A tantalizing possibility, floated first this morning by the Guardian and then repeated in a segment Shep Smith did on Studio B this afternoon. Remember him? He was my main beat for a few weeks in March. He went missing in Turkey in February, was soon thereafter reported to be in U.S. custody, whereupon debate raged for a good month about whether he’d come to us willingly or had been snatched. The last we heard of him was a cryptic report from the JPost in July about him allegedly sharing — ta da — information on Iran’s nuclear program. Except according to the Post, he was claiming not that Iran had shut its weapons program down but that it was further along with enrichment than we had thought. I wondered at the time whether that was credible or not. Based on the initial stories about Asgari’s defection in March, I guessed — and am still guessing — not:
[S]kepticism is warranted here. According to the WaPo piece on March 8, “Iranian officials said he was not involved in the country’s nuclear program, and the senior U.S. official said Asgari is not being questioned about it.” The Times of London followed with its own report three days later that claimed Asgari had plenty of info about Hezbollah and Iranian links to terrorism, but “[i]t is not thought that he had details of the country’s nuclear programme.” He’d also allegedly been out of the loop of Iranian intel since 2003, when he was forced to resign for exposing corruption. So it seems a bit, shall we say, convenient that now we’re told not only did he know about the nuclear program, but he has bombshell news about how shockingly technologically advanced it is.
It could be that Asgari was still in the loop in 2003 enough to know that the weapons program had been shut down and that U.S. intelligence then went about trying to find out if they program had been restarted since. Per Monday’s WaPo story, [i]In one intercept, a senior Iranian military official was specifically overheard complaining that the nuclear program had been shuttered years earlier, according to a source familiar with the intelligence.” If that intercept was recent, they may have taken it as corroboration of any information Asgari might have given them. In fact, it does sound like the new intel was very recent — in which case, Asgari, who’s been in U.S. hands since February, almost certainly doesn’t have any relevant information.
About the nuke program, that is. Operational matters of the Revolutionary Guard are another matter. Again, there’s no way to know how much he knew and how stale it is but I wonder if he didn’t contribute to U.S. intel on Iran’s cross-border operations in Iraq, as expertly sketched by Bill Roggio in a piece that scoops every mainstream media outlet I’ve read on the subject. Not only does he name the Iranian unit overseeing operations in the country — the Ramazan Corps, comprised of the Nasr, Zafar, and Fajr commands, each with their own front — but he’s traced the ratlines of men and materiel on the map so you can see how the Shiite militias are resupplied. Here’s the money passage. Is it really true that Iran has decided, for the moment, to play nice in Iraq?
[T]hree US commanders directly in the fight against the Special Groups in three of the most active theaters for the Ramazan Corps — Baghdad, central provinces, and along the Iranian border — disagree.
Colonel Don Farris, the commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division based in the heart of Sadr City in Baghdad, stated the Special Groups still pose a major threat. “While the violence is down, I remain very concerned in our sector about these special groups,” Farris said. “They’re very lethal, they’re organized, they’re sophisticated and I have not seen that their operations have declined or diminished in any way, shape or form here in the last several months. We have not seen any slowing down or any indicators that these special groups are going to curtail their activities or quit receiving this support that’s coming from outside the country.”
Major General Rick Lynch, the Commander of Multinational Division Central, whose area of operations includes Wasit, Karbala, Babil, and southern Baghdad provinces, is not certain Iran has reduced the flow of aid to the Shia terror groups. “I don’t know what this Iranian pledge is, but the number of munitions has increased,” Lynch said on November 11. “It could be that we are finding them more. But it is still troublesome. I have no idea when these EFP munitions came … before or after the pledge. I don’t know.”
On November 22, Lynch stated his forces are still finding Iranian munitions “that are traceable back to Iran,” and the Special Groups are still active. “They’re still operating in our battlespace,” he said. “But I can’t say whether or not this is an increased problem or a flatline problem or a decreasing problem.”
Bill Ardolino (who contributes to Roggio’s site) told me this morning that if Roggio’s piece ran in a major newspaper it would be considered a “blockbuster.” Quite so. Read it.