The long promised "proof" that the Iranian government was contributing to attacks on American soldiers in Iraq presented to reporters in Baghdad on February 11, 2007 was greeted with skepticism--if not downright derision--in the United States and elsewhere. The nearly universal rejection of their claims, however, did not deter the administration from continuing to pursue this line of information operations.
The headline of a July 2nd New York Times story by former Judith Miller cohort Michael R. Gordon read: "U.S. Ties Iran to Deadly Iraq Attack." The article was a masterpiece of Rovewellian doublespeak.
It extensively quoted then Brigadier General Kevin J. Bergner, who only weeks earlier had taken over the job as Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Effects in Iraq from Major General William Caldwell IV. (Caldwell has since been promoted to Lieutenant General, and Bergner recently advanced to Major General, so this public affairs gig in Iraq appears to be good for one's career these days.) In fact, the piece didn't directly quote anyone except Bergner.
Gordon wrote that unnamed "American military officials" had "long asserted" that the Quds force, "an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, has trained and equipped Shiite militants in Iraq." "The Americans" had also, according to Gordon, "cited exclusive intelligence" that Iran has supplied Shiite militants with shaped explosive charges capable of penetrating armored vehicles and "American officials" had alleged that "Iran has been in a proxy war against American forces for years."
The crux of the article was the claim, attributed to Bergner, that "Iranian operatives helped plan a January raid in Karbala in which five American soldiers were killed." American and Iraqi officials apparently determined at the time that Iranians were involved because the raid "appeared to be meticulously planned," so it naturally stood to reason that Iraqis militants couldn't have pulled it off by themselves. But the ubiquitous officials "stopped short of making a case that the Quds Force may have been directly involved in planning the attack" until the occasion of Bergner's press brief on July 2nd.
(It's worth noting at this point that nothing in Gordon's article indicates that any of the officials he or Bergner referred to were at the briefing, or any other members of the press for that matter. In fact, from the way Gordon wrote the piece, it sounds like nobody was in the room except Gordon and Bergner. We can tell from the transcript of the briefing that other reporters and members of Bergner's staff were in attendance, but they may as well not have been. Bergner and Gordon completely dominated the event.)
The most damning evidence of Iranian complicity in American deaths that Gordon related came in the form of information gleaned from captured Shiite militants. From these prisoners, officials learned that "Iran’s Quds Force provided detailed information on the activities of American soldiers in Karbala" and that Iran "has been using Lebanese Hezbollah as a 'proxy' or 'surrogate' in training and equipping Shiite militants in Iraq." "Hezbollah leadership" instructed two of the prisoners "to go to Iran and help the Quds Force train Shiite Iraqi militants." Intelligence gained from the prisoners also indicated that "groups of up to 60 Iraqi militants were brought to Iran for military instruction at three camps near Tehran and trained in using road-side bombs, mortars, rockets, kidnapping operations and in how to operate as a sniper."
This all sounds compelling until we stop to notice a few things. First is that although Gordon names the captured militants and gives details of their backgrounds, we never heard of them before and nothing about their backgrounds supports the veracity of the information they supposedly coughed up to interrogators. (Moreover, filling a story with interesting but irrelevant details is a standard liar's trick.) Secondly, all this information was relayed to Gordon through Bergner. At the time officials were gaining intelligence from these prisoners, Bergner was back in Washington writing pro-war propaganda for the White House, so the "evidence" Gordon echoed in the New York Times was fourth hand hearsay at the very best. Finally and most importantly, prisoners of this war have been known to tell their interrogators exactly what they want to hear for in exchange for as little as a Twixt bar or a copy of Martha Stewart Living magazine.
As if all this rhetorical manipulation weren't already enough, the article ended with one of the most exquisite pieces of bull feather merchandising I have seen pulled by a Bush camp reporter and general team to date:
“Our intelligence reveals that the senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity,” [Bergner] said. When he was asked if Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could be unaware of the activity, General Bergner said, “that would be hard to imagine.”
Gee, it would be hard to imagine that prehistoric humans could have made those funny patterns in the desert; therefore ancient astronauts must have done it. And oh by the way, the official transcript of the briefing reveals that the Bergner "was asked" the question by Michael R. Gordon. I guess Gordon wouldn't agree to be referenced unless he promised himself anonymity--due to the sensitivity of the subject, of course.
You'd think this briefing would have been greeted with the same scorn the February briefing received, but no. On July 11th, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would "require a report on support provided by the government of Iran for attacks against coalition forces, American forces, in Iraq." Lieberman wanted to "bring forth a strong unified statement by the Senate of the United States that we have noted the evidence presented by our military about the involvement of the Iranian forces in the training and equipping of Iraqi terrorists," and it was his hope that, "this amendment will offer an opportunity for us to come together to accept the evidence our military has given us of Iran's involvement in the murder of hundreds of American soldiers."
What "evidence our military has given us" was he referring to? The "forensic evidence" that "senior military officials" had produced at the February press brief and the "new" and "stunning" details Brigadier General Kevin Bergner had provided the week before.
So in July, on the basis of forensic evidence that amounted to the say-so of a single unnamed weapons expert, intelligence gained from prisoners under interrogation, the unconfirmed assertions of anonymous officials and "stunning details" presented by a professional propaganda operative, Joe Lieberman asked the Senate for a "strong unified statement" that would "say to the Iranians that this must stop."
He was desensitizing his audience in preparation for the stunt he was about to pull in September.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Military.com. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.