Fear without Facts: “Iranian sleeper agents” in the Caribbean

A former U.S. official is pushing the idea that Venezuela and Iran have created a base for terrorists and sleeper agents on the island of Margarita in the Caribbean.

True or not, Roger Noriega’s dire warning about Hugo Chavez and his terrorism connection sounds like fodder for a Johnny Depp movie. (Ayatollah Tourists in the Caribbean?)

Noriega, former assistant secretary of state under George W. Bush, writes in the Washington Post that President Obama is missing the real story on his tour of Latin America. Never fear, Noriega is ready to tell us  “the real” story, which by the way can’t be proved or disproved. It can only be doubted.

Noriega’s ideas and warnings about Venezuela have been featured on the Washington Post opinion pages before. The method is based on agitprop, the underlying principle of the very successful campaign that brought us war on Iraq, a war much less successful than the propaganda campaign. Here’s how you play–first understand agitprop.

“agitprop, abbreviated from Russian agitatsiya propaganda (agitation propaganda), political strategy in which the techniques of agitation and propaganda are used to influence and mobilize public opinion. Although the strategy is common, both the label and an obsession with it were specific to the Marxism practiced by communists in the Soviet Union.

The twin strategies of agitation and propaganda were originally elaborated by the Marxist theorist Georgy Plekhanov, who defined propaganda as the promulgation of a number of ideas to an individual or small group and agitation as the promulgation of a single idea to a large mass of people. ” Encyclopedia Britannica online

Next blend some truths with  information that no one can prove to be categorically true or false. The unnamed sources cited by Noriega are  “from within the Venezuelan regime,” and tell him that a terrorist conclave took place in Venezuela.  “Among those present were Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ramadan Abdullah Mohammad Shallah, who is on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists; Hamas’s “supreme leader,” Khaled Meshal; and Hezbollah’s “chief of operations.”

Cting his conversation with  “a Venezuelan government source,”  Noriega further tells us that “two Iranian terrorist trainers are on Venezuela’s Margarita Island…” The trainers are

“instructing operatives who have assembled from around the region. In addition, radical Muslims from Venezuela and Colombia are brought to a cultural center in Caracas named for the Ayatollah Khomeini and Simon Bolivar for spiritual training, and some are dispatched to Qom, Iran, for Islamic studies. Knowledgeable sources confirm that the most fervent recruits in Qom are given weapons and explosives training and are returned home as ‘sleeper’ agents.”

Noriega, when he was in office, once told me in matter-of-fact terms that Cuban operatives had taken over Venezuela’s intelligence service, which was thereby at the bidding of Fidel Castro. That apparently didn’t fly very well. Now that Iran is the enemy du jour, why not point to Iran-trained sleeper agents, a couple of hundred miles off U.S. shores?

I asked a knowledgeable source about Noriega’s story, but on the record: Vincent Cannistraro, who is former Director of Intelligence Programs for the  National Security Council and former Chief of Operations and Analysis at the Central Intelligence Agency‘s Counterterrorist Center.

“It’s not based on confirmed intelligence,” nor is there a plot or an imminent threat, Cannistraro said. “Noriega has a one-track mind on Chavez and ties to Iran. This is poorly sourced, as usual. We know Chavez and his predilections, but he is not in the Iranian terrorist nest.”

It isn’t easy to prove a negative, as they say, but let’s ask Noriega and the Washington Post opinion pages for evidence. Otherwise, skepticism reigns.

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Filed under Bush, Intelligence, Journalism, Latin America, Middle East, Obama

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