could only have been carried out by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives.
The bin Laden documents have long been the subject of a behind-the-scenes battle between the White House and elements of the intelligence community. After an initial scrub of the documents in the months after the May 2011 raid in Abbottabad, the Obama administration let them sit untouched for as long as a year. When officials at the DIA and Central Command requested access to the collection to extract intelligence and provide it to war fighters, they were initially denied. And soon after the team from DIA and CENTCOM was given limited access to the documents, they were ordered to stop their exploitation. What they did see was illuminating.
Among the most significant were documents that shed new light on the complicated relationship between Iran and al Qaeda. Even the Obama administration has acknowledged the relationship. In 2011, the administration designated six al Qaeda operatives who were responsible for what officials described as al Qaeda’s lifeline. The network was based in Iran. “This network serves as the core pipeline through which al Qaeda moves money, facilitators, and operatives,” according to the Treasury Department’s designation. In an interview with The Weekly Standard at the time, a senior Obama administration official involved in the designation said, “Without this network, al Qaeda’s ability to recruit and collect funds would be severely damaged.”
David Cohen, then undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence and currently the deputy director of the CIA, told The Weekly Standard the intelligence on Iran’s support for al Qaeda was incontrovertible. “There is an agreement between the Iranian government and al Qaeda to allow this network to operate,” Cohen said. “There’s no dispute in the intelligence community on this.” Those conclusions were based, at least in part, on the bin Laden documents.
Contacted about the status of al Qaeda’s Iran network earlier this spring, two intelligence officials confirmed that it was still functioning and still critical to al Qaeda operations. That’s not all.
We are told that one document fills in the picture of possible Iranian foreknowledge and complicity in the 9/11 attacks first raised in the 9/11 Commission report, published in 2004. According to the report, al Qaeda detainees in U.S. custody
described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan. For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda. Our knowledge of the international travels of the al Qaeda operatives selected for the 9/11 operation remains fragmentary. But we now have evidence suggesting that 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi “muscle” operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.
The 9/11 Commission detailed much of that travel and reported:
There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers. There also is circumstantial evidence that senior Hezbollah operatives were closely tracking the travel of some of these future muscle hijackers into Iran in November 2000.
The commission concluded: “We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government.”
The Obama administration does not want the bin Laden documents released. To date, the administration has made public fewer than 150 documents out of more than a million, despite a statutory requirement to expedite the release of the collection. Remarkably, members of Congress, including those on the intelligence committees, do not have access to the documents. Republicans in Congress share the blame for this. With the admirable exception of Representative Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republicans have shown little interest in the documents and what they tell us about al Qaeda and, in this case, Iran. That’s inexcusable, but it’s not too late.
The administration claims that the documents have been translated and exploited. We’re skeptical—and so are our sources. But if the administration is right, it should be able to find and release immediately all documents related to Iran.
Highly credible senior intelligence officials who have seen the bin Laden documents say that the collection includes important information about al Qaeda and Iran. The White House has consistently blocked the release of that information. It will take concerted action by the leadership of Congress—in particular, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr along with Chairman Nunes—to wring this information out of the administration.
Not to demand these documents—not to insist on having access to them despite all the administration’s protestations and obfuscations, not to allow the American people to understand the whole truth about the Iranian regime with which the administration has negotiated this agreement—would be an abdication of responsibility on the part of Congress that history would judge harshly.