JAMES BAMFORD- Iran: The Next War


Richard Moore

Original source URL:


    Even before the bombs fell on Baghdad, a group of senior
    Pentagon officials were plotting to invade another country.
    Their covert campaign once again relied on false
    intelligence and shady allies. But this time, the target was

Iran: The Next War

How did the Bush administration sell the Iraq war? Check out our award-winning 
story on the PR machine for regime change in Iraq -- and join a reader debate: 
Is war with Iran unavoidable?

I. The Israeli Connection

A few blocks off Pennsylvania Avenue, the FBI's eight-story Washington field 
office exudes all the charm of a maximum-security prison. Its curved roof is 
made of thick stainless steel, the bottom three floors are wrapped in granite 
and limestone, hydraulic bollards protect the ramp to the four-floor garage, and
bulletproof security booths guard the entrance to the narrow lobby. On the 
fourth floor, like a tomb within a tomb, lies the most secret room in the $100 
million concrete fortress‹out-of-bounds even for special agents without an 
escort. Here, in the Language Services Section, hundreds of linguists in padded 
earphones sit elbow-to-elbow in long rows, tapping computer keyboards as they 
eavesdrop on the phone lines of foreign embassies and other high-priority 
targets in the nation's capital.

At the far end of that room, on the morning of February 12th, 2003, a small 
group of eavesdroppers were listening intently for evidence of a treacherous 
crime. At the very moment that American forces were massing for an invasion of 
Iraq, there were indications that a rogue group of senior Pentagon officials 
were already conspiring to push the United States into another war‹this time 
with Iran.

A few miles away, FBI agents watched as Larry Franklin, an Iran expert and 
career employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency, drove up to the Ritz-Carlton
hotel across the Potomac from Washington. A trim man of fifty-six, with a tangle
of blond hair speckled gray, Franklin had left his modest home in Kearneysville,
West Virginia, shortly before dawn that morning to make the eighty-mile commute 
to his job at the Pentagon. Since 2002, he had been working in the Office of 
Special Plans, a crowded warren of blue cubicles on the building's fifth floor. 
A secretive unit responsible for long-term planning and propaganda for the 
invasion of Iraq, the office's staffers referred to themselves as "the cabal." 
They reported to Douglas Feith, the third-most-powerful official in the Defense 
Department, helping to concoct the fraudulent intelligence reports that were 
driving America to war in Iraq.

Just two weeks before, in his State of the Union address, President Bush had 
begun laying the groundwork for the invasion, falsely claiming that Saddam 
Hussein had the means to produce tens of thousands of biological and chemical 
weapons, including anthrax, botulinum toxin, sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. 
But an attack on Iraq would require something that alarmed Franklin and other 
neoconservatives almost as much as weapons of mass destruction: detente with 
Iran. As political columnist David Broder reported in The Washington Post, 
moderates in the Bush administration were "covertly negotiating for Iran to stay
quiet and offer help to refugees when we go into Iraq."

Franklin‹a devout neoconservative who had been brought into Feith's office 
because of his political beliefs‹was hoping to undermine those talks. As FBI 
agents looked on, Franklin entered the restaurant at the Ritz and joined two 
other Americans who were also looking for ways to push the U.S. into a war with 
Iran. One was Steven Rosen, one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington.
Sixty years old and nearly bald, with dark eyebrows and a seemingly permanent 
frown, Rosen was director of foreign-policy issues at Israel's powerful lobby, 
the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Seated next to Rosen was AIPAC's 
Iran expert, Keith Weissman. He and Rosen had been working together closely for 
a decade to pressure U.S. officials and members of Congress to turn up the heat 
on Tehran.

Over breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton, Franklin told the two lobbyists about a 
draft of a top-secret National Security Presidential Directive that dealt with 
U.S. policy on Iran. Crafted by Michael Rubin, the desk officer for Iraq and 
Iran in Feith's office, the document called, in essence, for regime change in 
Iran. In the Pentagon's view, according to one senior official there at the 
time, Iran was nothing but "a house of cards ready to be pushed over the 
precipice." So far, though, the White House had rejected the Pentagon's plan, 
favoring the State Department's more moderate position of diplomacy. Now, 
unwilling to play by the rules any longer, Franklin was taking the 
extraordinary‹and illegal‹step of passing on highly classified information to 
lobbyists for a foreign state. Unable to win the internal battle over Iran being
waged within the administration, a member of Feith's secret unit in the Pentagon
was effectively resorting to treason, recruiting AIPAC to use its enormous 
influence to pressure the president into adopting the draft directive and wage 
war against Iran.

It was a role that AIPAC was eager to play. Rosen, recognizing that Franklin 
could serve as a useful spy, immediately began plotting ways to plant him in the
White House‹specifically in the National Security Council, the epicenter of 
intelligence and national-security policy. By working there, Rosen told Franklin
a few days later, he would be "by the elbow of the president."

Knowing that such a maneuver was well within AIPAC's capabilities, Franklin 
asked Rosen to "put in a good word" for him. Rosen agreed. "I'll do what I can,"
he said, adding that the breakfast meeting had been a real "eye-opener."

Working together, the two men hoped to sell the United States on yet another 
bloody war. A few miles away, digital recorders at the FBI's Language Services 
Section captured every word.

II. The Guru and the Exile

In recent weeks, the attacks by Hezbollah on Israel have given neoconservatives 
in the Bush administration the pretext they were seeking to launch what former 
House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls "World War III." Denouncing the bombings as 
"Iran's proxy war," William Kristol of The Weekly Standard is urging the 
Pentagon to counter "this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike 
against Iranian nuclear facilities." According to Joseph Cirincione, an arms 
expert and the author of Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical 
Threats, "The neoconservatives are now hoping to use the Israeli-Lebanon 
conflict as the trigger to launch a U.S. war against Syria, Iran or both."

The White House accuses Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of 
developing WMDs and posing "a grave threat" -- the exact same pretexts it used 
to invade Iraq. (photo: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

But the Bush administration's hostility toward Iran is not simply an outgrowth 
of the current crisis. War with Iran has been in the works for the past five 
years, shaped in almost complete secrecy by a small group of senior Pentagon 
officials attached to the Office of Special Plans. The man who created the OSP 
was Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy. A former Middle 
East specialist on the National Security Council in the Reagan administration, 
Feith had long urged Israel to secure its borders in the Middle East by 
attacking Iraq and Iran. After Bush's election, Feith went to work to make that 
vision a reality, putting together a team of neoconservative hawks determined to
drive the U.S. to attack Tehran. Before Bush had been in office a year, Feith's 
team had arranged a covert meeting in Rome with a group of Iranians to discuss 
their clandestine help.

The meeting was arranged by Michael Ledeen, a member of the cabal brought aboard
by Feith because of his connections in Iran. Described by The Jerusalem Post as 
"Washington's neoconservative guru," Ledeen grew up in California during the 
1940s. His father designed the air-conditioning system for Walt Disney Studios, 
and Ledeen spent much of his early life surrounded by a world of fantasy. "All 
through my childhood we were an adjunct of the Disney universe," he once 
recalled. "According to family legend, my mother was the model for Snow White, 
and we have a picture of her that does indeed look just like the movie 

In 1977, after earning a Ph.D. in history and philosophy and teaching in Rome 
for two years, Ledeen became the first executive director of the Jewish 
Institute for National Security Affairs, a pro-Israel pressure group that served
as a flagship of the neoconservative movement. A few years later, after Reagan 
was elected, Ledeen had become prominent enough to earn a spot as a consultant 
to the National Security Council alongside Feith. There he played a central role
in the worst scandal of Reagan's presidency: the covert deal to provide arms to 
Iran in exchange for American hostages being held in Lebanon. Ledeen served as 
the administration's intermediary with Israel in the illegal-arms deal. In 1985,
he met with Manucher Ghorbanifar, a one-time Iranian carpet salesman who was 
widely believed to be an Israeli agent. The CIA considered Ghorbanifar a 
dangerous con man and had issued a "burn notice" recommending that no U.S. 
agency have any dealings with him. Unfazed, Ledeen called Ghorbanifar "one of 
the most honest, educated, honorable men I have ever known." The two men 
brokered the arms exchange‹a transaction that would result in the indictment of 
fourteen senior officials in the Reagan administration.

"It was awful‹you know, bad things happened," Ledeen says now. "When Iran-Contra
was over, I said, ŒBoy, I'm never going to touch Iran again.' "

But in 2001, soon after he arrived at the Pentagon, Ledeen once again met with 
Ghorbanifar. This time, instead of selling missiles to the Iranian regime, the 
two men were exploring how best to topple it.

"The meeting in Rome came about because my friend Manucher Ghorbanifar called me
up," Ledeen says. Stout and balding, with a scruffy white beard, Ledeen is 
sitting in the living room of his white-brick home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, 
smoking a Dominican cigar. His Airedale terrier, Thurber, roams the room 
protectively. In his first extensive interview about the covert Pentagon 
operation, Ledeen makes no secret of his desire to topple the government in 
Tehran. "I want to bring down the regime," he says. "I want the regime gone. 
It's a country that is fanatically devoted to our destruction."

When Ghorbanifar called Ledeen in the fall of 2001, he claimed, as he often 
does, to have explosive intelligence that was vital to U.S. interests. "There 
are Iranians who have firsthand information about Iranian plans to kill 
Americans in Afghanistan," he told Ledeen. "Does anyone want to hear about it?"

Ledeen took the information to Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security 
adviser at the White House. "I know you're going to throw me out of the office,"
Ledeen told him, "and if I were you I would throw me out of the office too. But 
I promised that I would give you this option. Ghorbanifar has called me. He said
these people are willing to come. Do you want anybody to go and talk to them?"

Hadley was interested. So was Zalmay Khalilzad, then the point man on Near East 
issues for the National Security Council and now the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad.
"I think we have to do this, we have to hear this," Hadley said. Ledeen had the 
green light: As he puts it, "Every element of the American government knew this 
was going to happen in advance."

III. The Meeting in Rome

Weeks later, in December, a plane carrying Ledeen traveled to Rome with two 
other members of Feith's secret Pentagon unit: Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, 
a protégé of Ledeen who has been called the "theoretician of the neocon 
movement." A specialist on Islam who speaks Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish and Farsi, 
Rhode had experience with shady exiles like Ghorbanifar: He was close to Ahmed 
Chalabi, the Iraqi dissident whose discredited intelligence helped drive the 
Bush administration to invade Baghdad. According to UPI, Rhode himself was later
observed by CIA operatives passing "mind-boggling" intelligence to Israel, 
including sensitive information about U.S. military deployments in Iraq.

Larry Franklin, a former Bush administration official who attended the meeting 
in Rome, has pleaded guilty to passing classified information about Iran to a 
pro-Israel lobbying group. (photo: AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

Completing the rogues' gallery that assembled in Rome that day was the man who 
helped Ledeen arrange the meeting: Nicolò Pollari, the director of Italy's 
military intelligence. Only two months earlier, Pollari had informed the Bush 
administration that Saddam Hussein had obtained uranium from West Africa‹a key 
piece of false intelligence that Bush used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

To hide the shadowy rendezvous in Rome, Pollari provided a well-protected safe 
house near the noisy espresso bars and busy trattorias that surround the Piazza 
di Spagna in central Rome. "It was in a private apartment," Ledeen recalls. "It 
was fucking freezing‹it was unheated." The Pentagon operatives and the men from 
Iran sat at a dining-room table strewn with demitasse cups of blackish coffee, 
ashtrays littered with crushed cigarette butts and detailed maps of Iran, Iraq 
and Syria. "They gave us information about the location and plans of Iranian 
terrorists who were going to kill Americans," Ledeen says.

Ledeen insists the intelligence was on the mark. "It was true," he says. "The 
information was accurate." Not according to his boss. "There wasn't anything 
there that was of substance or of value that needed to be pursued further," 
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later conceded. "It went nowhere."

The men then turned their attention to their larger goal: regime change in Iran.
Ghorbanifar suggested funding the overthrow of the Iranian government using 
hundreds of millions of dollars in cash supposedly hidden by Saddam Hussein. He 
even hinted that Saddam was hiding in Iran.

Ledeen, Franklin and Rhode were taking a page from Feith's playbook on Iraq: 
They needed a front group of exiles and dissidents to call for the overthrow of 
Iran. According to sources familiar with the meeting, the Americans discussed 
joining forces with the Mujahedin-e Khalq, an anti-Iranian guerrilla army 
operating out of Iraq.

There was only one small problem: The MEK had been certified by the State 
Department as a terrorist organization. In fact, the White House was in the 
midst of negotiations with Tehran, which was offering to extradite five members 
of Al Qaeda thought to be of high intelligence value in return for Washington's 
promise to drop all support for the MEK.

Ledeen denies any dealings with the group. "I wouldn't get within a hundred 
miles of the MEK," he says. "They have no following, no legitimacy." But 
neoconservatives were eager to undermine any deal that involved cooperating with
Iran. To the neocons, the value of the MEK as a weapon against Tehran greatly 
outweighed any benefit that might be derived from interrogating the Al Qaeda 
operatives‹even though they might provide intelligence on future terrorist 
attacks, as well as clues to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

Ledeen and his Pentagon cabal were not the only American officials to whom 
Ghorbanifar tried to funnel false intelligence on Iran. Last year, Rep. Curt 
Weldon, a Republican from Pennsylvania, claimed he had intelligence‹from an 
"impeccable clandestine source" he code-named "Ali"‹that the Iranian government 
was plotting to launch attacks against the United States. But when the CIA 
investigated the allegations, it turned out that Ali was Fereidoun Mahdavi, an 
Iranian exile who was serving as a frontman for Ghorbanifar and trying to shake 
down the CIA for $150,000. "He is a fabricator," said Bill Murray, the former 
CIA station chief in Paris. Weldon was furious: The agency had dismissed Ali, he
insisted, "because they want to avoid, at all costs, drawing the United States 
into a war with Iran."

After the Rome rendezvous, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar continued to meet several 
times a year, often for a day or two at a time. Rhode also met with Ghorbanifar 
in Paris, and the Iranian phoned or faxed his Pentagon contacts almost every 
day. At one point Ledeen notified the Pentagon that Ghorbanifar knew of highly 
enriched uranium being moved from Iraq to Iran. At another point, in 2003, he 
claimed that Tehran was only a few months away from exploding a nuclear 
bomb‹even though international experts estimate that Iran is years away from 
developing nuclear weapons. But the accuracy of the reports wasn't 
important‹what mattered was their value in drumming up support for war. It was 
Iraq all over again.

IV. On the Trail of Mr. X

Such covert efforts by Feith's team in the Pentagon started to have the desired 
effect. In November 2003, Rumsfeld approved a plan known as CONPLAN 8022-02, 
which for the first time established a pre-emptive-strike capability against 
Iran. That was followed in 2004 by a top-secret "Interim Global Strike Alert 
Order" that put the military on a state of readiness to launch an airborne and 
missile attack against Iran, should Bush issue the command. "We're now at the 
point where we are essentially on alert," said Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander
of the 8th Air Force. "We have the capacity to plan and execute global strikes 
in half a day or less."

But as the Pentagon moved the country closer to war with Iran, the FBI was 
expanding its investigation of AIPAC and its role in the plot. David Szady, then
the bureau's top spy-catcher, had become convinced that at least one American 
citizen working inside the U.S. government was spying for Israel. "It's no 
longer just our traditional adversaries who want to steal our secrets, but 
sometimes even our allies," Szady declared. "The threat is incredibly serious." 
To locate the spy sometimes referred to as Mr. X, agents working for Szady began
focusing on a small group of neoconservatives in the Pentagon‹including Feith, 
Ledeen and Rhode.

The FBI also had its sights on Larry Franklin, who continued to hold clandestine
meetings with Rosen at AIPAC. Apparently nervous that the FBI might be on to 
them, the two men started taking precautions. On March 10th, 2003, barely a week
before the invasion of Iraq, Rosen met Franklin in Washington's cavernous Union 
Station. The pair met at one restaurant, then they hustled to another, and 
finally they ended up in a third‹this one totally empty. As an added precaution,
Franklin also began sending faxes to Rosen's home instead of to his AIPAC 

A few days later, Rosen and Weissman passed on to Israeli-embassy officials 
details about the draft of the top-secret presidential directive on Iran, saying
they had received the document from a "friend of ours in the Pentagon." They 
also relayed to the Israelis details about internal Bush-administration 
discussions on Iran. Then, two days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Rosen 
leaked the information to the press with the comment "I'm not supposed to know 
this." The Washington Post eventually published the story under the headline 
"Pressure Builds for President to Declare Strategy on Iran," crediting the 
classified information to "well-placed sources." The story mentioned Ledeen, who
helped found the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, a pressure group dedicated to 
the overthrow of the Iranian government, but gave no indication that the leak 
had come from someone with a definite agenda for planting the information.

That June, Weissman called Franklin and left a message that he and Rosen wanted 
to meet with him again and talk about "our favorite country." The meeting took 
place in the Tivoli Restaurant, a dimly lit establishment two floors above the 
metro station in Arlington that was frequently used by intelligence types for 
quiet rendezvous. Over lunch in the mirrored dining room, the three men 
discussed the Post article, and Rosen acknowledged "the constraints" Franklin 
was under to meet with them. But the Pentagon official placed himself fully at 
AIPAC's disposal. "You set the agenda," Franklin told Rosen.

In addition to meeting Rosen and Weissman, Franklin was also getting together 
regularly with Naor Gilon, an Israeli embassy official who, according to a 
senior U.S. counterintelligence official, "showed every sign of being an 
intelligence agent." Franklin and Gilon would normally meet amid the weight 
machines and punching bags at the Pentagon Officers Athletic Club, where 
Franklin passed along secret information regarding Iran's activities in Iraq, 
its missile-testing program and even, apparently, New York Times reporter Judith
Miller. At one point, Gilon suggested that Franklin meet with Uzi Arad, Mossad's
former director of intelligence and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 
foreign-policy adviser. A week later, Franklin had lunch in the Pentagon 
cafeteria with the former top Israeli spy.

V. Iran's Double Agent

Larry Franklin, it turns out, wasn't the only person involved in the Pentagon's 
covert operation who was exchanging state secrets with other governments. As the
FBI monitored Franklin and his clandestine dealings with AIPAC, it was also 
investigating another explosive case of espionage linked to Feith's office and 
Iran. This one focused on Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National 
Congress, the militant anti-Saddam opposition group that had worked for more 
than a decade to pressure the U.S. into invading Iraq.

For years, the National Security Agency had possessed the codes used by Iran to 
encrypt its diplomatic messages, enabling the U.S. government to eavesdrop on 
virtually every communication between Tehran and its embassies. After the U.S. 
invaded Baghdad, the NSA used the codes to listen in on details of Iran's covert
operations inside Iraq. But in 2004, the agency intercepted a series of urgent 
messages from the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. Intelligence officials at the 
embassy had discovered the massive security breach‹tipped off by someone 
familiar with the U.S. code-breaking operation.

The blow to intelligence-gathering could not have come at a worse time. The Bush
administration suspected that the Shiite government in Iran was aiding Shiite 
insurgents in Iraq, who were killing U.S. soldiers. The administration was also 
worried that Tehran was secretly developing nuclear weapons. Now, crucial 
intelligence that might have shed light on those operations had been cut off, 
potentially endangering American lives.

On May 20th, shortly after the discovery of the leak, Iraqi police backed by 
American soldiers raided Chalabi's home and offices in Baghdad. The FBI 
suspected that Chalabi, a Shiite who had a luxurious villa in Tehran and was 
close to senior Iranian officials, was actually working as a spy for the Shiite 
government of Iran. Getting the U.S. to invade Iraq was apparently part of a 
plan to install a pro-Iranian Shiite government in Baghdad, with Chalabi in 
charge. The bureau also suspected that Chalabi's intelligence chief had 
furnished Iran with highly classified information on U.S. troop movements, 
top-secret communications, plans of the provisional government and other closely
guarded material on U.S. operations in Iraq. On the night of the raid, The CBS 
Evening News carried an exclusive report by correspondent Lesley Stahl that the 
U.S. government had "rock-solid" evidence that Chalabi had been passing 
extremely sensitive intelligence to Iran‹evidence so sensitive that it could 
"get Americans killed."

The revelation shocked Franklin and other members of Feith's office. If true, 
the allegations meant that they had just launched a war to put into power an 
agent of their mortal enemy, Iran. Their man‹the dissident leader who sat behind
the first lady in the president's box during the State of the Union address in 
which Bush prepared the country for war‹appeared to have been working for Iran 
all along.

Franklin needed to control the damage, and fast. He was one of the very few in 
the government who knew that it was the NSA code-breaking information that 
Chalabi was suspected of passing to Iran, and that there was absolute proof that
Chalabi had met with a covert Iranian agent involved in operations against the 
U.S. To protect those in the Pentagon working for regime change in Tehran, 
Franklin needed to get out a simple message: We didn't know about Chalabi's 
secret dealings with Iran.

Franklin decided to leak the information to a friendly contact in the media: 
Adam Ciralsky, a CBS producer who had been fired from the CIA, allegedly for his
close ties to Israel. On May 21st, the day after CBS broadcast its exclusive 
report on Chalabi, Franklin phoned Ciralsky and fed him the information. As the 
two men talked, eavesdroppers at the FBI's Washington field office recorded the 

That night, Stahl followed up her original report with "new details"‹the 
information leaked earlier that day by Franklin. She began, however, by making 
clear that she would not divulge the most explosive detail of all: the fact that
Chalabi had wrecked the NSA's ability to eavesdrop on Iran. "Senior intelligence
officials were stressing today that the information Ahmed Chalabi is alleged to 
have passed on to Iran is so seriously sensitive that the result of full 
disclosure would be highly damaging to U.S. security," Stahl said. "Because of 
that, we are not reporting the details of what exactly Chalabi is said to have 
compromised, at the request of U.S. officials at the highest levels. The 
information involves secrets that were held by only a handful of very senior 
intelligence officials." Thanks to the pressure from the administration, the 
public was prevented from learning the most damaging aspect of Chalabi's 

Then Stahl moved on to Franklin's central message. "Meanwhile," she said, "we 
have been told that grave concerns about the true nature of Chalabi's 
relationship with Iran started after the U.S. obtained, quote, Œundeniable 
intelligence' that Chalabi met with a senior Iranian intelligence officer, a, 
quote, Œnefarious figure from the dark side of the regime, an individual with a 
direct hand in covert operations against the United States.' Chalabi never 
reported this meeting to anyone in the U.S. government, including his friends 
and sponsors." In short, the Pentagon‹and Feith's office in particular‹was 

VI. The Cabal's Triumph

Soon after the broadcast, David Szady's team at the FBI decided to wrap up its 
investigation before Franklin leaked any more information. Agents quietly 
confronted Franklin with the taped phone call and pressured him to cooperate in 
a sting operation directed at AIPAC and members of Feith's team in the Pentagon.
Franklin, facing a long prison sentence, agreed. On August 4th, 2005, Rosen and 
Weissman were indicted, and on January 20th, 2006, Franklin, who had earlier 
pleaded guilty, was sentenced to twelve years and seven months in prison. In an 
attempt to reduce his sentence, he agreed to testify against the former AIPAC 
officials. The case is set to go to trial this fall.

So far, however, Franklin is the only member of Feith's team to face charges. 
The continuing lack of indictments demonstrates how frighteningly easy it is for
a small group of government officials to join forces with agents of foreign 
powers‹whether it is AIPAC or the MEK or the INC‹to sell the country on a 
disastrous war.

The most glaring unindicted co-conspirator is Ahmed Chalabi. Even top-ranking 
Republicans suspect him of double dealing: "I wouldn't be surprised if he told 
Iranians facts, issues, whatever, that we did not want them to know," said Rep. 
Chris Shays, R-Conn., who chairs the House subcommittee on national security. 
Yet the FBI has been unable to so much as question Chalabi as part of its 
ongoing espionage case. Last November, when Chalabi returned to the United 
States for a series of speeches and media events, the FBI tried to interview 
him. But because he was under State Department protection during his visit, 
sources in the Justice Department say, the bureau's request was flatly denied.

"Chalabi's running around saying, ŒI have nothing to hide,' " says one senior 
FBI official. "Yet he's using our State Department to keep us from him at the 
same time. And we've got to keep our mouth shut."

In the end, the work of Franklin and the other members of Feith's secret office 
had the desired effect. Working behind the scenes, the members of the Office of 
Special Plans succeeded in setting the United States on the path to all-out war 
with Iran. Indeed, since Bush was re-elected to a second term, he has made no 
secret of his desire to see Tehran fall. In a victory speech of sorts on 
Inauguration Day in January 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney warned bluntly that
Iran was "right at the top" of the administration's list of "trouble spots"‹and 
that Israel "might well decide to act first" by attacking Iran. The Israelis, 
Cheney added in an obvious swipe at moderates in the State Department, would 
"let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess 

Over the past six months, the administration has adopted almost all of the 
hard-line stance advocated by the war cabal in the Pentagon. In May, Bush's 
ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, appeared before AIPAC's annual 
conference and warned that Iran "must be made aware that if it continues down 
the path of international isolation, there will be tangible and painful 
consequences." To back up the tough talk, the State Department is spending $66 
million to promote political change inside Iran‹funding the same kind of 
dissident groups that helped drive the U.S. to war in Iraq. "We may face no 
greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," Secretary of State 
Condoleezza Rice declared.

In addition, the State Department recently beefed up its Iran Desk from two 
people to ten, hired more Farsi speakers and set up eight intelligence units in 
foreign countries to focus on Iran. The administration's National Security 
Strategy‹the official policy document that sets out U.S. strategic 
priorities‹now calls Iran the "single country" that most threatens U.S. 

The shift in official policy has thrilled former members of the cabal. To them, 
the war in Lebanon represents the final step in their plan to turn Iran into the
next Iraq. Ledeen, writing in the National Review on July 13th, could hardly 
restrain himself. "Faster, please," he urged the White House, arguing that the 
war should now be taken over by the U.S. military and expanded across the entire
region. "The only way we are going to win this war is to bring down those 
regimes in Tehran and Damascus, and they are not going to fall as a result of 
fighting between their terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon on the one hand, 
and Israel on the other. Only the United States can accomplish it," he 
concluded. "There is no other way."

James Bamford is the author of "A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq and the Abuse of 
America's Intelligence Agencies." His story for RS on consultant John Rendon, 
"The Man Who Sold the War" [RS 988], won the 2006 National Magazine Award for 
reporting. Plus: Join a reader debate -- Is war with Iran unavoidable?

Read Pentagon hawk Michael Ledeen's letter in response to this article.

James Bamford replies.

Selected reader responses will appear in Rolling Stone magazine: Write to us at 

Posted Jul 24, 2006 9:30 AM

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