Sunday, June 26, 2005

Today, on our facing page, we are running the first of three excerpts from Kenneth R. Timmerman’s new book, “Countdown To Crisis, The Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran” (Crown Publishing Group, $25.95). Relying on intelligence sources he has developed during the past two decades as an investigative journalist, Mr. Timmerman spent many hours debriefing defectors from Iran’s intelligence services. These sources have provided Mr. Timmerman with eyewitness accounts of meetings between top al Qaeda leaders and senior officials in the Iranian government.

It has been clear since September 11, 2001 that U.S. intelligence had failed the American people, resulting in the deaths of nearly 3,000 of our countrymen. A growing body of evidence has accumulated suggesting that Iran may have had a role in the September 11 attacks, and that the Central Intelligence Agency has sought to play down evidence of this.

Mr. Timmerman marshals an impressive amount of evidence suggesting Iran may have known about the attacks and has given sanctuary to senior al Qaeda officials who were involved in planning them. Perhaps most disturbing of all is the information he presents suggesting that the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have systematically tried to whitewash credible evidence from Iranian defectors linking Tehran and al Qaeda before and after September 11.

“Several times, the CIA tried to steer me away from information these defectors provided. Rather than do me a good turn, the CIA was, I believe, trying to lead me away from their own errors in judgment — errors that I believe cost thousands of American lives,” Mr. Timmerman writes. “Because of the arrogance and willful blindness of our nation’s top intelligence officers, America’s leaders were misled about the threat from Iran until it was too late.”

Nearly 400 pages in length, “Countdown to Crisis” provides an extraordinary wealth of information, much of it new, about how the threat from Iranian weapons of mass destruction and Iranian-backed terrorism grew during the late 1980s and 1990s, and how the Clinton administration refused to confront this reality; instead, the administration sought to create the illusion of getting tough with Iran to score public-relations victories. Mr. Timmerman shows how in the late 1990s, as the behavior of the Iranian government grew more menacing, Mr. Clinton pursued a more conciliatory policy towards the regime.

The Clinton administration was hardly the sole party to delude itself about Iran and its intention to develop nuclear weapons. Mr. Timmerman demonstrates how, in 1989, as Iran was rebuilding from an eight-year war with Iraq, Tehran successfully manipulated International Atomic Energy Agency Secretary-General Hans Blix into becoming the champion of its supposedly “peaceful” nuclear program.

There is also new, detailed material showing how Iran worked on nuclear weapons together with Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan’s proliferation network. And Mr. Timmerman also sheds new light on how U.N. Ambassador-designee John Bolton made powerful enemies for himself within the IAEA and the State Department bureaucracy and its political allies on Capitol Hill: by working tirelessly as undersecretary of state for arms control to force Iran and other rogue states to get out of the nuclear-weapons business.

But the most disturbing parts of Mr. Timmerman’s book, some of which which we excerpt here, deal with the evidence suggesting Iran may have had a hand in September 11.

This includes how an Iranian defector gave the CIA two months warning of a “massive attack on America,” scheduled for September 11, 2001, but how the agency brushed him off even after the events of that day; how Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, become so disturbed by the CIA’s refusal to act on information that Osama bin Laden was in Iran that he contacted a bounty hunter in an effort to capture the terrorist; and how Iran continues to finance Abu Musab Zarqawi and Iraq’s terrorist insurgency.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill would do well to examine Mr.Timmerman’s account of how George Tenet and CIA analysts dismissed evidence the agency obtained summarizing ties between Iran and al Qaeda. The evidence included a description of how Imad Mugniyeh, a senior Hezbollah operative whose terrorist credits include the 1983 bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut which killed 241 U.S. servicemen, coordinated the travel of between eight and 10 of the September 11 “muscle hijackers.”

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