Covert operations in Iran


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

World Socialist Web Site

WSWS : News & Analysis : Middle East : Iran
Bush authorises covert CIA operations to destabilise Iran
By Peter Symonds
25 May 2007

An ABC News report on Tuesday provided further evidence that the Bush 
administration is actively engaged in a covert campaign of destabilisation aimed
at ³regime change² in Iran.

According to the American television network, Bush signed a formal ³non-lethal 
presidential finding² earlier this year authorising ³a CIA plan that reportedly 
includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation 
of Iran¹s currency and international financial transactions².

Based on information from unnamed former and current CIA officials, ABC News 
reported that Bush approved the plan ³about the time that [Admiral William] 
Fallon took over [as head of the Pentagon¹s Central Command]²‹that is, about 
mid-March. It also stated that National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and Deputy
National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams both gave the green light for the 

The timing of the plan coincides with a steady stream of articles, prominently 
placed in the media, highlighting Tehran¹s crackdown on women¹s dress, arrest of
dissidents, alleged nuclear weapons programs and support for anti-occupation 
militia operating inside neighbouring Iraq. While it is impossible to know how 
many of these reports are direct CIA ³plants,² they point to a concerted 
campaign of propaganda and disinformation. Whatever the impact inside Iran, such
stories serve to poison public opinion in the US and internationally in 
preparation for a possible military strike.

ABC News was at pains to point out that ³approval of the covert action means the
Bush administration, for the time being, has decided not to pursue a military 
option against Iran². Retired CIA official Bruce Riedel said that in the 
internal White House debate, ³Vice President [Dick] Cheney helped to lead the 
side favouring a military strike but I think they have come to the conclusion 
that a military strike has more downsides than upsides.²

These reassurances count for nothing. The US navy continues to maintain two 
aircraft carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf, which have the capacity to 
mount a sustained air assault on Iran. During his visit to the Middle East 
earlier this month, Cheney pointedly declared on the deck of the USS John C. 
Stennis, just 150 miles off the Iranian coast, ³We¹ll stand with others to 
prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.²

The US fleet began extensive exercises in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, in a 
move designed to intensify the pressure on Iran as a UN deadline passed for 
Tehran to shut down its uranium enrichment program. Bush has never withdrawn his
menacing threat that ³all options are on the table²‹in other words, if 
diplomatic bullying and covert operations fail, the military option remains.

It would also be wrong to conclude that covert operations are confined to the 
CIA. According to a number of media reports, including detailed articles from 
veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, the Pentagon and other US 
agencies have been actively targetting Iran since at least 2004. Unlike the CIA,
which‹formally at least‹requires a presidential finding to mount ³black² 
operations, the US military has, under Bush, increasingly engaged in its own 
covert activities, including the dispatch of special forces units inside Iran, 
without any congressional oversight.

There is nothing particularly secret about the Bush administration¹s campaign 
for ³regime change². Last year Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought and 
received $75 million for anti-Iranian propaganda broadcasts and to fund 
opposition groups inside and outside Iran. In 2005, the figure was just $10 
million. Rice also established an Iranian Affairs office last year, initially 
headed by Elizabeth Cheney, the vice president¹s daughter, to coordinate policy 
and provide ³pro-democracy funding² for opponents of the regime. The Boston 
Globe reported in January that a team of top officials from the Pentagon, State 
Department, CIA, Treasury and National Security Council, known as the Iran Syria
Policy and Operations Group (ISOG), had been working for some time to strengthen
military alliances against Iran, finance Iranian dissidents and undermine the 
country economically.

US backing for anti-Iranian militias

While the approved CIA activities may at present be ³non-lethal,² the same 
cannot be said of all US activities inside Iran. In his article last November 
entitled ³The Next Act: Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, 
or more?², Hersh provided evidence that the Pentagon was covertly supporting 
minority Kurdish, Azeri and Baluchi tribal groups as a means of undermining 
Tehran¹s authority in northern and southeastern Iran. In particular, the US 
military was collaborating with Israel in backing a Kurdish armed group‹the 
Party for Free Life‹based in northern Iraq to foment opposition inside the 
Kurdish regions of Iran and to spy on ³targets inside Iran of interest to the 

A series of ABC News reports last month stated that the US was actively backing 
Jundullah, an armed Baluchi group based in Pakistan, to carry out cross-border 
attacks inside Iran. It reported on April 3 that the militia had been ³secretly 
encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005². The group was 
responsible for the bomb blasts in the southeastern city of Zahedran in February
that killed 11 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Alexis Debat, a senior fellow on counterterrorism at the Nixon Centre, told ABC 
News that Jundullah leader Abd el Malik Regi ³used to fight with the Taliban. 
He¹s part drug smuggler, part Taliban, part Sunni activist.² According to this 
week¹s report, US officials deny any ³direct funding² of Jundullah but ³say the 
leader of Jundullah was in regular contact with US officials.² In other words, 
in its efforts to bring about ³regime change² in Iran, the Bush administration 
is collaborating with Sunni extremists associated with the Taliban, which is the
main target of the US ³war on terror² in neighbouring Afghanistan.

In his most recent article, in February, entitled ³The Redirection,² Hersh says 
the Bush administration has enlisted the support of the Saudi monarchy and other
Sunni states such as Jordan in a bid to counter the influence of Shiite Iran 
across the Middle East. As the article points out, the US might not be ³directly
funding² groups like Jundullah and other Sunni extremist militia, but autocratic
Saudi Arabia is able to secretly provide large amounts of money, as it did to Al
Qaeda in the 1980s in the CIA¹s war against the Soviet-backed regime in 

Hersh also highlighted the role of Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott 
Abrams, a prominent neo-conservative who was an active participant in the Reagan
administration¹s illegal arming of the right-wing Nicaraguan contras through the
covert sale of weapons to Iran in the 1980s. Abrams eventually pled guilty to 
lying under oath to cover up the Iran-contra scandal. His past crimes were no 
hindrance, however, to his appointment by Bush as deputy national security 
adviser with a special brief for ³global democracy strategy²‹that is, for 
undermining regimes targetted by the administration.

According to Hersh¹s sources, Abrams has used his experiences to bypass 
congressional oversight of a series of clandestine operations, not only inside 
Iran, but directed against pro-Iranian groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon. 
Access to funds appears to have been no problem, as a Pentagon consultant 
explained: ³There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places 
and used all over the world on a variety of missions.² Other US officials 
pointed out that the billions of dollars unaccounted for during the first months
of the US occupation of Iraq had been ³a vehicle for such transactions².

Iran reacts

Commenting to ABC News about Bush¹s secret presidential finding, Vali Nasr, a 
senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned: ³I 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. And this covert action is now being escalated by the new US 
directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of 
escalation can follow.²

A senior US State Department official admitted to the Washington Post that the 
US was funding oppositionists, albeit indirectly. ³We saw early on the problem 
we would pose if we tried to support them directly. We didn¹t want to get them 
into hot water. That¹s why we¹re doing it through third countries,² he said.

Already the Iranian government has seized on the US campaign to justify its own 
political witch-hunt, including the roundup of political opponents as ³spies² 
and ³US agents². US-based Human Rights Watch analyst Hadi Ghaemi told the 
Washington Post last month: ³Dozens of Iranian activists are paying the price 
since the announcement of the $75 million and practically everyone who has been 
detained over the past year has been interrogated about receiving this money. 
They [the authorities] are obsessed with the perception that the US is fuelling 
a velvet revolution through this money.²

A broad range of activists have been detained and interrogated, including 
teachers, women¹s rights campaigners, labour organisers, students, journalists 
and intellectuals. ³When the US announces its support for civil society 
movements, it becomes a ready tool for the Iranian government to use against 
independent activists. It¹s really been counterproductive,² Fariba Davoodi 
Mohajer, a women¹s rights activist, told the newspaper.

Several visiting foreign academics and journalists have also been caught up in 
the security dragnet, including Radio Farda correspondent Parnaz Azima and Haleh
Esfandiari, from Washington¹s Woodrow Wilson Centre. Both hold dual US-Iranian 
citizenship and were visiting family members in Iran. Esfandiari, who has become
something of a cause célèbre in American ruling circles, was formally detained 
on May 8, after being prevented from leaving the country, and has been accused 
of trying to foment a ³soft revolution² and spying for the US and Israel.

While the Iranian regime has offered no evidence to justify its repressive 
measures, the outrage expressed by the Bush administration and congressional 
Democrats is completely hypocritical. Secretary of State Rice declared last week
that Esfandiari should be released immediately, saying her case demonstrated 
that the Iranian regime ³does not treat its people... very well.² State 
Department spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed Iranian accusations that the 
academic was seeking to overthrow the Iranian government as ³poppycock² and 
³utter nonsense².

Whether or not Esfandiari is involved, Rice¹s perspective is certainly ³regime 
change² in Tehran. Moreover, with the complicity of the Democrats, the Bush 
administration has arbitrarily detained without trial, and in many cases 
tortured, thousands of people in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US itself, including 
five Iranian officials seized from an Iranian liaison office in northern Iraq in

The campaign for ³regime change² in Iran has nothing to do with defending 
³democracy² or the political rights of the Iranian population. Its sole purpose 
is to advance US strategic and economic interests. Iran not only contains huge 
reserves of oil and gas, it sits at the strategic crossroads of the 
resource-rich regions of Central Asia and the Middle East.

US and Iranian officials are due to meet next week in Baghdad to discuss the 
deteriorating security situation confronting American occupation forces in Iraq.
The meeting is unlikely to ease the escalating tensions between the two 

Copyright 1998-2007
World Socialist Web Site
All rights reserved

See Also:
Targetting Tehran: the case of the missing Iranian general
[14 March 2007]

The Bush administration¹s new strategy of setting the Middle East aflame

[28 February 2007]
Is the Bush administration behind the bombings in Iran?
[17 February 2007]
The Bush administration¹s committee for regime change in Iran
[5 January 2007]

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