The Cable

Jim Jones was secret courier in “memogate” scandal

Former National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones was the interlocutor who delivered a secret memo to then Joint Chief of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, which contained an offer to overthrow Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership, making him a key figure in the scandal roiling Pakistan known as "memogate."

Newsweek Pakistan was the first to report that Jones was the link for the secret memo from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to Mullen, delivered only nine days after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Ijaz claims the memo was conceived by Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, who Ijaz says was claiming to be working on behalf of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Jones confirmed his role in the memo's delivery Sunday to Pakistan's The News. "I was not in government on May 10 when I forwarded the message to Admiral Mullen," General Jones said. He has also disclosed his involvement to the Financial Times, which published the original Oct. 10 op-ed that revealed the existence of the memo.

Mullen said initially that he didn't remember receiving the memo, but later confirmed to The Cable that he did in fact receive it, but took no action. The memo contained an offer to reshape Pakistan's national security leadership, cleaning house of elements within the powerful military and intelligence agencies that have supported Islamist radicals and the Taliban, drastically altering Pakistani foreign policy -- and requesting U.S. help to avoid a military coup.

Haqqani denies having any role in the drafting of the memo, but nevertheless has offered to resign. He is in Islamabad now, defending himself against the allegations that he sought to make a power play to reshape Pakistan's national security landscape.

Meanwhile, the Washington foreign policy community reacted with shock that Haqqani, a Washington institution in his own right, has become the man at the center of the "memogate" scandal.

Haqqani is beloved by many in Washington, distrusted by some, but known by all. He maintains a myriad of unofficial relationships with high-ranking U.S. officials, powerful civilians, and journalists.

Growing up in a suburb of Karachi, Haqqani rose from relatively meager beginnings to become a key personality in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship during its most tumultuous period. His multi-decade career in Pakistani politics included stints advising Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He has a close personal relationship with Zardari, Bhutto's widow.

He has lived in the United States for the last 10 years, where he taught at Boston University before becoming Zardari's envoy to Washington in 2008. He has since become famous in Washington policy circles for his gregarious personality, his constant networking, and his reputation for getting himself in the middle of the most complicated and controversial issues in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. He is an outspoken critic of the military's role in Pakistani politics and his 2005 book Pakistan: Between Mosque And Military hammers on that theme.

Ijaz, a controversial character in his own right, told The Cable on Thursday that Haqqani conceived of the memo, dictated it to him, and managed the cover up after Ijaz revealed its existence. Newsweek Pakistan also revealed Sunday that Ijaz met last month with Inter-Services Intelligence chief Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's premier spy agency, and handed over his cell phone and computer, which allegedly contain evidence of Haqqani's involvement.

Around Washington, Pakistan experts and officials have been left wondering if the story is true and, if so, how Haqqani -- who is seen as extremely savvy when it comes to diplomatic dealings -- could have stumbled so badly.

"It's the kind of thing that Haqqani would dream up, but it's not like Haqqani to execute it this poorly," said Christine Fair, associate professor at Georgetown University.

The logic of trying to move against Pakistan's military at their weakest point -- right after bin Laden was found in their midst -- makes sense, said Fair. What doesn't make sense is why Haqqani would go through Ijaz, a man whose credibility in Washington is doubtful at best.

"Haqqani's a smart enough man that I could see him putting together this sort of thing, but I don't get why he would deal with a man like Ijaz," Fair said. "Besides, the different claims in the memo didn't make any sense, and Husain is smart enough to write a better memo than that."

The promise that the weak, Zardari-led civilian government would overthrow the powerful army and intelligence leaders was so unrealistic that it caused Mullen to completely disregard the memo when he received it.

"There was nothing to suggest at the time that this memo had any Pakistani imprimatur whatsoever," a military source close to Mullen told The Cable. "He did not know the source and the memo was not signed so there was no authenticity.... And the idea that the Pakistani military was pursuing some sort of overthrow was ludicrous, especially in the wake of the [bin Laden] raid. They were under intense public scrutiny at that point. The idea had zero credibility."

One U.S. official told The Cable that there is sympathy for the general mission of the memo, to move the U.S.-Pakistan relationship away from the Pakistani military's control, a mission that happens also to be a lifelong crusade of Haqqani's.

"The critique the memo lays out is dead on," the U.S. official said. "The Pakistani military is a bad actor and the prospect of getting rid of them is a very tempting one. It may be unrealistic but it's very tempting."

"We are unable or unwilling to think about a strategy for Pakistan that doesn't see the military as the lead actor on dealing with Pakistan's security issues," the official said. "That was the Bush strategy and that is the Obama strategy and it doesn't seem to be working."

Regardless, the memo failed to convince anyone in the U.S. government to do anything and as the scandal grew, Ijaz began releasing more and more circumstantial evidence to prove his allegation that Haqqani was at the center of the idea. Ijaz has released Blackberry Messenger transcripts he says represent his interactions with Haqqani in planning the scheme.

There's no way to verify the messages, but "HH" in the transcripts describes several Obama administration officials in detail, and contains the banter and personality for which Haqqani is famous. Haqqani denies their authenticity.

Haqqani has friends in Washington who are rallying to his defense. Their main argument is that Haqqani wouldn't be so foolish as to trust the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and his career, to Ijaz.

"We need to look at who is Ijaz. He has been circulating on the fringes of Washington circles for years. Most long-time Pakistan watchers don't find him so particularly reliable," said Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation. "If he claims to be such a close confident of Ambassador Haqqani, why did he throw him under the bus? Husain Haqqani has a great deal more credibility than Mansoor Ijaz."

Others argue that Haqqani, for all his faults, was important to the effort to stabilize the U.S.-Pakistani relationship and served Pakistan well. Ijaz said that Haqqani was doing a good job as ambassador and was serving Pakistan well in that post.

"He is someone who is trying to help people [in Washington] understand who we are and help people here understand what kind of a mess [Pakistan] is. In that sense, he's done a very credible job and it would be a loss for Pakistan to see him go," Ijaz told The Cable. "I still consider him a friend."

Ultimately, we may never know if Haqqani was responsible for memogate, but the scandal has laid bare the deep distrust between the Pakistani security establishment, its civilian counterpart, and the U.S. government.

"It's a parody of Pakistan. It's a conspiracy within a conspiracy, it's reflective of how dysfunctional things there are," the U.S. official said.

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The Cable

Stage set for new Iran sanctions fight

It's a rare moment of bipartisan unity: The Obama administration and both congressional Democrats and Republicans all agree that new measures are needed to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions. But that's where the agreement ends; battle lines are now set for a fight in December over the path forward on Iran sanctions.

The Obama administration is under serious congressional pressure to tighten the noose on Iran following the foiled Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir and the new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that confirms Iran's nuclear weapons program. The leading idea on Capitol Hill is to sanction the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), which stands accused of facilitating all sorts of illicit activities. The question is whether to try to punish the CBI or to try to collapse it altogether, a move that risks negative effects for the world oil markets and the U.S. economy.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is leading the charge for collapsing the CBI and trying to bring down the whole Iranian economy. In August, more than 90 senators signed a letter to President Barack Obama, written by Kirk and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which stated, "The time has come to impose crippling sanctions on Iran's financial system by cutting off the Central Bank of Iran."

Earlier this week, Kirk introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill, which is on the floor now, that would force the administration to cut off from the U.S. financial system any bank that does business with the CBI. The administration, led by Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen, has been lobbying against the Kirk amendment because they believe it could risk harm to the U.S. economy.

Kirk's language already has a lot of support, including co-sponsorship from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Dean Heller (R-NV), John Tester (D-SD), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Barrasso (R-WY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Scott Brown (D-MA), Dan Coats (R-IN), John Cornyn (R-TX), and David Vitter (R-LA). 

There are two risks to the Kirk strategy: one is that other countries' central banks might decide to react negatively and stop doing business with the United States, another is that bringing down Iran's economy would disrupt world oil markets, raising the price of energy.

"We are eager to work with Congress to develop new authorities to amplify our pressure on Iran, but it is critically important that the steps we take do not destabilize the U.S. and global economy while potentially benefiting Iran," a Treasury Department spokesman told The Cable.

A senior GOP Senate aide responded to that argument today, telling The Cable, "Treasury should go back and model the cost to the U.S. economy and the world economy of an Israeli strike on Iran."

Earlier this week, the administration held a closed-door meeting with Kirk, Schumer, Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SC), and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is the unofficial Democratic lead on the issue. They tried to work out a compromise but failed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tried to keep the Kirk amendment off of the defense bill, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) maneuvered to make sure it would get a vote.

So today, Menendez introduced his counter amendment, which has the support of Schumer, Reid, and Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Bill Nelson (D-FL).

"This amendment will require the president to make a determination about whether the Central Bank of Iran's conduct threatens the national security of the United States or its allies based on its facilitation of the activities of the Government of Iran that threaten global or regional peace and security," Menendez said Friday on the senate floor.

But critics point out that the Menendez language would give the president broad waiver authority to exempt central banks from other countries from the penalties of doing business with the CBI, a waiver some senate Republicans believe takes the teeth out of the measure.

"The Kirk amendment is the only bipartisan amendment currently under consideration and it would impose crippling sanctions on the CBI without creating loopholes for the administration to take advantage," a senior GOP senate aide told The Cable. "If you're looking for an alternative to give the president a way out, you can go with a partisan amendment, which is the one [Menendez] filed today."

The administration hasn't fully endorsed the Menendez amendment, but they like it better than the Kirk language, one Democratic Senate aide told The Cable. The administration has a long record of opposing any congressional efforts that force its hand on how to apply sanctions.

The issue will probably come to a head when Congress returns from Thanksgiving recess. Some in the Senate are working hard to bring the two camps together.

"The bottom line is that there is an overwhelming bipartisan supermajority in the U.S. senate for going after the CBI," one senior Senate aide told The Cable today. "At the end of the day, when the dust settles, it will be the job of people on both sides to sit down together and come up with a common approach that allows Democrats and Republicans to do this. That's what we all know needs to happen."

In statement given to The Cable today, Kirk indicated a willingness to seek a compromise.

"We've always worked these issues out before and we will do so again," Kirk said. "The bottom line is that we all agree that we should mandate crippling sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran."