U.S. on guard against possible Iran plots

CBS This Morning   February 23, 2012
By John Miller

[CLICK HERE for a video of the interview]

(CBS News)

The U.S. is working overtime across 16 U.S. intelligence agencies to identify, monitor, and disrupt the activities of Iranian agents and surrogate groups like Hezbollah as officials see a growing possibility of an attack by Iran on American interests.

The concern is based on two factors: one, an uptick of surveillance of U.S. targets overseas by suspected Iranian agents. And two, the rash of coordinated plots against Israeli targets in four countries last week.

CBS News has learned that U.S. intelligence officials have observed suspected Iranian agents conducting surveillance on U.S. government buildings more than a dozen times in the last year – in Europe and South America as well as suspected probes in Bahrain – headquarters to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth fleet.

Ralph Boelter, the FBI’s top counterterrorism official has summoned the heads of 56 field offices to a classified, 90-minute video conference to underscore that the bureau “remains concerned Iran would consider attacks in the United States.”

Already at the National Counterterrorism Center, analysts are carefully studying a rash of recent attacks against Israeli targets in India, Georgia and Bangkok and they expect more.

Israel on heightened alert after attacks abroad

“That’s the fear,” said Tom Betro, former director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, NCIS. “The fear is that would be the type of attack we’d see increasing in frequency — and in seriousness — as leading up to a conflict.”

“Yes, I could see them striking on U.S. soil,” Betro said.

And would that be Iranian agents? Or would that be a surrogate group?

“I think it would be potentially a combination of both,” Betro replied. “I think they know, psychologically, the impact that an attack on U.S. soil would have.”

Last October, the FBI charged a suspected Iranian agent with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. Since 9/11, at least three suspected Iranian reconnaissance operations against targets including the New York City subway systems have been disrupted by police and the FBI.

Betro, the former NCIS director was a key leader of a task force set up to target Iraq’s intelligence operations. But he says Iran is an even bigger challenge.

“Quite frankly we don’t have as much intelligence about their networks as we would’ve had against the Iraqis,” Betro said. “I would say that the urgency, because of that type of warfare, that unconventional warfare, which I think everyone would agree is clearly part of Iran’s kinda battle plan – it’s much more important to aggressively disrupt those activities.”

(John Miller spoke more about this subject with “CBS This Morning” co-hosts Charlie Rose and Erica Hill. A transcript of their conversation is posted below.)

Charlie Rose: Why wouldn’t they be worried that some kind of attack like this would provoke the very thing they don’t want to see – an attack against Iran and its oil fields and its nuclear facilities?

John Miller: I think the U.S. intelligence take on this is that an attack against the U.S. would come after an Israeli attack as part of the retribution for support. But I think the other thing that General Clapper, the director of National Intelligence said when he testified before the intelligence committees, was Iran’s calculus about whether to do that may be based on how much heat they’re feeling in the economic sanctions that came after the plot on the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

Rose: They believe that was directly connected, that plot, the to the Iranian government, not an offshoot group that was not a direct part of the government?

Miller: They do, Charlie. They didn’t believe it all at once. When that case came in, they looked at it with a great deal of skepticism. When they looked at the prime operator – the go-between with the Mexican drug cartel and found he had direct connections to members of the Quds forces – which is really Iran’s intelligence and special forces field team – it became clear to them that the story was as it appeared.

Erica Hill: If we were to get to this point, who is the person in Iran who would make that call? Is it the Ayatollah Khamenei or would it be Ahmadinejad?

Miller: It would be the supreme leader who most intelligence analysts agree controls the Quds forces. It’s interesting because that classified FBI meeting across the 56 field offices directly headquarters today examines the other end of that question – which is whoever makes that call, who would receive that call here? And have they doubled down on all their sources, have they checked all their old cases in terms of Iranian agents, Hezbollah cases, fundraising cases? Have they beaten the bushes to make sure they’re focused on this, just this New York and Washington and L.A. – but across country.

Hill: When you say receive the call, you mean the agents who receive the call?

Miller: That’s right.

Hill: Just clarifying.

Rose: The purpose of the conference is to make sure that everybody appreciates the urgency and touches all the bases and the agencies are connected?

Miller: That’s right. I’ve been to the conferences before and they go around and say how many cases do you have against Iran, human sources, wires, are we tapping that? Are you feeding the information back here so we have the big picture and stay on?

Rose: It’s not just in the United States, it’s in Latin America and other American embassies he might attack as well.

Miller: Frankly, many believe that’s the more likely scenario, which is to attack the U.S. targets overseas. We’ve seen models of that back to ’92 and ’94 where they attacked Israeli targets and Jewish targets where it wasn’t expected like South America.

 

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