June 13, 2011 | National Review Online

Weapons, Spooks, and Mirrors

Angleton stays on the news.

James Jesus Angleton, the late chief of CIA counterterrorism, and one of America’s all-time fans of James Joyce, was looking for the right words with which to express his feelings about the latest developments. It may have been the uncertainties associated with the (very) long-distance connection I’d worked out via my old ouija board, but it seemed to me that he was actually sputtering.

JJA: Can you believe it? The Brits getting rolled by an Arab thug? It’s… well, it’s pure blackmail, and they actually paid off.

He was talking about the story that appeared in the Guardian back on February 15, telling of the day when Prince Bandar — formerly ambassador to Washington and now the head of the Saudi national-security council — told the British government that if they didn’t shut down an investigation into payoffs from British arms manufacturers to Saudi businessmen, it might lead to the loss of “British lives on British streets.” The Saudis would just cut off intelligence on “suicide bombers and terrorists,” and so there might well be “another 7/7” in England. Blair caved, and the investigation was terminated.

ML: Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? On the one hand, if you tell Bandar to take a hike, you’ve got the proven risk of terrorist attack. On the other, if you do what they want, you keep the information flow coming, and you make money on the arms deals. What government would say “no” to that?

JJA: You must be kidding. The Saudis are sitting on a tinderbox in the middle of a region in flames. They are in no position to defend themselves against Iran — which is why they’ve been so nice to the mullahs of late — and they count on the Brits to deliver the Americans. Bandar was bluffing. If the Brits had just said, “well, we’re sorry you’re upset, and we sympathize. But we’ve got an independent judiciary and, you know, we suffer from it too,” and then added, “it would really be a shame if there were more terrorist attacks in London; Blair might have to throw in with crazy Bush, and God only knows where that would lead.”

ML: Seems like a hell of a big risk to me. What if he wasn’t bluffing?

JJA: There’s an unspoken premise in the Saudi threat: that they’ve penetrated the terror cells. If that is true, they will have demonstrated it by now, by the quality of the information they have given Her Majesty’s government. Otherwise the threat couldn’t have been made, right?

ML: Right. But there’s another assumption too, isn’t there? Namely that the Brits could only get that information if the Saudis wanted them to have it…

JJA: Very good, you’re starting to think like a counterintelligence analyst now. The Brits have been in Arabia for a long time, even before Peter O’Toole learned to ride a camel.

ML: Lawrence, you mean.

JJA: Yes, whatever. And don’t you think that the Brits, whose intelligence service is quite good, have managed to get their own sources inside the kingdom?

ML: But they wouldn’t want the Saudis to know that.

JJA: Bravo! Which is probably why the “blackmail” worked, along with the money, of course.

ML: You mean that if the Brits told Bandar to take a walk, the Saudis might realize that the Secret Intelligence Service had other ways of finding out what the Saudis knew?

JJA: Is that less likely than the British government humiliating itself by succumbing to a crude blackmail threat?

ML: I guess not, but it’s pretty complicated.

JJA: Most of life in the world of intelligence is very complicated.

ML: Which brings me to my other big question, the infamous National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It’s now a commonplace in the MSM that our intelligence community thinks it knows that the Iranians stopped their secret nuclear weapons program several years ago.

JJA: Yeah, although the Estimate itself said we’re not certain about what, if anything, happened thereafter.

ML: That’s not what Robin Wright just said in the Washington Post. She wrote “President Bush said…that Iran has declared that it wants to be a nuclear power with a weapon to “destroy people,” including others in the Middle East, “contradicting the judgments of a recent U.S. intelligence estimate.”

JJA: But that same estimate says that “convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran’s key…objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons…and (the decision to suspend the program) is inherently reversible.”

ML: So you’re not convinced?

JJA: Convinced of what? The nuclear-enrichment program seems to have accelerated in the past few years, and that’s the key to building your own atomic bomb. And I’d have to know a hell of a lot more than I do know, to judge the importance of the “information” the IC says it has. Maybe it’s very good, and maybe it’s a deception. Remember the timing.

ML: Yeah, the “suspension” coincides with the invasion of Iraq.

JJA: At which time the mullahs must have been afraid we’d keep marching. Towards Tehran.

ML: So you think it’s possible they staged something to show their, uh, good will?

JJA: Hahaha, good will from a country that has ceaselessly killed Americans for nearly 30 years, that’s a good one.

ML: I think I’m losing you…

The ouija board was emitting sparks and a bit of smoke.

JJA: Wait, there’s more…Bush had it mostly right, I mean… Ahmadinejad… wiped off the map…and more still…

But there wasn’t. Maybe next time.

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