The other day I picked on David Ignatius for quoting an unnamed Iraqi intelligence official in his column. The Anonymous Iraqi Spy claimed that Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki had an Iranian private jet, staffed by Iranian flight crew. (And Dave, if you’ve ever flown Iraqi Airways, you’ll know why Maliki went with Iran on this one!) When a place like the Washington Post prints what Ignatius sort of says is only “a conspiracy theory” (though he also seems to say it’s good information) that conspiracy theory is bound to get picked up and bounced around and taken as fact. Maybe it is fact, maybe it isn’t. All we have is one Anonymous Iraqi Spy telling us, via David Ignatius. So we shouldn’t really have too much confidence in that.
But, as we know–think of all that stuff called “pre-war intelligence”–folks with different agendas like to use these anonymous quotes to push their political aims. (In the case above, making Maliki out as an Iranian stooge ensures a prolonged American commitment to Iraq, a benefit for those who’ve been living off the U.S. dime since the invasion.)
So Ignatius’s thin reporting has been picked up by a political group called The National Council of Resistance for Iran, that, as the name implies, wants to liberate Iran. The NCRI isn’t even quoting David I’s reporting anymore–it’s quoting an Arabic website Watanee, which picked up on the anonymous allegation made in Washington Post. Watanee takes that allegation one step further–the Arabic paper says that the flight crew were members of Iran’s elite Quds force! And they were forced to stay on the plane during Maliki’s summer visit to DC! And they were here to spy on us! Here’s the quote from the NCRI, at length:
According to Watanee website, American officials did not permit the Iranian crew to leave Nouri Al-Maliki’s plane during his latest visit to the United States.
The report added: “This plane has a crew of six persons who are Iranians and hold Iranian passports. This prompted American officials to return them to the Airplane and deny them permission to stay at one of the hotels considered for the Iraqi delegation.
“Without success, Maliki tried to convince the American officials to allow the crew to leave the plane, but in view of U.S. firmness, his efforts failed to succeed.
“The crew of Maliki’s plane, which he uses for his foreign travels, was sent by Iran to Iraq after Maliki became prime minister. This step was taken due to Iran’s fear of security infiltration into an Iraqi crew, which, in turn, created disagreements and protests by many Iraqi pilots who were more qualified.
“A source close to the Iraqi delegation that accompanied Maliki in his trip to U.S. described the Iranian crew’s morale as miserable, adding that they were terrified of being arrested by the American officials. This was the case since the six crew members were hand-picked by Qasem Soleymani, the Commander of Quds Force, for this mission which was described by the source as an intelligence mission.
Okay. The likely evolution of this anonymously sourced allegation goes like so: Iraqi spy talks to David I. David I. prints Iraqi spy’s allegation. Arabic language newspaper staff reads David I’s report, takes it seriously, and does the follow up reporting, where they get (at least one) more unnamed Iraqi official(though it could be the same unnamed official that Dave used) confirming the story. (My gut tells me, as David likes to say, is that his source spilled these other details to him, too, but David I. was being cautious and knew that making those kinds of accusations would seem a little silly, and would certainly need confirmation. So he dialed them back to the basics–6 Iranian flight crew members. Hint at the spy part between the lines.)
Assuming that any of this is true, isn’t this a pretty big deal? That the Prime Minister of Iraq, our nominal ally, tried to sneak in a team of Iranian spies on an “intelligence gathering mission” while coming to visit President Obama?
Isn’t this something that usually, as they say, gets headlines?