Intelligence laundry: To Paris again

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Monday October 16, 2006

The Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), has recently held meetings in Paris with a front man working for Iranian arms dealer and Iran-Contra figure Manucher Ghorbanifar, US and foreign intelligence sources tell RAW STORY.

In July 2005, it was reported that Congressmen Hoekstra had travelled to Paris along with Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA), the No. 2 Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, to meet with Ghorbanifar front man Fereidoun Mahdavi.

Two former senior intelligence officers and current intelligence sources abroad have now described a more recent meeting between Hoekstra and Mahdavi that took place in Paris sometime between the spring and summer of this year. What is by far of greatest concern to the sources is that accompanying Hoekstra on the trip was Vaughn Forrest, a mysterious character who, like Ghorbanifar, has ties to the Iran-Contra scandal.

A source close to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence confirmed the meeting as well, but was unable to verify if Forrest made the trip with Hoekstra.

Repeated requests for comment from RAW STORY were not answered by Hoekstra's office.

One source says they believe the meeting to be part of a larger campaign to allegedly create and launder falsified intelligence by planting it with key publications and individuals abroad, in hopes that it will seep back into official American channels as though it were legitimate information, collected by allied intelligence organizations. Such a campaign of disinformation, if it exists, would be difficult to track, precisely because it is designed to mask its origins through other channels.

While other sources could not definitely confirm this aspect of the story, they indicated that they were not surprised by the possibility, identifying the "cooking" of pre-war intelligence on Iraq as an earlier example of such a campaign.

Iraq WMD
In December 2001, current National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley gave his approval to meetings in Rome by American Enterprise Institute's Michael Ledeen and Department of Defense analysts Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin with Ghorbanifar and his associates. Franklin would later plead guilty to passing classified information to Israel in the AIPAC spy scandal – which has now also engulfed both Hadley and his former boss, current US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice.

Both Ghorbanifar and Ledeen have described the meetings as focused on Iran. Ledeen reports that one topic of discussion was the use of Iranian assets to fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, claiming that the information he was provided saved lives. Ghorbanifar described the meetings differently, indicating that regime change in Iran was discussed and that information was provided that top Al Qaeda leaders – even Osama bin Laden – were being protected by the Iranians.

While Ledeen attended only one meeting in Rome, presumably when the Iran-Afghanistan information was passed, sources indicate that Rhode went on to have subsequent meetings with Ghorbanifar and his associates in Rome and Paris well into 2003 and after the invasion of Iraq in March of that year.

It was around the time of the Paris meetings in Spring of 2003 that Ghorbanifar and his front-man began telling a tale of a bizarre plot by Iran to smuggle uranium out of Iraq.

As RAW STORY previously reported:

The story that was peddled – which detailed how an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq prior to the start of the war in March of 2003, and stole enriched uranium to use in their own nuclear weapons program – was part of an attempt to implicate both countries in a WMD plot. It later emerged that the Iranian exile was trying to collect money for his tales, sources say.

The story was delivered to Harold Rhode and Congressman Curt Weldon. Ledeen has claimed that he also heard something similar. The claim was brought to the attention of CIA Paris station chief Bill Murray, who investigated and debunked the allegations.

Ghorbanifar has already been the target of two CIA burn notices, meaning that the agency has designated him a fabricator and con-man.

However, Weldon, provided with what he judged to be credible evidence, took the matter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who detached a special forces unit to investigate the matter again. The story didn't stick in the end, but Weldon went on to write a book recounting similar tall tales leaked to him by Ghorbanifar.

Other such stories, also alleged to have come from Ghorbanifar and his proxies, were more successfully stove-piped and included allegations that Osama bin Laden was in cahoots with Saddam Hussein, and that Saddam Hussein was funding Al Qaeda.

The most notorious of these stories, however, still has no identified original source.

Many experts believe that some of the meetings in Rome were related to what later would become known as the Niger forgeries scandal, fabricated documents delivered to the US embassy in Rome claiming falsely that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger.

While the delivery of the documents was handled by Italian intelligence, SISMI, the actual customer for whom these documents were created remains unknown.

What is known is that Hadley met with SISMI head Nicolo Pollari in 2002. Laura Rozen has reported for the American Prospect that the two men held a secret meeting only one month before the documents surfaced.

Pollari told the newspaper that since 2001, when he became Sismi's director, the only member of the U.S. administration he has met officially is his former CIA counterpart George Tenet. But the Italian newspaper quotes a high-ranking Italian Sismi source asserting a meeting with Hadley. La Repubblica also quotes a Bush administration official saying, "I can confirm that on September 9, 2002, General Nicolo Pollari met Stephen Hadley."

When asked about the meeting and whether the two men had discussed uranium, Hadley's response was as revealing as it was cryptic:

"Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents being passed."

Hadley was not asked if the two men had discussed enriched uranium. Nor was Hadley asked if the documents were discussed at that meeting, rather than directly passed.

History Revisited
In 1983, Congressional oversight committees learned that the Reagan administration and the CIA were engaged in unapproved clandestine activity in Nicaragua, supporting an extreme right wing group called the Contras, who were working against the democratically-elected socialist Sandinista government. In response, Congress passed the Boland Amendment, that blocked direct government funding for the Contras, as a measure by which to rein in the extra-legal activities of the Reagan White House.

In order to continue funding the Contras, the White House began running arms to Iran, an avowed enemy of the United States then just as now, and funneled the profits to the Contras under the management of National Security Council aide, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North.

Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh described the markup strategy in his final report:

Lt. Col. Oliver L. North of the NSC staff had inflated the price to the Iranians for HAWK missile spare parts that were to be delivered at the Tehran meeting by a multiple of 3.7. Manucher Ghorbanifar, who brokered the parts sale, added a 41% markup to North's price of $15 million. With another increase added by Ghorbanifar during the Tehran meeting, the Iranians were charged a total of $24.5 million for HAWK spare parts priced by the Defense Department at $3.6 million.

Operating as a "carrier pigeon" of messages between North and Ghorbanifar was Michael Ledeen.

Vaughn Forrest, who recently accompanied Congressman Hoekstra to Paris, was then an aide to former Florida Congresman Bill McCollum and allegedly involved with North's activities on the Contra end. Forrest is even alleged to have toured Contra camps in Costa Rica.

RAW STORY made repeated attempts to locate Forrest for comment, but most people contacted had never heard of him, and the only published contact information is either out of date or inaccurate.

Current Events Revisited
All of the intelligence sources confirm that the Hoekstra-Forrest trip to Paris was made "recently," with some sources stating specifically that it occurred between spring and summer of this year. While the Senate source could not confirm that Forrest made the trip with Hoekstra, all intelligence sources agree that Forrest was part of the meeting, if not the guiding element of the meeting itself.

Intelligence sources familiar with Forrest's previous activities indicated concern, since they see this latest series of events as an attempt to lure a member of Congress into backing false information.

Indeed, Hoekstra would have no need to meet with Ghorbanifar on intelligence matters, even if Ghorbanifar did have important, valid information, since Ghorbanifar is allegedly back on the US payroll, operating on instructions, sources claim, of Vice President Dick Cheney's office. As previously reported by Raw Story, Ghorbanifar is in essence an agent of the United States:

"Asked if Ghorbanifar was essentially being employed as a spy, one former senior counterintelligence official said, 'You could put it that way.'"

Some intelligence sources suggest that organizing meetings and similar efforts are a way to put distance between Ghorbanifar's fabrications and the OVP.

Asked why Forrest would suddenly reemerge to participate in this latest trip, one former high-ranking intelligence official explained the reason in terms of the overall focal point of this administration:

"Vaughn Forrest [has] for years done the work for the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, a group funded entirely by the Republican members of Congress, not an official Congressional committee," said the source, referring to the group more accurately known as the House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare.

"They have been conduits for Likud propaganda crap, and allegedly [his close associate Yosef] Bodansky has received some funding from Likud."

Another intelligence source very close to the situation is more upset about members of Congress acting as intelligence officers than any other aspect of this story.

"Who elected Hoekstra to run sources?" asked this intelligence official.

"And how is Hoekstra from his position able to judge whether or not this information given [to him] by a fabricator is accurate or not?"