Several weeks later, Pompeo made good on his word. The CIA press statement announcing the new release took care to describe the new documents as distinct from the ones that emanated from the DNI, and noted that they were part of an Agency initiative authorized by Pompeo. The CIA made no mention of cooperation with DNI on the matter; intelligence officials have told me there was none.
What’s more, the CIA provided the only advance copy of the new documents to FDD’s in-house publication, The Long War Journal (LWJ). This choice of venue was, on its own, unorthodox: In years past, intelligence officials have provided embargoed looks at soon-to-be-released de-classified material to major outlets, including CNN and the The Washington Post, commensurate with the intense public interest in the bin Laden documents.
Among the themes plucked from the files by The Long War Journal were “new details concerning al-Qaeda’s relationship with Iran.” As it pointed out, the files do, indeed, contain new tactical details, including an account from a senior jihadist of a deal with Iranian authorities to host and train Saudi al-Qaeda members as long as they agreed to plot against their common enemy, American interests in the Gulf region. On its own, that revelation would suggest a degree of operational coordination between the two entities. But according to the account, the al-Qaeda members violated the terms of that agreement, spurring Iranian officials to renege and crack down on the network.
This document and others analyzed to date add texture to but do not alter the fundamental and longstanding understanding of the consistently tense, and occasionally openly hostile, relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda. Other elements in the bin Laden cache reinforce this idea, including a description of al-Qaeda’s abduction of an Iranian diplomat as part of an effort to exchange him for al-Qaeda members detained in Iran. In its analysis, the Long War Journal noted that the new tranche could contain additional revelations. But its initial examination turned up nothing that would alter the assessment of an on-again, off-again marriage of convenience pockmarked by bouts of bitter acrimony.
While it’s impossible to discern Pompeo’s exact motives in this latest release, his own statements—as well as the decision to provide the files to the FDD-affiliated publication—make it seem something far less than an exercise in radical transparency. Instead, the release seems more like a calculated shot in the arm as part of his bid to bolster the case against the 2015 nuclear deal.
Both in public and reportedly in private, Pompeo has been one of the Trump administration’s most vociferous critics of the nuclear deal. His remarks are uncharacteristic of CIA leaders, who typically take a ‘just the facts’ approach. He told a public audience in July, for example, that Tehran was not abiding by the spirit of the deal, claiming that Iran was only begrudgingly and belatedly upholding its nuclear-related commitments. News accounts, moreover, have portrayed him as pressuring CIA analysts to surface intelligence pointing to Iran’s non-compliance, which, by all accounts, they have not found.