claim of Iran-al-Qaeda 'deal'
discredited By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - The United States Treasury
Department's claim of a "secret deal" between Iran
and al-Qaeda, which had become a key argument by
right-wing activists who support war against Iran,
has been discredited by former intelligence
officials in the wake of publication of documents
from Osama bin Laden's files revealing a high
level of antagonism between al-Qaeda and Tehran.
Three former intelligence officials with
experience on the Near East and South Asia told
Inter Press Service (IPS) they regard Treasury's
claim of a secret agreement between Iran and
al-Qaeda as false and misleading.
claim was presented in a way that suggested it was
supported by intelligence. It now appears,
however, to have been
merely a propaganda line
designed to support the Barack Obama
administration's strategy of diplomatic coercion
Under Secretary of Treasury David
S Cohen announced last July that the department
was "exposing Iran's secret deal with al-Qaeda
allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through
its territory". The charge was introduced in
connection with the designation of an al-Qaeda
official named Yasin al-Suri as a terrorist
subject to financial sanctions.
Treasury claim has been embraced by the right-wing
Weekly Standard and others aligned with hardline
Israeli views on Iran, as primary source evidence
of an alliance between Iran and al-Qaeda.
But Paul Pillar, former national
intelligence officer for the Near East and South
Asia, told IPS the allegation of a "secret deal"
between Iran and al-Qaeda "has never been backed
up by any evidence that would justify such a term"
and that it is "a highly misleading
characterization of interaction between Iran and
Pillar said the recently
released Bin Laden documents "not only do not
demonstrate any agreement in which Iran condoned
or facilitated operations by al-Qaeda, they
contradict the notion that there was any such
"I've never seen anything that
suggests that happened," said another former
intelligence official, referring to an
Iran-al-Qaeda agreement. "I'm very skeptical about
A third former intelligence
official said Treasury's "secret deal" claim
"doesn't pass the BS test" and noted that it is
perfectly aligned with the Obama administration's
policy of pressure on Iran.
said the Treasury Department's push for its
"secret deal" line is emblematic of a larger split
in the intelligence community between those for
whom intelligence is secondary to their role in
"counter-terrorism" policy and the rest of the
"The counter-terrorism types
are like used car salesmen," the former official
told IPS. "They are always overselling something.
They have to show that they are doing important
The actual text of the July 28,
2011, "designation" of Yasin al-Suri suggests that
the claim of such a "secret deal" is merely a
political spin on the fact that Iran dealt with
al-Suri on the release of prisoners.
says that Yasin al Suri is an al-Qaeda facilitator
"living and operating in Iran under agreement
between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government".
Iranian authorities, it said, "maintain a
relationship with [al-Suri] and have permitted him
to operate within Iran's borders since 2005".
The designation offers no other evidence
of an "agreement" except for the fact that Iran
dealt with al-Suri in arranging the releases of
al-Qaeda prisoners from Iranian detention and
their transfer to Pakistan.
notice of a US$10 million reward for al-Suri on
the website of the Rewards for Justice program
under the Diplomatic Security office of the State
Department also indicates that the only
"agreement" between Iran and al-Qaeda has been to
"Working with the
Iranian government," it said, "al-Suri arranges
the release of al-Qaeda personnel from Iranian
prisons. When al-Qaeda operatives are released,
the Iranian government transfers them to al-Suri,
who then facilitates their travel to Pakistan."
Neither the Treasury Department nor the
State Department, which joined the February 2012
press briefing on the reward for finding al-Suri,
referred to the fact that Iran had been forced to
deal with al-Suri and to release al-Qaeda
detainees in order to obtain the release of an
Iranian diplomat kidnapped by Pakistani allies of
al-Qaeda in Peshawar, Pakistan in November 2008.
In one of the documents taken from the
Abbottabad compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden
was killed by US Special Forces and published by
West Point's Counter-Terrorism Center last week, a
senior al-Qaeda official wrote, "We believe that
our efforts, which included escalating a political
and media campaign, the threats we made, the
kidnapping of their friend the commercial
counselor in the Iranian consulate in Peshawar,
and other reasons that scared them based on what
they saw [what we are capable of], to be among the
reasons that led them to expedite [the release of
In response to the IPS
request for clarification of the "secret
agreement" claim, John Sullivan, a spokesman for
the Treasury Department's Office of Terrorism and
Financial Intelligence, declined to answer any
questions on the subject or to allow IPS to
interview Eytan Fisch, the assistant director of
the Terrorism and Financial Intelligence office.
In briefing journalists on al-Suri last
February, Fisch had again invoked the alleged
Iran-al Qaeda "secret agreement" last February.
Sullivan defended the Treasury
Department's position on the issue, however,
against criticism based on the publication of the
Bin Laden documents. "We based our action on Yasin
al-Suri on a broad array of information that far
exceeds what was recently made public," Sullivan
said in an e-mail to IPS.
Asked about the
hint by the Treasury spokesman that department
officials used still-classified material as the
basis for the claim of a "secret agreement",
former national intelligence officer Pillar called
The origins of the
Treasury Department's "secret deal" claim indicate
that it was intended to generate press stories
that would increase political and government
support for pressure on Iran through economic
sanctions and military threats.
designation of Yasin al-Suri as a terrorist
subject to financial sanctions on July 28, 2011,
did not have any impact on al-Qaeda funding. The
objective was to allow the Treasury to generate
press coverage of its charge of a secret Iran-al
Qaeda agreement. The timing of the move coincided
with a shift in Obama administration strategy from
diplomatic engagement to maximizing pressure on
During the period when
neo-conservatives were pushing for an explicit
policy of support for regime change in Iran during
the first George W Bush administration, US
officials frequently talked as though any al-Qaeda
presence in Iran was evidence of Iran's
cooperation with the terrorist organization.
But as ABC News reported on May 29, 2008,
Bush administration officials were acknowledging
privately that they were not complaining about
Iranian policy toward al-Qaeda operatives in Iran,
because Iran had "kept these al-Qaeda operatives
under control since 2003, limiting their ability
to travel and communicate".
said al-Qaeda officials under Iranian control,
"some of whom are quite important", were
"essentially on ice".
continued, however, to use its relations with
friendly news media, especially in the United
Kingdom, to generate disinformation about alleged
joint Iranian-al Qaeda planning for terrorist
Rupert Murdoch's Sky News carried
a story on February 15, 2012, citing "intelligence
sources" from an unnamed state as suggesting that
Iran had been supplying al-Qaeda with "training in
the use of advanced explosives" as well as some
funding and a safe haven "as part of a deal first
worked out in 2009".
The report quoted the
intelligence sources as saying that Iran wanted to
use the threat of al-Qaeda retaliation against
Western targets as "revenge for any military
strike against Iran's nuclear capabilities".
Gareth Porter is an
investigative historian and journalist
specializing in US national security policy. The
paperback edition of his latest book, Perils
of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to
War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.