Behind a mysterious December 22 Associated Press story about “finding of fact” by a District judge in Manhattan Friday that Iran assisted al Qaeda in the planning of the 9/11 attacks is a tapestry of recycled fabrications and distortions of fact from a bizarre cast of characters.
The AP story offers no indication of the nature of the evidence in the case except that former members of the 9/11 Commission and three Iranian defectors provided testimony. What it didn’t say was that at least two of the Iranian defectors have long been dismissed by US intelligence as “fabricators” and that the two “expert witnesses” who were supposed to determine the credibility of those defectors’ claims are both avowed advocates of crackpot conspiracy theories about Muslims and Shariah law who believe the United States is at war with Islam.
The ostensible purpose of the case brought by families of 9/11 terror attack victims was to win damages from those responsible for 9/11. Dozens of such cases involving different terrorist attacks have been brought to US courts over the years, in which “default judgments” have been made against Iran over various attacks in which Iran was allegedly involved, but there is no chance of getting any money for the families.
The only real effect of the case is to promote right-wing political myths about Iran. One of the peculiarities of such cases is that the witnesses are not subject to cross examination in court. The witnesses have every incentive, therefore to indulge in false testimony, knowing that there will be no one to challenge them.
“A Fabricator of Monumental Proportions”
The lawyers and the “expert witnesses” behind the accusation of Iran in regard to 9/11 hoped to sell the press and public on recycled claims first made by Iranian “defectors” several years ago that they had personal knowledge of Iranian participation in the 9/11 plot. The lawyers produced videotaped affidavits by three such defectors who were identified, with a dramatic flourish, as Witnesses “X,” “Y” and “Z.”
In the one public hearing held on the case, the lawyers revealed the identity of purported former Iranian intelligence official Abolghasem Mesbahi – probably a pseudonym – and described his testimony that he had received a series of “coded messages” from a former colleague in the Iranian government in the late summer and early fall of 2001 warning that a terrorist attack against the United States was being planned, and that it was a plan that had been concocted by Tehran in the late 1980s.
Although the judge and the public were being led to believe that this is somehow new information going beyond what was known by the 9/11 Commission report, it is, in fact, very old information and has long been completely discredited. Mesbahi’s story doesn’t hold up, for several reasons, and the most obvious is that, despite his claim that he was warned nearly a month before the 9/11 attacks that civilian airliners would be crashed into buildings in major US cities, including Washington and New York on September 11, he never conveyed that information to the US government before that date.
In October 2001, Mesbahi claimed to right-wing journalist Kenneth R. Timmerman, as reported in Timmerman’s 2005book that he had tried calling the legal attaché at the US Embassy in Berlin, but was “unsuccessful in several attempts.” But he did not claim any other attempt to reach a US consulate or the US Embassy in Germany by fax, e-mail or letter before September 11, nor did he go to the US Embassy in person to convey this warning. He told Timmerman that he called an Iranian dissident contact in the United States who, he believed, had contacts with US intelligence agencies only some hoursafter the attacks on New York and Washington.
It wasn’t the first time Mesbahi had claimed inside information about Iranian involvement in a terrorist attack only after the attack had taken place. He had told investigators working on the December 1988 terror bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that Iran had asked Libya and Abu Nidal to carry out the attack on the personal orders of Ayatollah Khomeini. Unfortunately for his credibility, however, he had not come forward with the allegation until after the bombing had happened.
He had also provided affidavits to Argentine investigators in the case of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, claiming his well-informed friends in Iranian intelligence had tipped him off that the decision to bomb the Jewish Community Center had been made at a meeting attended by top Iranian officials in August 1993.
But in fact, by his own admission Mesbahi had not worked for Argentine intelligence since 1988, and the FBI’s Hezbollah Office’s James Bernazzani, who had helped the Argentine intelligence service with the investigation in 1997, told me in a November 2006 interview that American intelligence officials had concluded Mesbahi did not have the continued high-level access to Iranian intelligence officials throughout the 1990s and beyond that he was claiming. They regarded him as someone who was desperate for money and ready to “provide testimony to any country on any case involving Iran,” according to Bernazzani.
Mesbahi wasn’t even consistent in the story he told about the alleged “coded messages.” In an interview with Timmerman, Mesbahi stated that he had gotten two messages from his contact, one on September 1, 2001 and a second three days later. And Timmerman wrote that his alleged contact had “phoned him again” on September 4, indicating that Mesbahi had made no reference to an elaborate scheme to send coded messages through articles in Iranian newspapers.
But in his affidavit to the 9/11 court case, he said he had gotten three messages – on July 23, August 13 and August 27 – and that the coded messages were placed in newspaper articles. Timmerman, who referred the lawyers to Mesbahi, discretely avoided pointing out the huge discrepancy between the two stories, which clearly indicates that Mesbahi fabricated the tale of messages in newspaper articles to make it more dramatic and convincing.
The second defector, Hamid Reza Zakeri, claimed he had been an officer of Iran’s Ministry of Information and Security and had provided security for a meeting at an airbase near Tehran on May 4, 2001 attended by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden. He also claimed to have seen replicas of the twin towers, the White House, the Pentagon and Camp David in the entry hall to the main headquarters of the MOIS with a missile suspended above the targets, and “Death to America” written in Arabic (rather than Farsi) on the side.
Like Mesbahi, Zakeri also first told his tale to Timmerman, who recounts it in his 2005 book. Zakeri, who apparently defected from Iran in late July 2001, claimed he had told the US Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan on July 26, 2001 about the alleged meeting and replicas, warning them that he believed the Iranians and al Qaeda were planning an attack on those targets that would occur September 11. But CIA officials denied categorically to Timmerman that Zakeri had given any such warning to the Embassy and called Zakeri “a fabricator of monumental proportions” and “a serial fabricator.” Zakeri failed an FBI polygraph test in 2003, according to Timmerman.