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How Many Wars has Ghorbanifar Started?

Newsweek, 'Reagan Was the Target', October 5, 1987

The Reagan war on Libya's Muammar Kaddafi began long before U.S. bombers struck Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986, and Casey kept stoking the furnace with provocative intelligence.


Reagan is shot in early 1981, making Casey even more sensitive to terrorism.

A major review got under way on Libya that summer, and Casey knew that intelligence reporting fuelded the policy fires. The more [about Kaddafi] the CIA threw at the White House, the more impulses for action were stirred -- particularly in Reagan and Haig.

Three days after U.S. Navy F-14 fighters shot down two Libyan jets over territorial waters claimed by Kaddafi, the Libyan was in Ethiopia's ancient capital, Addis Ababa, meeting with the country's leader, Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, a young, fiery Marxist. In the room at the time was a senior Ethiopian official, a secret CIA source rated "generally reliable" to "excellent." At the meeting, Kaddafi declared he was going to have President Reagan killed. When the report reached Washington, it carried this evaluation: : "Mengistu was convinced . . . that the threat should be taken seriously." Shortly afterward, the NSA intercepted a conversation in which Kaddafi said essentially the same thing: Reagan was the target.

Casey realized that this was about as good as intelligence ever got -- an intercept and a human-source report that his own Operation Directorate said should be taken "seriously." Other than a military attack, the warning was perhaps the most serious matter he might ever address, a threat to the life of the president. Casey discussed the matter with everyone, with anyone who would listen. Something had to be done. But what? They couldn't go shoot Kaddafi. After a week passed without an attempt on the president's life, everyone seemed to cool off. Not Casey. He ordered all the intelligence agencies to report any whisper to him directly. But the White House still wouldn't take direct action.

In the fall of 1981, concern about Iranian hit teams mounted again at the White House. There were reports from a CIA European source, a high-level Palestinian, the relative of a Libyan diplomat in New Delhi, "a casual informant with excellent access to senior Libyan military officers," several European intelligence services, "an informant with demonstrated access to senior Libyan intelligence personnel": and one who walked into a CIA station abroad. He claimed he had left one of Kaddafi's training camps and gave details of the exercises -- including how to hit a U.S. limousine caravan.

The threat was somewhat self-generated, it turns out.

On Dec. 18, the CIA Intelligence Directorate issued a "SECRET" report noting that first word of a Kaddafi threat to Reagan -- at the Mengistu meeting -- was from an "excellent source." Then came the cold water. "Subsequent reports on actual plans to carry out attacks against senior U.S. government officials, however, have come from sources with only indirect access, whose credibility is open to question. It is possible that some . . . reporting may have been generated because informants are aware that we are seeking this information.

Much of that information was traced to a shadowy figure with ties to Iranian and Israeli intelligence -- Manucher Ghorbanifar, a wealthy Iranian arms salesman who had been a secret CIA source. He saw the initial hit-squad reports as an opportunity to make trouble for the Libyans and single-handedly kept the issue alive for several months. Soon the CIA officially and secretly declared Ghorbanifar a "fabricator."
Update, 9/8/04: Thanks to Steve for the link. The more conspiracy minded might also want to look at this post; Ghorbanifar may have been involved in the nebulous "October Surprise."


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