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Federal Government

Conspiracy Theory: Was John Kerry the Victim of an Assassination Attempt?


Let me begin by saying that here at Common Sense, I am not a believer in conspiracy theories. All history proves that in even relatively closed societies, conspiracies suffer from an inverse square law of revelation. That is to say that the probability of a conspiracy successfully being kept secret declines in an inverse square relationship with the number of people “in the know” and the length of time the secret must be kept. The ideal conspiracy is kept by one person: take for example the case of Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber. Mr. Kaczynski successfully defied law enforcement efforts to identify him, much less track him down, between 1978 and 1995. During that period of time, he sent 16 bombs to a variety of targets, killing three people and wounding 23 others. The Unabomber was able to keep his identity secret from the more than 150 Federal agents that were working on his case through a combination of good tradecraft – which was unusually self-taught – as well as by the randomness of his victims, a fruit of Kaczynski’s anarchist philosophy.

Conspiracies DO exist, however; they are usually “open secrets” that persist because of entrenched political, economic and legal interests that act as barriers to their removal. Private sector monopolies are, by definition, conspiracies against the public interest, but just how many anti-trust cases has the US government initiated in the past thirty years?

Contrast the Unabomber with the mass surveillance efforts of the National Security Agency. Although legally authorized through the PATRIOT Act and subsequent legislation, the agency is known to have gone far beyond the legal remits of its authority including warrantless data searches, searches for inappropriate reasons, inappropriate storage of data, inappropriate demands for private sector cooperation or completely bypassing private sector agreement through infiltration of their networks, as well as lying to Congressional investigators. This could very well be classified as a conspiracy by the leaders of the NSA to exceed their mandate and avoid the repercussions of that decision by hiding the fact from competent oversight. However, hundreds of people would need to be involved to one extent or another; analysts who would know the requests coming “down the pipe” were irregular; agents that were infiltrating corporate systems without authorization; the NSA chiefs and their assistants that would know they were lying to Congress. Based on the inverse square law, such a secret should not be able to be kept very long; and guess what? It wasn’t. Even before Edward Snowden blew the top off PRISM there was a very large and growing body of evidence that there was a conspiracy against the public interest. The problem wasn’t learning about the conspiracy, the problem was generating sufficient social and political demand for change to put an end to it. That only happened this month with the sunset on certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act.


So when I read an article sent to me by a highly valued friend of mine, my initial thought was to dismiss it utterly. DCPols.com reported on claims circulating widely in Iranian media that the Secretary of State had not been the victim of aggressive cycling in France, but actually had been the victim of an assassination attempt by the Islamic State[1]. The rumors claim that Mr. Kerry was going to meet secretly with Gulmurod Khalimov, a senior Tajik police commander who recently announced his defection to ISIS. Khalimov, the rumors go, used his US training and knowledge of US security procedures to set-up the Secretary of State. There are also unnamed “Russian communication intercepts from French, Swiss and American sources” as corroboratory evidence.

As I said, my initial thoughts were to dismiss this entirely, which is the spirit in which my friend shared the news:

  • There is no reason to suspect anything beyond a simple accident. The Secretary of State is 71 years old, has had major hip surgery, and the mountain pass he was climbing is a grueling one featured on the Tour de France[2];
  • Furthermore, Mr. Kerry has long been an avid cyclist, so it is no stretch to see him mounting a bike on any sort of course or conditions[3];
  • It would be extraordinary for a Secretary of State to have a secret meeting with someone who has just announced their intention of joining a genocidal terrorist organization with which the US is de facto at war. It is even more extraordinary for said person to be chillin’ in Switzerland just before an anti-ISIS meeting. There is, at this point in time, nothing whatsoever to negotiate with ISIS, much less at so senior a level. While some level of contact may exist on issues like hostages, it would be conducted by intermediaries, not face-to-face with the Secretary of State;
  • Even if an assassination attempt had occurred, what would be the motivation for covering it up? On the US side, embarrassment at having met with a representative of ISIS in the first place? A cover story could easily be made for that: it was to secure a hostage release; he was supposed to be a double-agent. We already have reasons enough to bomb the Islamic State; this would only be one more insult to injury. And I can’t see any reason for the Islamic State propaganda machine to cover up such news: getting that close to the US Secretary of State would still be a major coup and they crow even about their failed operations;
  • Finally, the nature of the injury would be impossible to cover up. Mr. Kerry is being treated in Massachusetts General Hospital which means a lot of civilians are going to be exposed to his injury. A gunshot wound couldn’t be explained away and by the inverse square law of conspiracies, getting a bunch of civilian doctors and nurses to keep such a secret would be nigh impossible.


By application of Occam’s Razor[4], it would seem that something so outlandish as a secret meeting with an ISIS turn-coat, perhaps double agent, and an assassination attempt ought to rightly be dismissed out of hand. However, Occam’s Razor should not be used to exclude complexity for its own sake: sometimes the complex answer is right. Is there another explanation that could fit the facts? Perhaps.

There are two facts that might be important:

  • Iranian news agencies were the first to break the story, alleging “Russian sources”;
  • The deadline for a nuclear agreement with Iran is the end of June.

Could it be that Iranian hardliners in the Revolutionary Guard and VAJA, the Iranian National Intelligence Agency, who are opposed to any curtailment of Iran’s nuclear program attempted to derail talks permanently by bumping off the American Secretary of State? Iran has a long history of successful intelligence operations in the Middle East, Europe and Latin America, so the capabilities are not beyond them. If successful, the incident might cause enough of a diplomatic row to sabotage the potential deal. Mr. Kerry had just met with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohamed Javad Zarif prior to the accident and perhaps some kind of understanding had been reached during that meeting which triggered a desperate attack on the American diplomat[5]. Still, if the intention of the assassins was to derail the talks, even an unsuccessful attempt ought to have been publicized, in an effort to undermine the moderate regime of President Rouhani. The ISIS cover story doesn’t fit the scenario of failure.

There are two other groups that might be interested in derailing the talks, however. The first is the government of Israel and the second is the Royal House of Saud. Could the Mossad or Saudi intelligence have been the prime mover?


Saudi Arabia would seem to lack the capability outside of the Middle East to have executed such a daring attack, while the potential backlash would almost certainly have deterred the Mossad, whose capabilities are not in question (though, of course, there is no Mossad). If the hypothetical assassination attempt had succeeded, I don’t doubt that “Russian intelligence intercepts” would have pointed to the Iranians, with the Pakistanis breaking the news. Since the attempt failed, ISIS is the convenient scapegoat, since no one would believe any denial from them anyway.

What about the nature of the injury? Clearly the assassin could not have employed a firearm; but something in the nature of a small, roadside IED – something small enough or innocuous enough to avoid the US, French and Swiss security sweeps – might have been used. If the device had gone off too early or too late, or if there had been individuals between Mr. Kerry and the hypothetical bomb, it is possible for the Secretary to have escaped any burns or shrapnel, yet still been thrown off his bicycle by the concussion of the blast. That could have resulted in the high leg fracture, rather than accident or ineptitude.

And perhaps it is not so far outside the realm of possibility after all. Given the importance of the relationships between the United States and both Israel and Saudi Arabia, it is possible that the US government might just be willing to go along with the cover story in a fait accompli than make matters even worse in an already volatile region. After all, we can’t afford to lose the support of either Israel or Saudi Arabia at this time. And in the world of espionage, there are undoubtedly many operations that “never happened” simply because it is convenient for them not to. The U.S. quickly insisted that Mr. Kerry’s injury would not derail the nuclear talks.

For the record, I think Mr. Kerry simply fell of his bike. But exploring the possible conspiracy theories through this framework is an enjoyable and provocative thought exercise. Sometimes truth can be gleaned even from the craziest theory.

Regardless of what actually happened, I wish the Secretary of State a speedy recovery. His de facto replacement in European affairs is Victoria Nuland, whose infamous comment of “Fuck the EU” made her a favorite among our allies. It is amateur hour with Ms. Nuland. Not only did she allow her conversations to be monitored by the Russian FSB, to our embarrassment; she also made a magnificent bungle of the whole Maiden Square protests, letting them get out of hand and leading directly to the unenviable situation we are in today with Russia. It is true that our European partners bungled just as badly: the best that can be said is that Ms. Nuland utterly failed to rein them in. At worst, she is a maverick with very questionable judgment. In either case, she is not the person to be running European affairs by herself at this delicate time.

God grant you a swift recovery, Mr. Kerry.



Sources and Notes

[1] Marry Ann Michaelson, “Kerry Hurt In ISIS Assassination Attempt, According To Iranian News Outlets,” DCPols.com, 03 June 2015

[2] Ford Vox, “Did John Kerry take daredevil bike ride?,” CNN, 01 June 2015

[3] Jason Gay, “John Kerry: Not Your Average Cyclist,” The Wall Street Journal, 31 May 2015

[4] The principle states that among competing hypotheses that predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

[5] Matthew Lee, “US insists Kerry’s broken leg won’t hinder Iran talks,” Associated Press, 01 June 2015

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