Seymour Hersh writes in the New Yorker:
Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations.
This sum, 400 million dollars is larger than the 350 million requested to bail out bad loans in the current mortgage crisis.
So what is the U.S. government purchasing with this princely sum?
In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage, however, to credit JSOC or C.I.A. activities, or to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership. The Iranian press reports are being carefully monitored by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy at the National War College and now conducts war games centered on Iran for the federal government, think tanks, and universities. The Iranian press “is very open in describing the killings going on inside the country,” Gardiner said. It is, he said, “a controlled press, which makes it more important that it publishes these things. We begin to see inside the government.” He added, “Hardly a day goes by now we don’t see a clash somewhere. There were three or four incidents over a recent weekend, and the Iranians are even naming the Revolutionary Guard officers who have been killed.”
Is the U.S. government targeting individual Iranian officers? Probably not. In all likelihood, The U.S. is providing dissident groups with money and arms in exchange for intelligence – and has little control over what these groups do.
Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with “passing money” (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, “We’ve got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?”
The groups that the U.S. are funding are, to be frank, what George Bush likes to pretend what the war on Terra’ is dedicated to eradicating:
The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.
One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.
The M.E.K. has been on the State Department’s terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers. “The new task force will work with the M.E.K. The Administration is desperate for results.” He added, “The M.E.K. has no C.P.A. auditing the books, and its leaders are thought to have been lining their pockets for years. If people only knew what the M.E.K. is getting, and how much is going to its bank accounts—and yet it is almost useless for the purposes the Administration intends.”
And, as usual, the amateurish attempts to play “the Great Game” are backfiring:
In recent weeks, according to Sam Gardiner, the military strategist, there has been a marked increase in the number of PJAK armed engagements with Iranians and terrorist attacks on Iranian targets. In early June, the news agency Fars reported that a dozen PJAK members and four Iranian border guards were killed in a clash near the Iraq border; a similar attack in May killed three Revolutionary Guards and nine PJAK fighters. PJAK has also subjected Turkey, a member of NATO, to repeated terrorist attacks, and reports of American support for the group have been a source of friction between the two governments.
Gardiner also mentioned a trip that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, made to Tehran in June. After his return, Maliki announced that his government would ban any contact between foreigners and the M.E.K.—a slap at the U.S.’s dealings with the group. Maliki declared that Iraq was not willing to be a staging ground for covert operations against other countries. This was a sign, Gardiner said, of “Maliki’s increasingly choosing the interests of Iraq over the interests of the United States.” In terms of U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the killing of American soldiers, he said, “Maliki was unwilling to play the blame-Iran game.” Gardiner added that Pakistan had just agreed to turn over a Jundallah leader to the Iranian government. America’s covert operations, he said, “seem to be harming relations with the governments of both Iraq and Pakistan and could well be strengthening the connection between Tehran and Baghdad.”
At this point, I would ask all readers to consider what would happen if Canada or China was spending this amount of money to destabilize” the United States through targeted assassinations and the like? How would average U.S. citizens respond to such acts of war? Would they turn against a belligerent government in Washington DC? Or would they rally behind the U.S. government and support it?
The effect of U.S. policy in the region is quite predictable. The United States government, and by extension the United States people, will be seen as a dangerous aggressive enemy. Make no mistake, since 1953 the United States has been in a war with the Iranian people. Every escalation of the conflict has taken the form of the U.S. government initiating an escalation, the Iranians responding and providing the U.S. government with a casus belli for another escalation.
Absent U.S. meddling, the Iranian people would probably be ready to throw out the religious authorities who have ruled the country since 1979. The religious authorities have wrecked the economy through excessive taxation and a loose monetary policy. By attacking the Iranian government, the U.S. is strengthening it. Iranians who would otherwise see a nuclear weapons program as a dangerous misuse of resources become convinced that it is the best hope for a defense against U.S. aggression. They are not blind to the fact that the government of Pakistan has prevented the u.S. government from hunting systematically for Osama bin Laden. They see how the Pakistani nuclear arsenal deters the U.S. from attacking it, and they cme to the logical conclusion that they need one too.
A war with Iran is absolutely not in the interests of either the United States government nor the people of the United States. The American people will lose a great deal of treasure and find themselves confronted by numerous implacable enemies. The U.S. governments will earn enmity and hostility from governments it seeks to dominate. These governments will not only be unwilling to work with the U.S. government but may even provide safe haven for those who wish to kill Americans.
The only people who benefit from this action are those who wish to infuriate groups like Hezbullah while depriving it of monetary support. In other words, a faction of Israeli politicians who seek to expand settlements in the occupied territories and to keep the Israeli policy of anti-Arab apartheid in place.
The fact that the U.S. government is willing to spend a princely sum in an attempt to trigger such a war does more than shock me. I think it borders on treason.