Sunday, June 29, 2008

Terrorism against Iran gets a boost

Renown investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has an important piece in this week’s edition of The New Yorker magazine titled “Preparing the Battlefield,” in which he exposes a recent increase in clandestine operations by the CIA and US special forces in Iran. While it is a long, rich piece of reporting that deserves to be read in its entirety, three main items stand out:

(a) While a Presidential Finding granting increased budgets for covert operations against the regime in Tehran ostensibly aims to legalize — and therefore provide appropriate oversight for — the activities of the CIA, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which falls under the military, is not bound by the limitations set in the Findings and therefore falls outside its ambit, which pauses serious questions about accountability and represents nothing less than a break in the chain of command.

(b) Preparations for the Findings and the extra budget it set aside were made around the same time as — and in spite of — findings in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that downplayed the threat of the Iranian nuclear program, which the US and much of the international community suspect may conceal a weapons program. In other words, the conclusions reached in the NIE — a consensus view of the US intelligence community — were either insufficient to effect a change in policy, or, as was the case with the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, were simply ignored by the White House and the presidential advisers who are calling for military intervention against Iran.

(c) Part of the clandestine operations include funding organizations that oppose the Islamic regime in Iran, some of which, analysts say, are comprised of extreme Sunni elements with proven ties — brace yourselves — to al-Qaeda and who have committed acts of terrorism not only in Iran but also Turkey, a US ally and a member of NATO. Washington's paying one faction against another risks alienating regional allies of the US and, ironically, could very likely bring Baghdad and Tehran closer together.

Hersh’s piece is worrying, to say the least, as it shows how opponents to what increasingly looks like an inexorable march to war against Tehran within the US defense establishment (and in Israel) have been cast aside, much as happened during the Vietnam War and, more recently, in the Iraq fiaso. What’s also alarming is the fact that, in the words of one source interviewed by Hersh, regardless of which presidential candidate wins in the November elections, ongoing covert operations would continue for another year, with no apparent means to stop them.

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