from TheNewYorker Website
Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources.
These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership.
The covert activities involve support of the
minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident
organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s
suspected nuclear-weapons program.
United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed.
But the scale and the scope of the operations in
Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and
the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been
significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many
of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some
congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.
Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.
The Finding provided for a whole new range of
activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi
political opposition is strong, he said.
In other words, some members of the Democratic
leadership - Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006
elections - were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in
expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive
candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct
talks and diplomacy.
The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat.
President Bush questioned the N.I.E.’s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.)
Meanwhile, the Administration also revived charges that the Iranian leadership has been involved in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq: both directly, by dispatching commando units into Iraq, and indirectly, by supplying materials used for roadside bombs and other lethal goods.
(There have been questions about the accuracy of the
claims; the Times, among others, has reported that “significant
uncertainties remain about the extent of that involvement.”)
Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preemptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled,
Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was,
(A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he
discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address
what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.)
Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that,
The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Fallon resigned under pressure, after giving a series of interviews stating his reservations about an armed attack on Iran.
For example, late last year he told the Financial Times that the “real objective” of U.S. policy was to change the Iranians’ behavior, and that,