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Saturday 24 February 2018

Iranian plot makes spy blunder hitlist

Tabassum Zakaria in Washington

The alleged Iranian plot to assassinate a Saudi ambassador to the US may have revealed the biggest secret of all -- spy agencies mess up and do not always live up to the James Bond ideal.

Sceptics have questioned whether the operation was really backed by high-level Iran officials because of its sloppiness.

A Texas used-car salesman allegedly tried to hire a hitman in Mexico to kill the Saudi ambassador in the US -- all while talking about having ties to Iran.

He got nabbed because the hitman turned out to be a US informant.

The Quds Force, the covert arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, is considered a force to be reckoned with -- which left Iran experts scratching their heads over how such a messy endeavour could possibly have been the work of usually sophisticated operators.

Intelligence experts point out that even the most competent intelligence services have had their share of very public blunders.

In 2010, the Israeli Mossad sent a hit squad to assassinate a Hamas militant in a Dubai hotel. The suspected operatives used Irish passports and were caught on CCTV following Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in the hotel.

In 2004, two Russian intelligence officers were convicted in Qatar in the assassination of Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. Police were able to trace a van near the attack back to a car-rental agency where the renters were caught on video camera.

In 2005, an Italian court ordered the arrest of CIA agents suspected of kidnapping an Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Nasr, in Milan and flying him to Egypt for interrogation in 2003. Court documents showed the agents left plenty of documentation of their stay in Italy.

In 1999, the only target the CIA picked for NATO's 11-week bombing campaign on Yugoslavia led to the US attack on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. US officials said it was a huge mistake and were embarrassed that they did not have the correct location of the embassy in their files.

Some experts say the alleged Texas plot could very well have been a bungled Quds force operation.

"This is the Quds force, this is not the MOIS," a former intelligence official said, referring to Iran's foreign intelligence service, considered more skilled in delicate spy tradecraft. "Sometimes intelligence operations do really dumb things."

Sunday Independent

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