Sunday, June 18, 2006

Spy who Turned Tide with Libya is Brought Back to Target Teheran

Toby Harnden, The Telegraph:
The American spy who persuaded Libya to renounce its weapons of mass destruction is to return to the Central Intelligence Agency, where he will direct an aggressive drive to recruit informants inside Iran to aid possible negotiations over Teheran's nuclear capability.

Stephen Kappes, a former United States Marines officer who resigned from the CIA after a clash with its then director, Porter Goss, has been brought back from self-imposed exile in London by George W Bush.

Iran will be top of his agenda. "He's a remarkable guy, a talented leader and among the finest officers of his generation," said Gary Berntsen, the CIA's key commander during the invasion of Afghanistan, who has worked for Mr Kappes in the Middle East. "He knows the target [Iran] intimately." READ MORE

The return to CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia, of Mr Kappes, 54, has boosted flagging morale at the spy agency. A former CIA station chief in Moscow, he led successful efforts to penetrate the network of A Q Khan, the rogue Pakistani scientist, who supplied Iran and Libya with nuclear know-how.

He will be deputy to Gen Michael Hayden, who took over from Mr Goss and characterised his predecessor's tenure as "amateur hour". Mr Kappes is the first career undercover operative to ascend to this level for more than 30 years.

The CIA's first priority is to gather intelligence from inside Iran about the theocratic regime's nuclear capabilities and intentions, and the locations of its secret weapons sites. Such information would be crucial in the event of direct talks - or in launching military strikes if negotiations collapsed.

Mr Kappes is a Farsi and Russian speaker who, while stationed in Frankfurt in the late 1980s, was in charge of collecting information about Ayatollah Khomeini's regime and debriefing Iranian exiles.

Mr Kappes is understood to have told friends months ago that he favoured direct engagement with Iran, even suggesting that there might be a case for restoring diplomatic relations with the country and reopening the American embassy in Teheran, closed since the 1979 hostage crisis.

Earlier this month, the Bush administration made an about-face by proposing direct talks on the nuclear issue if Teheran suspended uranium enrichment. Mr Kappes would be a likely candidate to lead any such negotiations.

Robert Baer, a former CIA agent handler in the Middle East, said: "The CIA has a terrible track record in Iran. In the late 1980s, they lost all their human resources [informants] after the Iranians got into the mail." More than 30 CIA informants were arrested when the Iranians intercepted and deciphered CIA communications in 1989.

In October 2003, Mr Kappes led a 15-strong American and British team that went into Libya to test an overture by President Muammar Gaddafi, suggesting that he might be willing to give up his weapons of mass destruction. The information gathered by Mr Kappes helped to persuade the Libyans that the West had clear evidence of the military intent of their nuclear programme.

Mr Baer, author of Blow The House Down, a novel about 9/11, said that a similar outcome would be difficult to achieve with Teheran while America had poor intelligence-gathering capability in Iran. "We have to open up a negotiating channel to Iran, if nothing else to figure out what they're thinking."

But Mr Berntsen said he believed that negotiations were unlikely to succeed and military action against Iranian nuclear sites would have to be taken.