Thursday, March 9, 2017

Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government

We have obtained a list of more than 400 Trump administration hires, including dozens of lobbyists and some from far-right media.

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by Justin ElliottDerek Kravitz and Al Shaw

A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed “ethnic cleansing” in a plot to “liquidate” the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An “evangelist” and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.
These are some of the people the Trump administration has hired for positions across the federal government, according to documents received by ProPublica through public-records requests.
While President Trump has not moved to fill many jobs that require Senate confirmation, he has quietly installed hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior.
Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.
While some names have previously dribbled out in the press, we are publishing a list of more than 400 hires, providing the most complete accounting so far of who Trump has brought into the federal government.
The White House said in January that around 520 staffers were being hired for the beachhead teams.
The list we obtained includes obscure campaign staffers, contributors to Breitbart and others who have embraced conspiracy theories, as well as dozens of Washington insiders who could be reasonably characterized as part of the “swamp” Trump pledged to drain.
The list is striking for how many former lobbyists it contains: We found at least 36, spanning industries from health insurance and pharmaceuticals to construction, energy and finance. Many of them lobbied in the same areas that are regulated by the agencies they have now joined.
That figure is almost certainly an undercount since we only included those who formally registered as lobbyists, a process increasingly avoided by many in Washington.
During the campaign, Trump said he would have “no problem” banning lobbyists from his administration. But they have nonetheless ended up in senior roles, aided by Trump’s weakening of Obama-era ethics rules that modestly limited lobbyists’ role in government.
The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.
There are many former congressional staffers, several top officials from the George W. Bush administration, and even a handful of holdovers from the Obama administration. The list also includes at least eight staffers drawn from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that forged close ties to the new administration during the transition.
Much about the role of the beachhead teams at various federal agencies is unclear. But close observers of the early weeks of the Trump administration believe they have taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees.
“If the public and Senate is in the dark about a team created without a Senate confirmation process, no one will be permitted to shed light on who is hopelessly conflicted or who is obviously unqualified — and who is both,” said Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
The beachhead team members are temporary employees serving for stints of four to eight months, but many are expected to move into permanent jobs. The Trump administration’s model is based on plans developed but never used by the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.
“The beachhead teams involve people with considerable authority over the federal government,” said Max Stier, the CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that advises presidential candidates on smooth transitions. “We need clarity about what they’re doing and what their role is going to be.”
The Obama administration also hired temporary staffers after the inauguration. But Trump has brought in many more, Stier said.
The new list of names was provided to us by the Office of Personnel Management, the government’s human resources agency. We received additional names from other federal agencies in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. At least a few people on the list have changed agencies or left the administration, including, for example, the young Department of Housing and Urban Development staffer who was fired after his anti-Trump writings during the campaign came to light.
Here is a run-down of some of the Trump hires.

The Breitbart wing

Curtis Ellis was a columnist for WorldNetDaily, a website best known for its enthusiastic embrace of the false notion that President Obama was born outside the United States. A column headlined the “The Radical Left’s Ethnic Cleansing of America” won Ellis an admiring interview with Steve Bannon, now Trump’s top aide. He is a longtime critic of trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Ellis was hired Jan. 20 as a special assistant to the secretary at the Labor Department. Asked about his role in a brief phone interview Tuesday, he said: “Nothing I can tell you.”
Jon Perdue, a self-described guerrilla warfare expert and fellow at a little-known security think tank, wrote a book called “The War of All the People: The Nexus of Latin American Radicalism and Middle Eastern Terrorism.” He is also a onetime contributor to Breitbart.
Perdue was featured on CNBC’s reality series “Make Me a Millionaire Inventor” for his invention, the Packbow, which Perdue came up with while studying “collapsed societies, and what people who lived in those societies came up with to either defend themselves or to survive.” It’s a bow and arrow that doubles as a compass, tent pole, walking stick, spearfishing rig, and water purification tablet receptacle.
Perdue was hired as a special assistant at the Treasury Department. The agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
John Jaggers ran the Trump campaign in Maryland and Virginia, where he made headlines for endorsing the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was “very, very sick and they’re covering it up.” As he put it last August: “The woman who seeks to be the first female president of the United States wears a wool coat at every single thing. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? It’s a big deal, folks.”
Jaggers was hired Jan. 20 as senior adviser at the General Services Administration, which oversees tens of billions of dollars of government procurement every year. But records show he left the job on March 3. He declined to comment.

Swamp denizens, including health care lobbyists hired by HHS Secretary Tom Price

Alexandra Campau, hired at the department of Health and Human Services, was formerly a lobbyist in Washington for the law firm Cozen O’Connor. According to disclosure records, her firm’s clients included a licensee of insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Fresenius Medical Care, a German company that specializes in medical supplies for renal dialysis.
Timothy Clark, a senior adviser to HHS Secretary Tom Price, ran his own political consulting firm in California. His past clients included PhRMA, the powerful trade group that represents the pharmaceutical industry.
Keagan Lenihan, also a senior adviser to Price, was a director of government relations at McKesson Specialty Health, a firm that supports independent health providers. Disclosure records show Lenihan directly lobbied HHS. For Lenihan, the new post represents a return trip through the revolving door between government and the private sector, and a reunion with an old boss. Before registering as a lobbyist, she was a senior legislative assistant for Price, when the now-HHS secretary was in Congress.
Asked about the three HHS staffers, an agency spokeswoman said: “We are not confirming or commenting on personnel at this time.”
Justin Mikolay, hired at the Department of Defense, was previously a registered lobbyist for Palantir. His title at the tech firm was “evangelist.” Mikolay lobbied for the “procurement/deployment of the Palantir Government software platform” throughout intelligence and defense agencies, according to disclosure records.
Mikolay was a speechwriter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta between 2011 and 2013, according to his LinkedIn profile. Mikolay also previously served as a speechwriter for current Secretary of Defense James Mattis. He declined to comment.
Chad Wolf, a Bush-era Transportation Security Administration official turned lobbyist, is currently serving as an adviser to the TSA at the Department of Homeland Security. His clients have included defense and homeland security contractors.
Reached Tuesday, Wolf declined to comment. George Rogers, CEO of Wolf’s lobbying firm, Wexler Walker, told ProPublica that Wolf is currently on unpaid leave.
As we’ve previously reported, lobbyists for the construction industry trade association and financial services firm TransAmerica are on the team at the Department of Labor.

Trump campaign vets — including very young ones

The list also includes what appear to be dozens of former Trump campaign staffers, including several who graduated from college last year. One, Danny Tiso at the Department of Labor, graduated from high school in 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile. He worked for the Trump campaign in New Hampshire.
Seth Harris, who was on the first Obama-Biden transition team and later became a top Labor Department official, said it’s not uncommon to bring in campaign staff to agencies — “as long as there are senior political people to direct the junior people.”
“This is how you incorporate the people who are your strongest supporters into the government,” he said. “There are plenty of junior jobs in the government that these people can do — public-affairs jobs, special assistant jobs.”

Trump Supporters Call For Imprisoning Liberals at Phoenix Rally

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WOMAN: (singing)... O say can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly...
DAN COHEN: On March 4th supporters of President Donald Trump gathered in Phoenix, Arizona, at the State Capital, as part of a nationwide March for Trump.
SUPPORT SPEAKER: And I heard, "Lock her up. Lock her up. Lock her up." And we still need to pursue that.
DAN COHEN: Throughout his rise to the White House, Trump capitalized on fear and hatred of Muslims and Mexicans, promising to enact draconian measures against them.
DONALD TRUMP: ...Total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
DAN COHEN: Perhaps nowhere is that xenophobia more pronounced than Maricopa County, Arizona, where Trump won more votes than any other county in the country.
MAN: This is America. We don't want Sharia law. It's a Christian country.
MAN: If you don't like it here, go to Syria, go someplace else.
DAN COHEN: The March for Trump drew Phoenix area locals, heavily armed militiamen, and white nationalists. Outspoken in preserving their narrow vision of American culture.
MAN: I don't want 'em! As a veteran, I don't want them! Let them go back home, where their home is. And if they're so... If they've got a problem, let Saudi Arabia take care of them.
MAN: Yeah, I was the one who started to chant: Build the wall. That's cool.
DAN COHEN: How old are you?
MALE: Thirteen. If she really is that Jewish, she should go back to her country, that girl right there.
MAN: Where are the Gay Pride events in Gaza? I have a gay friend who'd like to go to one.
MAN: I'm American, and the people coming, they need to assimilate.
MAN: They do not want to assimilate...
DAN COHEN: Why do think there are so few people of color here?
MAN: Well, actually I haven't noticed, but maybe if you point it out, maybe 'cause they're scared. They don't want to stand up for their white fellow people. It took white people standing up for us to get us through the Civil Rights Movement, and give us civil rights. It's going to take black people, and colored people, standing up for white people.
We have white people saying black lives matter, which is funded by George Soros. But they're saying black lives matter, we got people out here supporting us colored people.
MAN: They don't assimilate. If you see my car and my truck, and I don't have Mexico.
MAN: What the hell, I'm American, yeah.
MAN: The Mexican told to forget it... I'm still proud that I was born in Mexico, but you don't see me waving the Mexican flag. You don't see me out there saying, "Viva Mexico".
DAN COHEN: And you're not burning an American flag.
MAN: No. No.
DAN COHEN: You're happy to be here.
MAN: Yes. And I do not--
DAN COHEN: It's a privilege--
MAN: And I do not speak Spanish in public.
DAN COHEN: Leading the incitement against the Latino immigrants, was former Sheriff of Pinal County, Paul Babeu. In 2012, Babeu allegedly threatened to deport his undocumented ex-lover, Jose Orozco, if he revealed the relationship.
PAUL BABEU: More important than illegals coming across this border, more important than the drug cartels that we continue to fight, that Trump is going to put his foot on their neck. But it's also an unsecured border; it stands to reason that people from countries of interest, people who have terrorist intentions, would use this unsecure border as a likely avenue of approach.
WOMAN: You see our militias out here. They're out here volunteering their time, when they could be working right now. Nobody has respect for our servicemen. They might not be government affiliated, but they're still servicemen. And they still work their butts off to make sure this country is safe. They might not tell you who they are, and that's because they're protecting their people. So, and I stand behind them.
DONALD TRUMP: a great, great wall for our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall...
MAN: I'm as proud as can be. I'm as happy as I've been, almost in my lifetime. And so, I would do this every day for the rest of my life, to be honest with you.
DAN COHEN: At the podium, speaker after speaker egged on racist, and paranoid fantasies of a communist take-over from within.
TIM HORN: ... Barack Obama, for heaven sake. Sheriff Joe, since he left, I don't know if you saw it, but they showed the proof about the birth certificate. It's out there. It clearly seems to be false.
Well, I, for one, and I hope you, want the Trump administration to find out the rest.
The Democratic Party is the socialist party in the United States, because they are anti-Americans, they're not pro-Americans. They're liars and misleaders, and they want to wipe us out. And we need to wipe them out. It started by putting people in prison that deserve to be there and freeing people that don't...
CROWD: ...U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A...
MAN: I've never like McCain too much, and his mask really came off. I think there's reason to believe that he was working for the enemy when he was over at the Hanoi Hilton and--
DAN COHEN: You think he's a secret communist?
MAN: Uh, yeah. I think there's reason to believe that, yeah. Once they have control of the media, they can control what people think, and then they can move their agendas forward that way.
DAN COHEN: We're turning into sheeple with the fake news, huh?
MAN: Exactly. It's sad but true, but we're changing that now.
DAN COHEN: What do you think about Pizzagate?
MAN: Oh, I think there's a lot there. I haven't looked into it, I mean, I've looked into it a fair amount, but I think there's definitely enough there to warrant an investigation.
MARK DEL MAESTRO: The enemies of freedom that realized during the Vietnam War, that they could destroy America, infiltrated our country. And they filled our colleges, our universities and our schools.
They started infiltrating the colleges and the universities, and they started turning out, who I call, enemies of freedom. The liberals, the progressives, the socialists, the communists, and now the sharia law Muslims.
Sharia law Muslims will go into a school and kill all the kids. Sharia law Muslims are already in America. Just like cancer. I still feel guilty of the people I killed in Vietnam. It's still haunts me. But I'm not proud, and, "Guess what I did? I killed people." Bullshit!
So, I rather say I defended America. But the Muslims, "Look at all the people we kill. We just blew up that plane, we blew up that bus."
MAN: Fuckin' idiot...
MAN: What a dumb ass!
MAN: Kick your ass!
MAN: I just want to let them know that I can't wait for the liberal genocide to begin.
DAN COHEN: You were talking about liberal genocide...
MAN: Well... that's a way to make America great again, so it's the liberals that are destroying the country.
CROWD: (singing)... my home, sweet home...
DAN COHEN: For The Real News I'm Dan Cohen.

Disgraceful U.S. Support for the War on Yemen Continues

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As expected, the Trump administration is undoing the minimal, belated limits that the previous administration put on arms sales to the Saudis:
The State Department has approved a resumption of weapons sales that critics have linked to Saudi Arabia’s bombing of civilians in Yemen, a potential sign of reinvigorated U.S. support for the kingdom’s involvement in its neighbor’s ongoing civil war.
The proposal from the State Department would reverse a decision made late in the Obama administration to suspend the sale of precision guided munitions to Riyadh, which leads a mostly Arab coalition conducting airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
U.S. support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen has been a disgrace for almost two years, but this latest decision shows that the new administration is going to compound the earlier errors that Obama made in enabling that war. The U.S. has been deeply complicit in the coalition’s war crimes and its role in creating one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, and thanks to Trump and Tillerson that complicity is only going to get worse. Millions of Yemeni civilians will continue to suffer and many thousands will die, and all so that our government can placate our despotic client states.
The truly disgusting part of all this is that Trump could have easily withdrawn U.S. support for the war and halted arms sales to coalition governments when he took office, and it would have cost him almost nothing politically. Just as no one cares that the U.S. is aiding and abetting in the destruction and starvation of Yemen, few would care if it stopped providing that aid. The current administration isn’t backing the Saudis and their allies because they have to, but because they choose to and because they buy into nonsensical claims that this has something to do with combating Iran. Throwing more weapons at the Saudis and their allies won’t do anything to Iran, but it will continue to implicate the U.S. in the horrible crimes that the coalition commits with those weapons with the help of U.S. refueling and intelligence support.

The Five Blinding Myths About Iran

Exclusive: President Trump lines up with the Washington Establishment on at least one point: that Iran is the chief source of terrorism. The only problem is it’s not true, just one of the “Iran myths,” Ted Snider explains.

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By Ted Snider

One of the promises that President Trump has kept is to get tough on Iran. Though he has not canceled the nuclear weapons agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), his administration has “officially put Iran on notice” for a missile test and he has imposed new sanctions.
Iranian women at a speech by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Iranian government photo)
More ominously, The New York Times reports that Secretary of Defense General James Mattis considered ordering the Navy to intercept and board an Iranian ship in international waters to search it for weapons being shipped to Yemen in support of the Houthi rebels who are facing a fierce U.S.-backed Saudi bombing campaign. According to White House officials, the boarding operation was called off, not because it would likely have been an act of war, but because word of it leaked.
Mattis and the rest of the Trump administration have based this canceled operation and other plans to get tough on Iran on a number of myths about the Islamic Republic. But the myths are not unique to the Trump team; the myths are widely embraced across Official Washington, repeated by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Myth One: Iran Is or Was Developing a Nuclear Bomb
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said repeatedly that “We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb, and we are not going to do so.” Both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his predecessor, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, have insisted that Iran would never pursue nuclear weapons because nuclear weapons are against the precepts of Islam.
Khamenei has insisted that “from an ideological and fiqhi [Islamic jurisprudence] perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin.”
And no one really believes otherwise: not U.S. intelligence and not Israeli intelligence. Former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asked, “Are they [Iran] trying to develop a nuclear weapon?” and succinctly and pointedly answered: “No”. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), representing the collective conclusions of all of America’s many intelligence agencies, said with “high confidence” that Iran was not building a nuclear weapon. A 2011 NIE said “the bottom-line assessments of the [2007] N.I.E. still hold true. We have not seen indications that the government has made the decision to move ahead with the program.”
Yuval Diskin, the man who headed Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence agency, for six years, accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of “misleading the public on the Iran issue.” And Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, then Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, insisted that Iran has not “made the decision” to pursue a nuclear weapons program. Then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, clearly stated that “it is not the case” that “Iran is determined to . . . attempt to obtain nuclear weapons . . . as quickly as possible.” He added rhetorically, “To do that, Iran would have to announce it is leaving the inspection regime . . . . Why haven’t they done that?”
Former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei told investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that “[d]uring my time at the agency, we haven’t seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing.”
The bottom line is that no one seriously — not the United States, not Israel, not the I.A.E.A. – ever really believed Iran was developing nuclear weapons. It was just a useful myth for politicians to use to justify continued hostilities toward Iran and keep open the possibility of military strikes.
Myth Two: Iran is Not to be Trusted and is Violating the Nuclear Weapons Agreement
General Mattis has said “the expectation” is “that Iran will cheat.” But Iran hasn’t cheated. The latest report by the I.A.E.A says that Iran is “honouring its end of the deal.” And each prior report since the deal was signed has said the same. The latest report says Iran has only about half the low-enriched uranium it is permitted to have under the agreement and that it is not enriching any uranium to the higher amounts that would be needed for nuclear weapons.
Defense Secretary (and retired Marine General) James Mattis.
But there’s more than one way to cheat a nuclear agreement, the skeptics say. The White House argues that Iran is in violation of the JCPOA due to its testing of a ballistic missile on Jan. 29.  But Iran is not violating the JCPOA here either. Iran made agreements about their nuclear program; they never agreed to abandon their conventional weapons program, insisting, like every other nation, on maintaining the right to defend themselves.
Resolution 2231, approved in support of the JCPOA, “calls upon” Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” for a defined period of time. Beyond the fact that the phrasing “calls upon” does not suggest a direct prohibition, Iran insists they are in compliance because the missiles are defensive and are designed to carry a conventional payload: the missiles are not capable of being nuclear armed.
Iran expert Gareth Porter says that Iran’s “ballistic missiles were not designed for nuclear weapons.” Porter cites experts who say that “Iran’s medium-range missiles have been designed for conventional deterrence,” and that “Iran would have to redesign at least the internal components of the missile to adapt it to carrying nuclear weapons.”
Further, the missile was only medium-range and exploded in only about half the distance required to reach Israel and nowhere near the distance to reach America. The official record, then: Iran has consistently complied with the JCPOA nuclear agreement.
Myth Three: Iran is a Destabilizing Force in the Middle East and is the World’s Leading State Sponsor of Terrorism
The day after the U.S. imposed the new sanctions on Iran, General Mattis declared, “As far as Iran goes, this is the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.” CIA director Mike Pompeo has similarly called Iran “the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” And Trump, himself, told Bill O’Reilly that Iran is “the number one terrorist state.”
President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at joint press conference on Feb. 15. 2017. (Screen shot from
There is no intelligence to support this claim although it’s a formulation that is insisted upon by the governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia and is recited by American politicians as a kind of mantra. In reality, the major terrorist groups bedeviling the West, including Al Qaeda and Islamic State, have been supported by Sunni-ruled Gulf States, not Shiite-ruled Iran. Indeed, Iran has helped the governments of Iraq and Syria in their wars against these terrorist groups.
Not only has Iran been a leader in the fight against these terror groups, the claim that it is “the largest” state sponsor of terrorism is absurd given what is now known about America’s Saudi ally’s sponsorship of Salafist terrorists. Senior U.S. officials have acknowledged as much.
As early as December 2009, a State Department cable had declared that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban . . . and other terrorist groups.” A 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report identified the “supporting powers” of what became Islamic State to be “Western countries, the Gulf States and Turkey.”
On Oct. 24, 2014, Vice President Joe Biden told a Harvard forum, “[O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. . . . They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis.”
In May 2015, at a meeting at Camp David between President Obama and the princes of the Gulf Cooperation Council that point was reiterated. According to David Ignatius of The Washington Post, at that summit,
“Obama and other US officials urged Gulf leaders who are funding the [Syrian] opposition to keep control of their clients, so that a post-Assad regime isn’t controlled by extremists from the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.”
And Saudi Arabia’s support for the jihadists who became Al Qaeda is nothing new. It dates back to the Saudi-U.S. funding of the Afghan mujahedeen in their war against the Soviet-backed secular government in Kabul in the 1980s. The Saudi financing of these Sunni jihadists continued through the 9/11 attacks and beyond, as the militants served as an irregular paramilitary force for the Saudis to project power against geopolitical rivals.
An important revelation in Seymour Hersh’s reporting on the truth behind the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 was that the Saudis had been heavily financing bin Laden and Al Qaeda and that their motivation for keeping bin Laden under wraps was to prevent him from revealing that fact, according to one of Hersh’s sources.
“A worrying factor at this early point, according to the retired official, was Saudi Arabia, which had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. ‘The Saudis didn’t want bin Laden’s presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaeda. And they were dropping money – lots of it.’”
So, Iran is surely not the chief sponsor of state terrorism and American awareness of this reality may be reflected in Iran’s recent removal from the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment presented to the Senate by then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Indeed, far from being an exporter of terrorism, Iran has suffered from various forms of terrorist-like aggression from the U.S. and Israel, including the Stuxnet and Flame computer viruses aimed at Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities, three assassinations and one attempted assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, and the blowing up of a military arms depot that killed 17 people, including Iranian missile pioneer Major General Hassan Moqqadam.
Myth Four: Iran is Not Really an Enemy of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda
In April 2016, in speech at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, General Mattis said, “Iran is not an enemy of ISIS. They have a lot to gain from the turmoil in the region that ISIS creates. I would just point out one question for you to look into. What is the one country in the Middle East that has not been attacked by ISIS? One. And it’s Iran. That is just more than happenstance, I’m sure.”
Journalist James Foley shortly before he was executed by an Islamic State operative.
But Mattis’s claim is sophistry. It does not follow that because ISIS has not attacked Iran’s territory that Iran doesn’t consider ISIS an enemy and vice versa. Iranian forces and Islamic State militants have clearly clashed inside Syria where Iran has provided military support for the government.
But there may be many reasons why ISIS hasn’t attacked inside Iran, including a lack of ability to penetrate into Iran or a recognition by ISIS that it is overextended already in its chief areas of operation.
While perhaps pleasing his audience at the neocon-dominated Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mattis’s sophistry also omits key facts, such as Iran’s commitment to fighting Al Qaeda and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Even earlier, Iran viewed Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies as existential enemies cultivated by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the 1980s as Sunni paramilitaries to pressure Iran from the east while Iraq, then ruled by Sunni leader Saddam Hussein, was attacking Iran from the west.
After 9/11, Iran cooperated with the U.S. against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance, which provided many of the anti-Taliban fighters assisting the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, was partly created by Iran, which also offered its air bases to the U.S. and permitted the U.S to carry out search and rescue missions for downed U.S. planes. The Iranians also supplied the U.S. with intelligence on Taliban and Al Qaeda targets.
After the Taliban and Al Qaeda were routed from their Afghan strongholds, Iran helped set up Afghanistan’s new government and offered assistance in rebuilding Afghanistan’s army. Iran also arrested hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters who escaped across the border.
Iran experts Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett say Iran documented the identity of more than 200 members of Al Qaeda and Taliban who escaped into Iran to the U.N. and sent many of them back to their homelands. For many others who couldn’t be sent back to their own countries, Iran offered to try them in Iran. The U.S. then named several more Al Qaeda operatives that it demanded Iran search for, arrest and deport. According to Hillary Mann Leverett, who was negotiating directly with the Iranians for the White House, Iran captured some and said the others were either dead or not in Iran.
Contrary to Mattis’s false claim, Iran has historically and consistently been an enemy of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Myth Five: Iran is Controlling and Arming the Houthis in Yemen
Constantly being broadcast from Washington is the claim that Iran controls and arms the Houthi rebels in Yemen. But Iran neither substantially arms them nor controls them. The Houthis are an indigenous and independent-minded ethnic group in Yemen that has long played an important role inside the impoverished nation. They ended up in opposition to the Saudi-backed government and in conflict with the Saudi-supported Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an Al Qaeda affiliate operating in Yemen.
The U.S. built its case that Iran was supplying weapons to the Houthis on an “assessment” that Iran was using fishing boats to smuggle weapons into Yemen. However, according to Gareth Porter, the U.S. was never able to produce any evidence for the link between Iran and the Houthis because the boats were stateless and their destination was Somalia, not Yemen. An earlier ship was, indeed, Iranian but was not really carrying any weapons.
In fact, Porter reports, when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from power in 2012, he and his son, the former commander of the Republican Guard, maintained control over the army through their allies in the upper ranks. Saleh found himself in a strange-bedfellow alliance with the Houthis because as Jeremy Scahill reports in his book Dirty Wars, Saleh was often at war with the Houthis.
“To justify their wars against the Houthis to the United States, Saleh and the Saudis constantly used allegations of Iran’s support for the Houthis,” Scahill wrote. In other words, Saleh used the same deceptive claims then as the Americans are using now. However, even then, the U.S. knew the Houthi-Iran link was weak, and, as Scahill said, though “Saleh accused Iran of . . . backing the Houthis,” “In a subsequent classified cable, US officials . . . raised serious questions about the extent of Iranian involvement.”
Because of the alliance with Saleh, the Houthis could get all the weapons they wanted from local arms markets and from corrupt Yemeni military commanders. The Houthi-Saleh-army alliance also strengthened the Houthis, making it possible for them to advance and take over military facilities from which they acquired U.S.- supplied weapons.
Just as Iran does not substantially arm the Houthis, so it does not – and really cannot – control them. In 2014, the Iranians discouraged the Houthis from capturing the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, but the Houthis did so anyway.
“It is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force for Iran,” a U.S. intelligence official told The Huffington Post. Yemen specialist Gabriele vom Bruck calls Iran’s influence over the Houthis “trivial” and asserts that the independent-minded Houthis grant Iran no influence over their decision-making.
To the extent that Iran is involved in the Yemeni conflict at all, Iran’s assistance has been a response to the Saudi air war against Yemen, which has killed thousands of Yemeni civilians and pushed the population to the brink of starvation.
Yet, Official Washington’s politicians and pundits – virtually across the political spectrum – continue to insist that Iran is the chief sponsor of terrorism. It is a classic example of how Official Washington, which decries “fake news” and “alternative facts,” is at the forefront of spreading fake news and alternative facts.