Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Obama administration's selective releases portrayed Tehran as an enemy of the extremists. There's more to it.

...Ryan Trapani, a spokesman for the CIA, told me Thursday: "Documents collected during the bin Laden raid, which have been declassified, indicate Iran and al-Qaeda have an agreement to not target each other. The documents indicate bin Laden referred to Iran as the 'main artery' for al-Qaeda to move funds, personnel and communications."

Some of this was known before. The U.S. government has sanctioned members of al-Qaeda's network in Iran going back to the Obama years. The State Department's annual reports on terrorism also touch on this.

Nonetheless, it's understandable why many observers would dismiss the notion of an Iran-al-Qaeda connection. Earlier releases of the bin Laden files under the Obama administration emphasized the Iran-al-Qaeda rivalry. All the while documents that showed cooperation remained classified....

Current and former Trump administration officials tell me the declassification of the documents was a priority for the new president's team. The former senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, pressed the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify the bin Laden documents. He met with resistance because translations, vetting the documents and providing official analysis would sap resources from higher priorities, according to these current and former officials. In the end, the CIA released most of the documents on Wednesday without translations and analysis, in hard-to-download zip files.

In the coming days and weeks, outside analysts and experts will be able to see for themselves the extent of Iran's cooperation with al-Qaeda....