Iran is secretly forging ties with al-Qaida elements and Sunni Arab
militias in Iraq in preparation for a summer showdown with coalition
forces intended to tip a wavering US Congress into voting for full
military withdrawal, US officials say. (Guardian, 22 May)
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. (The Blotter, ABC News, 22 May)
The US officials who briefed the Guardian were arguably engaging in grey rather than black propaganda, in that there is no serious attempt to conceal their role, and the ABC story could itself be a deliberate message to Iran. If so, it would appear timed to coincide with the latest IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear programme on 23 May and the US-Iran talks on Iraq on 28 May.
There is plenty of other evidence that the two countries are engaged in a significant geopolitical stand-off.
A large flotilla of US warships entered the Persian Gulf for wargames on Thursday, the day of the IAEA report.
The Iranians meanwhile have arrrested a number of Iranian-American scholars.
It’s also posssible that the ABC story is a more straightforward leak, since it attributes the Iran plan to Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams, who has been at the centre of a huge amount of chatter about covert ops in the Middle East, and who clearly has his critics both inside the administration and in the ranks of ex-spooks:
For example, CIA agent Robert Baer:
It’s no surprise that Abrams would be behind this. But of all
people he should know better. Abrams was a key player in the
Iran-contra fiasco, which was rooted in lousy intelligence. In case
you have forgotten, a handful of confidence men convinced the Reagan
NSC, along with Abrams, that they were talking to moderate Iranians,
who, properly nurtured, would supposedly change the character of the
Iranian regime. It was a lie; the NSC was dealing with the most radical, hostile
faction in Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the same group
holding our hostages in Lebanon. (Time)
Conflicts Forum, whose founders include Alistair Crooke (ex-MI6) and Milt Bearden (ex-CIA), has produced a number of articles claiming that Abrams has been trying to undermine the Palestinian Government:
“Condi is just not in charge of your Middle East policy,” one
Israeli official commented. “Every time she turns around, Elliott
Abrams is slapping her down. It’s embarrassing.” The embarrassment has
now become public.
In a breakfast meeting at the White House last Thursday, Abrams told
a group of Jewish Republicans that they should not put too much stock
in efforts to pressure Israel to reach an agreement with the
Palestinians. “He said that pressure on Israel was all for show,” a
congressional staffer familiar with the meeting said, “and that it was
being done just to satisfy the Europeans and Arabs. (Conflicts Forum)
But perhaps the best account of Abrams’ activities is still Seymour Hersh’s March article, The Redirection.
Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion
two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion.
One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed,
it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what
the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the
participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A.
has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed
military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s
office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence
official said. (New Yorker)
The article featured a quote from Crooke about US-backed covert operations in Lebanon which appears even more interesting with hindsight:
Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British
intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank
in Beirut, told me, “The Lebanese government is opening space for these
people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one
Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its
pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared
refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less
than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were
being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as
representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to
take on Hezbollah,” Crooke said.
I wonder what happened to those guys?