Does Iran Harbor Osama bin Laden?

Osama Bin Laden is in Iran, asserts Alan Howell Parrot, the director of The Union for the Conservation of Raptors (UCR), who for many years served as a Falconer for the rulers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and members of Saudi Royal family. In that capacity he was a regular guest in the seasonal Falconry-hunting  camps and had access to all participants. Parrot has been offering evidence of Bin Laden's sighting in Iran since November 2004 to a great number of U.S. government officials at the Department of Defense, the FBI, Senators and even to the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Gen. Michael V. Hayden. Government officials who asked to remain nameless confirmed Parrot's contact with the government. Still, no one responded.   Parrot's passion to save the falcons led him and his expert team to bin Laden. In November 2004 a UCR field operator in Iran happened to meet bin Laden. Parrot brought the very detailed and seemingly convincing evidence to my attention. I then introduced him to former senior US military officials. Between November 2004 and January 2009 Parrot says he has "diligently reported UCR meetings with Bin Laden in Iran to U.S. government agencies. At no time did the Bush Administration request interviews with any of the UCR field operators who tracked and met bin Laden in Iran." Parrot provided accounts of bin Laden's movement and details of six meetings UCR's operators had with bin Laden in Iran; some were held near Zehedan, in Southern Iran, others in a safe house North of Tehran and in Mashhad. This information was confirmed during a debriefing by an expert interrogator on march 2008.

Falconry is so popular in the Middle East that the founder of the Saudi kingdom, Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud, was known as "the Falcon of the Peninsula" (Al Saqr al Jazira). Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan described Falconry as the Arabs' "form of golf, a place to relax and conduct business.''

Falconry is a 2,000-year-old tradition among Arabs, especially princes and sheikhs. They gather several times a year in well- equipped hunting camps in the Arabian deserts, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, among other places, to hunt with falcons that cost $100,000 and in some cases more than $2 million. Not surprisingly, the illegal trade in falcons is valued at more than $300 million annually. Bin Laden is also known as an avid Falconer. Former White House counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke told the 9/11 Commission that in 1999 the U.S. "planned to bomb a Falconry camp in Pakistan when Osama bin Laden was present." That raid, however, "was scrubbed because a minister from the United Arab Emirates was a member of the hunting party."

Parrot's story is as unconventional as he is. A Falconer who, in 1974, just 18 years old, began his career training hunting falcons for the Shah of Iran. He excelled in his work and was retained by wealthy Arabs in Kuwait and the Gulf States who flew him regularly from Ithaca, NY -- he studied biology at Cornell University -- to the Middle East. He left school after 3 years in favor of trapping and training falcons for UAE president and Abu Dhabi's ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayyan. From 1981 - 1991 he continued to work for Zayed, who hosted him in his many palaces, where Parrot met and befriended many of the ruler's guests. Sheikh Zayed's recommendation opened doors to employment with other Arab leaders. Parrot also worked for Saudi Crown Prince -- now King -- Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

A true bird lover, Parrot could not tolerate the illegal smuggling and abuse of falcons he witnessed the world over. Thus, from 1978 -1984 he volunteered to participate as a civilian undercover agent in "Operation Falcon," conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), to stop the multi-million dollar international smuggling of North American falcons to the Middle East. That operation resulted in the arrest of 300+ falcon smugglers the world over. Parrot also helped stop Prince Bandar, the former Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., from smuggling falcons from the U.S. on board a Royal Saudi Airlines charted plane. Bandar paid his $150,000 fine to the Department of Justice, from his Washington DC Riggs Bank account. It was the same account which Bandar's wife used to pay two of the 9/11 hijackers. True to form, Bandar threatened the U.S. government with oil sanctions if the story leaked; not surprisingly, the public remained in the dark.   In praise of his work in Operation Falcon, Parrot received two letters of commendation from the Canadian government. Together with a dedicated team of like-minded falcon lovers, Parrot continued to collect evidence on falcon smuggling throughout Central Asia, Russia, China, and the Middle East. In 2001 he established The Union for the Conservation of Raptors (UCR), a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization. Its mandate pertains "to the conservation and sustainable management of raptors, with specialized expertise on Middle East falconry practices and smuggling cartels with operational linkage to al-Qaeda." Over the years, Parrot witnessed how the Secretariat for the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has violated its own mandate to protect the birds by licensing illegal trade in sport-falcons to Arab rulers and sheikhs. This led to the creation of 'five star' tented cities erected throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and Afghanistan, like the royal falconry camp that served as Al Qaeda's de-facto 'Board room,' referenced in the 9/11 Commission Report.   Encouraged by president-elect Barack Obama's statement on January 14, in an interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric, that his "preference obviously would be to capture or kill him [Bin Laden]", Parrot sent a letter to the Rewards for Justice program at the State Department detailing his efforts to track Bin Laden and providing information of bin Laden's whereabouts. Parrot also noted that he had discussed the matter with Iranian officials and that "a negotiated and political (i.e. not-military) solution is available" with the Iranian leadership. The letter was sent on January 20, but Parrot has yet to hear from Washington.   Parrot claims that he has negotiated with Iranian officials the transfer of bin Laden from Iran "to the custody of the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud al Faisal, whom I know personally," he said.   Since no one seems to know where bin Laden is located, why not explore Mr. Perrot's claims?

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed - and How to Stop It, is director of American Center for Democracy.