Curt Weldon's Deep Throat

Countdown to Terror, Representative Curt Weldon's sensationalistic new book about his personal struggle to combat the Iranian terrorism threat despite the alleged resistance of the CIA, is based entirely on the Pennsylvania Republican's freelance communications with a secret source he code-named "Ali." Much of Weldon's book, which will be released next week by Regnery Publishing, consists of reproduced pages of comically overwrought "intelligence" memos faxed from the Iranian émigré's Paris location to Weldon's office between 2003 and 2004.

“Dear Curt,” reads one memo excerpt from “Ali” published by Weldon. “An attack against an atomic plant by a plane, the name mentioned, but not clear it begins with ‘SEA' … [Seattle?].” Another reads: “Dear Curt: … I confirm again a terrorist attack within the United States is planned before the American elections."

But in an exclusive interview with The American Prospect, Weldon's "Ali" -- who was identified in an April article by me and Jeet Heer as Fereidoun Mahdavi, a frail, elderly former minister of commerce in the shah's government and a longtime business associate of Iran-Contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar -- said he was stunned and perplexed to learn that Weldon had used his information to write a book, emphasizing that Weldon never even told him about the book.

Mahdavi also said that the bulk of the information that he had provided to Weldon was originally sourced from none other than Ghorbanifar, the subject of a rare CIA “burn notice” after the agency found him to be a "fabricator" more than two decades ago during the Iran-Contra affair.

“Many information that I have given to Weldon is coming from Ghorbanifar,” said Mahdavi, who was reached in Paris by telephone on June 6. “Because Ghorbanifar used me, in fact, to pass that stuff because I know he has problems in Washington.”

The former minister continued: “I am well-known in Tehran. How can I call Tehran? But Ghorbanifar is something else. He has all the contacts within Iran. Nobody has so many information and contacts that he has. Now if he is using that information through me to try to buy power indirectly, that is his business. I do it because I have known him for many years.”

Several Iranian exile associates of the pair have told the Prospect that Mahdavi, living in reduced circumstances and caring for his cancer-stricken wife, is in fact financially dependent on Ghorbanifar. They have been involved in various businesses together, from petroleum shipping to arms dealing to (more recently) intelligence peddling, since both washed up in Paris after the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Although Mahdavi expresses understanding of the motives of his old pal and business partner Ghorbanifar, he says he is utterly baffled by Weldon's decision to use his information as the foundation of a book that the congressman never once mentioned to him.

“I assume that if [Weldon] wanted to publish a book, I assure you I would have heard it,” Mahdavi said initially, in disbelief that Weldon would publish the book without even a phone call. “I am just surprised that you tell me he has a book coming out … .”

Hours later, after receiving a fax with a Congressional Quarterly article about Weldon's forthcoming book and the amazon.com book description, Mahdavi spoke again in shock and anger.

“Someone is using me for their purposes,” he raged. “How is it possible that something like that book comes out and the people who publish it don't inform me? Don't you think that's strange? What I cannot understand is, if you had not called me and told me there is a book coming out from Weldon, I would have never known about it. You informed me. But this is now, I am sure, there is a fight between all these [U.S. government] organizations, and they are using this issue and using me.”

Among those who agree is the former senior CIA official who met with Mahdavi in response to Weldon's pressure on the agency to accept the Mahdavi/Ghorbanifar information. The tale of "Ali" suggests that the agency is assiduously seeking to weed out another fabricator like Ghorbanifar (or Iraqi fabulist Ahmad Chalabi) from corrupting U.S. intelligence information on Iran.

Bill Murray, a former CIA station chief in Paris, met with me on June 9 at a northern Virginia shopping mall to talk about Weldon's assault on the agency. Still doing contract work for the CIA since his recent retirement, Murray chose to speak up about the agency's role in vetting and determining “Ali's” information to be fabrications -- “émigré babble" -- because Weldon has publicly savaged the CIA in his book. By speaking with reporters, Murray believes he could be risking his contract work, but he's outraged over what he considers disingenuous attacks by the Pennsylvania congressman.

“Someone's got to stand up,” Murray said. “I spent 35 years doing this job, mainly in the Middle East. My guideline is well-sourced intelligence to help shape policy. That's what I did; that's what my people did. That is my standard, the integrity standard. And this man [Weldon] is attacking our integrity. And I'm not going to sit back and ignore it.”

Indeed, Murray describes very extensive personal efforts to ascertain the quality of Mahdavi's information, including four meetings and many phone conversations, as well as the creation of a secure phone line for Mahdavi to transmit his material to the U.S. government. (As the chief of station at the U.S. Embassy, Murray would normally have sent a junior officer to meet with a potential source like Mahdavi; instead, Murray went himself.)

According to Murray, Mahdavi only sent two faxes on the secure line -- one with all the information he had already sent Weldon and Michael Ledeen, the neoconservative scholar and longtime Ghorbanifar champion, and another with a plan to overthrow the mullahs in Tehran. Murray says he firmly told Mahdavi that he was not willing to receive such plans, because overthrowing the Iranian government is not U.S. policy.

He also said that during those meetings and calls, several things became clear rather quickly about Weldon's informant.

“Mahdavi works for Ghorbanifar,” said Murray, noting that the agency still forbids its employees from dealing with the colorful, fast-talking arms dealer. “The two are inseparable. Ghorbanifar put Mahdavi out to meet with Weldon … . Ghorbanifar decided to have a cutout.” When Mahdavi consistently refused to provide any information to verify the credibility of his sources or their increasingly outlandish allegations, Murray determined that the information was a mix of fabrications, babble, and useless political analysis.

“I don't feed sensationalistic garbage to American political leaders,” Murray said, “without some reason to believe that it is well-sourced or true. . . My generation is not risk-averse. We are just averse to feeding garbage into the system.”

“This man [Mahdavi] never said a single thing that you could look back later and he said it would happen and it did happen,” the retired station chief continued. “He refused to give me any information that would indicate he actually had access to people in Iran who had access to that information.”

Murray also indicated that Mahdavi repeatedly requested U.S. government payment of approximately $150,000 so that he could pay his debts in Iran and help institute political changes there. Despite Weldon's constant urgings, the CIA was unwilling to provide any such payment.

Moreover, said Murray, Weldon himself violated U.S. government protocol by failing to report his encounters with Mahdavi in France to the U.S. ambassador when asked whether he planned any meetings there while being hosted by the embassy in April 2004. According to Murray, Weldon denied he had planned any meetings -- and then proceeded to meet with both Mahdavi and Ghorbanifar, the subject of the CIA burn notice, at the Sofitel hotel around the corner from the U.S. Embassy.

Murray added that Weldon now plans to have his new book translated into Farsi and smuggled into Iran, as well as having it broadcast into Iran on the Los Angeles-based Iranian diaspora radio stations.

This curious behavior raises questions about Weldon's motives. Is he a naïf getting taken in by two geopolitical hucksters? Or is his treatment of Mahdavi a kind of political opportunism all its own?

Apparently Weldon has treated his allies as poorly as his new enemies at the CIA. In March, his spokesman told the Prospect that Weldon's book was being co-written by a former CIA analyst and longtime Weldon congressional staffer named Peter Vincent Pry. Indeed, Pry is the named recipient of several of the Mahdavi memos published in Weldon's book, and Mahdavi acknowledges meeting with Pry and Weldon.

But when copies of Weldon's book appeared this week, Pry's name was nowhere to be found in the author credits. Meanwhile another book on Iran and terrorism by Kenneth Timmerman, a right-leaning journalist long interested in Mideast affairs, is due to be published by Crown next week as Countdown to Crisis, a title almost identical to that of Weldon's book. Timmerman told the Prospect that Regnery changed Weldon's title to imitate Timmerman's after publicity materials about the Timmerman book appeared on Crown's Web site.

So much for squabbling among right-wing authors.

What's far more important, says Murray, is that Weldon's freelance 007 crusade to be his own spymaster has ultimately done a disservice to the American people and to national security.

“Most of us [CIA officers] have been consumed with preventing real terrorist threats to the U.S. for the past four years,” he said with a fierce squint. “And virtually everything Ghorbanifar and his people come up with diverts us. I have hard-working people working for me, and they don't have time for this bullshit.”

Laura Rozen reports on national-security and foreign-policy issues from Washington, D.C., for The American Prospect, The Nation, and other publications. Her first article on Ghorbanifar and Mahdavi, “The Front,” co-authored with Jeet Heer, appeared in the Prospect's April edition.

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