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Early Monday morning, a few minutes past midnight, The Intercept published a major series of investigative stories based on a cache of more than 700 pages of secret Iranian intelligence files, detailing years of “painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides, and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic, and religious life.” On this special episode of Intercepted: The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain and New York Times reporter Farnaz Fassihi discuss the revelations.

The leak of these files is historic. The Iran Cables paint a picture of the actions of a rational nation-state actor’s intervention in the affairs of a neighbor whose government once launched a devastating war against it with the backing of the world’s preeminent superpower, the United States. For more than six decades, successive U.S. governments have waged military and economic war on Iran and Iraq. In the post-9/11 world, the U.S. overthrew the governments of two of Iran’s most threatening neighbors, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, while simultaneously coming dangerously close to an all-out regime-change war against Iran. The 2003 invasion shattered Iraq, and the documents in the Iran Cables tell the story of the secret activities of its neighbor Iran.

 

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

[Music interlude.]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is a special episode of Intercepted. 

Early Monday morning, a few minutes past midnight, The Intercept published a major series of investigative stories based on a cache of more than 700 pages of secret Iranian intelligence files. They detail years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides, and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic, and religious life. The leak of these files is historic. The files also paint a picture of the actions of a pretty rational nation state actor’s intervention in the affairs of a neighbor whose government once launched a devastating war with the backing of the world’s preeminent superpower, the United States.

Newscaster: The fighting begun by Iraq threatened to involve other Gulf states and even the Americans and the Russians who both have deep rooted interest in the region. Both countries could end up economically crippled and the world outside could face an oil and energy crisis bigger than any that has gone before.

JS: In the post-9-11 world, the U.S. overthrew the governments of two of Iran’s most threatening neighbors, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

George W. Bush: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. The tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free.

JS: At the same time, Iran came dangerously close to being in the crosshairs of American regime change. These stories must be viewed in that context.

In a moment, we’re going to be digging deep into the revelations of this major new investigative series published by The Intercept, and including one story, jointly reported with The New York Times. At this moment, both Iran and Iraq are engulfed in massive protests and before we get into the meat of the revelations of this new investigative series, it is important to step back and look at some of the bigger history.

For more than six decades, the United States has repeatedly intervened in the affairs of these two major oil producing nations. It has fomented coups in both countries, provided weapons, intelligence and encouragement for Saddam Hussein at his most brutal. The United States armed both Iran and Iraq in an eight year war that killed more than a million people. The U.S. has unleashed devastating economic sanctions on both countries, causing immeasurable suffering among the civilian populations of both Iran and Iraq.

Bill Clinton: He is in no position to point the finger at anyone else in the world for the suffering of his own people and once again, today he has proved that he is responsible for the suffering of his own people. The rest of us are more than happy to —

JS: It was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who put a fine point on the desired outcome of the U.S. position during the Iran-Iraq war when he quipped that it is “a shame there can be only one loser.” Back in 1953, the United States orchestrated the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected leader Mohammed Mosaddegh, a popular figure who ended the rule of the British-backed monarchy in Iran and promised to use that country’s vast resources for the benefit of the people.

Newscaster: Meanwhile in Tehran itself, all stood ready to welcome the return of the Shah after the dramatic developments and events which first compelled him to flee and then led to a coup d’etat in which Mosaddegh was arrested.

JS: It was this coup and the ensuing brutality of the Shah of Iran that ultimately paved the way for the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Newscaster: Hundreds of Iranians finally overran the embassy compound, seizing about 90 people, mostly Americans. The hostages, men and women, were blindfolded and herded into the embassy —

JS: In 1963, a decade after the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, the U.S. aided the overthrow of Iraq’s popular leader General Abdul Karim Qasim.

Newscaster: The straits of ancient Baghdad become the scene of a short but decisive revolution that toppled the pro-Communist government of Premier Abdul Karim Qasim, shown here on the right.

JS: Just as in Iran, Qasim’s crime was his intent to nationalize Iraqi oil and create robust social programs. It was the overthrow of this Iraqi government that made the ascent of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime a reality. Indeed, the CIA provided lists of suspected communists for Saddam and the Ba’ath Party to use to murder political opponents and installed their iron-fisted regime.

Following the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, the United States waged the 1991 Gulf War during which the American military machine mercilessly attacked Iraqi military and civilian infrastructure in Iraq. At the end of that war, President George H.W. Bush decided to keep Saddam Hussein in power rather than march on Baghdad, specifically because Saddam was a brutal and vicious dictator who had proven useful to the U.S. agenda in the region, particularly in the war against Iran.

George H.W. Bush: As commander in chief, I can report to you our armed forces fought with honor and valor. And as president, I can report to the nation, aggression is defeated. The war is over.

JS: During the 1990s, the Clinton administration presided over the most sweeping economic sanctions in modern history, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not more Iraqi civilians.

Reporter: We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. Is the price worth it?

Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.

JS: The bipartisan support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was justified through a campaign of lies and propaganda centering around weapons of mass destruction and fictitious connections to al Qaeda. It transformed Iraq into a hellscape and opened its gates wide to groups like al Qaeda and eventually, the Islamic State. The CIA and the U.S. military began arming and training sectarian militias in Iraq, engaged in the disastrous de-Ba’athification policy and then in 2011, President Obama oversaw a made for television withdrawal of American forces. 

Barack Obama: So, today, I can report that as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.

JS: In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion, and particularly after the 2011 withdrawal, Iran dramatically increased its influence in Iraq and cultivated close relationships with powerful Iraqi politicians and institutions. 

Which brings us to The Iran Cables. For this series, The Intercept teamed up with The New York Times for one major story, which has been simultaneously published in both publications. There’s also several stories that The Intercept did alone. Those can be found at theintercept.com.

I am joined now by two of the journalists who worked on this series. My colleague Murtaza Hussain is a reporter at The Intercept, focusing on national security. And Farnaz Fassihi is an award-winning Iranian-American journalist for the New York Times. She is also the author of “Waiting for an Ordinary Day,” a book about the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Murtaza, Farnaz, thanks to both of you for joining me.

Farnaz Fassihi: Thank you for having me.

Murtaza Hussain: Thanks for having me.

JS: Murtaza, let’s begin with you. First of all, for people that know nothing about this right now, what are these documents that we’ve published and what are they about?

MH: We received the trove of 700 pages of top secret Iranian cables from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. They document Iran’s activities in Iraq, roughly from the period of late 2013 to early 2015. And this, of course, is the time period of the emergence of ISIS and the peak of ISIS power in Iraq. They show the inner workings of a very secretive security apparatus of the Iranians. Every country in the world will jealously guard its national security secrets but Iran has been one of the most difficult to penetrate for journalists or researchers. And we’re seeing for the first time how they operate from their own perspective.

JS: There’s a way in which reading through these documents, it becomes pretty clear that Iran is a very rational nation state actor, in a lot of ways, and that this is a country, their neighbor Iraq, that waged a brutal eight year war with Iran. And that a lot of what you see in these documents is akin to what you see major powers in the world doing all the time, particularly in nations that are in their backyard. What were the biggest takeaways for you as you went through these documents and reported this story?

FF: I think that you’re absolutely right that the Iranian regime, the Islamic Republic has been very rational and diligent about how it extends its power and influence in the region and how it counters terrorist groups like ISIS, how it builds militia forces across the region from Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen and beyond and how it counters America’s presence in the region. We have to remember that in 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, President George Bush named Iran as part of an axis of evil and the Iranian regime very much believed Tehran would be next on the list of regimes that the U.S. wanted to topple.

GWB: States like these, and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

FF: And for them, gaining dominance over Iraq, particularly military, political and intelligence dominance over what the Americans were doing, discovering how the Americans operated, who they were close to, the Iraqis, and trying to outmaneuver them became not just part of wanting to know what was going on in their neighboring country, but part of a survival strategy for the Islamic Republic and we see this clearly in these cables.

I mean, I’ve been documenting Iran’s rise in Iraq from the ground in Baghdad as Baghdad bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, and also as a reporter based in Beirut and, you know, we all anecdotally knew when we could see signs, but this is an extraordinary amount of insight and detail into how they went about this, who they contacted, how they cultivated sources, how they recruited spies. It’s a very important document for anyone who’s interested in not just Iran, but the Middle East.

JS: Murtaza, talk about some of the relationships with Iraqi political figures and power brokers that Iran cultivated and what the documents tell us about Iranian influence over very powerful Iraqi political figures.

MH: Well, it’s been no secret that Iran has close ties to Iraqi political figures, but we’ve never seen in such intimate textured detail the relationships they have. For instance, the current Iraqi prime minister is described in the documents having “a special relationship with the Iranians.” There’s a list of Iraqi ministers who it names who has a good relationship the Iranians or not, who can be relied on or not. And the former prime minister, Haider al-Abadi is described in a conversation with an Iranian intelligence case officer having a very frank and somewhat provocative conversation about the future of Iraq and discussing the future of different sectarian groups in Iraq, the Shias, the Sunnis and so forth.

I think this shows that Iran, to put it mildly, has very privileged access to the Iraqi political and economic system. We see now that they work through personal relationships, and their penetration of Iraqi society is deep and it’s far more profound, I think, than the U.S. had even at the height of the occupation. They have long standing ties to Iraqi officials, going back decades, people who spent the years of Saddam Hussein’s rule in exile in Iran, and now when the U.S. came post-Saddam Hussein, those individuals went back to Iraq and now they form a very reliable group of individuals within powerful positions of the Iraqi system who Iran can rely on.

JS: It’s also interesting, Maz, that you also have this assertion in these documents or what appears to be evidence that you had assets in Iraq, Iraqi intelligence assets who were working with the Central Intelligence Agency, who then essentially flip over and become assets of Iranian intelligence. And one of the revelations in the documents is that these individuals were expected to essentially do a debriefing of everything they know about the operations of the United States and the CIA.

MH: The U.S. came into Iraq, they smashed the system that existed. They used a lot of violence and money to reorganize Iraqi society and then they ultimately left.

Leon Panetta: The mission of an Iraq that could finally govern and secure itself has become real.

MH: Iran cannot leave Iraq per se, because it’s always going to be their neighbor. Geographically, that’s never going to change. And when the United States disorganized Iraqi society, Iran came back in and tried to put the pieces back together in a way which was in their interests. So they had all these individuals who, in some cases worked for Saddam, then worked for the United States and then maybe were cut off from any source of income. They were a vulnerable population of people for Iran to scoop up and make them their own assets and all the training and in some cases, equipment that they received from the Americans they then pass on to the new handler, which [is] Iran.

JS: Farnaz, there are two major Iranian intelligence entities whose operations are described in these documents. And I should say that these are files from one of those entities the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. But on the other side, you also have the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which you know, is a frequent target of U.S. attacks and belligerent rhetoric from people like Mike Pompeo and others. Explain how those two entities operated in Iraq and whether it was at cross purposes or they were on the same team.

FF: The Revolutionary Guards control Iran’s foreign policy and military strategy when it comes to countries in the region that deemed a national security interests that would include Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. When the U.S. invasion happened, and Iran wanted to move into Iraq, it dispatched both very expertise and experienced teams of intelligence officers from the Ministry of Information, as well as the intelligence wing of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. These agents were working in parallel to one another, working toward the same goal as making sure that Iran knew what was happening in Iraq and had this information, dominance and insight into what the Americans were doing and how the Iraqis were cooperating with them. These reports were then prepared and sent back to individual headquarters back in Iran.

The Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence wing would combine them and prepare a report for the Supreme National Security Council of Iran. In the event that a decision had to be made, or sensitive information, the Revolutionary Guards always has the last word. We know that General Qasem Soleimani, who’s the commander of the Quds forces, the external branch of the guards is one of the most influential and powerful men in both Iraq and the rest of the region in Syria and Lebanon. He was often called on to go help Iraq do crisis management, from how to maneuver an American occupation, to how to overcome a Sunni insurgency, how to defeat ISIS. And in fact, right now, Mr. Soleimani was called into Iraq to help the Iraqi government manage the street protests that we see unfolding.

JS: Murtaza, on that issue of these two entities operating in Iraq at the same time, what can you tell us about their relationship with each other and what the documents reveal about the perception of the MOIS of the operations of the Revolutionary Guard Corps?

MH: Well, Iran is a very opaque system. There’s a lot we don’t know, but generally speaking, there is a perception that the MOIS is a more professional, pragmatic counterpart to the IRGC, which is more ideological and aggressive in its posture. In the documents, you actually see evidence of that in the sense that there are critiques from the MOIS or MOIS case officers against the IRGC [and] against Qasem Soleimani, in particular. The IRGC [is] blamed for involvement in ethnic cleansing in Iraq of Sunnis, or treating Sunnis in general as the enemy, and thereby feeding sectarianism in Iraq.

And these critiques very much reinforce that idea that the MOIS is more of a pragmatic actor than the IRGC. And in some cases, they speculate or express concerns that Qasem Soleimani may be promoting his own activities in Iraq to build a political career for himself in Iran, or build a profile, because he’s sometimes nicknamed as a shadow commander, but he became very much out in the open during these conflicts with ISIS. He was on social media, pictures of him were circulating from every battlefield and the MOIS clearly view these activities with wariness and in some sense alarm that the IRGC’s activities, rather than stabilizing Iraq as they would like, were leading to more and more conflict in opening the door for the United States to come back to Iraq with greater legitimacy.

JS: Farnaz, we should mention in both Iraq and Iran at this moment, you have very large protests, and they’ve been sustained in Iraq now for some time. But in Iran, it does seem to be at a crossroads where it could dramatically escalate. Explain what the protests in Iran right now are about and how they started. And also we should note that just hours before the New York Times and The Intercept published the first story in this series, Iran shut down the country’s internet. But walk us through how we got to this place we’re in right now, Farnaz.

FF: On Friday, a few minutes before midnight Iran time, the government announced that it was going to ration gasoline prices, the quota, double of what the price was, and then it would triple the price of gasoline after that quota was met. This meant a triple increase of gasoline that could lead to inflation, that could lead to prices of all sorts of goods going up. The Iranian public reacted fiercely and violently toward this new policy. They immediately within hours took to the streets.

Newscaster: Protesters blocked a major highway near Tehran. The American sanctions are meant to pressure the Iranian government into giving up its nuclear weapons program. And they’re hitting the average Iranian hard in the pocketbook.

FF: There’s been riots and demonstrations, according to the government, in 70% of provinces in Iran. We’re seeing massive protests in not just the big cities like Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan but also much smaller working class cities. And very quickly, just like their counterparts in Lebanon and Iraq, these protests in Iran went from being about the increase of gas prices to really targeting the entire system and the Islamic Republic regime. They’ve been calling for Ayatollah Khamenei to step down. They’re chanting, we don’t want an Islamic Republic anymore. They have torched the banks and government buildings and one of Mr. Khamenei’s offices, setting ablaze his posters in different cities.

So, it’s almost like a pent up anger at the system and frustration and lack of hope that has suddenly exploded. And the government, of course, reacted by completely, near complete shutdown of the internet now in its second day, and blocking Iranians from using phone apps like WhatsApp that they were using to send videos and eyewitness accounts. These protests are continuing somehow the Iranians are managing to circumvent the internet blocking and get some of the videos out. So we have a very limited window into what’s happening in Iran. And with every day these protests are taking more of a tone of violent riots. I think there’s a report of at least 12 people dead and hundreds injured and thousands arrested.

JS: Maz, you know, the departure of John Bolton I think gave some people who watch Iran closely and are concerned about the future of that country some bit of relief because you have this notoriously hawkish person who is in bed with, you know, Iranian exile terrorist groups and others, who has openly said that he wants the Iranian regime overthrown. Those ideas still exist in the Trump administration very much and we see it in the statements of Mike Pompeo.

Mike Pompeo: The only viable way forward is through comprehensive negotiation to address the full range of Iran’s threats in their entirety. Iran’s most recent action is yet another clear attempt at nuclear extortion that will only deepen its political and economic isolation from the world.

JS: How does the belligerent stance of the United States toward the government in Tehran coincide with these protests? And what are the sort of stakes here, given that you have, on the one hand, people rising up and protesting in Iran, and on the other hand, you have this incredibly powerful nation state, the United States, that has made clear that it wants to overthrow the government of that country?

MH: Well, the IMF released figures recently which showed that the Iranian economy is on track to contract 9.5% in this year as a result of U.S. sanctions. That’s a staggering figure, apocalyptic levels of economic contraction. And this explicit goal articulated by State Department officials of these sanctions is to create a crisis within Iran. And the brunt of that falls upon ordinary people who have grievances with the system as it exists. And of course when nothing is affordable, when people are losing jobs, when inflation is at 40 percent, all the existing grievances are amplified and you’ve created a crisis situation in the country, where people on the streets, they’re desperate, they’ve lost any sense of hope or faith in the system.

And they’re turning against the pillars of the system now to which as I said, they may not have liked anyways. But now that there’s nothing left to lose, it’s come to a crisis situation where it is resulting in violence. And those people in the administration and their orbits in D.C., they have made no secret of the fact that they would like to create a revolutionary situation in Iran, the only question is, what sort of suffering will Iranians undergo in that process? And what will come after the collapse of the government when you’re looking at a revolution which seems to have started out of desperation, a revolution of hunger and despair?

JS: Farnaz, I know that you are not inside of the heads of the top officials at the IRGC or in the inner circle of power in Iran, but what is your sense of how the Iranian state or its various power players are going to view this reporting by The Intercept and the New York Times and the revelations in these cables?

FF: I think the Iranian regime and government will feel very alarmed by the fact that a leak of this magnitude is in the hands of American media. It is unprecedented to have this kind of access to Iran’s intelligence apparatus. So that will alarm them they will also worry about what else is in the cables that hasn’t been reported or might come out. But I think they may not mind the perception or the evidence in these reports that they outmaneuvered the U.S. and they gained intelligence dominance in Iraq. I think that part of their capability to gain this kind of control over Iraq will probably please them. I think the Iraqi government might not like this because it’s coming under a lot of pressure from protesters to resign because of its closeness to Iran, and because of its perceived ties to Iran, I think for the Iraqi government and for Iraqi officials, this report might be embarrassing.

JS: Maz, on that point, the center of these protests now is this notion of Iranian influence in the country. What is your sense of how these revelations are going to be interpreted in Iraq in the context of the protests, but also in the context of the bad actions of the United States over these many decades in the country?

MH: Well, you’ve seen some scenes of protesters in Iraq, burning Iranian flags, or chanting anti-Iranian slogans or even some cases storming buildings associated with the Iranian government. I think that all this ties back to the core issue, which is that the sovereignty of Iraq as a nation state has been severely degraded, if not completely degraded by the United States over the course of several decades, culminating in the 2003 invasion. Iraq has not been able to control the borders, the Iraqi government has not been able to meet the minimum standards of a state, which is to have a monopoly on violence of what takes place in that land.

And  the people of Iraq still have a very strong idea for national identity and they’re trying to reassert that. They’re trying to get back what has been lost to them as a result of the malicious actions of foreign powers, foremost among them the United States, and now in a more subtle, more calculated way, perhaps Iran, by manipulating their political leaders behind the scenes. This is all part of a long standing attempt to reassert an Iraqi identity against great forces which have been arrayed against it.

JS: Donald Trump made a huge deal about the reported killing of al Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. And these documents actually go into some detail about how Iran was fighting ISIS as a sort of ground force. But I wanted to begin on this issue with you, Farnaz. First of all, how did Iran view the ascent of ISIS as the premier jihadist group in the world sort of surpassing the influence of al Qaeda? What was the perception of Iran as all of this was formulating and this group was gaining a foothold in parts of Iraq and Syria?

FF: The number one priority for Iran when ISIS gained ground in Syria and Iraq was to mobilize forces that would defeat ISIS outside of Iran’s border and before it could enter Iran and penetrate into Iran and destabilize the regime. They very much view ISIS as a terrorist group that came about as a result of the U.S. invasion, as a result of Sunnis feeling marginalized, creating an insurgency and that insurgency over time growing more and more radical and getting inspiration from al Qaeda to then morph into something called the Islamic State.

JS: Murtaza, you wrote one of the major pieces that has been published now at The Intercept [in] this series. [It] is: “Iran’s Shadow War on ISIS: While U.S.-led forces dropped bombs Iran waged its own covert campaign against the Islamic State.” I think a lot of people have no idea that this took place or that Iran was functioning in the role that it did in this battle against ISIS, which often was framed as the United States is fighting ISIS and they’re working with the Peshmerga, and they’re working with other Iraqi forces. But Iran, in fact, was effectively the most substantial ground force fighting ISIS for a period of time revealed in these documents. Talk about what you found in that part of the investigation.

MH: So, the first place where ISIS was defeated or checked by a ground force was in a town called Makhmur in northern Iraq, and they were defeated by a Kurdish Peshmerga force. And that force actually was trained and received logistical support and ammunition from Iran during that fight and the Iranian intervention against ISIS preceded the American intervention by few days, in fact. Iran was very key in arming Kurdish forces, in arming and supporting the Iraqi army, Shia militias, all fighting ISIS, while the United States played a critical role throughout the war in the air.

That arming of those groups has been somewhat known not in the texture that we have now in these documents. But even more so Iran was penetrating ISIS’s organization. It was penetrating the Sunni insurgency that Farnaz referred to — they were setting ISIS’s enemies against them or trying to break off members of the coalition to fight them. The documents show that Iran had penetrated the highest levels of ISIS with spies, actually. There are reports from the inner circle of meetings with Baghdadi in the ISIS leadership, assets giving information back to Iran. There are people inside ISIS who are feeding positions of their troops to Iranian connected actors to try to get a way to defect from ISIS safely, giving those positions away so they’re later bombed by the coalition. So, Iran was playing a very, very deep covert game against ISIS, tearing apart the organization inside. It’s a part of the war we’ve never seen before. And we now see for the first time, through their own top secret documents.

JS: Is there any indication that the United States tried to open intelligence channels with Iran knowing that they were on the ground engaged in this both overt and covert campaign against ISIS?

MH: Well, ironically, given the grave disputes that exist between the United States and Iran in the Iranian cables, MOIS case officers lament the lack of coordination with the Americans. They’re very wary of the American presence in Iraq. They’re afraid, they roll into something larger which could threaten their interests, but they have a great desire to work with them to more effectively target ISIS and they’re upset about the exclusion of Iran from discussions taking place within the United States, Turkey and regional Arab countries about how to fight ISIS and what the future of Iraq will be. Because as they see it, those countries have all taken a very extreme presence hostile to Iran’s interest in Iraq. They’d like to have a closer relationship to fight ISIS with the United States, which is somewhat as a frenemy as described in the documents but it’s impossible due to the general political isolation of Iran that’s existed.

JS: Farnaz, finally, before we wrap up, what is the big takeaway from all of this? I know that the reporting is going to continue and this is a large cache of documents and people are still reporting out stories on it. But where we are as of this moment, what’s the big takeaway for you from this reporting and the documents going forward and what we should be looking for in the months ahead?

FF: I think the big takeaway is to see how Iran has been planning and executing its strategies in Iraq and elsewhere in the region and to try to, moving forward, find how the information that we have and the evidence we have from these files in Iraq applies to elsewhere where Iran has an active presence, like in Syria, like in Lebanon, like in Yemen, what it shows us in terms of more of a perspective on the region power plays that are going on in this rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, in the relationship that Iran has with the United States right now and is it moving toward confrontation? Or is it moving toward negotiations and defusing tensions?

JS: Maz, final word for you. The big takeaway?

MH: I think the big takeaway for me is to see how the Iranian intelligence operates. We’ve never seen before, you know, the way they behave behind closed doors. They’re a very professional, pragmatic, and ruthless organization. We see that in the documents. They’re very fastidious in protecting their interest in Iraq. These documents, of course, deal with a certain period in time and in some sense, they’re historical, but I think that if it comes to a situation where the United States confronts Iran again either by proxy in Iraq, or elsewhere in the region, we have a greater insight into how the Iranians may behave and what tactics they may use to combat that.

FF: I think another takeaway from this has to be from the point of view of the United States and other Western powers that have military superiority when they invade a country, but when they get there, and in the post-invasion and post-military phase, they’re out of depth. And the lack of connection and understanding of the cultures and the religion and the inner dynamics of a society leaves them where the U.S. is right now in Iraq. I think that has to be a takeaway for people who are conducting U.S. foreign policy or military policy because if there is a war in the future with Iran or elsewhere, they have to look at these cables and they have to look at the information here and see that there are forces on the ground there that they have not predicted that might actually beat them to this.

JS: Farnaz, thank you very much for being with us.

FF: Thank you for having me.

JS: Murtaza, thank you as well.

MH: Thank you.

JS: Murtaza Hussain is a reporter at The Intercept, focusing on national security. And Farnaz Fassihi is an award-winning Iranian-American journalist for the New York Times. She is also the author of “Waiting for an Ordinary Day,” a book about the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. You can read this entire series on the Iran Cables at theintercept.com. The lead article in this series was simultaneously published at The New York Times and The Intercept.

[Music interlude.]

JS: And that does it for this bonus episode of Intercepted. You can follow us on Twitter @intercepted. We are also on Instagram @interceptedpodcast. If you like what we do on this program, you can support our show by going to TheIntercept.com/join to become a sustaining member. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro, our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next time, I’m Jeremy Scahill.