Jeffrey LewisYour IC At Work …

Linzer has to be f’ing kidding right? RIGHT?

When the State Department recently asked the CIA for names of Iranians who could be sanctioned for their involvement in a clandestine nuclear weapons program, the agency refused, citing a large workload and a desire to protect its sources and tradecraft.

Frustrated, the State Department assigned a junior Foreign Service officer to find the names another way—by using Google. Those with the most hits under search terms such as “Iran and nuclear,” three officials said, became targets for international rebuke Friday when a sanctions resolution circulated at the United Nations.


In the end, the CIA approved a handful of individuals, though none is believed connected to Project 1-11—Iran’s secret military effort to design a weapons system capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The names of Project 1-11 staff members have never been released by any government and doing so may have raised questions that the CIA was not willing or fully able to answer. But the agency had no qualms about approving names already publicly available on the Internet.

Talk about googlebombing someone.

This actually makes sense: You have what you think is the real list, but you only nail people for whom you can make a public case. But woe unto the poor schmoe who has to push a bunch of google search terms on skeptical foreign diplomats.

Come to think of it, the Project 111 name comes from the laptop of death (more) —so what’s the big secret?

This raises so many questions: Is unknown electro-folkie Johnny Burroughs, who records under the name Project 111, now on every no-fly list ever?

Update: I asked about the hyphen in Project 111. D-linz e-mailed me to say:

I decided to add it yesterday because that is how U.S. intelligence officials pronounce the project, with the 1 first and then the 11. Like the way you say nine-eleven for Sept. 11, rather than 9-1-1- for emergency help or one hundred and eleven. IC folks say “project one-eleven”

Later Update: Noah points out that I totally avoided the big revelation—that “None of the 12 Iranians that the State Department eventually singled out for potential bans on international travel and business dealings is believed by the CIA to be directly connected to Iran’s most suspicious nuclear activities.”

I guess that would mean the sanctions are kind of pointless, no?


  1. Anonymous

    This stuff happens all the time in the IC, for the logic you spelled out above. Previous INPA sanctions, anyone?

  2. Miles

    This is really encouraging—that Google has become a chief investigative tool for identifying sanction targets. God knows what might happen if Angelina Jolie ever got into the arms trade. Certainly the Google Santions Squad would have a few million web hits to make her a prime target.

    Who knew that the tool needed to make the world safe from nuclear weapons was right on our desktops?

    I however (along with most Iranians, I expect), would slip easily under the radar, seeing as I can hardly ever get my name to pop up on Google when I want it to.

  3. Andy (History)

    Shouldn’t this post be titled, “Your State Department at work…”? Some junior FSO using google has little to do with the IC or intelligence gathering. The intelligence community uses a lot of open source material but this incident is not remotely representative of how it gathers open source data. State has it’s own intelligence agency who could have been tasked to fulfill this intelligence requirement. Why this junior FSO (or his/her supervisor) didn’t use that resource remains a mystery.

  4. Jeffrey Lewis

    Well, the IC reference was to the CIA’s refusal to provide the list of names. Sort of Kafkaesque, you can’t actually USE the intelligence …

    Anyway, you’re point is taken that there is, at least, a real list that is (we hope) compiled from better sources than google.

  5. Andy (History)

    Actually, the CIA refused to allow State to essentially declassify the names by putting them in the watch-list system. State almost certainly has access to the names themselves.

    Obviously, judgments regarding declassifying or downgrading intelligence must, and do, undergo a cost-benefit analysis. I’m inclined to agree with the CIA’s judgment in this case as I believe there is little utility to adding those names to the watch-list when compared to compromising sources. And just because the CIA refused does not mean the intelligence isn’t being used. Exposing the names would likely hinder any ongoing and future surveillance operations on the individuals.

    Of course, like almost all intelligence controversies that make it into the press, this one only represents a fragment of the entire story and context. I’m not suggesting you’re guilty, but I’d like to remind everyone that one should always be careful when making judgments on the IC based on incomplete and selectively leaked information.

  6. hass

    Interesting how Linzer talks about “Project 1-11” as if its existence is a proven fact…

  7. confusedponderer (History)

    What I find most funny is that someone at State seemingly had the idea it woild be cool to punish some Iranians. For something nuclear.

    And then they tried to find out whom.

    I would have expected them to find some ‘bad guys’ and then find it would be a good idea to sanction them. Not so. It’s completely arbitrary and merely aimed on making propaganda.