A moderate to heavy swell is building in the infosphere around the Monday morning article at Politico headlined “Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway.”
Not unnaturally, a lot of media outlets on the right are picking up on it. The post cites government officials – some of them on the record – complaining that in his quest to get the JCPOA “deal” with Iran in 2015, Obama had counterproliferation cases quashed and investigative work shut down.
Trails, we are told, have gone cold, after 21 people – most of them located outside the U.S. at the time – were let off the hook for their prohibited proliferation activities. Seven of them were the individuals released by the U.S. in January 2016, as part of the cartel-like “prisoner exchange” with Iran. The other 14 were no longer subject to Interpol warrants for charges in American courts.
Federal employees were discouraged to see their work, in some cases years of it, go for naught. And officials in the Obama White House, along with Loretta Lynch, are implicated directly.
Indeed, the tone of the first dozen paragraphs of the article is unrelievedly critical of Obama. Since that is notably uncharacteristic of Politico, I found it curious, and wondered why we were being given this specific story, at this specific time.
After all, we already knew Obama gave away years of case-building work against the 21 characters in question. That came out at the very time it happened. We’d had hints of the cases being inexplicably dropped as far back as 2013, when the first interim “agreement” with Iran was implemented (in November of that year). In the fall of 2015, opponents of the JCPOA testified to Congress about the ill effects of the negotiation process for U.S. counterproliferation efforts. Close observers of the counterproliferation program were already warning that the Obama Justice Department was inhibiting its own activities, in order to appease Iran and keep the “deal” process going.
For all but four of the Iranian proliferators, media outlets were able to construct the facts of each individual case in the first weeks after the January 2016 prisoner swap, using nothing but previous news reporting. We knew who these guys were, what they were accused of, how long we had been pursuing them, and what some of their key global connections were. We understood what was being “given away,” and we understood it at the time.
So why make a big deal of it now? Especially when it shows up Obama in such a bad light?
An inkling of the reason comes starting in paragraph 19 of the Politico piece:
The saga of how the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench into its own Justice Department-led counterproliferation effort continues to play out almost entirely out of public view, largely because of the highly secretive nature of the cases and the negotiations that affected them.
That may be about to change, as the Trump administration and both chambers of Congress have pledged to crack down on Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a government-wide review of U.S. policy toward Iran in the face of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time.”
On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared that even if Iran is meeting the terms of its deal with the Obama administration and other world powers, “they are not living up to the spirit of it, I can tell you that. And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully, and we’ll have something to say about that in the not-too-distant future.”
The two key points: the “highly secretive nature of the cases,” and the fact that the Trump administration is quite probably restarting the motor on them.
The cases may have been highly secretive before. But after the Politico article gets through, they aren’t anymore. The balance of the piece reads like an exposé of our investigative methods and agent activities. It also describes the level at which, prior to January 2016, we understood connections in the globally linked world of arms proliferation.
See this passage, for example:
At the time, those investigations were providing U.S. officials with a roadmap of how, exactly, Tehran was clandestinely building its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and maintaining its military with the unwitting assistance of so many U.S. weapons parts and technology companies. The cases were also providing key operational details of how the Iranian procurement networks operate, and who in Tehran was calling the shots.
And this one:
The National Counterproliferation Initiative, created with much fanfare a decade ago, has suffered greatly, many participants said, even as they acknowledged that metrics are hard to come by. Much of the work is done in secret, and in long-range efforts that can’t be publicly disclosed, much less measured in annual arrest or conviction statistics. …
At least six times in the run-up to the nuclear deal, federal investigators scrambled to get Justice and State Department approval to lure top Iranian targets into traveling internationally in order to arrest them, according to one top Obama administration Justice Department official and other participants.
David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, a physicist and former weapons inspector … said he witnessed many instances since late 2014 in which important investigations and prosecutions were hindered. Albright, who serves as an expert witness in Justice Department Iran trafficking prosecutions, added that federal agents have told him of numerous cases of “lure memos” and other requests never approved by the State Department. …
“They had wanted all of these things prosecuted, they were on a roll, they were freaking out the Iranians and then they were told, boom, stop,” Albright said of the Obama administration’s counterproliferation efforts. “And it’s hard to get them back again. We are shooting ourselves in the foot, destroying the infrastructure that we created to enforce the laws against the Iranians.”
The further you go in the Politico piece, the more specific some of the information gets. You can read it for yourself. There’s no need to act as a repeater for it here.
What in the world could be the reason for pumping this article out now, just as the Trump administration looks like it will be restarting the counterproliferation effort against Iran, and putting teeth behind it again?