Times tips to Iran’s American network

On Thursday the Department of Justice announced the arrests of “New York man” Ali Kourani and “Michigan man” Samar El Debek as Hezbollah agents. They have been charged with providing material support to Hezbollah. They were on the prowl looking to do damage in the United States and elsewhere. Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim made the announcment:

Today, we announce serious terrorism charges against two men who allegedly trained with and supported the Islamic Jihad Organization, a component of the foreign terrorist organization Hizballah. Recruited as Hizballah operatives, Samer El Debek and Ali Kourani allegedly received military-style training, including in the use of weapons like rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns for use in support of the group’s terrorist mission. At the direction of his Hizballah handlers, El Debek allegedly conducted missions in Panama to locate the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and to assess the vulnerabilities of the Panama Canal and ships in the Canal. Kourani allegedly conducted surveillance of potential targets in America, including military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.

The Department of Justice press release has much more in the way of detail along with comments on Hezbollah’s status as an Iranian asset. The alleged facts set forth in the press release are chilling.

Iran maintains a sophisticated network of agents in the United States. Jordan Chandler Hirsch opens his review of Jay Solomon’s book on Iran and the Obama administration with this story:

In April 2009, a young Iranian, Shahram Amiri, disappeared in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Ostensibly there to perform the hajj, Amiri had in fact brokered a deal with the CIA to provide information on Iran’s nuclear program. Leaving his wife and child behind in Iran and a shaving kit in an empty Saudi hotel room, Amiri fled to America, received asylum, pocketed $5 million, and resettled in Arizona. Formerly a scientist at Malek Ashtar University, one of several institutes harboring Iran’s nuclear endeavors, Amiri conveyed the structure of the program and intelligence about a number of key research sites, including the secret facility at Fordow.

The story might have ended there. But according to Jay Solomon, chief foreign affairs correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and author of The Iran Wars, what happened next “emerged as one of the strangest episodes in modern American espionage.” A year after Amiri defected, he appeared on YouTube, claiming that the CIA had drugged and kidnapped him. In fact, Iranian intelligence had begun threatening his family through their intelligence assets in the United States [Ed. note: Solomon reports in the book that Iranian threats against Amiri’s wife and son left in Iran had been conveyed to Amiri through “a sophisticated network of assets maintained in the” United States]. Buckling under that pressure, Amiri demanded to re-defect. In July 2010, he returned to a raucous welcome in Tehran, claimed he had been working for Iran all along, and reunited with his son. Of course this was not the end of the story. Amiri soon disappeared, and in August 2016, shortly after Solomon’s book was published, he was hanged.

This past August David Sanger reported on Amiri’s execution for the Times in “How an Iranian’s spy saga ends, 6 years later: He’s executed.”

Students of ancient history may also recall Iran’s 2011 effort to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C. The Houston Chronicle updated the story in its 2015 report “How a plot to kill Saudi ambassador went from fiction to fact.”

Against this background, one wonders what the New York Times was thinking when it drew on the usual anonymous sources to expose Michael D’Andrea, the CIA officer newly appointed to run the agency’s Iran operations. The Times explained:

The C.I.A. declined to comment on Mr. D’Andrea’s role, saying it does not discuss the identities or work of clandestine officials. The [current and former intelligence] officials spoke only on the condition of anonymity because Mr. D’Andrea remains undercover, as do many senior officials based at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va….The New York Times is naming Mr. D’Andrea because his identity was previously published in news reports, and he is leading an important new administration initiative against Iran.

A footnote about those “previously published” news reports. In the version of the story posted online, the Times linked to its own 2015 story by Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo as I have above.

The Times and its gaggle of “current and former officials” are guilty of mind-boggling irresponsibility. They have put a target on D’Andrea’s back. They omit only D’Andrea’s home address. They have damaged the national security of the United States to no public purpose. Their action is deeply nasty, gratuitous and, given its role in hyping the alleged “outing” of Valerie Plame into a crisis of the first order, unbelievably hypocritical. Yet so far as I am aware Marc Thiessen stands among mainstream media columnists in calling out the Times for what it has done.