The 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon is back in the news today due to revelations made in a new book that alleges that one of the Iranian architects of that atrocity is currently living in the United States under the protection of the C.I.A. If true, the tale seems taken straight out of the Homeland television series in which an Iranian operative who was “flipped” by the CIA is one of the heroes of the show. The possibility that the person that is responsible for the deaths of 63 people, including 17 Americans (eight of them CIA officers) is enjoying the good life on the tab of the taxpayers will, no doubt, infuriate the families of the slain and others who will not understand that such defections are merely part of the great game of spying in which the U.S. must often throw morality and ethics out the window in order to combat the Islamist war on the real homeland.
But the main problem with the tradeoff here examined in a New York Times feature published today is not the attempt to balance the needs of U.S. intelligence to find out everything it can about current Iranian activity, including both terrorism and its nuclear-weapons program, against the demands of justice. While defining the moral calculus by which a murderer such as Ali Reza Asgari, the Iranian who committed that act of terrorism, is welcomed to the U.S. in order to thwart its nuclear ambitions is difficult, it is at least a problem in which the government is seeking the lesser of two evils. But the real dilemma here is not the unfortunate necessity to choose between justice and safety. It lies in the fact that while Asgari remains in the U.S. without having to answer for his crime, the same administration that protects him is pursuing a policy that is neither working to make the Iranian state pay for its continued sponsorship of terrorism or stopping its nuclear project.
The revelations come in a new book by journalist Kai Bird about Robert Ames, the CIA Lebanon Station chief who was killed in the bombing. Kai, a lifelong critic of Israel whose last book was a memoir of his experiences as the child of a U.S. diplomat unsympathetic to the Jewish state’s early struggles for survival, reveals in his new book that Ames developed a strong friendship with the intelligence chief of the PLO during a period when the U.S. rightly branded the Palestinian organization as a terrorist group. But in the course of his research about Ames’s activities in the Middle East, Kai uncovered the fact that in 2007 the Bush administration granted asylum to Asgari in exchange for information about Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. As the Times notes, that information has since been superseded by subsequent revelations about another nuclear plant that is in a hardened mountainside bunker. But if Asgari, who may no longer still be in the United States, did tell his CIA interrogators everything he knew about Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism, the Americans got a treasure trove of vital information about one of the nation’s most dangerous foes in exchange for giving this killer a pass for his crimes.
But though the Bush administration’s approach to stopping Iran was inconsistent and largely resulted in kicking the can down the road for the next administration to handle, they at least never granted Tehran recognition of its “right” to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel as the Obama administration did with its weak interim nuclear deal signed last November. While the latest round of talks with the Iranians did not result in an agreement, there appears to be no doubt that the U.S. is seeking a deal in which Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and its stockpile of uranium (which can be easily reactivated to a dangerous state) will stay in place. The Iranians reportedly laughed at Western attempts to include its ballistic missile production in the negotiations and are also not likely to be asked to stop supporting terror in the agreement.
The point here is not so much whether the U.S. was right to give Asgari a “get-out-of-jail free card because of the Iran nuclear issue,” as a lawyer for the families of the embassy bombing victims asserts. It is, rather, that after giving him such a card, the Obama administration has pursued policies that will give the regime he left the same impunity. While Asgari’s escape from justice is troubling, the real scandal is the pass Obama may be about to give his former bosses.