Beware Ilan Berman’s Citations of U.S. Officials on Iran

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.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. Nothing like an opposing view, as I’m want to say. There seems to be a never ending chorus for distorting/slanting news today. I wonder where all these people involved would be, if the U.S. wised up, pulled all the Military out of all those overpriced bases/garrisons, through the known World as well as the whole of the M.E., not to forget the dismantling of the Empire too? Oh, yes, the Business elites wouldn’t have the U.S.Military as a backup. Sure, they could use the private Security/Mercenary’s, but there again, they wouldn’t have the U.S.Military to back them up. I know, this is an old mans pipe dream, but I gave up smoking in the 70’s, after 30 years.

  2. Why Congress asks these groups to testify, when they are not only biased, but they fabricate facts, is beyond me. (Unfortunately, I know why.) I hope you are keeping a publishable list of more of these prevaricators and will share it with the rest of us.

  3. This makes me believe there are still some real, fact seeking journalists out there. My hope is that this authentic journalism be showcased over the currently prevailing yellow journalism of our time.

  4. Dear Jim

    Many thanks for your great articles on the many crisis that have engulfed the Middle east. I follow your blog closely and enjoy the way you break down the fallacies and propaganda of the main stream media with solid investigative journalism free of biased and innuendo. However it seems to me that people such as your self are very few and far in between, and alternative truth telling blogs and news sites such as your owns are only viewed by a small minority of people. It really frightens me when I see the tell tell signs of yet another war about to break out that is in no way to the benefit or the security of the US or the two countries that are about to be attacked (Syria and Iran). It’s a complete dejavu, with “Q” having been replaced with “N” and same stories just having been tweaked a bit just so that they are not completely plagiarized from the last war. These wars have been designed and in the making for a long time and all the fanciful stories seem to be nothing more than a PR exercise to sell their necessity to the public. Iran is supposedly buying yellow cake from Sierra leon (where have we heard that before I wonder?!), carrying out random, illogical baseless supposed terrorist attacks, making a supposed, never proven nuclear bomb, and Syrian government of course is gasing it’s own people supposedly, all the while US and allies happily arm and fund foaming at the mouth murderous Sunni jihadists. How can people like your self and I who understand the history and complexity of the issues fight back the tsunami of lies and misinformation that is pushing the world into precipice of WW3. I share your stories and ones from FP and Al-monitor on my FB, but out of all my friends only 2-3 (if that) ever give a “like” to them. If people are so indifferent how can we affect and influence their thinking and possibly change the course of these events…??!

    Anyway just wanted to say thanks again from a fan of your blog

    Kind Regards

    Amir from Sydney, Australia

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