[Guest post by DRJ]
Yesterday the AP reported on one of the “enduring mysteries of the war on terror”:
“It’s one of the enduring mysteries of the war on terrorism: What will become of the al-Qaida leaders and operatives who fled into Iran after 9/11 and have been detained there for years?
Their fate has long been a blindspot for U.S. intelligence. Recently, however, some al-Qaida figures have quietly made their way out of Iran, raising the prospect that the country is loosening its grip on the terror group so it can replenish its ranks, former and current U.S. intelligence officials say.”
The report portrays al Qaeda leaders more as Iran’s hostages than its guests, and touches on America’s intelligence efforts to understand their relationship. Ultimately, however, many analysts concluded it was a beneficial relationship in which Iran harbored al Qaeda so both could focus on their mutual enemy, the United States. That led the Bush Administration to target al Qaeda in Iran with a program called RIGOR:
“Late in President George W. Bush’s administration, the CIA began developing a broad and lethal counterterrorism program, RIGOR, that targeted an array of terrorists in different countries. Part of the program examined the possibility of finding and eliminating al-Qaida inside Iran, former intelligence officials said.
They described the program as a feasibility study. One aspect was to figure out whether the CIA could slip spies into Iran to locate and possibly kill al-Qaida figures. RIGOR was separate from an earlier program involving contractors from Blackwater Worldwide.
RIGOR existed on the books for about two years but never progressed any further. CIA Director Leon Panetta canceled RIGOR last year. A U.S. official familiar with the program said a list of specific targets had not yet been identified when the program was nixed.
U.S. officials realized that things in Iran were changing in the waning days of Bush’s administration when Saad bin Laden crossed into Pakistan. The administration took the unusual step of announcing bin Laden’s move and freezing his assets. As many as four others were believed to have been with him.
At the time, officials didn’t believe Saad bin Laden’s departure was an isolated event.
Indeed, it wasn’t.
Since Saad bin Laden left Iran, other al-Qaida figures have followed, current and former officials say. They are suspected to be taking smuggling routes heading toward Saudi Arabia or the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. Last fall, top CIA officers received intelligence reports suggesting the release of several al-Qaida members from Iran, according to a former CIA official.”
General David Petraeus has publicly addressed the danger presented by Iran:
“The Iranian regime is the primary state-level threat to stability in the region. Throughout much of the region, the regime pursues a dual-track foreign policy. Overtly, the Iranian government cooperates with regional states through bilateral arrangements to promote Iran as an economic, political, and military power. In parallel, the regime entrusts the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-Qods Force to execute covert aspects of its foreign policy using political influence, covert businesses, lethal and non-lethal aid, and training to militants supportive of the regime’s agenda. The Qods Force is active throughout the region, and, in fact, controls Iranian foreign policy in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza and influences heavily in Afghanistan and the Gulf Region. Through Qods Force soft power initiatives and destabilizing activities, such as coercion and direct attacks, Iran is subverting democratic processes and intimidating the nascent governments of our partners.”
Iran harbors al Qaeda’s leaders.
Al Qaeda is able to continue its operations from Iran.
The Bush Administration tracked and targeted al Qaeda in Iran with a program called RIGOR.
The CIA under the Obama Administration closed the RIGOR program.