Seymour Hersh, writing for The New Yorker, reports on the Bush administration’s secret moves in Iran for “Preparing the Battlefield. Congress agreed to George W. Bush’s request of up to $400 million “to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran… designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities… include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.”
Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. 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.
The highly classified funding was approved by the Democratic members of the “Gang of Eight”: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes. “In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership… were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran”. Even though Bush’s funding request came at the same time the December 2007, National Intelligence Estimate on Iran was released ” that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003.”
The Pentagon, both the military and civilian leadership, has been pushing back against White House suggestions for military action against Iran. According to Hersh:
A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” 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 “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.”
Former head of U.S. Central Command, Admiral William Fallon, was another critic of the Bush administration’s plans for a military strike against Iran. Fallon was forced to resign in March. He told Hersh:
“Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”
When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”
Nevertheless, Congress approved of the money for Bush’s covert war campaign and since these are covert military actions, unlike CIA operations, the Bush administration’s legal “interpretation” is that Congress does not need to be kept informed because it would interfere with the role of the commander in chief to direct combat forces. “As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used.”
“In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage,” but it is not yet known if American covert activities are responsible, nor is possible “to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership.” However, what is known is the White House is relying on “questionable operatives” and “possible lethal action inside Iran”.
Responding to the story, the Washington Post reports the Bush administration has “denied that U.S. forces were engaged in operations inside Iran.”
Four at Four continues with the capture bin Laden (or not), the business of war for oil, and the Great Lakes compact.