by Jim Lobe
In critiquing Sebastian Rotella’s recent ProPublica report about alleged Iranian/Hezbollah activities in Latin America, I came across a surprising discovery. As readers of this blog know, Rotella had misattributed a quotation uttered by far-right Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in February last year to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper. According to Rotella’s original story, Clapper had told a Senate hearing that Iran’s alliances with Venezuela and other “leftist, populist, anti-U.S. governments” in Latin America could pose
…an immediate threat by giving Iran — directly through the IRGC, the Quds Force [an external unit of the IRGC] or its proxies like Hezbollah — a platform in the region to carry out attacks against the United States, our interests and allies.
After I tried to verify the quote with a press officer at the DNI’s office, he or a colleague apparently notified ProPublica about the misattribution, whereupon ProPublica promptly issued a correction, blaming the error on a July 9 testimony by Ilan Berman (the vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) who has seemingly made most of his career out of hyping the alleged threats posed by Iran to the U.S.) before the Oversight and Management Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee. In a subsequent note to me, ProPublica wrote that Mr. Berman had “graciously acknowledged responsibility for the error” after being contacted.
Well, he may have “graciously” acknowledged the error and indeed retroactively amended his written testimony to the Subcommittee, but, curiously, he apparently failed to follow up with a correction to the July 15 US News article he co-authored with AFPC researcher Netanel Levitt, entitled “Iran’s Operations in Latin America Are a Threat to the U.S.”, in which he also misattributed Ros-Lehtinen’s quote to DNI Clapper. The misattribution he made in testimony before the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 2012 hasn’t been corrected either. Nor has he corrected an article he published in Daniel Pipes‘s Middle East Quarterly.
Briefly skimming the USNews op-ed, I also noted that in the same paragraph as the Clapper misquote, Berman and Levitt cite recent testimony by the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, to drive their point home:
Michael Leiter, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the House Homeland Security Committee last week that Iran represents a threat to the U.S. through our porous borders, and that there are Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guard operatives active within the U.S. today.
So I went to the indicated link, which took me to the Homeland Security Committee’s website and agenda of a July 10 hearing on “Assessing Attacks on the Homeland: From Fort Hood to Boston”, which offered two video clips of Chairman McCaul from the hearing and copies of prepared testimony for the hearing, including Leiter’s. I then clicked on the link for the PDF version of Leiter’s prepared testimony and searched it for the magic words, “Iran”, “Hezbollah”, and “Revolutionary Guard” and could not find a single match in the text. I then read quickly over the text to ensure that the search function was not misbehaving. Same result. I then went back to the 10-minute video of McCaul asking witnesses questions but found that they were confined to a discussion of the Tsarnaev case.
Now, it may be that Leiter offered the quoted passage in response to questions posed by other members of Congress at that hearing. I haven’t seen a transcript. But whatever the link was supposed to show, it certainly didn’t include anything Leiter supposedly said about the threat posed by Iran, Hezbollah or Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Hopefully, Berman and Levitt can explain the Leiter citation and correct the past misattribution in all of the fora in which it has appeared.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: With the help of a someone who really knows her way around Thomas, I found the Leiter reference at between 2:02 and 2:07 into the hearing, and, yes, what Leiter is cited as saying by Berman and Levitt, he does indeed say, although his testimony is lacking in examples (apart from the Arbabsiar case) and precision. Leiter also makes the point that it’s not just through the borders with Canada and Mexico that the Iranians can penetrate (although he notes that Iranians would tend to “stand out” along the southwest border); it’s through any port of entry into the U.S. Further, he suggests that Iran and Hezbollah have already thoroughly penetrated our borders with “operatives” who could be activated in the event of a “shooting war.” And he complained that the FBI is not giving the same amount of attention to the terrorist threat to the U.S. posed by Iran than it is to Al Qaeda and its followers. In any event, you can watch his performance at the times indicated on the video of the whole hearing that can be found on the upper right side of the screen to which Berman and Levitt linked. So, apologies to both gentlemen for doubting their Leiter reference, although I still think they should correct their Ros-Lehtinen misattribution in their usnews piece.