As has been previously reported, one of the nation's top investigative journalists, Douglas Frantz, a former managing editor of the Los Angeles Times and investigative author on A.Q. Khan's rogue nuclear network, is lending his considerable investigative skills to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he heads up the committee's investigations team.
Committee sources say Frantz's first investigative report for the committee on an Iran-related issue should be released in the coming days. Frantz declined to discuss the report. But sources said the investigation, which involved Frantz's travel to the IAEA, the U.N.'s atomic watchdog agency in Vienna, looks at a number of financial entities in Europe and elsewhere that help Iran conduct overseas financial transactions that allegedly finance its nuclear activities. The committee has scheduled a hearing on Iran's financing of its nuclear program for next Wednesday morning.
The report's release coincides with the influential annual policy conference (.pdf) of the pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which opens this weekend in Washington. Sources had earlier told The Cable that AIPAC officials had met with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) shortly after he became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee to recommend that the committee's investigative energies could be usefully directed into looking into the Iran sanctions-busting issue.
The report's release also roughly coincides with the completion of the Obama administration's Iran policy review. It also emerges as legislation is being introduced on the Hill pushing for tougher sanctions on Iran.
Hill sources note that Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) are introducing an Iran sanctions resolution this week that would aim to target those entities that are involved with Iran's import of refined oil products. The Senate bill, which already has 20 cosponsors, follows a resolution introduced last week in the House of Representatives by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA).
"Nearly all of Iran's imported gasoline is provided by five European companies -- the Swiss firm Vitol, the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, the French firm Total, the Swiss firm Glencore, and British Petroleum -- and the Indian firm Reliance," Kirk and Sherman said in a news release announcing their resolution. "The majority of tankers carrying gasoline to Iran are insured by Lloyds of London."
The SFRC has also hired former CIA official John Kiriakou to be part of the investigations team, as the Washington Independent first reported and The Cable has confirmed. Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst who later became an official with the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center, was sent in 2002 to Pakistan. Kiriakou made headlines in late 2007 when he emerged publicly days after it was reported that the CIA had destroyed videotapes recording harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects. Kiriakou told ABC News in December 2007 that waterboarding had gotten Al Qaeda detainee Abu Zubaydah to break in 35 seconds. "From that day on, he answered every question," Kiriakou told ABC. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."
But recently released formerly classified Justice Department memos show that Zubaydah was in fact waterboarded 83 times in one month, and that he had been giving interrogators significant information before he was subjected to waterboarding.
The New York Times first noted the discrepancy.
Kiriakou didn't immediately respond to a query. A committee source said it was the first he had heard such things, but thought it sounded from Kiriakou's statements that he hadn't had direct knowledge of Zubaydah's interrogation.
With various congressional committees discussing possible investigations of the interrogation issue, and a special prosecutor, John Durham, investigating the destruction of the videotapes, it could get messy and complicated.
UPDATE: Following the release this month of U.S. government memos showing Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times in one month, and not one time as Kiriakou had said, ABC News posted an update to its 2007 interview with Kiriakou in which he responded: "When I spoke to ABC News in December 2007 I was aware of Abu Zubaydah being water boarded on one occasion. It was after this one occasion that he revealed information related to a planned terrorist attack. As I said in the original interview, my information was second-hand. I never participated in the use of enhanced techniques on Abu Zubaydah or on any other prisoner, nor did I witness the use of such techniques."
More from the NY Times on Kiriakou's 2007 ABC interview "tilting the torture debate" on faulty information Monday night. Kiriakou was later a paid consultant to ABC News before going to work for the Foreign Relations Committee.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.