Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ledeen and other Iran hawks

* laura has another Rome/iran/ledeen/ghorba article out - this time in MoJo:
Washington insiders of a certain vintage cringe at the mention of Ghorbanifar’s name—and grow alarmed when they hear that, as another ex-CIA official puts it, “anyone in the U.S. government would still talk to Ledeen and Ghorbanifar after what happened.”
The real story, as I learned in the course of a two-year investigation that took me from sterile Washington offices to smoky exile pubs in Paris, is more interesting. It’s also not over. As the crisis with Iran deepens and moves to the fore, the Bush administration is putting in place key elements of the vision spun in part by the men at the Rome meeting. In a new campaign to ramp up pressure on the Iranian regime, millions of dollars are pouring into exile groups, anti-regime propaganda, pro-democracy projects, and intelligence gathering. State Department and intelligence personnel are being deployed to the region and new Iran operations offices are being “stood up” in the State Department and Pentagon—the latter even featuring some of the names familiar from the pre-Iraq-war Office of special Plans.
Feith departed the Pentagon in the summer of 2005; even before then, his office had stopped responding to any questions from the Senate committee about its activities, including the Rome meeting. “They freaked out at Defense,” the Senate staffer told me. “They said, ‘If you’re starting a criminal probe, we are not going to cooperate.’”
Yet there’s a striking parallel in the way that Pentagon hawks relentlessly promoted both players (Ghorba/Chalabi) long after they had been deemed unreliable and possibly treacherous by other agencies, in particular the CIA. The difference is that Chalabi’s fictions have been exposed in a bloody and costly war, while Iran action is only now moving toward the front burner. And as it does, the notion that Ledeen and other Iran hawks have advocated for so long—that Iran’s regime will fall if only the United States will give it a push—is emerging as the main policy trajectory for the Bush administration. In February, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requested an additional $75 million for promoting democracy in Iran; that same month, a team of U.S. government Iran experts traveled to Los Angeles to talk to exiles there. State Department Iran watchers are being “forward deployed” to the Persian Gulf and surrounding region; in Washington, think tanks and exile groups are launching Iran initiatives, all of them jostling for the money and launching whisper campaigns against their competitors in a game whose stakes have suddenly risen. More covert measures are also reportedly under way, including the cultivating of proxies among the Kurds and some of Iran’s ethnic tribes to gather intelligence in the border regions of Iran; and there have been reports that some in the administration believe missile strikes against Iran’s nuclear program would embarrass the regime and lead to a revolution.

For the irrepressible Ledeen, none of this is quite enough. “I was recently asked if I saw signs of action,” Ledeen told me in April. “I see nothing.” Not much later, when the exile community buzzed with stories to the effect that Ledeen was involved in a new back channel to Iran’s rulers, and that Vice President Cheney had authorized the Pentagon to use Ghorbanifar as a source, he shrugged off both rumors. “I can’t imagine it. The Pentagon cannot, so far as I know, do intelligence operations without getting the approval of the CIA. It’s impossible and illegal.” Then he excused himself—he was headed out of town, to Italy, on vacation.

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