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Michael Ledeen

The 1970s

In the early 1970s, Michael Ledeen (b. 1941) was an assistant professor of history and an opponent of the Vietnam War. He then spent two years in Italy from 1975 to 1977 as a visiting professor at the University of Rome and correspondent for The New Republic, and by the time he returned to the United States, his views had shifted sharply to the right.

Upon his return, Ledeen became a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a right-wing think-tank with Neocon connections that was part of a network of conservative groups dedicated to promoting the idea that the Soviet Union continued to be a serious menace.

Around the same time, Ledeen became the first executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a lobbying organization dedicated to encouraging support for US military aid to Israel. He also appears to have established connections with former CIA Deputy Director for Counterintelligence James Jesus Angleton, whom he later spoke of as his mentor.

Angleton had always been close to the Israelis, and he had continued to represent Israeli interests after he was fired by the CIA in December 1974 for his involvement in domestic spying. Around the same time, the CIA had begun to distance itself from Israel and look to the Saudis instead as its primary source of Middle Eastern intelligence. This led the Israelis to begin spying on Washington to discover American intentions in the region. In 1977-79, Ledeen and Stephen Bryen were allegedly part of those operations, leaking information to Mossad by way of JINSA and AIPAC.

Ledeen returned to Italy in 1978 and formed a connection with the Italian intelligence service, SISMI. By 1980, he and former CIA officer Theodore Shackley were working together to provide SISMI with trainings, and there are rumors that both were involved in the October Surprise during that year's presidential campaign. During the transition period following Ronald Reagan's election, Ledeen served as an intermediary between the head of SISMI and Alexander Haig, who would soon be appointed Secretary of State..

The War on Terror

At the start of the Reagan administration, both Haig and Ledeen were closely associated with the theory that the Soviet Union was the hidden hand behind a worldwide terrorism network aimed at destroying Western democracy. According to The Iran Contra Connection by Johnathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott, and Jane Hunter, Haig announced at his first press conference in January 1981 that the Kremlin was “training, funding and equipping” terrorists everywhere and proclaimed that “international terrorism will take the place of human rights” as his top priority.

After Haig's claim was debunked by the CIA, the DIA, and the FBI, Ledeen led the counter-attack, insisting, “They are scared in the [State Department and CIA] bureaucracy, because if Haig is right about the Russians, then they have failed in their jobs.” This argument quickly became part of a general insistence by the right that post-Watergate reforms had crippled the intelligence agencies and that the terrorist threat required both an unleashing of covert operations abroad and a crackdown on dissidents at home. When the Republican Senate established a special subcommittee on security and terrorism, Ledeen was among the witnesses at its first hearing. A few months later, Haig appointed him as an adviser on international terrorism.


When Haig left the administration in 1982, Ledeen moved to the Department of Defense as a consultant on terrorism. Then in November 1984, he switched to the National Security Council (NSC), where his superior was Oliver North. He is alleged to have been a part of North's secret Counter-Terrorism Network.

During this period, Ledeen acted as a go-between in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. It's not clear how significant his role was, but it's undeniable that he had close ties to Israeli intelligence and also that his various job changes always brought him to the locations where the intrigues were thickest.

His involvement began when an Iranian general recommended Manucher Ghorbanifar to Theodore Shackley as someone who might be able to expedite the release of American hostages in Lebanon. However, the CIA and State Department considered Ghorbanifar unreliable, so Shackley passed his name along to Ledeen, who in turn passed it to Oliver North. Shackley, North, and Ghorbanifar were soon holding meetings together. In May 1985, Ledeen visited Mossad agent David Kimche, who also began recommending Ghorbanifar to US officials, and that spring the Israelis started selling arms to Iran with Ghorbanifar as an intermediary.

Regime Change in Iran

During the George W. Bush years, Ledeen attempted to resume his role as shadowy go-between. Some time shortly after September 11, 2001, he was contacted by Ghorbanifar, who claimed to have evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Afghanistan. Ledeen took this information to the Pentagon, which passed the word along to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and that December, Ledeen and Pentagon officials Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin met with Ghorbanifar in Rome, in company with the Italian defense minister and the head of SISMI.

According to Newsweek, these discussions concerned an unlikely scheme for regime change in Iran. When word of of Ghorbanifar's involvement got back to Hadley – who had authorized the meeting but claimed not to have known Ghorbanifar would be there – he ordered Ledeen to put an immediate end to the proceedings.

Early in 2002, Ledeen and AIPAC executive director Morris Amitay founded the Coalition for Democracy in Iran to press for regime change. That July, Ledeen informed the U.S. ambassador to Italy that he'd be arriving in Rome for more meetings with the Iranians, but Hadley found out and again warned Ledeen to back off.

Over the next year, the invasion of Iraq took the focus off Iran for a time. However, in June 2003, a fresh series of meetings was held in Paris involving Rhode, Ghorbanifar, and other Iranians. The State Department only found out about these meetings when their existence was revealed by Newsday two months later and confirmed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The result was a minor scandal, with the Pentagon insisting that the encounters had been unplanned and unauthorized, while Ghorbanifar countered that they were set up through extensive communications with Rhode and Franklin. Over the next year, the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated the matter to a limited degree and Ledeen was among those interviewed.

Ledeen and Michael Flynn

In 2016, Ledeen co-authored The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies with Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn, who would soon briefly serve as Donald Trump's National Security Adviser. This book laid out an updated version of Ledeen's conspiracy theories of nearly forty years earlier, arguing that Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, al Qaeda, and ISIS were all working together in an “international alliance of evil countries and movements that is working to destroy” the United States.

In October 2017, just as then-President Trump was picking fights with both Iran and North Korea, it was revealed that in 2015 Michael Ledeen's wife, Barbara Ledeen, herself a longtime conservative activist, had instigated a private effort to prove that Hillary Clinton's email server had been hacked by a “foreign power.” Ledeen, a staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, had received support from both Newt Gingrich and Judicial Watch in hunting for evidence on the “dark web,” but the search proved fruitless and was dropped after the Judiciary Committee learned of its existence.

The Guardian account of this incident points out its similarity to the claim that during the 2016 campaign, Republican operative Peter Smith had worked on Flynn's behalf to confirm that a foreign power had hacked Clinton's server. Smith had his own history of anti-Clinton activities, having allegedly been the person who prompted David Brock to look into the alleged “Troopergate” scandal involving Bill Clinton during the 1992 election, at a time when Smith was a major fundraiser for Newt Gingrich.

michael_ledeen.txt · Last modified: 2019/11/03 20:11 by corypanshin