Rush Limbaugh is asking if the foiled terrorist plot Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday was a ploy to distract the American people from Holder’s role in a deadly Mexican gun-running operation. Holder announced the plot — in which Iranian forces allegedly plotted to hire a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in a Washington, D.C., restaurant — shortly after Congressman Darrell Issa threatened to subpoena him for misleading Congress about Operation Fast and Furious. “What a great way to sidestep the fact that he’s being delivered a subpoena for Fast and Furious,” Limbaugh told his audience on Tuesday. “That’s exactly what this is all about…No question in my mind what Holder’s press conference is about.”
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Is it possible Rush is right that Holder, or someone other than the Iranian government, has overhyped the story for political ends? The evidence shows, surprisingly, that the possibility of a hoax cannot be dismissed out of hand.
According to Eric Holder, an Iranian contacted a member of the Mexican cartel Los Zetas in May about a plan to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, allegedly also offered to pay the Mexican gang to bomb the Israeli embassy in America, and the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Argentina. However, the Los Zetas connection was an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who informed the DEA about the offer. In August, Arbabsiar wired him a $100,000 down payment on the $1.5 million promised fee. When Arbabsiar flew into Mexico as human collateral, the government routed his plane to New York, where federal agents took him into custody.
Once there, he named Gholam Shakuri, a member of Iran’s Quds Force, as his co-conspirator and made covert calls to Shakuri from prison. (Shakuri is still at large, presumably in Iran.) The administration is designating three other members of Quds as terrorists.
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So far, no one has disputed these facts.
Yet Holder insisted at yesterday’s press conference, “High-up officials in those [Iranian] agencies, which is an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible for this plot. I think one has to be concerned about the chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here.” And Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, said, “it looks like it’s the Quds Force.”
This is highly questionable. Experts on terrorism question the tactics and generally unprofessional execution of the plot, saying they indicate the Quds Force did not authorize this, much less the higher levels of the Iranian government.
Roger Cressey, who worked in national security in the Clinton and Bush-43 administrations, called the entire plot “a sting operation.” He added “corroborating evidence” would be “critical” to establish that the Iranian government had anything to do with it.
Robert Baer, a CIA expert on the region and author of See No Evil, said the operation’s sloppiness “defies belief.” This operation did not match his knowledge of Iran’s elite fighting force. “The Quds are better than this,” he said. “If they wanted to come after you, you’d be dead already.”
Rasool Nafisi, an expert on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard of which Quds is a part, agrees, “It’s not typical of the Quds Force or the I.R.G.C. to operate in the U.S., for fear of retaliation.”
The Washington Post reported, “The brazenness of the plot outlined by Justice Department officials struck many current and former U.S. officials as out of character for Iran, which has rarely, if ever, been so bold as to strike targets in America.”
The New York Times writes, “Experts on Iran expressed astonishment at both the apparently clumsy tradecraft and the uncertain goal of the intended mayhem on United States soil.” It adds the assassination conspiracy would be “uncharacteristically bold.”
Reuters summarized, “The Quds Force has not previously been known to focus on targets in the United States.”
Even those who propound the story seem to acknowledge its fanciful nature. FBI Director Robert Mueller said the plot he unveiled “reads like the pages of a Hollywood script.”
Did Eric Holder announce this to draw attention away from Operation Fast and Furious, as Bill Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox in the midst of impeachment?
It did come immediately after Congressman Darrell Issa questioned Holder’s “credibility” to served and sternly informed the attorney general in a letter, “you own Fast and Furious.” Holder has a history of misleading Congress. Congress seemed poised to examine the attorney general’s own Operation Fast and Loose.
And Holder did seem awfully motivated to leave the press briefing the instant a reporter brought up Operation Fast and Furious. When asked, Holder rhetorically pivoted, implying it was a mere trifle. He said, “what I want the American people to understand is that in complying with those subpoenas and dealing with that inquiry, that will not detract us from the important business we have to do here at the Justice Department, including matters like the one that we have announced today.”
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Is it possible Holder hyped the story? Perhaps. At a minimum, the Iranian leadership’s involvement is far from the proverbial intelligence “slam-dunk.”
Make no mistake, committing an act of terrorism is not beyond Iran. Tehran’s mullahcracy has destabilized the region ever since Jimmy Carter abandoned the Shah three decades ago. State-sponsored terrorism is an action the Iranians have raised to a fine art, as Michelangelo did to sculpture or Shakespeare did to verse. That proficiency calls into question the Keystone Cops nature of this amateurish operation.
It is possible the gold standard for world terrorism became inexplicably incompetent for this one job? Then again, if the Quds Force or the Iranian government did not authorize this hit, who did?
To be fair, Iran has plotted to murder a Saudi ambassador in Germany. And who, looking at the sheer incompetence of Operation Fast and Furious, would believe it was designed by the U.S. government? (On second thought….) Perhaps the evidence will connect these dots. Until it does, this author will remain dubious.
Americans’ minds are now consumed with finding out whether the highest levels of the Iranian government hatched this harebrained plot. They should remain vigilant about discovering who in the highest levels of the U.S. government authorized Fast and Furious.