OVERSEEING THE OVERSEERS. One thing you may not know about Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx), now being considered as a compromise candidate to chair the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), is that he joined his friend and colleague, outgoing congressman Curt Weldon at a meeting with infamous Iran Contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, against the advice of the Agency, and without informing the U.S. ambassador in Paris, as is proper protocol. The meeting took place at the Sofitel hotel on Rue Boissy D'Anglas around the corner from the US embassy in Paris on a Saturday morning in the spring of 2004 (see update below), according to two sources. (The US government was actually surveilling the hotel lobby that morning out of concern that Iranians might potentially try to harm the congressmen; Weldon apparently loudly asked the concierge for a room for a secret meeting). Ghorbanifar and his business partner were trying to entice the U.S. congressmen to take up the cause of trying to make Ghorbanifar a paid U.S. intelligence asset again on the Middle East, but the CIA would have nothing to do with him, given that he was deemed a fabricator and made the subject of two CIA burn notices in the 1980s, and caused much grief for U.S. policymakers who dealt with him during the Iran Contra affair (think of then-National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane sitting at a Tehran airport with a cake on his lap for Rafsanjani, who wouldn't meet with him, as Ghorbanifar had promised he would, the plane of missile parts from the U.S. sitting in the hangar behind him; Ghorbanifar blamed the mishap on the Americans). What does this say about Reyes' judgment, meeting with a guy like this? Or his knowledge of U.S. operations gone amok?

I put in a call to Reyes' office to ask about that, not for the first time, and am still waiting to hear back. Will post their response if and when it comes. (Also at the meeting, according to my sources, was Congressman Solomon Ortiz [D-TX], who also has not responded to previous inquiries on the matter). One obvious concern is that the House intel committee has, of course, as its chief responsibility oversight of the intelligence community; when the oversight committee potential chairman makes a judgment call like this, what does it mean for the soundness of the vetting that intelligence operations and analysis and personnel decisions can be expected to get?

You can judge the quality of the intelligence Ghorbanifar and his associate were trying to sell the congressmen on by picking up a copy of Weldon's book, Countdown to Terror, which is drawn from it, and read more about the whole affair here and here.

Update: The meeting date was either Friday 29 August 2003 or Saturday, August 30, 2003. Reyes, Ortiz and Weldon were returning from a Congressional delegation that included Russia, and Uzbekistan, on a "technical stopover" in Paris 28/29 August, to give the (US military) crew rest. Weldon had dinner the Friday night before at the ambassador's residence, at which he told the ambassador, when asked, that he had no meetings planned in Paris. He and his group met as planned the next morning with his source Fereidoun Mahdavi who brought his business partner Ghorbanifar to the meeting in a corner of the mostly empty Sofitel lobby in the morning 9am. The US government had spotters on the corner outside and in the lobby out of concern that Ghorbanifar might try to set Weldon up. After Mahdavi and Ghorbanifar showed up, the spotter in the lobby was instructed not to linger.

Reyes' spokeswoman Kira Maas denies Reyes has ever met with Ghorbanifar.

Then CIA station chief in Paris Bill Murray says in response to that: "Weldon, Ortiz and Reyes were part of a Congressional delegation which was in France in late August 2003 for a planned meeting that Weldon planned with his source. I was supposed to go to that meeting but had been given instructions not to after I had learned from my own sources that Ghorbanifar was going to attend the meeting. Therefore I called Weldon, I told him I wouldn't go to the meeting. I also told him his source's information was not very good. He told me that my superiors in Washington would not agree with that and had told him it was first class information. The meeting was held. Ghorbanifar attended."

Update II: For his part, Mahdavi remembers meeting Congressman Solomon Ortiz at that 2003 Sofitel meeting to which he brought Ghorbanifar. About Reyes: "It's possible. At the time, the whole effort of Weldon was to get me in contact with the CIA. I assume no one from the intelligence committee was there." He also tells me outgoing House intelligence committee chairman Peter Hoekstra brought a delegation of eight congressmen -- four Democrats and four Republicans - to meet with him last year. Mahdavi says he had dinner with the Congressional delegation led by Hoekstra at the Hotel Opera in Paris in the summer of 2005. He also says he has met with Weldon "several" times.

In sum, the CIA station chief at the time understood that Weldon, Reyes and Ortiz, staying at the Hotel Sofitel in Paris, were scheduled to meet with Weldon's Iranian intelligence source, Fereidoun Mahdavi, on the morning of the 29th or 30th August 2003 at the hotel. When he learned from his sources that Mahdavi planned to bring Ghorbanifar to the meeting, he alerted Weldon that he would not attend, and that meeting with Ghorbanifar was not a good idea. The Congressional Record of November 10, 2003 documents that Weldon, Reyes and Ortiz of the Armed Services committee indeed traveled together on a congressional delegation and were in Paris at that time, and charged the taxpayers the same amount for their Paris stays ($397.00 each for two nights hotel on the 28th and 29th Aug 2003). Indeed, Congressional Travel records indicate that while Reyes joined Ortiz and Weldon on their trip two days late (Ortiz and Weldon went first to Serbia and Ukraine, Reyes joined up with them on the 24 August in Russia), flying commercially, that he departed on the same day with them from France, and they all reported identical charges for their time in France. The embassy sent spotters to scout the hotel lobby and street out of concern that Ghorbanifar, considered a foreign agent for Iran, might try to set the congressmen up. The spotter in the lobby saw a group of congressmen in the lobby of the Sofitel waiting for the 9am meeting, and heard Weldon ask the concierge for a room for a secret meeting, and complain that the CIA was quote chickening out of the meeting again. The spotter saw Mahdavi and Ghorbanifar come in to the lobby, and the group including the congressmen and the Iranians take a seat at a table in a corner of the mostly empty lobby restaurant area. He was instructed not to linger after Ghorbanifar arrived and had made sure no one was around who would harm or set up the congressmen and left. Mahdavi, a participant in the meeting, remembers specifically Weldon, Ortiz and Ghorbanifar there at the table, but isn't sure about Reyes, saying it's possible. I have called Reyes' office previously (as well as Ortiz and Weldon for that matter) to ask about allegations he attended the meeting, and indeed, had his spokeswoman's direct line penned into my US Congress handbook because of the earlier few times I called, but she has never gotten back to me until yesterday, when I included her statement. Perhaps it's time for Congressman Reyes' office to offer an explanation for what he was doing that morning that his colleagues Weldon and Ortiz met with Ghorbanifar and Mahdavi? If he wasn't at the meeting, it would be useful to know what he was doing, since the two colleagues he traveled with were at the meeting with Ghorbanifar and Madhavi. I welcome a fuller explanation, since I had understood from a reliable source that he was there.

--Laura Rozen