Jeffrey LewisMore on the Leverett Redactions

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann claim that all the passages blocked by the CIA under White House pressure can found in other published articles, mostly quoting senior US officials less critical of the Bush Administration.

I can’t prove it, but a plausible op-ed can be constructed from the crib sheet they provide in the New York Times and the redacted op-ed—a plausible op-ed that doesn’t threaten national security unless one goes all Sun-King and conflates the interests of the country with those of Mr. Bush.

The Reading List

Let’s start by assuming that Leverett and Mann chose each and every article for a reason.

Leverett and Mann indicate they chose some of the articles because a high ranking official discussed the same subject the White House wanted removed:

These passages go into aspects of American-Iranian relations that have been publicly discussed by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; fromer Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; a former State Department policy planning director Richard Haas; and a former special ennoy to Afghanistan James Dobbins.

That’s quite a clue about what is interesting in several of the articles:

  • Powell confirmed in December 2001 that US officials “have been in discussions with the Iranians on a variety of levels and in some new ways since September 11. Jim Dobbins spoke with Iranians in Bonn as we put together the new interim administration in Afghanistan, and I had a brief handshake and discussion with the Iranian Prime Minister in the UN.” Press Briefing on Board Plane En Route Moscow, December 9, 2001, link.
  • Barbara Slavin, in May 2003, quoted Colin Powell as confirming the dialogue, which she described as “the sort of direct, high-level talks the United States has long sought with Iran.” Barbara Slavin, “Iran, U.S. holding talks in Geneva,” USA Today May 12, 2003, p. 1A.
  • Rice in June 2006 “made the first official confirmation of the Iranian proposal [of March 2003] in an interview with National Public Radio.” Glenn Kessler, “In 2003, U.S. Spurned Iran’s Offer of Dialogue; Some Officials Lament Lost Opportunity,” The Washington Post, June 18, 2006, p. A16.
  • Haas also confirmed the March 2003 offer, observing that it was swiftly rejected because in the administration “the bias was toward a policy of regime change.” Glenn Kessler, “In 2003, U.S. Spurned Iran’s Offer of Dialogue; Some Officials Lament Lost Opportunity,” The Washington Post, June 18, 2006, p. A16.
  • Armitage discussed in October 2003 efforts by the Bush Administration to resume negotiations with Iran, confirming the broad outlines of US-Iranian discussions about members of Mujaheddin-e Khalq. Glenn Kessler, “U.S. Ready to Resume Talks With Iran, Armitage Says,” The Washington Post, October 29, 2003, p. A21.
  • Dobbins recounts his experiences interacting with Iranian diplomats in November 2001 and March 2002 conferences in Bonn and Geneva, the latter of which became a semi-regular dialogue between US and Iranian officials. Dobbins also notes that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi ensured that a reluctant warlord, Ismail Khan, attended the inaguration of Hamid Karzai. James Dobbins, “Time to Deal With Iran,” The Washington Post, May 6, 2004, p. A35.

That leaves a couple of other documents, most of which are about a single subject:

  • Time magazine reporters Tony Karon and Azadeh Moaveni detail in February 2002 efforts by the United States to convince Tehran not to allow an anti-American warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to return to Afghanistan. “Iran, Afghanistan Juggle Hot Potato Hekmatyar,” Time, February 23, 2002, link.
  • Two of the stories quote Iranian officials confirming the existence of the Geneva channel. “Khatami Condemns Attacks in Saudi Arabia,” Associated Press, May 14, 2003 confirms the Geneva talks, quoting Khatami as saying that the talks had produced an understanding that the United States would disarm MEK. “Iran: Foreign minister briefs MPs on talks with US,” IRNA, May 20 2003 quotes Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi confirming US discussions about “Afghanistan, Iraq, Al-Qa’idah and the MKO [MEK].”
  • Glenn Kessler, in May 2003, reported on the effect that a May 2003 bombing in Saudia Arabia had on the Geneva Channel with Iran, quoting Armitage as saying that Iran was treated differently because it was a democracy. Glenn Kessler, “U.S. Eyes Pressing Uprising In Iran; Officials Cite Al Qaeda Links, Nuclear Program,” The Washington Post, May 25, 2003, p. A1.
  • Slavin also reported the collapse of the Geneva channel, also over accusations of Iran’s involvement in the bombing and US failure to MEK. Barbara Slavin, “Mutual terror accusations halt U.S.-Iran talks,” USA Today, May 22, 2003, p. 10A.

And, of course, there are the two pieces authored by Leverett himself, “The Gulf Between Us” (The New York Times January 24, 2006, p. A21) and Dealing with Tehran: Assessing US Diplomatic Options Toward Tehran (Century Foundation, 2006).

Filling In the Blanks

Once you read these, I think the redactions are pretty straightforward.

The first redaction follows “After the 9/11 attacks …” I suspect Leverett and Mann merely noted the handshake between Powell that opened the way for 6+2 meeting in November 2001. If a handshake is classified, we are in more trouble than I thought. Even the People’s Daily reported that. The second redaction, which follows in the same paragraph, seems to detail Iran’s participation in the Bonn negotiations and after—participation that Dobbins has recounted in his article and at least one public talk.

The third, fourth and fifth redactions appear in a paragraph dedicated to US efforts to prevent a particularly unsavory Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, from returning to Afghanistan. The first redaction is probably Leverett’s confirmation that we asked Tehran to keep Hekmatyar in Iran, the second that Tehran agreed to do this and the final—were I to speculate—why Iran allowed Hekmatyar to leave Tehran following Bush’s axis of evil speech that accused Tehran of having “terrorist allies.”

The sixth redaction is very long—341 characters—and begins a paragraph about an anecdote that “demonstrated to Afghan warlords that they could not play America and Iran off against one another and prompted Tehran to deport hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who fled Afghanistan.” The most plausible anecdote that demonstrate’s Iran’s cooperation involves the role Tehran played in compelling yet another, only slightly more savory Afghan warlord, Ismail Khan, to support the Karzai government.

The penultimate redaction is the longest—403 characters—and comes at the end of Leverett and Mann’s description of “aspects of American-Iranian relations during the Bush Administration’s first term.” Unless this op-ed is organized like a Quentin Tarantino film, that last redaction at the end of the history lesson surely concerns, well, the end of negotiations—the now well discussed March 2003 offer by Iran to resolve “all outstanding bilateral differences,” as well as the collapse of the Geneva channel in May 2003 amid mutual recriminations by both sides that the other was harboring terrorists (Al Qaeda and MEK).

These issues are, in fact, very well covered in Leverett’s op-ed and monograph.

The final redaction is the most amusing. It appears to be adjective, describing the sort of diplomats from with whom Leverett and Mann met.

I can imagine neither a need to redact an adjective in this context, nor a better symbol of the pettiness displayed by the White House in attempting to block Leverett’s op-ed.

What a bunch of xx xxxxxx xxx xxxxxx.