The CIA reportedly worked with an Iraqi informant code named 'Donnie Brasco,' who feared for his life and ultimately defected to Iranian intelligence

REUTERS/Lucas JacksonThe US embassy in Baghdad.
  • Iranian intelligence officers have used financial incentives and gifts to lure away Iraqi spies formerly working for the CIA, according to a new trove of leaked documents reported on jointly by The Intercept and The New York Times.
  • The first section of the Intercept’s five-part report offers both extremely sophisticated examples of intelligence implicating top Iraqi officials and clumsy tales of operations gone wrong.
  • One of the top political advisers to the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament may have been an Iranian spy, leaked cables show.
  • Iranian intelligence reportedly tried to recruit Iraqi CIA informants with gold after the US withdrew its troops in 2011.
  • Iranian intelligence reportedly tried to elaborately break into a German cultural institute only to realise they had brought the wrong keys to unlock a safe.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

American and Iranian intelligence officers have been conducting a just below the surface espionage war in Iraq, and Iran has a strong upper hand. In many cases, spies who once worked for the United States have defected and joined divulged information to Iran in exchange for safety, money, and gifts.

That’s according to a series of leaked Iranian intelligence documents that were anonymously sent to the Intercept who shared them with The New York Times. The two media sites jointly released reports describing the contents of the documents today. Insider does not have access to the original leaked documents and could not verify their authenticity.

The Iraqi Donnie Brasco

An Iraqi CIA agency with the code name, “Donnie Brasco,” reportedly betrayed his American handlers in November of 2014. The Iraqi informant’s codename paid homage to the 1970’s undercover FBI agent Joseph Pistone, who made a name for himself by infiltrating the inner ranks New York City’s Bonanno Mafia family using the alias “Donnie Brasco.” Pistone spent five years undercover and gathered intelligence on the mob that ultimately led to hundreds of arrests. The Iraqi Donnie Brasco appears to have been less successful.

The informant had reportedly worked with US intelligence since 2008 on an intelligence operation targeting Al Qaeda. According to the cables seen by The Intercept and the New York Times, Brasco said he was paid $US3,000 a month. He even reportedly received a $US20,000 one-time bonus and a free car.

Around six years after he began working with the US, though, Brasco switched sides. Fearing his ties to the United States would get him killed, the Iraqi informant defected to Iran. There, he was referred to as “Source 134992.”

Once on Iran’s side, the Iranian agent reportedly gave up key American intelligence information, including the location of CIA safe houses, hotels where the CIA met with agents, the names of other Iraqis working with American intelligence, and information on weapons and surveillance. The informant reportedly swore an oath on the Quran where he promised to stop working with the US.

One of the top political advisers to the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament may have been an Iranian spy, leaked cables show

“Donnie Brasco” was just one of many examples detailed in the leaks describing Iranian and American espionage. Both sides reportedly actively sought out Iraqi assets to advance their own interests, but Iranian intelligence officials reportedly made a concerted effort to recruit former CIA operatives following the US’s military withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. In some instances, Iranian intelligence officers reportedly tried to entice former American assets with gold coins and other financial incentives.

Some of the targeted Iraqi assets reportedly occupied seats extremely close to Iraqi political power. In one case detailed by The Intercept and The New York Times, cables revealed that one of the Iranian intelligence officials was a top political adviser to Salim al-Jabouri, the former speaker of the Iraqi parliament. That asset, referred to as “Source 134832,” according to the documents, claimed to “carefully follow” Jabouri’s contact with Americans. Jabouri held the role of Iraqi parliament speaker until 2018.

Some of the documents reveal less remarkable exploits. In one of the clumsier events described, Iranian intelligence officials reportedly elaborately broke into a German cultural institute only to realise they had brought the wrong keys to unlock a safe they were trying to gain access to. The report also reveals how intelligence officials would shower sources with “pistachios, cologne, and saffron” to keep them happy.

Read more of the story over at The Intercept.

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