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Entries in Osama bin Laden (5)


Middle East/Iran (& Beyond) Revealed: US to Expand Covert Activities (Mazzetti)

Moments before we posted Sharmine Narwani's provocative analysis, "How the US Lost the Middle East and Iran", we read this investigative report from Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times. We leave it to readers to draw conclusions:

The top American commander in the Middle East has ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region, according to defense officials and military documents.

Middle East/Iran Analysis: How the US Has Lost (Narwani)

The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.

While the Bush administration had approved some clandestine military activities far from designated war zones, the new order is intended to make such efforts more systematic and long term, officials said. Its goals are to build networks that could “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to “prepare the environment” for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said. The order, however, does not appear to authorize offensive strikes in any specific countries.

In broadening its secret activities, the United States military has also sought in recent years to break its dependence on the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy agencies for information in countries without a significant American troop presence.

General Petraeus’s order is meant for small teams of American troops to fill intelligence gaps about terror organizations and other threats in the Middle East and beyond, especially emerging groups plotting attacks against the United States.

But some Pentagon officials worry that the expanded role carries risks. The authorized activities could strain relationships with friendly governments like Saudi Arabia or Yemen — which might allow the operations but be loath to acknowledge their cooperation — or incite the anger of hostile nations like Iran and Syria. Many in the military are also concerned that as American troops assume roles far from traditional combat, they would be at risk of being treated as spies if captured and denied the Geneva Convention protections afforded military detainees.

The precise operations that the directive authorizes are unclear, and what the military has done to follow through on the order is uncertain. The document, a copy of which was viewed by The New York Times, provides few details about continuing missions or intelligence-gathering operations.

Several government officials who described the impetus for the order would speak only on condition of anonymity because the document is classified. Spokesmen for the White House and the Pentagon declined to comment for this article. The Times, responding to concerns about troop safety raised by an official at United States Central Command, the military headquarters run by General Petraeus, withheld some details about how troops could be deployed in certain countries.

The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive. The Obama administration insists that for the moment, it is committed to penalizing Iran for its nuclear activities only with diplomatic and economic sanctions. Nevertheless, the Pentagon has to draw up detailed war plans to be prepared in advance, in the event that President Obama ever authorizes a strike.

“The Defense Department can’t be caught flat-footed,” said one Pentagon official with knowledge of General Petraeus’s order.

The directive, the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order, signed Sept. 30, may also have helped lay a foundation for the surge of American military activity in Yemen that began three months later.

Special Operations troops began working with Yemen’s military to try to dismantle Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate of Osama bin Laden’s terror network based in Yemen. The Pentagon has also carried out missile strikes from Navy ships into suspected militant hideouts and plans to spend more than $155 million equipping Yemeni troops with armored vehicles, helicopters and small arms.

Officials said that many top commanders, General Petraeus among them, have advocated an expansive interpretation of the military’s role around the world, arguing that troops need to operate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to better fight militant groups.

The order, which an official said was drafted in close coordination with Adm. Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command, calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished” by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies.

While the C.I.A. and the Pentagon have often been at odds over expansion of clandestine military activity, most recently over intelligence gathering by Pentagon contractors in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there does not appear to have been a significant dispute over the September order.

A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to confirm the existence of General Petraeus’s order, but said that the spy agency and the Pentagon had a “close relationship” and generally coordinate operations in the field.

“There’s more than enough work to go around,” said the spokesman, Paul Gimigliano. “The real key is coordination. That typically works well, and if problems arise, they get settled.”

During the Bush administration, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld endorsed clandestine military operations, arguing that Special Operations troops could be as effective as traditional spies, if not more so.

Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress, although Pentagon officials have said that any significant ventures are cleared through the National Security Council. Special Operations troops have already been sent into a number of countries to carry out reconnaissance missions, including operations to gather intelligence about airstrips and bridges.

Some of Mr. Rumsfeld’s initiatives were controversial, and met with resistance by some at the State Department and C.I.A. who saw the troops as a backdoor attempt by the Pentagon to assert influence outside of war zones. In 2004, one of the first groups sent overseas was pulled out of Paraguay after killing a pistol-waving robber who had attacked them as they stepped out of a taxi.

A Pentagon order that year gave the military authority for offensive strikes in more than a dozen countries, and Special Operations troops carried them out in Syria, Pakistan and Somalia.

In contrast, General Petraeus’s September order is focused on intelligence gathering --- by American troops, foreign businesspeople, academics or others — to identify militants and provide “persistent situational awareness,” while forging ties to local indigenous groups.

Afghanistan & Pakistan Analysis: Obama on a Road to Ruin? (Englehardt)

Tom Englehardt writes for TomDispatch:

On stage, it would be farce.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s bound to play out as tragedy.

Less than two months ago, Barack Obama flew into Afghanistan for six hours -- essentially to read the riot act to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom his ambassador had only months before termed “not an adequate strategic partner.”  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen followed within a day to deliver his own “stern message.”

Afghanistan-Pakistan Revealed: America’s Private Spies

While still on Air Force One, National Security Adviser James Jones offered reporters a version of the tough talk Obama was bringing with him.  Karzai would later see one of Jones’s comments and find it insulting.  Brought to his attention as well would be a newspaper article that quoted an anonymous senior U.S. military official as saying of his half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a reputedly corrupt powerbroker in the southern city of Kandahar: “I'd like him out of there... But there's nothing that we can do unless we can link him to the insurgency, then we can put him on the [target list] and capture and kill him."  This was tough talk indeed.

At the time, the media repeatedly pointed out that President Obama, unlike his predecessor, had consciously developed a standoffish relationship with Karzai.  Meanwhile, both named and anonymous officials regularly castigated the Afghan president in the press for stealing an election and running a hopelessly corrupt, inefficient government that had little power outside Kabul, the capital.  A previously planned Karzai visit to Washington was soon put on hold to emphasize the toughness of the new approach.

The administration was clearly intent on fighting a better version of the Afghan war with a new commander, a new plan of action, and a well-tamed Afghan president, a client head of state who would finally accept his lesser place in the greater scheme of things.  A little blunt talk, some necessary threats, and the big stick of American power and money were sure to do the trick.

Meanwhile, across the border in Pakistan, the administration was in an all-carrots mood when it came to the local military and civilian leadership --- billions of dollars of carrots, in fact.  Our top military and civilian officials had all but taken up residence in Islamabad.  By March, for instance, Admiral Mullen had already visited the country 15 times and U.S. dollars (and promises of more) were flowing in.  Meanwhile, U.S. Special Operations Forces were arriving in the country’s wild borderlands to train the Pakistani Frontier Corps and the skies were filling with CIA-directed unmanned aerial vehicles pounding those same borderlands, where the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other insurgent groups involved in the Afghan War were located.

In Pakistan, it was said, a crucial “strategic relationship” was being carefully cultivated.  As The New York Times reported, “In March, [the Obama administration] held a high-level strategic dialogue with Pakistan’s government, which officials said went a long way toward building up trust between the two sides.”  Trust indeed.

Skip ahead to mid-May and somehow, like so many stealthy insurgents, the carrots and sticks had crossed the poorly marked, porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan heading in opposite directions.  Last week, Karzai was in Washington being given “the red carpet treatment” as part of what was termed an Obama administration “charm offensive” and a “four-day love fest.”

The president set aside a rare stretch of hours to entertain Karzai and the planeload of ministers he brought with him.  At a joint news conference, Obama insisted that “perceived tensions” between the two men had been “overstated.”  Specific orders went out from the White House to curb public criticism of the Afghan president and give him “more public respect” as “the chief U.S. partner in the war effort.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Karzai of Washington’s long-term “commitment” to his country, as did Obama and Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal.  Praise was the order of the day.

John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, interrupted a financial reform debate to invite Karzai onto the Senate floor where he was mobbed by senators eager to shake his hand (an honor not bestowed on a head of state since 1967).  He was once again our man in Kabul.  It was a stunning turnaround: a president almost without power in his own country had somehow tamed the commander-in-chief of the globe’s lone superpower.

Meanwhile, Clinton, who had shepherded the Afghan president on a walk through a “private enclave” in Georgetown and hosted a “glittering reception” for him, appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to flay Pakistan.  In the wake of an inept failed car bombing in Times Square, she had this stern message to send to the Pakistani leadership: "We want more, we expect more... We've made it very clear that if, heaven forbid, an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences."  Such consequences would evidently include a halt to the flow of U.S. aid to a country in economically disastrous shape.  She also accused at least some Pakistani officials of “practically harboring” Osama bin Laden.  So much for the carrots.

According to the Washington Post, General McChrystal delivered a “similar message” to the chief of staff of the Pakistani Army.  To back up Clinton’s public threats and McChrystal’s private ones, hordes of anonymous American military and civilian officials were ready to pepper reporters with leaks about the tough love that might now be in store for Pakistan.  The same Post story, for instance, spoke of “some officials...weighing in favor of a far more muscular and unilateral U.S. policy. It would include a geographically expanded use of drone missile attacks in Pakistan and pressure for a stronger U.S. military presence there.”

According to similar accounts, “more pointed” messages were heading for key Pakistanis and “new and stiff warnings” were being issued. Americans were said to be pushing for expanded Special Operations training programs in the Pakistani tribal areas and insisting that the Pakistani military launch a major campaign in North Waziristan, the heartland of various resistance groups including, possibly, al-Qaeda.  “The element of threat” was now in the air, according to Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador, while in press reports you could hear rumblings about an “internal debate” in Washington that might result in more American “boots on the ground.”

Helpless Escalation

In other words, in the space of two months the Obama administration had flip-flopped when it came to who exactly was to be pressured and who reassured.  A typically anonymous “former U.S. official who advises the administration on Afghan policy” caught the moment well in a comment to The Wall Street Journal.  “This whole bending over backwards to show Karzai the red carpet,” he told journalist Peter Spiegel, “is a result of not having had a concerted strategy for how to grapple with him."

On a larger scale, the flip-flop seemed to reflect tactical and strategic incoherence --- and not just in relation to Karzai.  To all appearances, when it comes to the administration's two South Asian wars, one open, one more hidden, Obama and his top officials are flailing around.  They are evidently trying whatever comes to mind in much the manner of the oil company BP as it repeatedly fails to cap a demolished oil well 5,000 feet under the waves in the Gulf of Mexico.  In a sense, when it comes to Washington’s ability to control the situation, Pakistan and Afghanistan might as well be 5,000 feet underwater.  Like BP, Obama’s officials, military and civilian, seem to be operating in the dark, using unmanned robotic vehicles.  And as in the Gulf, after each new failure, the destruction only spreads.

For all the policy reviews and shuttling officials, the surging troops, extra private contractors, and new bases, Obama’s wars are worsening.  Lacking is any coherent regional policy or semblance of real strategy -- counterinsurgency being only a method of fighting and a set of tactics for doing so.  In place of strategic coherence there is just one knee-jerk response: escalation.  As unexpected events grip the Obama administration by the throat, its officials increasingly act as if further escalation were their only choice, their fated choice.

This response is eerily familiar.  It permeated Washington’s mentality in the Vietnam War years.  In fact, one of the strangest aspects of that war was the way America’s leaders -- including President Lyndon Johnson -- felt increasingly helpless and hopeless even as they committed themselves to further steps up the ladder of escalation.

We don’t know what the main actors in Obama’s war are feeling.  We don’t have their private documents or their secret taped conversations.  Nonetheless, it should ring a bell when, as wars devolve, the only response Washington can imagine is further escalation.

Washington Boxed In

By just about every recent account, including new reports from the independent Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is going dreadfully, even as the Taliban insurgency gains potency and expands.  This spring, preparing for his first relatively minor U.S. offensive in Marja, a Taliban-controlled area of Helmand Province, General McChrystal confidently announced that, after the insurgents were dislodged, an Afghan “government in a box” would be rolled out. From a governing point of view, however, the offensive seems to have been a fiasco.  The Taliban is now reportedly re-infiltrating the area, while the governmental apparatus in that nation-building “box” has proven next to nonexistent, corrupt, and thoroughly incompetent.

Today, according to a report by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), the local population is far more hostile to the American effort.  According to the ICOS, “61% of Afghans interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces after Operation Moshtarak than they did before the February military offensive in Marja.”

As Alissa Rubin of The New York Times summed up the situation in Afghanistan more generally:
Even as American troops clear areas of militants, they find either no government to fill the vacuum, as in Marja, or entrenched power brokers, like President Karzai's brother in Kandahar, who monopolize NATO contracts and other development projects and are resented by large portions of the population. In still other places, government officials rarely show up at work and do little to help local people, and in most places the Afghan police are incapable of providing security. Corruption, big and small, remains an overwhelming complaint.

In other words, the U.S. really doesn’t have an “adequate partner”, and this is all the more striking since the Taliban is by no stretch of the imagination a particularly popular movement of national resistance.  As in Vietnam, a counterinsurgency war lacking a genuine governmental partner is an oxymoron, not to speak of a recipe for disaster.

Not surprisingly, doubts about General McChrystal’s war plan are reportedly spreading inside the Pentagon and in Washington, even before it’s been fully launched.  The major U.S. summer “operation” --- it’s no longer being labeled an “offensive” -- in the Kandahar region already shows signs of “faltering” and its unpopularity is rising among an increasingly resistant local population.  In addition, civilian deaths from U.S. and NATO actions are distinctly on the rise and widely unsettling to Afghans.  Meanwhile, military and police forces being trained in U.S./NATO mentoring programs considered crucial to Obama’s war plans are proving remarkably hapless.

McClatchy News, for example, recently reported that the new Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), a specially trained elite force brought into the Marja area and “touted as the country's best and brightest” is, according to “U.S. military strategists[,] plagued by the same problems as Afghanistan's conventional police, who are widely considered corrupt, ineffective and inept.”  Drug use and desertions in ANCOP have been rife.

And yet, it seems as if all that American officials can come up with, in response to the failed Times Square car bombing and the “news” that the bomber was supposedly trained in Waziristan by the Pakistani Taliban, is the demand that Pakistan allow “more of a boots-on-the-ground strategy” and more American trainers into the country.  Such additional U.S. forces would serve only “as advisers and trainers, not as combat forces.”  So the mantra now goes reassuringly, but given the history of the Vietnam War, it’s a cringe-worthy demand.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has officially widened its targeting in the CIA drone war in the Pakistani borderlands to include low-level, no-name militants.  It is also ratcheting up such attacks, deeply unpopular in a country where 64% of the inhabitants, according to a recent poll, already view the United States as an "enemy" and only 9% as a “partner.”

Since the Times Square incident, the CIA has specifically been striking North Waziristan, where the Pakistani army has as yet refrained from launching operations.  The U.S., as the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill reports, has also increased its support for the Pakistani Air Force, which will only add to the wars in the skies of that country.

All of this represents escalation of the “covert” U.S. war in Pakistan.  None of it offers particular hope of success.  All of it stokes enmity and undoubtedly encourages more “lone wolf” jihadis to lash out at the U.S.  It’s a formula for blowback, but not for victory.

BP-Style Pragmatism Goes to War

One thing can be said about the Bush administration: it had a grand strategic vision to go with its wars.  Its top officials were convinced that the American military, a force they saw as unparalleled on planet Earth, would be capable of unilaterally shock-and-awing America’s enemies in what they liked to call “the arc of instability” or “the Greater Middle East” (that is, the oil heartlands of the planet).  Its two wars would bring not just Afghanistan and Iraq, but Iran and Syria to their knees, leaving Washington to impose a Pax Americana on the Middle East and Central Asia (in the process of which groups like Hamas and Hezbollah would be subdued and anti-American jihadism ended).

They couldn’t, of course, have been more wrong, something quite apparent to the Obama team.  Now, however, we have a crew in Washington who seem to have no vision, great or small, when it comes to American foreign or imperial policy, and who seem, in fact, to lack any sense of strategy at all.  What they have is a set of increasingly discredited tactics and an approach that might pass for good old American see-what-works “pragmatism,” but these days might more aptly be labeled “BP-style pragmatism.”

The vision may be long gone, but the wars live on with their own inexorable momentum.  Add into the mix American domestic politics, which could discourage any president from changing course and de-escalating a war, and you have what looks like a fatal --- and fatally expensive --- brew.

We’ve moved from Bush’s visionary disasters to Obama’s flailing wars, while the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq continue to pay the price.  If only we could close the curtain on this strange mix of farce and tragedy, but evidently we’re still stuck in act four of a five-act nightmare.

Even as our Afghan and Pakistani wars are being sucked dry of whatever meaning might remain, the momentum is in only one direction -- toward escalation.  A thousand repetitions of an al-Qaeda-must-be-destroyed mantra won’t change that one bit.  More escalation, unfortunately, is yet to come.

UPDATED Iran Follow-Up: Ahmadinejad "Bin Laden Lives in Washington DC!"

UPDATE, 6 MAY: State Department Looks Around, Doesn't Find Bin Laden, Does Find Sense of Humour. I feel better now about my fellow Americans.

P.J. Crowley must have thought about his po'-faced, huffy comment on Twitter, as he decided that light-hearted was a better approach in a Washington press conference: "We've done an intensive search here at the Department of State -- every nook and cranny, every rock -- and we can safely report that Osama bin Laden is not here."

Iran: Bin Laden Lives in Tehran Shocker!

UPDATE 1900 GMT: Oh, dear, I think the US State Department has had a satire failure. Spokesman P.J. Crowley has just sniffed on Twitter, "Ahmadinejad says bin Laden is in DC. We don’t have him; what we do have is another wild Iranian accusation and no accountability."

P.J., you do know that Iranians have been known to pull the leg and tweak the nose of an obtuse interviewer, right?


From the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous....

Yesterday we had a bit of fun with Fox News' puffed-up, straight-faced "report" that Osama Bin Laden might be living the high life in Tehran. We thought this might be a one-day diversion, since this is not a real news story, but little did we know that George Stephanopoulos, former aide to Bill Clinton and host of ABC Television's Good Morning America, would take it to new levels of absurdity.

Closing his two-dimensional interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Stephanopoulos decided to spring an interrogator's surprise (since, presumably, Mahmoud does not watch Fox News):

STEPHANOPOULOS: One final question. There's a new documentary out that says that Osama Bin Laden is living in Tehran. And the subject of the documentary, a man named Alan Parrot, one of the world's foremost falconers living in Iran, says he's spoken to Osama bin Laden several times since 2003. Is Osama bin Laden in Tehran?

AHMADINEJAD: Your question is laughable.


AHMADINEJAD: The U.S. government has invaded Afghanistan in order to arrest Bin Laden. They probably know where Bin Laden is. If they don't know he is, why did they invade? Could we know the intelligence?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think if they knew, they would find him. They would get him.

AHMADINEJAD: First they should have tried to find his location, then invade, those who did not know about his location first they invaded and then they tried to find out where he is, is that logical? Do you think this is logical?

STEPHANOPOULOS: What I think is that you didn't answer my question. Is he in Tehran or not?

AHMADINEJAD: Our position is quite clear. Some journalists have said Bin Laden is in Iran. These words don't have legal value. Our position towards Afghanistan and against terrorism is quite clear.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it true or not?

AHMADINEJAD: Maybe you know, but I don't know.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm asking you. You're the President of Iran.

AHMADINEJAD: I don't know such a thing, you are giving news which is very strange.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, let me ask it a different way. If you did know that Osama bin Laden was in Tehran, would you show him hospitality? Would you expel him? Would you arrest him?

AHMADINEJAD: I heard that Osama bin Laden is in the Washington, D.C.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No, you didn't.

AHMADINEJAD: Yes, I did. He's there. Because he was a previous partner of Mr. Bush. They were colleagues in fact in the old days. You know that. They were in the oil business together. They worked together. Mr. Bin Laden never cooperated with Iran but he cooperated with Mr. Bush--

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll ask one more time and then I'll let you go. If you knew that Osama bin Laden was in Tehran, which you say you don't. If you knew, would you expel him? Would you arrest him? Would you show him hospitality?

AHMADINEJAD: Our borders, our borders are closed to the illegal entry of anyone. Anyone who that may be. Whether it's the three American mountaineers, Mr. Bin Laden or anyone else. The borders are closed. Our position is clear.

I'm quite surprised, to see that you adjust your daily lives based on the news that is being broadcast. I'm concerned that the government of the United States takes positions based on such news. If it is so, it is too bad. The news must be accurate and accountable, otherwise it will disrupt the relations between the nations. Just like this, did the government of the United States knew about the location of Mr. Bin Laden? And you said, "No, they went to find out." Well, first you locate--

STEPHANOPOULOS: They lost the trail.

AHMADINEJAD: --to find out they have invaded Afghanistan. First they have to find out his location and then invade. It's like for a judge to arrest someone and then go after the evidence.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you deny categorically that he's in Tehran today? He is not-- Osama bin Laden is not in Tehran today?

AHMADINEJAD: Rest assured that he's in Washington. I think there's a high chance he's there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't agree.

Thank you for your time, Mr. President.

The Latest from Iran (5 May): "Protest is Not Provocation"

2025 GMT: Locked in Iran. Activists are reporting that Mohammad Sadeghi, a member of the central branch of the alumni association Advar-e Tahkim Vahdat, has been banned from leaving the country.

2015 GMT: Labour Watch. Iran Labor Report offers a full summary of the recent pressure upon the Free Assembly of Iranian Workers with threat, arrests, and interrogations by Iranian security forces.

2010 GMT: Humour Failure. Update on the Bin Laden In Tehran, No, He's in Washington, DC story: looks like the US State Department doesn't realise that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was having a bit of a joke with his American interviewer.

NEW Iran Follow-Up: Ahmadinejad “Bin Laden Lives in Washington DC!”
NEW A Female Detainee in Iran: “Stripped by the Basiji”
Iran Video and Transcript: Ahmadinejad on Charlie Rose (3 May)
Iran Document: Mehdi Karroubi “The Movement Has Spread Everywhere”
Iran: Bin Laden Lives in Tehran Shocker!
The Latest from Iran (4 May): Beyond the “Main Event”

1930 GMT: Maryam Abbasinejad, the former secretary of the reformist Islamic Association at Tehran University, was arrested by security forces on 1 May. The detention followed protests by students against President Ahmadinejad’s speech on campus.

One week after their arrests, there is still no information on the condition of Alireza Hashemi, the secretary general of the Iranian Teachers Organization, Ali Akbar Baghbani, the secretary general of the Teachers Trade Union, and Mohamoud Beheshti Langarudi, the spokesman of the Teachers Trade Union.

1400 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Vahid Talai, a member of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s legal team, has been arrested.

Ali Tajernia, a former member of Parliament and leading member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, has been imprisoned again. Tajernia was arrested shortly after the June 2009 election and subsequently sentenced to six years in prison plus 70 lashes . The sentence was reduced to a year after appeal.

1225 GMT: Media Moment of the Day. Did you think that news couldn't get more absurd after Fox News's pseudo-story "Bin Laden in Tehran", which we took apart yesterday?

Well, you hadn't counted on a prominent American anchorman taking the story so seriously that he would try and spring it on President Ahmadinejad. We've got the lurid tale, complete with Ahmadinejad's response, in a separate entry.

0825 GMT: Oil and the Revolutionary Guard. Thomas Erdbrink writes in The Washington Post:
Taking advantage of the very sanctions directed against it, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is assuming a leading role in developing the country's lucrative petroleum sector, Western oil executives and Iranian analysts say.

The Guard's engineering companies, replacing European oil firms that have largely abandoned Iran, have been rewarded with huge no-bid contracts.

0805 GMT: A Deal on Uranium? We wrote on Monday about President Ahmadinejad's New York adventure:
There is a chance that, behind the scenes, there may be some meaningful manoeuvring over the “third-party enrichment” proposal for Iran’s uranium stock, given the presence at an international gathering of brokers (Turkey, Brazil), the “5+1″ powers taking up the issue (Britain, France, China, Russia, Germany, and, most significantly, the US), and Iranian officials.

Well, well. Fars News is now reporting that, in a meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced "agreement in principle" to Brazil mediating a deal on uranium enrichment.

But, and we ask the question for the 484th time, can the exchange of Tehran's current uranium stock for 20%-enriched fuel take place outside Iran?

0755 GMT: Curbing the Lawyers? Iranian lawyers have warned that new regulations threaten the independence of the Bar Association.

0745 GMT: Economy Watch. Rah-e-Sabz claims a "worker's crisis" in the cities of Tehran, Kerman, and Eslamshahr with the closure of plants, including a major tyre manufacturer and a ceramics factory. The site claims that some workers have not been paid for six or seven months.

0710 GMT: Corruption Watch. The head of Iran's armed forces, General Hossein Firouzabadi, has given this "reassurance": there are less than 1000 corrupt people in the Government and Iranian administration.

0700 GMT: Surprise of the Day --- Conservative Turns Reformist? Leading conservative member of Parliament Ali Motahari was speaking at Tehran University yesterday and, if Rah-e-Sabz is to be believed, was sounding distinctly un-conservative.

Motahari allegedly said that one has to distinguish the behaviour of the Government and even clerics from "Islam", and he asserted that the velayat-e-faqih (Supreme Leader) has to be elected and only be an observer of politics. ,

And more: Motahari supposedly argued that the regime should have given the people the right to protest last summer and state media should have broadcast the demonstrations, that dissident professors should be allowed to teach at universities, and that the judiciary is not independent.

Motahari did apparently tip his hat to the party line with the claim that, while Ahmadinejad played a role in the election uproar, Mousavi carries an even greater responsibility.

0630 GMT: The Female Detainee's Story. We have posted in a separate entry the account of an Iranian woman detained on 11 February, "Stripped by the Basiji".

0515 GMT: The Ahmadinejad sideshow in New York trundles on. Having "run circles around" around Charlie Rose of the US Public Broadcasting Service, as an EA reader aptly put it (note to Mr Rose: you might want to hire a researcher on Iran's internal situation before Mahmoud drops by on his next promotional tour), Ahmadinejad offers a shorter interview to Al Jazeera English.

Hopefully, the immediate media temperature over the media will drop, so we'll venture back to Tehran's internal matters and related issues. As Farnaz Sanei of Human Rights Watch dared to note during the furour over Ahmadinejad at the United Nations: "The focus on that potential danger [of Tehran's nuclear programme] should not obscure the fact that thousands of people are currently experiencing not just a threat of violence from the Iranian government, but the everyday dispensing of it."

UK Deportation Postponed

Britain's deportation of Bita Ghaedi, the Iranian woman who fled because of alleged domestic abuse and claimed she would be persecuted on return to Tehran, has been delayed by judicial action. Both the UK High Court and the European Court of Human Rights ordered a halt to the process.

Ghaedi had been put on a flight for Iran from London today. Now she will face an oral hearing on 21 July; her attorney is petitioning for bail.

Khatami: "The Plaintiffs and Defendants Should Change Place"

More on Mohammad Khatami's comments to former members of Parliament yesterday: the former President insisted that "protest is not provocation" and said, ""We should not raise any charges against the protesters. I am sure, if the judicial system correctly performs its functions, then the plaintiffs and defendants will change place."

Khatami noted, "The parties and groups are not allowed to operate and their activities are limited. They face the threat of closure and the newspapers are just closed. Which of these steps corresponds to the constitution?"

Top Reformist Arabsorkhi Released

Feizollah Arabsorkhi, a leading member of the reformist Mojahedin of Islamic Revolution, has been released on bail. Arabsorkhi, arrested in June, had been freed briefly for Iranian New Year but then returned to Evin Prison.

Cracking Down on the Students

Deutsche Welle posts a feature article on Iranian student protest and the attempt by authorities to suppress it through detentions and lengthy prison sentences.

Iran: Bin Laden Lives in Tehran Shocker!

Sometimes a piece of intrepid "journalism" stands beyond even the sharpest satire. So it is EA's pleasure to post today's classic from an "Ed Barnes" at Fox News, featuring --- in true Monty Python style --- the World's Most Wanted Man, Fox's favourite enemy country, and a falconer named Parrot:

Usama bin Laden gets up each morning in his dark, damp cave in northern Pakistan, gripped by fear, listening carefully for the telltale sound of a drone that is searching for him. His isolation is almost complete. Only a few trusted associates know where he is, and they visit rarely -- bringing food and news, but careful not to fall into a routine. There is no radio or other electronic device whose signal might be followed. He can’t go out in daytime for fear of satellites. It is a grim, lonely existence.

At least, that is the picture that has emerged of the life of the world’s most wanted man since he fled Tora Bora in 2001.

NOW UPDATED Iran Follow-Up: Ahmadinejad “Bin Laden Lives in Washington DC!”

But a new and vastly different picture of the Al Qaeda leader's life has been emerging over the past few years. In this scenario, he wakes each morning in a comfortable bed inside a guarded compound north of Tehran. He is surrounded by his wife and a few children. He keeps a low profile, is allowed limited travel and, in exchange for silence, is given a comfortable life under the protection of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

The idea that Bin Laden is in Iran got a strong boost recently with the premiere of a documentary called “Feathered Cocaine.”  In it, Alan Parrot, the film’s subject and one of the world’s foremost falconers, makes a case that Bin Laden, an avid falcon hunter, has been living comfortably in Iran since at least 2003 and continues to pursue the sport relatively freely. He is relaxed, healthy and, according to the film, very comfortable.

To make his case, Parrot, president of the Union for the Conservation of Raptors, took two Icelandic filmmakers, Om Marino Arnarson and Thorkell S. Hardarson, into the secretive world of falconers. It's a world in which some birds can sell for over $1 million, and in which the elite of the Middle East conduct business in luxurious desert camps where money, politics and terror intermingle.

Parrot, who was once the chief falconer for the Shah of Iran and who has worked for the royal families of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, still has extensive contacts in Iran and the falcon world. One of those contacts, described as a warlord from the north of Iran and disguised in a balaclava, reveals in the film that he has met Bin Laden six times on hunting trips inside Iran since March 2003. He says the Al Qaeda leader is relaxed and healthy and so comfortable that “he travels with only four bodyguards.”

Their last confirmed meeting was in 2008, Parrot says. “There may have been more since then, but I haven’t talked to my source since we left Iran,” he said.

Parrot told FOX that the extraordinary disclosure by the warlord, who supplies the falcon camps Bin Laden visits on hunting forays, was not done out of altruism. “One of my men saved his life and this was the repayment," he said. "He was asked to talk. He wasn’t happy about it.”

To prove his case, Parrot said he managed to get the telemetry setting for the falcons Bin Laden was flying, and he provided them to the U.S. Government. “They could locate him to a one-square-mile area using those unique signals”’ he said.  He says the government never contacted him to follow up.

Maj. Sean Turner, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. Military would not comment on the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

Parrot's story is supported in the documentary by former CIA agent Robert Baer, an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East and of how the CIA is managed. Baer, the onetime Middle East operative on whom the movie Syriana is based, explains that while he was in the CIA, he used satellites to watch the camps and they proved to be one of the key ways Al Qaeda was funded. He underscored how important falconry is to the vastly wealthy, and how Parrot’s position gave him a unique lens on that world.

Parrot's disclosures add another piece to a jigsaw puzzle that for years has fed suspicion that Bin Laden is living in Iran. Among the other clues are:

-- Iran accepted 35 Al Qaeda  leaders after the fall of the Taliban, despite the schism between Al Qaeda’s Sunni roots and the Shiite regime in Iran.

-- In February 2009 the U.S. Treasury placed sanctions on several high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives working out of Iran and helping run the terror network.

-- In 2004 author Richard Miniter, in his book “Shadow War,” wrote that two former Iranian Intelligence agents told him they had seen Bin Laden in Iran in 2003.

-- In June 2003 the respected Italian newspaper Corre de la Sierra [sic --- Corriere della Sera], quoting intelligence reports, reported that Bin Laden was in Iran and preparing new terror attacks.

-- Some analysts believe the reason Bin Laden switched from video to audiocassettes for his announcements was that he couldn’t find a place in Iran that matched the terrain of northern Pakistan.

-- In December 2009 it was widely reported that one of Bin Laden's wives, six of his children and 11 grandchildren were living in a compound in Tehran. The living situation was made public after one of the daughters escaped the compound and sought asylum in the Saudi Embassy. It is in this compound, Parrot says, that Bin Laden has found sanctuary.

Parrot said Bin Laden was renowned as an avid falconer who captured most of the falcons around Kandahar to raise funds to support his terror efforts. Each spring wealthy Arabs from the Gulf would fill military cargo planes full of specially equipped Toyota Land Cruisers and other equipment and fly to the falcon camps in Afghanistan. "Usama would arrive and presented the falcons as gifts," Parrot said. "In return, the wealthy princes would leave the cars and equipment with him when they left, giving Al Qaeda a considerable material advantage over others, including the Taliban.”

Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism expert at the White House through two administrations, has admitted in interviews and before the 9/11 Commission that on one of the three occasions the United States was able to place Bin Laden, he was in a falcon camp set up by falcon hunters from Dubai. The CIA requested a cruise missile strike against Bin Laden. Clarke said he stopped the government from firing at the camp because “it didn’t look like an Al Qaeda camp.”

“I am not political,” Parrot says, “But he is the most wanted terrorist in the world and it has been frustrating getting the government to listen. Perhaps now they will.”