Newt's Blown Cover

Article excerpt

Next time Newt Gingrich wants to play James Bond, he should think of Hedayatolah Zendedel.

Seven years ago, Zendedel, a prominent Jewish Iranian land developer and civil engineer, was arrested by the Teheran regime. He was no charged with any crime; people familiar with the case speculate that a business competitor might have arranged the arrest. For years he was held in various prisons infamous for their atrocious conditions and brutal treatment. No public reason was ever given for his incarceration.

Then, unexpectedly, on January 22, Zendedel was placed on trial with five others for being a spy for the United States and Israel--and for smuggling arms, bribing officials, forging passports, smoking opium and drinking alcoholic beverages. He was not given an attorney. At the trial, according to press reports, Zendedel, the first of the defendants to take the stand, confessed to what seems a series of trumped-up charges, some punishable by death.

The Zendedel trial comes at a time when Iran is engaged in a vigorous hunt for U.S. spies--a hunt caused by Newt Gingrich. At the end of last year, the Speaker pushed through Congress $18 million in funding for what was supposed to be a C.I.A. covert action to change the government of Iran. This was not an assignment the C.I.A. wanted or the Clinton Administration ordered. Gingrich concocted it on his own and imposed it on the spooks, and the White House deferred to his wishes. So forceful was Gingrich in his advocacy of this secret scheme that it became known publicly even before he guided the relevant legislation through Congress. Despite the blown cover, spymaster Gingrich pressed ahead with his overt covert action and forced the C.I.A. to attempt a job its staff does not believe can be done.

Teheran reacted predictably. It scorned the Great Satan of Washington. A newspaper editorial taunted Gingrich and observed that $20 million is too small an amount to finance the toppling of a government these days. (That was "the price forty years ago," the paper noted, when the C.I.A. engineered the overthrow of Iranian Premier Mohammed Mossadegh.) Iran tried to yank the film The White Balloon as its entry in the foreign-language film category for this year's Academy Awards. …