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Bush Authorizes New Covert Action Against Iran

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/05/bush_authorizes.html Bush Authorizes New Covert Action Against Iran May 22, 2007 6:29 PM Brian Ross and Richard
    Message 1 of 1 , May 22, 2007

      Bush Authorizes New Covert Action Against Iran

      May 22, 2007 6:29 PM

      Brian Ross and Richard Esposito Report:

      The CIA has received secret presidential approval to
      mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the
      Iranian government, current and former officials in
      the intelligence community tell the Blotter on

      The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity
      because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say
      President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential
      finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that
      reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of
      propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's
      currency and international financial transactions.

      "I can't confirm or deny whether such a program exists
      or whether the president signed it, but it would be
      consistent with an overall American approach trying to
      find ways to put pressure on the regime," said Bruce
      Riedel, a recently retired CIA senior official who
      dealt with Iran and other countries in the region.

      A National Security Council spokesperson, Gordon
      Johndroe, said, "The White House does not comment on
      intelligence matters." A CIA spokesperson said, "As a
      matter of course, we do not comment on allegations of
      covert activity."

      The sources say the CIA developed the covert plan over
      the last year and received approval from White House
      officials and other officials in the intelligence

      Officials say the covert plan is designed to pressure
      Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment program and end
      aid to insurgents in Iraq.

      "There are some channels where the United States
      government may want to do things without its hand
      showing, and legally, therefore, the administration
      would, if it's doing that, need an intelligence
      finding and would need to tell the Congress," said ABC
      News consultant Richard Clarke, a former White House
      counterterrorism official.

      Current and former intelligence officials say the
      approval of the covert action means the Bush
      administration, for the time being, has decided not to
      pursue a military option against Iran.

      "Vice President Cheney helped to lead the side
      favoring a military strike," said former CIA official
      Riedel, "but I think they have come to the conclusion
      that a military strike has more downsides than

      The covert action plan comes as U.S. officials have
      confirmed Iran had dramatically increased its ability
      to produce nuclear weapons material, at a pace that
      experts said would give them the ability to build a
      nuclear bomb in two years.

      Riedel says economic pressure on Iran may be the most
      effective tool available to the CIA, particularly in
      going after secret accounts used to fund the nuclear

      "The kind of dealings that the Iranian Revolution
      Guards are going to do, in terms of purchasing nuclear
      and missile components, are likely to be extremely
      secret, and you're going to have to work very, very
      hard to find them, and that's exactly the kind of
      thing the CIA's nonproliferation center and others
      would be expert at trying to look into," Riedel said.

      Under the law, the CIA needs an official presidential
      finding to carry out such covert actions. The CIA is
      permitted to mount covert "collection" operations
      without a presidential finding.

      "Presidential findings" are kept secret but reported
      to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the
      House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and
      other key congressional leaders.

      The "nonlethal" aspect of the presidential finding
      means CIA officers may not use deadly force in
      carrying out the secret operations against Iran.

      Still, some fear that even a nonlethal covert CIA
      program carries great risks.

      "I think everybody in the region knows that there is a
      proxy war already afoot with the United States
      supporting anti-Iranian elements in the region as well
      as opposition groups within Iran," said Vali Nasr,
      adjunct senior fellow for Mideast studies at the
      Council on Foreign Relations.

      "And this covert action is now being escalated by the
      new U.S. directive, and that can very quickly lead to
      Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can
      follow," Nasr said.

      Other "lethal" findings have authorized CIA covert
      actions against al Qaeda, terrorism and nuclear

      Also briefed on the CIA proposal, according to
      intelligence sources, were National Security Advisor
      Steve Hadley and Deputy National Security Advisor
      Elliott Abrams.

      "The entire plan has been blessed by Abrams, in
      particular," said one intelligence source familiar
      with the plan. "And Hadley had to put his chop on it."

      Abrams' last involvement with attempting to
      destabilize a foreign government led to criminal

      He pleaded guilty in October 1991 to two misdemeanor
      counts of withholding information from Congress about
      the Reagan administration's ill-fated efforts to
      destabilize the Nicaraguan Sandinista government in
      Central America, known as the Iran-Contra affair.
      Abrams was later pardoned by President George H. W.
      Bush in December 1992.

      In June 2001, Abrams was named by then National
      Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to head the National
      Security Council's office for democracy, human rights
      and international operations. On Feb. 2, 2005,
      National Security Advisor Hadley appointed Abrams
      deputy assistant to the president and deputy national
      security advisor for global democracy strategy, one of
      the nation's most senior national security positions.

      As earlier reported on the Blotter on ABCNews.com, the
      United States has supported and encouraged an Iranian
      militant group, Jundullah, that has conducted deadly
      raids inside Iran from bases on the rugged
      Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan "tri-border region."

      U.S. officials deny any "direct funding" of Jundullah
      groups but say the leader of Jundullah was in regular
      contact with U.S. officials.

      American intelligence sources say Jundullah has
      received money and weapons through the Afghanistan and
      Pakistan military and Pakistan's intelligence service.
      Pakistan has officially denied any connection.

      A report broadcast on Iranian TV last Sunday said
      Iranian authorities had captured 10 men crossing the
      border with $500,000 in cash along with "maps of
      sensitive areas" and "modern spy equipment."

      A senior Pakistani official told ABCNews.com the 10
      men were members of Jundullah.

      The leader of the Jundullah group, according to the
      Pakistani official, has been recruiting and training
      "hundreds of men" for "unspecified missions" across
      the border in Iran.
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