The Iranian Assassination Caper Was a Complete Success!

Summary:  The bottom line from the Iranian assassination caper = it’s already worked, further demonizing Iran’s image in the mind of the American public — maintaining support for the permanent war establishment of massive military/intel/homeland security spending and the slow erosion of our liberties.  Of course it succeeded.  Conducting information operations against America is the core competency of our defense apparatus.

“How is the world ruled and how do wars start? Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read.”
— Karl Kraus, Aphorisms and More Aphorisms (1909)


  1. Introduction
  2. The Core Competency of our military/intel/homeland security apparatus
  3. Some of the holes in the story
  4. Chuck Spinney explains the play to us
  5. A retired CIA operative raises some questions
  6. Other experts and sceptics analyze the plot
  7. For more information

(1)  Introduction

  • The holes in the story (listed below) do not matter, as the caper has already succeeded.  It gave another push to the narrative of Iran as a violent amoral irrational nation.
  • The chorus of stenographers pretending to be journalists uncritically repeated the government’s allegations as facts.  Only after the first impression was set in the public’s minds did they follow-up with mild questions about its plausability – just as with Saddam’s nukes.
  • The horde of courtiers pretending to be geopolitical experts immediately followed on with frenzied speculation (guessing, developing the story) about the plot and cries for action.
  • On the fringe, experts and skeptics questioned the story.  The public, having absorbed the story, has moved on.

(2)  The Core Competency of our military/intel/homeland security apparatus

CK Prahalad, and Gary Hamel invented the concept of company’s core competency (Harvard Business Review, May-June 1990).  It has 3 elements (restated from their idealistic format, and generalized so as to apply to government agencies):

  1. A core competency applies to many tasks undertaken by the agency.
  2. It advances key goals of the agency.
  3. Competitors (internal and external) cannot do this as easily and skillfully.

More broadly and simply:


A core competence is a combination of complementary skills and knowledge bases embedded in a group or team that results in the ability to execute one or more critical processes to a world class standard.
— “Is your core competence A MIRAGE?“, Kevin P. Coyne, Stephen J. D. Hall and Patricia G. Clifford, McKinsey Quarterly, Issue 1 (1997)

Conducting information operations to manipulate the American public has been a core competency of the Defense-Intel agencies since WWII.  With so much practice, they have become quite skilled.  The bomber gap, the missile gap, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, teaching us to wet our pants at every mention of al Qaeda, Iraq’s WMDs, smearing Wikileaks — and now Iran.

For more about this:

  1. The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders, 22 May 2007 — Working their magic after the Iraq War
  2. News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!, 2 September 2009
  3. 4GW at work in a community near you , 19 October 2007 — Propaganda warming us up for war with Iran.
  4. Successful info ops, but who are the targets?, 1 May 2008
  5. The most expensive psy-war campaign – ever!, 13 July 2008 — Info Ops shaping our view of Iran
  6. Psywar, a core skill of the US Military (used most often on us), 26 November 2008
  7. How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this, 13 October 2009
  8. Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America, 1 February 2010
  9. A note about practical propaganda, 22 March 2010
  10. The US government successfully smears Wikileaks, while America sleeps, 22 October 2010

(3)  Some of the holes in the story

Attacks on the US and Saudi Arabia on American soil — this was a high-profile, high-stakes operation.

  1. Why would Iran recruit someone like Manssor Arbabsiar, with no relevant skills or experience, not known to them, known to be at best marginally competent (per the San Antonio Daily News)?
  2. Why would Iran use the telephone lines to communicate vital details of the plot from Iran to America.  Those lines must be closely monitored?
  3. Why would Iran use the US bank wire transfer system to move money from Iran.  Those transactions must be closely monitored?

(4)  Chuck Spinney explains the play to us

{Spinney is a retired DoD analyst, one of the best.  This is posted with his permission.}

US Attorney General Eric Holder held a press conference on 11 October where he claimed Federal authorities had foiled a plot by men linked to the Iranian government to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States and to bomb the embassies of Saudi Arabia and Israel in Washington (NYT, October 11). The vagueness and innuendo in the language of the complaint filed with the federal court reek of a half-baked sting operation.

For example, attacking the embassy of Saudi Arabia is mentioned as merely a “possibility” of bombing foreign government facilities of Saudi Arabia and “another country” located “within and outside of the United States.” Israel is not even mentioned in the complaint; the closest reference being the aforesaid reference to “another country.” And the plot hinged on the information supplied by a supposed assassin for hire, who was in reality a confidential source of the DEA, posing as a member of than international drug cartel, and who had agreed to work for the DEA after being convicted on an unrelated narcotics charge. While the possibility that this was another hokey FBI/DEA sting operation has been covered widely in the mainstream press, the idea of this plot being a false flag operation, taking the form of a half-baked plot designed to be uncovered, has been conspicuous by its absence.

A false flag operation occurs when party ‘A’ attacks party ‘B’ while engineering the blame for the attack to be hung on a third party ‘C.’

It is the exposure of “C” in the plot that is important in a false flag operation, and understanding a false flag operation turns on the question of who, (what country or organization) stands to gain from an exposure of “C’s” involvement in the plot — and exposure, which in this case, would precipitate a US-Iranian crisis that might possibly lead to a war?

The following three references provide information that may help you orient yourself to this ominous possibility.

The following section is an email from Ray Close now circulating widely on the internet. Mr. Close served in the CIA operations side of the house at high levels, including being assigned as the CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia. Close explains why he thinks whoever concocted this plot wanted it to be exposed in order to precipitate a major U.S.-Iranian crisis.

Item #2:  “The implausibility of an Iranian plot“, OpEdNews, 14 October 2011 – An essay by scholar/writer Esam Al-Amin that, in effect, builds on Close’s argument by identifying potential beneficiaries. I do not know if Al-Amin had access to the Close email.

Item #3:  “Officials concede gaps in U.S. knowledge of Iran plot“, Reuters, 12 October 2011

Some defenders of the complaint may be tempted to dismiss the arguments of Close and Amin as mere speculation — and to an extent they represent speculations, albeit by knowledgable men. But to dismiss such arguments on these grounds would be to apply a double standard, because Reuters reports that US officials, speaking on background, have admitted that the evidence supporting the allegation of high-level Iranian involvement is both scanty and wildly speculative, to put it charitably. It says unnamed US officials have acknowledged their confidence in the allegation of high-level Iranian involvement was derived inferentially from analysis and understanding of how the Iranian Quds Force operates, and that it was “more than likely” that Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani knew about and approved the plot.

They insisted that it was not a rogue operation, but acknowledged that other parts of Iran’s factionalized government, including President Amadinejad, may not have know about it.

Item #4:  “Used-car salesman as Iran proxy? Why assassination plot doesn’t add up for experts“, Christian Science Monitor, 12 October 2011 — “The US has blamed the specialist Qods Force in an Iran assassination plot. But those who track the group say the plot doesn’t reflect the careful planning, efficiency, and strategy the Qods Force is known for.”

Experts on Iran and the Quds force, like Gary Sick of Columbia, Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Office, and Alireza Nader of the RAND Corp., say the details of the plot just don’t make sense and are entirely out of character for either Khamenei and Suleimani.

In other words, the allegation of high-level Iranian involvement is based on speculative possibilities that deviate from observed patterns of behaviour, not facts. Moreover, the claim is that these speculative possibilities were derived from analyses and appreciations of the inner workings of post-Shah Iran made by the US intelligence community. Not doubt that shakiness of this allegation is one reason why the complaint filed in the New York court only names the obscure Mr. Shakuri as the only co-conspirator in Iran.

So — the Obama Administration wants the American people and the world to believe the same Intelligence community that

  1. disgraced itself in Iraq and has performed so poorly in Afghanistan, and
  2. failed utterly to predict the beginning of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 (when Iran was our close ally and was flooded with US operatives), now has a far more reliable cultural appreciation of the inner working of the Iranian revolutionary regime, with which the US has had only limited relations.

The inferences are so reliable, in fact, that Mr. Obama, Mr. Holder and Ms. Clinton, lawyers all, would have the American people believe their inferences are sufficient to dismiss any legal limitations of circumstantial evidence and reasonable doubt surrounding a question relating to war or peace for a country that is already over-extended in wars in the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa.

The absurdity and danger implicit in this kind of thinking, coupled with the government’s track record of fixing intelligence to fit its preconceived policies, elevates the question of a false flag to a level of legitimacy that should but won’t be investigated.

(5)  A retired CIA operative raises some questions

From:      Ray Close
Date:       October 13, 2011
Subject:  Questions about alleged Iranian plot

Because it is a PDF document, I have to ask you to download the attachment, which is a true copy of the Amended Complaint written and signed by FBI Special Agent Robert Woloszyn and filed before the judge of the Southern District of New York on 11 October 2011 concerning the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C. It is not a long document.

Please read paragraphs 22, 23 and 24, for starters. Note: “CS-1″ is the FBI’s Confidential Informant, presumably a Mexican, who is described by Special Agent Woloszyn as a man “posing as an associate of a sophisticated and violent drug-trafficking cartel”. As far as I can determine, neither the FBI nor Attorney General Eric Holder has provided any evaluation of this man’s reliability or trustworthiness. It seems that the accuracy of the entire account depends solely on the assessment of this confidential source by one FBI Special Agent – unless we are being asked to accept a radically abbreviated and simplified version of the case history.

The scum-bag that this murder was being requested and was going to be paid for by a secret group in Iran?

Then ask yourself a very simple question, please: If you were an Iranian undercover operative who was under instructions to hire a killer to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, D.C., why in HELL would you consider it necessary to explain to a presumed Mexican scum-bag that this murder was planned and would be paid for by a secret organization in Iran?

Why identify yourself at all? If (for some implausible reason) an explanation of some kind was absolutely necessary, why not employ a very simple cover story that the ambassador had violated the honor of your sister, and you were willing to pay a high price to avenge this dishonor?

Why give the intended murderer incriminating information that could be enormously damaging to the government of Iran if the agent betrayed you or if he were apprehended and chose to confess? Isn’t that something that any ten-year-old would know instinctively?

Conclusion: This was not a professional murder-for-hire operation.

The Iranians are certainly not idiots. Also, no faction in Iran today, as far as I can see, would have anything to gain at this time from taking such a risk. Who ever concocted this tale wanted the “plot” to be exposed, and for only one simple purpose that I can surmise: to precipitate a major crisis in relations between Iran and the United States. It seems to me that our analysis of the case should, therefore, start with a simple calculation: what other government in the Middle East would benefit most from a serious deterioration in Washington’s relations with Teheran? Who, in fact, would like nothing better than to see those relations take a big step in the direction of military confrontation?

Until all the answers are known, it is my frank opinion that the Obama administration made a very serious error by blowing this incident up into a major international crisis.

Considering the multitude of other critical problems that America presently faces, and the utter impossibility of even contemplating any level of military conflict in another Muslim country in the Middle East, it should obviously be the objective of U.S. national policy at this point in time to avoid destabilizing incidents, not to stir up confrontations like this.  Even if the allegations prove to be true, it was a mistake to make such a spectacular accusation without being prepared at the same time to present irrefutable evidence to the world to prove the case, and then to be prepared to take carefully considered counter-action that is consistent with our calculated national security objectives with regard to Iran.

As it is, we have made a huge issue without any apparent plan to manage the consequences or to turn the situation to our advantage. There is a time-honored and proven rule of defense and security policy: if you are not in a position to control and manage a situation to your advantage, then keep your mouth shut and play your cards close to your chest.  Do not walk stickly and carry a big soft, as some wise national leader once advised.

(6)  Other experts and sceptics analyze the plot

(a) Would Iran Really Want to Blow Up the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.?“, Max Fisher (Assoc Editor), The Atlantic, 11 October 2011 — “The alleged Iranian plot would make great material for a spy novel, but it would go against Iran’s own interests and past behavior”

(b) Questions about the alleged Iranian plot“, CNN, 12 October 2011 — “A number of Iran analysts are expressing doubt over the alleged plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. Here are some excerpts.”

(c) Something just doesn’t add up…“, Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 14 October 2011 — Opening:

Unless the Obama administration (and in particular, Attorney General Eric Holder), has more smoking gun evidence than they’ve revealed so far, they are in danger of a diplomatic gaffe on a par with Colin Powell’s famous U.N. Security Council briefing about Iraq’s supposed WMD programs, a briefing now known to have been a series of fabrications and fairy tales.

The problem is that the harder one looks at the allegations about Manour Ababasiar, the fishier the whole business seems.

(d) FBI Account of ‘Terror Plot’ Suggests Sting Operation“, Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, 13 October 2011 — Opening:

While the administration of Barack Obama vows to hold the Iranian government “accountable” for the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the legal document describing evidence in the case provides multiple indications that it was mainly the result of an FBI “sting” operation.

(e) Marcy Wheeler, posting at EmptyWheel, has written several posts following the drug connection evidence in great detail.  This may originally have been some form of drug deal with people in Iran, which US agents manipulated into a terror plot (perhaps without the Iranians even knowing).

Update:  here is brief report of her research, well-worth reading:  “Significant Holes in U.S. Legal Case Against Alleged Iran Plotter“, The Atlantic, 17 October 2011 — “The criminal complaint against Manssor Arbabsiar, who is said to have targeted the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. for assassination on behalf of the Iranian government, has several conspicuous gaps in its most pivotal and controversial arguments.”

(f) The very scary’ Iranian Terror plot“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 13 October 2011 — Opening:

The most difficult challenge in writing about the Iranian Terror Plot unveiled yesterday is to take it seriously enough to analyze it. Iranian Muslims in the Quds Force sending marauding bands of Mexican drug cartel assassins onto sacred American soil to commit Terrorism — against Saudi Arabia and possibly Israel — is what Bill Kristol and John Bolton would feverishly dream up while dropping acid and madly cackling at the possibility that they could get someone to believe it. But since the U.S. Government rolled out its Most Serious Officials with Very Serious Faces to make these accusations, many people (therefore) do believe it; after all, U.S. government accusations = Truth. All Serious people know that. And in the ensuing reaction one finds virtually every dynamic typically shaping discussions of Terrorism and U.S. foreign policy.

(g) The LA Times notices the ‘double standard’ on Iran“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 13 October 2011 — Opening:

Today we have a pleasant and exceedingly rare surprise: a major media outlet noting that the very behavior which the U.S. Government and all Serious People are now righteously condemning is behavior in which the U.S. itself routinely engages.

(h) Obama doubles down“, Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 14 October 2011 — “President Obama is standing firmly behind the administration’s allegations, but without offering any new evidence to support them.”

(7)  For more information

See the FM Reference Page Will the US or Israel attack Iran?

This post originally appeared at Fabius Maximus and is reproduced with permission.