Are Former Obama Officials Advising Tehran to Defeat Trump’s Iran Strategy?

by | Jun 25, 2019 |

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One of the more significant aspects regarding the Iranian Nuclear Deal that many of us former career intelligence officers became aware of during the Obama administration’s involvement in negotiating the deal, was the extent of and almost obsessive level of dedicated engagement by many members of the Obama national security team. The permissiveness and loyalty in their participation and passion caused many of us to wonder how this would affect America’s trust aspect with Iran, along with future strategic efforts by the incoming Trump Administration. 

The other concern was that was evident almost immediately after Donald Trump’s election, was whether it was possible for Obama’s people to disengage and essentially give it up under a new administration. In fact, I was steadfast in my concern and belief that many would attempt to stay engaged with Tehran because of both their firm belief that they had negotiated a great deal and that they had a significant degree and level of their investment in the effort. I suspected from the onset that this could be a serious problem for President Trump.   

Those concerns soon became apparent in the days following the November 2016 election when it was learned that a small cadre of former Obama administration national security and foreign policy officials had been counseling Iranian Government officials since post-election 2016 on how to deal with the Trump administration. We knew for many years that former Obama Secretary of State John Kerry who had a personal relationship with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, would no doubt never cease and would continue his involvement in the ongoing discussions. We also knew not only would he work on behalf America and support the new Trump administration, but in fact would do quite the opposite and to continue his current discussions with his former Obama colleagues and support the regime in Tehran against President Trump’s policy.

To this day, the coordination, corroboration, and  conversations between former Obama officials and the Iranian government officials have never ended and not only have been ongoing since November 2016, but in fact have increased in violation of the Logan Act, severing advisors and messengers of U.S. planning, strategies, and perhaps even intelligence for the Iranian counterparts. It should be noted that foreign minister Zarif, who visits the U.S. every year for the U.N. General Assembly in New York, usually meets with lawmakers, think tanks, journalists, and former officials when he is in town, to include the likes of John Kerry, Ben Rhodes, John Brennan, and others.

The impact that the former Obama team was having was that in the most recent round of conversations, which took place both in phone conversations and of course in person over the last two months, came as lines of communication between the U.S. and Iran, as well as through intermediaries in Europe and elsewhere, became deteriorated and strained. It should be understood that it was not just about what they were saying to the Iranians, but it was about what they were saying to their Democrats and their Washington political allies back here in the U.S. The Iranians felt their interest wasn’t fully being attended to ensure interest in the ongoing negotiations.

What they discovered was that while their former Obama facilitators where supporting the effort, the Obama official strategy it was learned has slightly shifted. By mid-2018, the apparent shift was to focus more on the effort to divide and isolate the Trump administration just as the Trump foreign policy effort was trying to reestablish deterrence with Iran. In the current highly partisan political environment, the only safe course is to signal national unity—and they contributed to eroding that effort both at home and abroad. It was essentially a full-court press to ensure the pressure was levied on the Trump administration.

Then came word in September 2018, that John Kerry admitted to having had meetings with foreign minister Zarif at least three or four times since Donald Trump took office, a move which drew condemnation from Conservatives who said Kerry was “coaching” and even providing secrets or sensitive information and perhaps even intelligence material to the Iranian foreign minister on how to deal with the White House.

It must be emphatically understood that what the former secretary of state has been doing to pressure President Trump against withdrawing from the Iran deal sure looks like a textbook violation of the Logan Act of 1799, and from my standpoint as an intelligence professional, in fact, perhaps even the Espionage Act of 1917. The Logan Act made unauthorized diplomacy with foreign powers by a private citizen illegal? While Espionage Act punishes acts of interference with foreign relations, military operations, conducting espionage (spying), and support to U.S. enemies.

Also understand that there are many reports that Kerry in recent weeks has engaged in “unusual shadow diplomacy” in order to apply pressure on the Trump administration from the outside, holding meetings and phone calls “below the radar” with Iranian, as well as European leaders who are signatures to the JPCOA⏤the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the Iran Nuclear Deal. Kerry doesn’t deny the meetings, but claims he’s only been “urging Iran to remain in compliance” to ensure the disastrous deal negotiated on his watch “remains effective.” Such utter bullshit!

In fact, many know all too well⏤we justifiably have our doubts…just a few weeks ago, in fact, Kerry according to reliable reports, was urging Palestinian Authority officials to “stay strong and play for time” in the hopes President Trump will be removed from office.

At any rate, some say it’s unlikely anything John Kerry’s done could influence Trump’s nuke-deal decision. Well we found out over the past two weeks, as it appears, how effective he was as Iran conducted asymmetric attacks on up to six tankers in the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, in an effort to influence, deter, manipulate and threaten regional states, as well as America. The reality is, in neither instance was Kerry representing the U.S. government. To the contrary, he seems to have been doing precisely what the Logan and Espionage Act expressly forbids: acting “without authority” and communicating, supporting and developing strategies with foreign governments⏤to defeat the priorities, measures and policy of both the United States and President Trump.

In fact, as we’ve witnessed⏤tensions between the U.S. and Iran have increased recently, after Iran warned that it would increase its stockpile of nuclear-related materials⏤as was noted in the recent International Atomic Energy Agency stated in a quarterly report that Tehran remains in compliance with its main commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement. On May 8, the one-year anniversary of President Trump pulling out of the nuclear deal, Iran said that it would begin to scale-up its nuclear program, and would disregard limits on its stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water.

In response, a number of Republican House and Senate members have levied charges that Mr. Kerry has been engaged in rogue diplomacy and is undermining the active, ‘elected Trump administration’ officials from effectively being able to carry out their mission and responsibility. Following their vocal concerns, Mr. Kerry defended the meetings, saying: “What I have done is tried to elicit from him what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better.”

Now for whatever reason, Iran had publicly rebuffed Trump’s calls to come back to the negotiating table for a new, stricter nuclear accord – and has slammed U.S. sanctions which have sent the Iranian economy into a deep recession.

Recall the previous Tweet by President Trump last fall where the President stated;

John Kerry had illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime, which them to wait out the Trump Administration! Was he registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act? BAD can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people.  — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2018

Now in recent days, we’ve learned that former Obama administration officials have been advising Iran this whole time. We’ve learned in the end how dangerous they really are. It must be noted in the wake of the incidents executed by Iran what else has been implemented.

The Intended Consequences of the Damage Inflicted

The reality is there has been damage to U.S. efforts with Iran as a result. At least three Obama officials who worked closely on the Iran nuclear deal, and who continue to remain in touch with Iranian government officials, traveled to Capitol Hill to brief Congressional Democrats about the situation. Those former officials would not say if they passed information from Iranian government officials to members of Congress. Rather, they said they focused on educating members about their experience working with Iranian leaders and how Tehran reacts to economic pressure.

Understand that several former officials who spoke on condition, stressed that their discussions with their Iranian contacts were ‘normal.’ But in other corners, these kind of talks cause alarm. A Republican Congressional aide who works on Iran policy said that conversations may run counter to the Trump administration’s messaging to the Iranian government.

Further, analysis of the corroboration with Iran, indicates that the former Obama administration officials gave wrong-headed advice to the regime in Iran that U.S. sanctions couldn’t work without European support and that the regime should just wait out the Trump administration. Of course, at the same time, the reality is Trump administration Iran policy is working. Reports show with U.S. sanctions are overwhelming the Islamic Republic with a serve economic crisis. Tehran now realizes that it would be wise to return to negotiations – as indications are that bipartisan support for efforts to block the Islamic Republic’s malign activities only strengthens American security.

To that end, the President went after former Secretary of State Kerry again last week, calling for the former senator and top U.S. diplomat to be prosecuted for meeting with Iranian leaders and “telling them what to do.”

Likewise, senior Trump aides as they met at the White House on Thursday to discuss next steps over growing tensions between Tehran and Washington. But the President stressed that he was not interested in war with Iran; rather he wanted to talk to Iranian leaders⏤but it was Kerry who has blocked that, according to the President.

As the President said; “John Kerry tells them not to call. He’s talking to Iran and has been⏤he has many meetings and many phone calls, and he’s telling them what to do. That is a total violation of the Logan Act, and frankly he should be prosecuted on that,” Trump continued. The President has repeatedly called for the prosecution of certain political opponents, including Hillary Clinton, Kerry’s predecessor at the State Department.

Separately, there are former Obama officials who are trying to keep the roots of the Iran nuclear deal alive by taking the pulse of lawmakers on Capitol Hill to gauge whether they are in favor of restarting talks in the future. They are also speaking to officials in Europe who are concerned about their long-term ability to trade with Iran and stick to the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, all while attempting to avoid U.S. sanctions being imposed by the Trump administration. Of course, none of them have the ability or the intelligence to see beyond the noses on their faces to care about the impact of a nuclearized and capable radical regime in Tehran.

Under the law, treason is criminal disloyalty to the state. It is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one’s nation or sovereign.

This usually includes things such as participating in a war against one’s native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.

What we do know, in addition to the ongoing discussions by the former members of the Obama administration since November 2016, is that their secret discussions and negotiations with Iran have continued. Further, as the Trump administration was preparing to potentially send warplanes to attack Iran, a small group of former Obama administration officials reached out to their contacts in the Iranian government, including Foreign Minister Zarif⏤their message to Iran: Don’t take Trump’s bait. Stay calm.

In the end, to sum it up. Former Obama Administration officials are now directly undermining the United States’ strategy toward one of our largest adversaries, while U.S. forces are posturing in the region to deter, defend, and protect U.S. assets and vital interests.

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Jim Waurishuk is a retired USAF Colonel, serving nearly 30-years as a career senior intelligence and political-military affairs officer and special mission intelligence officer with expertise in strategic intelligence, international strategic studies and policy, and asymmetric warfare. He served as a special mission intelligence officer assigned to multiple Joint Special Operations units and with the CIA’s Asymmetric Warfare Task Force and international and foreign advisory positions. He served as Deputy Director for Intelligence for U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) during the peak years of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Global War on Terrorism.

Waurishuk is a former White House National Security Council staffer and a former Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C. He served as a senior advisor to the Commander U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and served as Vice President of the Special Ops-OPSEC.

Currently, he is the Chairman of the Hillsborough County (FL) Republican Executive Committee and Party and serves on the Executive Board of the Republican Party of Florida.

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