Cheney has tapped Iranian expatriate, arms dealer to surveil discussions with Iran, officials say

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Thursday April 20, 2006

The Department of Defense and Vice President Dick Cheney have retained the services of Iran-Contra arms dealer and discredited intelligence asset Manucher Ghorbanifar as their “man on the ground,” in order to report on any interaction and attempts at negotiations between Iranian officials and US ambassador to Iraq, Zelmay Khalilzad, current and former intelligence officials say.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, three intelligence sources identified the Iran-Contra middleman as having been put back on the payroll, acting as a human intelligence asset and monitoring any movement in discussions about Iran’s alleged burgeoning nuclear weapons program.

“Khalilzad has been authorized to enter into discussions with the Iranians over the issue of stability inside Iraq,” one former intelligence source said.

These discussions, however, are now on hold for unspecified reasons. Sources close to the UN Security Council and a former high ranking intelligence official say that this latest failed attempt to bring Iran to the table is part of an ongoing attempt by Cheney and Rumsfeld to squash diplomatic activities.

Another intelligence source confirmed the spiking of diplomatic action on Cheney’s behalf, explaining that the Bush administration sees such talks as a “sign of weakness.”

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

A former high ranking state department official, however, doubted that the Office of the Vice President would employ Ghorbanifar directly.

“In my experience it would be highly unusual and even extraordinary if the Office of the Vice President would have such activities,” the ex-State Department official said. Yet the source added that the current Vice Presidency is in itself “unusual” and “extraordinary.”

Cheney’s office did not return calls seeking comment for this article.

As reported by RAW STORY last Thursday, the Defense Department has created a special operations arm of various Iranian dissidents, using terror group Mujahedeen-e Khalq to conduct operations on the ground in Iran. According to current and former intelligence officials, the latest revelations of Ghorbanifar’s involvement again illustrate that Cheney and the Pentagon continue to work on the periphery of protocol in order to bypass US intelligence agencies and resources.

Reports of the Bush administration’s interest in meeting with Iranian officials continue to suggest that it is Iran that is pushing back against diplomatic talks. Yet all three intelligence sources and sources close to the UN Security Council say it is the US that is squashing attempts at talks between the two nations.

Earlier this month, for example, the New York Times reported that Iran’s UN Ambassador, Javad Zarif, wanted discussions. In a New York Times op-ed, Zarif contended that Iran is committed to nuclear nonproliferation and eager for talks.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) approved using Ghorbanifar as an intermediary, intelligence sources say. Hoekstra attended at least one meeting in Paris with Curt Weldon and Harold Rhode to meet with Ghorbanifar.

“Hoekstra okayed these channels,” one intelligence source said. “He gave his blessing.”

In response to an email from RAW STORY, the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican spokesman Jamal Ware said he was out of the office and unable to discuss this issue with Congressman Hoekstra, adding: it was “doubtful we would have a comment either way.”

Iran Contra middleman
If these allegations are true, Ghorbanifar’s recruitment reinstates him to a position he held during the Iran Contra affair, when he was implicated in the scandal of selling arms to Iran in order to fund a right wing terrorist group, the Contras, who were battling the democratically-elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Ghorbanifar was also present at discussions in Rome in 2001 – talks which have received much attention because they were attended by Pentagon and Iranian officials. According to neoconservative Michael Ledeen, who participated in the talks, the topic was Iran. A second set of meetings later took place in Paris.

“The Rome meetings had nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq, but with Iran and Afghanistan," Ledeen told RAW STORY.

In an exclusive interview with Newsweek late last year, Ghorbanifar stated that the meetings in Rome and Paris were about regime change in Iran. The meetings included Larry Franklin, a Pentagon Iran analyst who has been convicted for passing secrets to an Israeli lobby, and Harold Rhode, a Defense Department consultant also under investigation in the case.

“Ghorbanifar, a former Iranian spy who helped launch the Iran-contra affair, says one of the things he discussed with Defense officials Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin at meetings in Rome in December 2001 (and in Paris last June with only Rhode) was regime change in Iran,” Newsweek wrote.

Ledeen says that Ghorbanifar’s role in the Rome meeting he attended was that of “occasional translator” and “organizer”.

“Please note, once again, that Ghorbanifar was not an active participant in the December, 2001, meetings in Rome,” says Ledeen.

“In all the discussions I attended, there was no discussion of Iraq; we talked about Iran, and particularly about Iran's activities in Afghanistan, aimed at American forces there,” he added.

“Ghorbanifar has never made a secret of his desire to rid his country of the mullahs' tyranny,” Ledeen continued. “He has said that constantly since the first day I met him, in 1985. It shouldn't surprise anyone to hear that he may have spoken about that with US Government officials, in Rome and elsewhere. But if that happened, it was outside the meetings I attended.”

As previously reported by RAW STORY, the Paris meetings, which were also attended by Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) on at least two occasions in the spring of 2003, involved attempts by Ghorbanifar to advance false intelligence in order to implicate Iran in a bizarre uranium theft claim. The assertions were debunked by the CIA and by other US intelligence and military experts.

According to two of the three intelligence sources, the arms dealer was brought in to observe attempts by Khalilzad or Iranian officials at diplomatic activities and report back to Rumsfeld and/or Cheney through whomever is “holding” Ghorbanifar, sources say.