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 ABCNews.com.
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?