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Bush Preparing Iran Battlefield

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    Preparing the Battlefield The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran. by Seymour M. Hersh July 7, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2008
      Preparing the Battlefield
      The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.
      by Seymour M. Hersh
      July 7, 2008

      Operations outside the knowledge and control of commanders have
      eroded "the coherence of military strategy," one general says.

      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.

      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. But the
      scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the
      Central Intelligence Agency 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.

      Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly
      classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets
      under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and
      Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking
      members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called
      Gang of Eight. 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 was focused on undermining Iran's nuclear ambitions and
      trying to undermine the government through regime change," a person
      familiar with its contents said, and involved "working with
      opposition groups and passing money." 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.

      Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding,
      and "there was a significant amount of high-level discussion" about
      it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the
      escalation was approved. 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 request for funding came in the same period in which the
      Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence
      Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted
      its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. 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.")

      Military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon share the White House's
      concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions, but there is disagreement
      about whether a military strike is the right solution. Some Pentagon
      officials believe, as they have let Congress and the media know, that
      bombing Iran is not a viable response to the nuclear-proliferation
      issue, and that more diplomacy is necessary.

      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." (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.)

      The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen,
      were "pushing back very hard" against White House pressure to
      undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with
      the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved
      in the war on terror said that "at least ten senior flag and general
      officers, including combatant commanders"—the four-star officers who
      direct military operations around the world—"have weighed in on 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 "attacking
      them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first



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