Friday, April 11, 2008

Fran Townsend on Al Qaeda Management Councils

One of the President's new appointments to his Intelligence Oversight Board got name dropped by a New York Sun reporter. Eli Lake cited Fran Townsend, ex-White House Homeland Security Adviser, in reference to al Qaeda Management Councils meeting in Iran.

Last year Mr. Lake wrote "Iran Is Found to be a Lair of al Qaeda: Intelligence Estimate Cites Two Councils." His piece stated:

The judgment that Iran has hosted Al Qaeda's senior leadership council is likely to draw some criticism from those outside the government who doubt Iran plays a significant role in bolstering Sunni jihadist terrorism. Iran's Shiite Muslims are considered infidels by the Salafi sect of Sunnis that comprise Al Qaeda.

While there is little disagreement that a branch of Al Qaeda's leadership operates in Iran, the intelligence community diverges on the extent to which the hosting of the senior leaders represents a policy of the regime in Tehran or the rogue actions of Iran's Quds Force, the terrorist support units that report directly to Iran's supreme leader.

In the estimate's chapter on Al Qaeda's replenished senior leadership, three American intelligence sources said, there is a discussion of the eastern Iran-based Shura Majlis, a kind of consensus-building organization of top Al Qaeda figures that meets regularly to make policy and plan attacks.

Despite Mr. Lake's assertion, the story was "tersely refuted by National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats Edward Gistaro. Asked at a National Press Club briefing whether the judgment Lake described was in the final draft report, Gistaro replied, ‘No, it is not. I don’t think it was ever in the draft. … I read [the Sun article] this morning, and I thought, I don’t know where this comes from.’”

That's when Eli went for the Fran card. In his defense of a refuted story, Lake pulled out the big gun, a new appointment to the PIOB.

"You know, Fran Townsend has talked about these management councils in the past, and so have numerous people."

John McCain wishes the story were true with all his recent al Qaeda in Iran gaffes. It remains to be seen if this wool gets pulled over the American public's eyes, especially given the march to war over Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile intentions. Time may also provide Fran's real perspective on this. Her expertise is risk management. Ask her how she helped Carlyle affiliate LifeCare after Hurricane Katrina? That might be an interesting story, but it won't see the light of day at the Sun.