Trump’s Retreat in Syria Could Be an Intelligence Coup for Putin. the Leaked Iran Cables Show Just How That Could Happen.

 In Iran, GDI, Russia, Defense, Infrastructure, Information, Iraq
  • An inves­ti­ga­tion by the Intercept and the New York Times shows how Iran cap­i­tal­ized on US intel­li­gence aban­don­ing its Iraqi oper­a­tives in the wake of its 2011 troop with­draw­al. 
  • Iraqis who had worked with the CIA told Iran about CIA safe hous­es, oth­er Iraqis work­ing for the Americans, and CIA train­ing, accord­ing to the inves­ti­ga­tion. 
  • These leaks show how the same thing could hap­pen in Syria as the US posi­tion there changes and its part­ner forces are forced into an agree­ment with the Syrian gov­ern­ment, backed by Russia and Iran. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s home page for more sto­ries. 

A recent joint inves­ti­ga­tion by the Intercept and the New York Times revealed on Monday how the US’s with­draw­al from Iraq in 2011 led to a mas­sive intel­li­gence fail­ure that put sen­si­tive US assets and infor­ma­tion direct­ly into the hands of Iranian pow­er play­ers — and gives a blue­print for how the very same thing could hap­pen in Syria.

The joint inves­ti­ga­tion by reporters James Risen and Murtaza Hussein of the Intercept and Tim Arango, Farnaz Fassihi, and Ronen Bergman for the New York Times ana­lyzes infor­ma­tion from about 700 pages of secret Iranain  intel­li­gence cables first obtained by the Intercept. 

Iran’s grow­ing influ­ence in neigh­bor­ing Iraq is most vis­i­ble in the alle­giances of its prime min­is­ter, Adil Abdel Mahdi, and the frus­tra­tions of pro­test­ers flood­ing the streets of cities through­out Iraq and defac­ing pho­tos of Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, burn­ing Iranian flags, and even fire­bomb­ing the Iranian con­sulate, the Associated Press reports.

But that influ­ence devel­oped over years, and, as the cables show, came at the expense of vital American intel­li­gence. 

When US forces pulled out of Iraq in 2011, covert oper­a­tors left hur­ried­ly, aban­don­ing their sources and leav­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to Iranian pres­sure. These sources, as the joint report points out, were left poor, ter­ri­fied, and des­per­ate. Iraqis who worked with US forces were in par­tic­u­lar dan­ger, hence the US State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa pro­gram which was cre­at­ed to help Iraqi and Afghan nation­als who had worked for the US gov­ern­ment to come to the US. 

At least some of the CIA’s Iraqi sources, whether fear­ing for their lives or in need of cash, flipped, telling Iranian intel­li­gence every­thing they want­ed to know: “the loca­tions of CIA safe hous­es; the names of hotels where CIA oper­a­tives met with agents; details of his weapons and sur­veil­lance train­ing; the names of oth­er Iraqis work­ing as spies for the Americans,” accord­ing to the report.

The abrupt, chaot­ic pull­out of US troops from north­east Syria last month opened the door for a num­ber of dan­ger­ous sce­nar­ios for the US, includ­ing con­cerns that US intel­li­gence devel­oped and shared with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led forces who led the ground bat­tle against ISIS in Syria, could be lost for­ev­er or fall into ene­my hands.

Eric L. Robinson, a for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial with the National Counterterrorism Center who focused on counter-ISIS mea­sures, tweet­ed last month that the draw­down (at that point a pull­out) was “a [counter-intel­li­gence] night­mare, giv­en years of SDF expo­sure to Allied [Special Operations Forces] and intel­li­gence ser­vices. The SDF will be forced to give up [tac­tics, tech­niques, and pro­ce­dures] names, loca­tions, etc.,” he wrote. “What a coup for the Russian intel­li­gence ser­vices — 5 years of his­to­ry regard­ing the elite forces of NATO etc.”

The Syrian regime, with which the SDF has made a still-murky alliance in the face of Turkish aggres­sion, counts as its clos­est allies Russia and Iran. Given the bru­tal­i­ty of the Assad regime in Syria, and what we now know about Iran’s steady buildup in Iraq on the back of CIA intel­li­gence, the very same thing could hap­pen with US intel­li­gence assets in Syria.

As Robinson told The Atlantic’s Mike Giglio, “Whether you’re talk­ing about com­mu­ni­ca­tions infra­struc­ture or response times for mede­vac or response times for avi­a­tions sup­port, that stuff is all inter­est­ing,” and warns that a final deal could include “not just speak­ing with Syrian intel­li­gence offi­cers but Russians and Iranians.”

Brian Katz, a for­mer CIA offi­cial, told The Atlantic, “under­stand­ing how the US mil­i­tary, Special Operations, and intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty oper­ate is going to be very valu­able for Russia and Iran — if not in Syria now, then wher­ev­er we’ll be com­pet­ing and fight­ing in the com­ing years. They’ll have a play­book for how we oper­ate.”

But as the Iran cables show, it already does have a play­book for how the US oper­ates, at least from an intel­li­gence per­spec­tive. As the US influ­ence wanes in the region, that play­book may become more com­plete and be in even more malign hands. 

Source: Business Insider (Military & Defense)

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