Iran gearing up for a post-attack retaliatory campaign in Western Hemisphere

that in addition to speculation about who is aboard, there are significant concerns that the Boeing 747SP airplane might be transporting uranium to Tehran on the return flight. The U.S. government has enacted strong sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program and there are worries the flight might provide an opportunity to skirt the embargo against materials that might be used for the program.

Clearly, Iran has been a sponsor of Hezbollah, and clearly Hezbollah profits from this relationship,” former CIA Director Michael J. Hayden says. “It would be too much to say that Hezbollah is a puppet of the Iranian state, but one way of looking at this relationship is that the Iranian state might rely on Hezbollah as a strategic weapon — its weapon for global reach.”

Hayden, now a principle in the consulting firm Chertoff Group, says the CIA has been aware of the activities for several years. “Fundamentally, the thing that first and very solidly caught our attention at the Agency was the inauguration of direct air flight between the two capitals. Here was a conduit that people could travel from Iran into the Western Hemisphere, into Latin America in a way that would be very difficult for American intelligence services to detect and to understand. Right there at that very simple level, just the direct flight is something that we would be and should be concerned about.”

Brookes says the passengers “may not even need visas because they are special passengers. That obviously is of concern because there is no transparency about who the people are coming in and going out of the country. Of course there is concern that these folks may be Iranian special agents.”

Green notes that beyond concerns about Iranian intelligence flooding the West, Brookes and others worry that Iranian special advisers are schooling the Venezuelan military and may be involved in plans to move Iranian agents inside the United States.

It’s certainly a possibility. Would the agents that come into Venezuela be able to find their way to the United States? That’s certainly possible. You see the drug smugglers today using submersibles to move drugs to the U.S. and other parts of the Caribbean which is a real challenge. So why wouldn’t they be able to do the same with persons?”

A U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Green there are concerns about the relationships between Iran and Venezuela, but that these concerns should be kept in perspective. “The problems both countries face internally, and their own regional priorities closer to home, limit the amount of trouble they can cause together. But it’s something you have to watch, whether it’s the potential for government-to-government mischief or the possibility of something involving Iran’s friends like Hezbollah. You can ask what a self-proclaimed Bolivarian socialist has in common with a bunch of theocratic thugs in Iran. The answer is ‘not much,’ beyond a taste for repression and a shared desire to make life difficult for the United States and its allies.”

Tomorrow, Friday, the next flight is expected to take off. While U.S. intelligence may be able to track the flight, there appears to be little more they can legally do to determine what or who is on board.

American intelligence services have a lot of things on their plate. The fact that I can tell you that we’re really interested in that direct flight tells you that it was on our scope — something that we are sensitive to,” Hayden says. “Are we doing enough about it? I would have to say ‘no,’ because it’s a very challenging menu that American intelligence has to deal with.”

In a statement, the State Department says, “Nations have the right to enter into cooperative relationships with other nations.”