Petraeus’s CIA Fuels Iran Murder Plot

Exclusive: The U.S. media and public are being riled up again with a new set of allegations against Iran, this time for a bizarre assassination plot aimed at the Saudi ambassador in Washington. But former CIA analyst Ray McGovern wonders if this is propaganda from David Petraeus’s CIA.

By Ray McGovern

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, in his accustomed role as unofficial surrogate CIA spokesman, has thrown light on how the CIA under its new director, David Petraeus, helped craft the screenplay for this week’s White House spy feature: the Iranian-American-used-car-salesman-Mexican-drug-cartel plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

In Thursday’s column, Ignatius notes that, initially, White House and Justice Department officials found the story “implausible.” It was. But the Petraeus team soon leapt to the rescue, reflecting the four-star-general-turned-intelligence-chief’s deep-seated animus toward Iran.

CIA Director David Petraeus

Before Ignatius’s article, I had seen no one allude to the fact that much about this crime-stopper tale had come from the CIA. In public, the FBI had taken the lead role, presumably because the key informant inside a Mexican drug cartel worked for U.S. law enforcement via the Drug Enforcement Administration.

However, according to Ignatius, “One big reason [top U.S. officials became convinced the plot was real] is that CIA and other intelligence agencies gathered information corroborating the informant’s juicy allegations and showing that the plot had support from the top leadership of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the covert action arm of the Iranian government.”

Ignatius adds that, “It was this intelligence collected in Iran” that swung the balance, but he offers no example of what that intelligence was. He only mentions a recorded telephone call on Oct. 4 between Iranian-American cars salesman Mansour Arbabsiar and his supposed contact in Iran, Gholam Shakuri, allegedly an official in Iran’s Quds spy agency.

The call is recounted in the FBI affidavit submitted in support of the criminal charges against Arbabsiar, who is now in U.S. custody, and Shakuri, who is not. But the snippets of that conversation are unclear, discussing what on the surface appears to be a “Chevrolet” car purchase, but which the FBI asserts is code for killing the Saudi ambassador.

Without explaining what other evidence the CIA might have, Ignatius tries to further strengthen the case by knocking down some of the obvious problems with the allegations, such as “why the Iranians would undertake such a risky operation, and with such embarrassingly poor tradecraft.”

“But why the use of Mexican drug cartels?” asks Ignatius rhetorically, before adding dutifully: “U.S. officials say that isn’t as implausible as it sounds.”

But it IS as implausible as it sounds, says every professional intelligence officer I have talked with since the “plot” was somberly announced on Tuesday.

The Old CIA Pros

There used to be real pros in the CIA’s operations directorate. One, Ray Close, a longtime CIA Arab specialist and former Chief of Station in Saudi Arabia, told me on Wednesday that we ought to ask ourselves a very simple question:

“If you were an Iranian undercover operative who was under instructions to hire a killer to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, D.C., why in HELL would you consider it necessary to explain to a presumed Mexican [expletive deleted] that this murder was planned and would be paid for by a secret organization in Iran?

“Whoever concocted this tale wanted the ‘plot’ exposed to precipitate a major crisis in relations between Iran and the United States. Which other government in the Middle East would like nothing better than to see those relations take a big step toward military confrontation?”

If you hesitate in answering, you have not been paying attention. Many have addressed this issue. My last stab at throwing light on the Israel/Iran/U.S. nexus appeared ten days ago in “Israel’s Window to Bomb Iran.”

Another point on the implausibility meter is: What are the odds that Iran’s Quds force would plan an unprecedented attack in the United States, that this crack intelligence agency would trust the operation to a used-car salesman with little or no training in spycraft, that he would turn to his one contact in a Mexican drug cartel who happens to be a DEA informant, and that upon capture the car salesman would immediately confess and implicate senior Iranian officials?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to suspect that Arbabsiar might be a double-agent, recruited by some third-party intelligence agency to arrange some shady business deal regarding black-market automobiles, get some ambiguous comments over the phone from an Iranian operative, and then hand the plot to the U.S. government on a silver platter as a way to heighten tensions between Washington and Teheran?

That said, there are times when even professional spy agencies behave like amateurs. And there’s no doubt that the Iranians like the Israelis, the Saudis and the Americans can and do carry out assassinations and kidnappings in this brave new world of ours.

Remember, for instance, the case of Islamic cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, who was abducted off the streets of Milan, Italy, on Feb. 17, 2003, and then flown from a U.S. air base to Egypt where he was imprisoned and tortured for a year.

In 2009, Italian prosecutors convicted 23 Americans, mostly CIA operatives, in absentia for the kidnapping after reconstructing the disappearance through their unencrypted cell phone records and their credit card bills at luxury hotels in Milan.

Then, there was the suspected Mossad assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh at a hotel in Dubai on Jan. 19, 2010, with the hit men seen on hotel video cameras strolling around in tennis outfits and creating an international furor over their use of forged Irish, British, German and French passports.

So one cannot completely rule out that there may conceivably be some substance to the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador.

And beyond the regional animosities between Saudi Arabia and Iran, there could be a motive although it has been absent from American press accounts i.e. retaliation for the assassinations of senior Iranian nuclear scientists and generals over the last couple of years within Iran itself.

But there has been close to zero real evidence coming from the main source of information, officials of the Justice Department, which like the rest of the U.S. government has long since forfeited much claim to credibility.

Petraeus’s ‘Intelligence’ on Iran

The public record also shows that former Gen. Petraeus has long been eager to please the neoconservatives in Washington and their friends in Israel by creating “intelligence” to portray Iran and other target countries in the worst light.

One strange but instructive example comes to mind, a studied, if disingenuous, effort to blame all the troubles in southern Iraq on the “malignant” influence of Iran.

On April 25, 2008, Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters that Gen. Petraeus in Baghdad would give a briefing “in the next couple of weeks” providing detailed evidence of “just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability.” Petraeus’s staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which captured Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and then destroyed.

Oops. Small problem. When American munitions experts went to Karbala to inspect the alleged cache of Iranian weapons, they found nothing that could be credibly linked to Iran.

At that point, adding insult to injury, the Iraqis announced that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had formed his own Cabinet committee to investigate the U.S. claims and attempt to “find tangible information and not information based on speculation.” Ouch!

The Teflon-clad Petraeus escaped embarrassment, as the David Ignatiuses of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) conveniently forgot all about the promised-then-canceled briefing. U.S. media suppression of this telling episode is just one example of how difficult it is to get unbiased, accurate information on touchy subjects like Iran into the FCM.

As for Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama, some adult adviser should tell them to quit giving hypocrisy a bad name with their righteous indignation over the thought that no civilized nation would conduct cross-border assassinations.

The Obama administration, like its predecessor, has been dispatching armed drones to distant corners of the globe to kill Islamic militants, including recently U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki for the alleged crime of encouraging violence against Americans.

Holder and Obama have refused to release the Justice Department’s legal justification for the targeted murder of al-Awlaki whose “due process” amounted to the President putting al-Awlaki’s name on a secret “kill-or-capture” list.

Holder and Obama have also refused to take meaningful action to hold officials of the Bush administration accountable for war crimes even though President George W. Bush has publicly acknowledged authorizing waterboarding and other brutal techniques long regarded as acts of torture.

Who can take at face value the sanctimonious words of an attorney general like Holder who has acquiesced in condoning egregious violations of the Bill of Rights, the U.S. criminal code, and international law, like the International Convention Against Torture?

Were shame not in such short supply in Official Washington these days, one would be amazed that Holder could keep a straight face, accusing these alleged Iranian perpetrators of “violating an international convention.”

America’s Founders would hold in contempt the Holders and the faux-legal types doing his bidding. The behavior of the past two administrations has been more reminiscent of George III and his sycophants than of James Madison, George Mason, John Jay and George Washington, who gave us the rich legacy of a Constitution, which created a system based on laws not men.

That Constitution and its Bill of Rights have become endangered species at the hands of the craven poachers at “Justice.” No less craven are the functionaries leading today’s CIA.

What to Watch For

If Petraeus finds it useful politically to conjure up more “evidence” of nefarious Iranian behavior in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, Lebanon or Syria, he will.  And if he claims to see signs of ominous Iranian intentions regarding nuclear weapons, watch out.

Honest CIA analysts, like the ones who concluded that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in late 2003 and had not resumed that work, are in short supply, and most have families to support and mortgages to pay.

Petraeus is quite capable of marginalizing them, or even forcing them to quit. I have watched this happen to a number of intelligence officials under a few of Petraeus’s predecessors.

More malleable careerists can be found in any organization, and promoted, so long as they are willing to tell more ominous, if disingenuous, stories that may make more sense to the average American than the latest tale of the Iraninan-American-used-car-salesman-Mexican-drug-cartel-plot.

This can get very dangerous in a hurry. Israel’s leaders would require but the flimsiest of nihil obstat to encourage them to provoke hostilities with Iran. Netanyahu and his colleagues would expect the Obamas, Holders, and Petraeuses of this world to be willing to “fix the intelligence and facts” (a la Iraq) to “justify” such an attack.

The Israeli leaders would risk sucking the United States into the kind of war with Iran that, short of a massive commitment of resources or a few tactical nuclear weapons, the U.S. and Israel could almost surely not win. It would be the kind of war that would make Iraq and Afghanistan look like minor skirmishes.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years, and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

60 comments for “Petraeus’s CIA Fuels Iran Murder Plot

  1. October 24, 2011 at 17:48

    AIPAC/Neocons Use Alleged Assassination Plot To Push For War With Iran (for Israel):

    Pro-Israel Neocon hawk urges U.S. to “get tough” with Pakistan (for Israel yet again of course!)

  2. Marc
    October 17, 2011 at 05:55

    According to the AP:

    Three months ago, one of the CIA’s most experienced clandestine operatives started work inside the New York Police Department. His title is special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence. On that much, everyone agrees. Exactly what he’s doing there, however, is much less clear.

    Read more @

  3. Kenny Fowler
    October 15, 2011 at 16:57

    Cue the clowns for this dog and pony circus sideshow act with Petraeus as the man behind the curtain. Is Obama really foolish enough to believe this nonsense? I used to think he was actually pretty smart but if he let’s himself get played by his alphabet agencies into beating the war drums with tripe like this then I’ve been played. Time for a third party.

  4. Norman
    October 15, 2011 at 14:03

    One has to remember that the DEA is the CIA’s junk yard dog. They go hand in hand. Remember also, that both Iraq & Afghanistan are again failures as far as U.S.Military adventures go, just like Vietnam. The CIA’s fingers are all over the map, but the failures are mounting. The citizens of this country are privy because of the instant communications we have, via the internet. Another reason they want to be able to shut it down. One really wonders if these Military leaders believe that they are doing their patriot duty, or just carrying water for the elites in order to get their pensions?

  5. Gregory L Kruse
    October 15, 2011 at 10:46

    The level of denialist talent in this country is breath-taking, and I mean that literally. While Obama is out there stumping for jobs, which (which as Bruce Springsteen once sang) are not coming back, his steps are locked with the likes of Petraeus and Geithner. They will have their war once Obama gets re-elected, because the carbon the corporations want so much to burn is buried or static in Iraq (which is already supine), and Afghanistan (which will be eventually. Two problematic nations stand in the way, Pakistan because of it’s nuclear weapons, and Iran because of its power. The current level of brutality is not high enough to accomplish the goals of the corporations, so it is being steadily raised through the US government by agents such as Petraeus. The next inevitable step up will be the killing of some OWS protesters.

  6. Jam
    October 14, 2011 at 17:05

    General Petraeus’s Secret Ops – May 25, 2010


    Petraeus (Betrayus) is a Bilderberg member:,160173

    Bilderbergers Green Light Attack On Iran

  7. Jam
    October 14, 2011 at 17:04

    General Petraeus’s Secret Ops – May 25, 2010


    Petraeus (Betrayus) is a Bilderberg member:,160173

    Bilderbergers Green Light Attack On Iran

  8. Bob
    October 14, 2011 at 14:35


  9. Bob
    October 14, 2011 at 14:34

    Has everyone forgotten the leaked WikiLeaks files that showed the Saudis’ and Isralis requesting the US to attack Iran? I know this is at least a year old but it still fits this phony build-up to War with Iran/
    Time to resurrect the WikiLeaks files and post them Nation-wide.
    The only thing that fits this situation is “FALSE FLAG” Terror attack on IRAN to please the Saudis’ and Isralis’, as well as cover up mr holder’s recent problems with Fast & Furious. Oblunder is also getting his shielkds reinforced, taking the focus off of his INELIGIBILITY for POTUS.
    Problem, Reaction, Reaction= RESULTS.

  10. Haudenosaun
    October 14, 2011 at 14:01

    Excellent piece Mr.McGovern. I had many of the same thoughts when the news broke and I am no CIA analyst. It’s all just too convenient to be believed.

    Netanyahu has made no secret of his desire to hit Iran and this is a perfect way not only to draw the U.S. into war with Iran, but to actually initiate it.

    Diplomacy no longer exists in the world because there is way too much profit to be made in war.

    • October 15, 2011 at 07:26

      You have said it all here,, “Diplomacy no longer exists in the world because there is way too much profit to be made in war.” Now it is not diplomacy at all,, because our State Department is in fact our War Department, and our State Department is under the control of the same mil/ind complex that is controlling our Pentagon, and president. The appointment of Petraeus to the CIA has completed the circle of complete control. Now the mil/ind complex controls the “intelligence” as well. The CIA that used to be a check against the macho blundering of the Pentagon is now just another arm of their propaganda wing. They all feed from the same trough, drink from the same Kool Aid fountain, and all get that nice federal paycheck,, to keep their mouths shut. The CIA “experts” are most probably justifying our support for heroin manufacturing in Afghanistan, and our profiting from it, because it weakens the Iranian society which has a large number of heroin addicts. Justify heroin distribution, justify wars and occupations,, just keep on justifying,, as long as our mil/ind folks see profits. And we pay for this idiocy with our tax dollars. Exasperating really . Illogical. Inexcusable.

  11. casual observer
    October 14, 2011 at 13:44

    ““If you were an Iranian undercover operative who was under instructions to hire a killer to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, D.C., why in HELL would you consider it necessary to explain to a presumed Mexican [expletive deleted] that this murder was planned and would be paid for by a secret organization in Iran?””

    Another nail in the coffin of this cockamamie of a Jewmerican script.

  12. Jay B. Born
    October 14, 2011 at 12:44

    Petraeus involved? Of course. L’il David is one of the creepiest, scariest men on the planet, but D.C. insiders either love or fear him and media foam at the mouth over the prospect of getting to interview him. So is he running for president in 2016? A place on the GOP ticket sooner? Would he run with Hillary in 2012? Would the fact that he has commanded two failed wars hurt his chances? I hope so, but some “patriotic” Americans love military wonks and believe the line of BS Petraeus shoots about humself.

  13. Bob H
    October 14, 2011 at 10:13

    This sounds much like a replay of the “Zimmermann Telegram” of WWI.

  14. Jym Allyn
    October 14, 2011 at 07:48

    From “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”:

    The history of warfare is similarly subdivided, although here the phases are Retribution, Anticipation, and Diplomacy.
    Retribution: I’m going to kill you because you killed my brother.
    Anticipation: I’m going to kill you because I killed your brother.
    Diplomacy: I’m going to kill my brother and then kill you on the pretext that your brother did it.


    Some things never change.

  15. Lester Shepherd
    October 14, 2011 at 07:32

    Betrayus looks so innocent. Too bad the narcissistic bastard can’t wear his ridiculous array of medals in his new “job”.

  16. novocaine38
    October 14, 2011 at 04:36

    message to petraeus from Mark Twain:
    “when you are headed in the wrong direction then it is not
    prudent to increase your speed…” THIS REMINDS ME ALL OF
    CUM SCHAEFERHUNDE + i have started a prayer campaign to all
    goods out there to send sanity to langley, novocaine38

  17. Charles Norrie
    October 14, 2011 at 02:05

    It looks curiously like a kind of the re-run of the Lockerbie plot, in which Libya had to take the blame with virtually no evidence. That atrocity was undoubtedly the agreed revenge between the US and Iran to give Iran its one and one only revenge for the deliberate shooting down of IR655, the Iranian Airbus.

  18. Morgaine
    October 13, 2011 at 23:04

    What I want to know is this: When are Americans going to start demanding proof before they send their sons and daughters off to kill other people’s sons and daughters for the benefit of a few war profiteers?

    • Jay B. Born
      October 14, 2011 at 12:47

      We have a four-star general (subject of this article) babysitting contractors. Why else would we have stayed so long in the hellhole Afghanistan? In Iraq, it was for the oil. And even that didn’t turn out well.

      • richie b nine
        October 14, 2011 at 13:39

        He should be a one star general & it should be a six pointed star.

    • October 15, 2011 at 07:00

      Most probably never. These parents are still watching films that glorify the idiocy of the Vietnam War, and the films that glorify WW2 ,, and they are proud to send their children off to risk life and limb so that they can brag about how brave and honorable their children are. The Pentagon’s multi-million dollar ad campaigns are placed in hundreds of television shows ,films, and billboards. America get smarter? Please tell me how this might be possible,, please. This could only be achieved by vast reform of our schools, and vast reform of the Pentagon’s advertising/recruiting budget, and long reach into our colleges and universities. Read the Nick Turse book,, “The Complex.” Our federal government has become a self perpetuating corporate type animal, that is fighting for survival. With very few exceptions, our representatives in Washington are little more than mouthpieces for this “corporation” ,, and that most especially includes whoever is elected as our president. K Street is driving this bus,, not any of us . Most Americans feel totally powerless over our federal government,, and well they should, because it is a fact .

  19. TheAZCowBoy
    October 13, 2011 at 22:37


    The 1/2 pint Leprechaun Petraeus ‘brews’ his 1st crisis. Let’s see what he does next. Maybe sending his ‘death squads’ to the NYC downtown area to murder and maim that which he has no control over like in Afghanistam – Jewish thievery on Wall Street! Maybe even some predators ro take-out the leaders, now that US citizens are ‘open game’ for the Pentagon ghouls, yikes!

  20. Jon
    October 13, 2011 at 21:57

    Thank you for this article Mr. McGovern.

    Anyone happen to watch the good shepherd on Fox tonight discussing this? It was kind of an uncomfortable moment for good ole’ Fox news. On the one hand, they have lead the charge for total incompetence (at best) against the administration and justice department with regards to “Fast and Furious”, but oops, on the other hand Fox has to fall right into line with respect to this case. After all, it’s Iran. And they wouldn’t want to be considered anti-Semitic. At one point Shep cut to a very short clip of some evil looking annalist suggesting we aren’t doing nearly enough and the administration should take covert action against Iran, eliminating its leadership.


    I’ll tell ya, there just aught to be circus music playing in the background over there at Fox, as well as the other FCM outlets. It makes me sick to see this in our country.. Again.

  21. angryspittle
    October 13, 2011 at 18:29

    This whole thing stinks. I don’t believe a damn word of it. It is so transparent it is almost laughable if it weren’t so serious. A failed used car salesman, Mexican drug thugs? Really? Iran is not that fucking stupid.

  22. SG Logan
    October 13, 2011 at 18:10

    Successive European, US and other governments in the international community have gone out of their way to help the theocratic tyranny change its terrorist and belligerent policies and in particular its thirst for the nuclear bomb. The US administrations of all colours have gone as far as placing the main Iranian democratic opposition on the FTO list as well as letting the mullahs get away literally with murder of thousands of US soldiers in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq by the Iranian regime’s proxy terrorist groupuscules of whatever religious persuasion, not to mention keeping quiet on the terrorist regime’s cooperation with the Al-Qaeda in shedding the blood of 3000 innocent civilians in the twin towers. Does any sane person wonder why the regime does not understand the modern world? Theocratic rule belongs to the Dark Ages and we won’t want it in our own home countries, and nor do the Iranian or other Middle Eastern people want it in theirs as evident in the tens of thousands of Iranian democracy campaigners who’ve given the ultimate price to bring freedom to their country. It’s high time we stop meddling in the Iranian affairs on behalf of the religious fascism and help the Iranian people and opposition to bring about freedom and sanity to their homeland and peace and stability to their vitally important region.

    • rosemerry
      October 14, 2011 at 16:28

      You sound as if you are describing Israel.

      • SG Logan
        October 14, 2011 at 22:44

        Israel has many problems but it’s not theocratic which means rule by the clergy. I don’t remember Israel ever having Jewish clergy form the goernment; please correct me if I’m wrong.

        • Gregory L Kruse
          October 15, 2011 at 10:24

          Menachim Begin. Likud. Netanyahu. Eretz Israel. The Chosen People. The Promised Land. Just because the Prime Minister is not a cleric, it doesn’t mean that the government is not theocratic. Amadinajad is not a mullah.

        • Aaron
          October 15, 2011 at 15:16

          No but the ruling Likud-Shas coalition is radical extremist and fundamentalist to the point that it vehemently opposes a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the sharing of East Jerusalem as its capital because of biblical claims, making a Two-State solution impossible with all the settlement construction going on in that aera.

          So it doesn’t take much to wonder why there is no peace.

      • r
        October 16, 2011 at 16:14

        Another distinguished by kneejerk hate 4 Israel: it has got 2 be them!.

        • A
          October 18, 2011 at 18:35

          You must be an Israel lover. It is already pushing out of your mouth. Enjoy the ride!

    • Winston
      October 14, 2011 at 16:47

      “…help the Iranian people and opposition to bring about freedom and sanity to their homeland and peace and stability to their vitally important region.” Er, would this be the same freedom, sanity, peace and stability that millions of Americans are now complete strangers to? Government hit-lists, imprisonment without trial, terror alerts and economic collapse are on the menu today in the US of A. You blather about “theocratic tyrannies”, “terrorist and belligerent policies” and “thirst for the nuclear bomb” as though the US looks on from a morally superior position.
      How about this for a plan: Don’t “…help the Iranian people and opposition,” do anything. Stay out of their affairs entirely, stop treating the world like an American fiefdom, cut out the march to WW3 and take the ‘beam out of thine own eye’!

      • Gregory L Kruse
        October 15, 2011 at 10:45

        Well said.

    • Aaron
      October 15, 2011 at 15:05

      US soldiers in Lebanon attacked by elements who later on decided to join the Hezbollah, which is an organization that was not created by Teheran at first, but came into existence because of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon.

      And the claims that Shiite Iran “cooperated” with Al Qaeda or even the Taliban in Afghanistan has widely been disproven. Check history, Iran almost went to war against the Taliban in 1998 because it had murdered several Iranian diplomats, on top of the fact that Teheran helped the United States on intelligence and logistics when it moved in to topple the regime in October 2001.

    • wakeel
      October 20, 2011 at 16:44

      I doubt if Ahmedinejad is more fanatic than that fanatic, reactionay Bush or current runners for president.

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