Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.
You know why being a diplomat is so awesome? In addition to living in exotic locations and meeting interesting people, you also get to debrief colorful characters. Like Iranian ninja masters.
Reading through the latest diplomatic traffic released by WikiLeaks, I came across this September 2009 communiqué from the US Embassy in Baku, Azerbijan. Its subject line reads, "IRAN: NINJA BLACK BELT MASTER DETAILS USE OF MARTIAL ARTS CLUBS FOR REPRESSION." The cable details a meeting with a "martial arts coach and trainer," who tells an embassy official "that private martial arts clubs and their managers are under intense pressure to cooperate with Iranian intelligence and Revolutionary Guard organizations, both in training members and in working as 'enforcers' in repression of protests and politically motivated killings." From the cable:
xxxxxxxxxxxx observed that Iranian internal security forces are highly suspicious of these clubs as potential vehicles for organization and "combat" training of future protesters and regime opponents. Nonetheless, he asserted that their main motivation is seeking to control these clubs is less driven by such fears as by a desire to deploy their trained membership at will for "special tasks." According to xxxxxxxxxxxx these tasks range from providing martial arts training to Revolutionary Guard members and Basij, assistance in protest repression, intimidation, and crowd control, to political killings. He observed that use of these clubs and their members provides the security forces with "plausible deniability" for dirty undertakings, as well as trained fighters and potential trainers.
The trainer/ninja master went on to detail the exploits of one ninja hit man:
xxxxxxxxxxxx said he personally knew one such martial arts master whom he said was used by the Intelligence service to murder at least six different individuals over the course of several months in xxxxxxxxxxxx said that the victims included intellectuals and young "pro-democracy activists," adding that his assassin acquaintance was ultimately "suicided" by the authorities (i.e., killed in what was subsequently labeled a suicide).
I never realized that Iran had a big ninja contingent. Apparently they do. And if this video is any indication, they're pretty bad ass.
Despite widespread allegations about his involvement in Afghanistan's drug trade and other illicit activities, the US government has never taken steps to prosecute Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of the Afghan President—though a leaked diplomatic cable suggests American officials may have come very close.
This revelation was contained in one of a series of Afghanistan-related communiqués released by WikiLeaks on Thursday. The document in question is a confidential summary of a February 4, 2010, meeting of an interagency group known as the Nexus-Corruption Leadership Board. The board—which was co-chaired by Kabul embassy official Earl Anthony Wayne and Major General Michael Flynn, then the top military intelligence official in Afghanistan—had convened to review potential anti-corruption measures. Specifically discussed were "possible courses of action ('COAs') that U.S. military and Embassy personnel may employ against criminal and corrupt Afghan officials in an effort to change their behavior." During the meeting, board members agreed to "apply a set of minimum COAs against high-profile corrupt officials to signal a change in U.S. policy on corruption" and to "begin a series of high-level demarches to persuade the Karzai government to follow through on promises to tackle corruption."
But there was also a more politically fraught matter on the agenda: "possible law enforcement actions, against three prominent Afghan malign actors in southern Afghanistan" including Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is a key powerbroker in the Kandahar region. Along with AWK, as he's widely known, the board also singled out a colonel in the Afghan border police named Abdul Razziq (the Washington Post recently dubbed him "The Afghan Robin Hood") and Asadullah Sherzad, the chief of police in Helmand Province.
In August 2009, weeks after three US citizens (including Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer) were snatched by Iranian forces while hiking in Kurdistan, near the Iranian border, the US sought advice from France on how to free them. At the time, the French government was working to secure the release of one of its own citizens, Clotilde Reiss, and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, French officials opened their playbook to State Department official Kathleen H. Allegrone. Summarizing her meetings with two French officials, President Nicolas Sarkozy's strategic affairs advisor Francois Richier and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Middle East director Patrice Paoli, she wrote:
The French approached their hostage situations in Iran by first seeking an immediate, behind-the-scenes resolution before the Iranians brought charges against their captives, and then, once that approach failed, by adopting a two-pronged strategy: (1) relentlessly publicizing the cases with repeated employment of key words chosen carefully to put the Iranians on the defensive, and (2) constant exertion of diplomatic and political pressure, with the help of allies, in the form of regular demarches in Tehran and convocations of Iranian Ambassadors in European and Middle Eastern capitals.
The French officials stressed the importance of enlisting allies that might have Iran's ear, and said they had quickly reached out to Syria after Reiss was detained. Similarly, Richier said the French had made sure to explicitly thank Syria when Iran freed Nazak Afshar, a French embassy employee held briefly by Iran. "Of course we don't know if the Syrians did anything," Richier said, "but we wanted to thank them anyway. It should at least confuse the Iranians."
The French officials told their American counterparts that the Iranians would likely advise the US government, through the Swiss, to "remain calm and quiet" while the Iranian legal process moved forward. The French officials advised the opposite. "Be vocal," Richier said, "even more so if the Iranians ask you not to be." Paoli warned: "They are the masters of stalling tactics."
Ignore this warning, they insisted, because silence will not expedite the process. They argued that USG statements and actions can sway and even mobilize public opinion within Iran. Whether or not we choose to speak out, they warned, the Iranians will energetically disseminate fabricated accusations.
More than two years ago, Mother Jonesexposed a private security firm run by former Secret Service agents that had spied on an array of environmental groups on behalf of corporate clients, in some cases infiltrating unsuspecting organizations with operatives posing as activists. Now, one of the targets of this corporate espionage is fighting back.
On Monday, Greenpeace filed suit in federal district court in Washington, DC, against the Dow Chemical Company and Sasol North America, charging that the two multinational chemical manufacturers sought to thwart its environmental campaigns against genetically engineered foods and chemical pollution through elaborate undercover operations. Also named in the suit are Dezenhall Resources and Ketchum, public relations firms hired by Sasol and Dow respectively, and four ex-employees of that now-defunct security firm, Beckett Brown International (BBI).
The suit charges that between 1998 and 2000 the chemical companies, the PR firms, and BBI "conspired to and did surveil, infiltrate and steal confidential information from Greenpeace with the intention of preempting, blunting or thwarting its environmental campaigns. These unlawful activities included trespassing on the property of Greenpeace, infiltrating its offices, meetings and electronic communications under false pretenses and/or by force, and by these means, stealing confidential documents, data and trade secrets from Greenpeace." Greenpeace is seeking an injunction against further trespass and thefts of trade secrets, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
In recent months, Sarah Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC, has paid thousands of dollars to a mysterious company that's gone to significant lengths to mask its ownership. Addresses linked to the firm lead to mail drops. It has no website. No phone number. Not even the California lawyer who incorporated the company knew who was behind it. But a Mother Jones investigation has found that this firm is run by an unlikely foreign political operative.
Federal Election Commission filings show that SarahPAC has paid the company, Paideia Research LLC, at least $16,000 for its services. The payments to Paideia—which takes its name from the ancient Greek word meaning "education" or "instruction"—are the only research-related expenditures listed on the PAC's latest disclosures.