Journalist Seymour Hersh’s recent article in the New Yorker details covert operations by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) taking place in Iran and the continued escalation towards a military attack. Congress approved funding for the program around the same time that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was released, which reported that Iran had ceased work in 2003 on its nuclear weapons program. However, the expansion in “scale and scope” of the covert operations goes beyond what many members of Congress thought they were authorizing.
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. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.
… Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.
Hersh’s article notes the incongruence between Congress authorizing the funding and the public’s lack of support for military action against Iran.
The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.
…A Gallup poll taken last November, before the N.I.E. was made public, found that seventy-three per cent of those surveyed thought that the United States should use economic action and diplomacy to stop Iran’s nuclear program, while only eighteen per cent favored direct military action. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to endorse a military strike. Weariness with the war in Iraq has undoubtedly affected the public’s tolerance for an attack on Iran. This mood could change quickly, however.
Instead of allowing the US to be dragged into a preventable war, members of Congress who are concerned about covert operations and the increasing risk of sparking a military conflict with Iran can take a stand and push for serious diplomacy instead. Direct diplomacy without preconditions should be attempted, and could make significant progress if Iran is presented with real incentives. In the 2007 NIE,
Rather than painting Iran as a rogue, irrational nation determined to join the club of nations with the bomb, the estimate states Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”
One of the first steps Congress can take is to stop stubbornly clinging to the belief that tough sanctions alone constitute diplomacy and that simply increasing the cost to Iran will work. As of today, 220 representatives are supporting H Con Res 362, a sanctions resolution that could be interpreted as calling for a naval blockade of Iran, which would be an act of war. Funding dissident groups in Iran and imposing harsher sanctions will only make it more difficult to hold the kind of direct, unconditional negotiations that are needed with Iran. Tell your representative to help stop the slide towards war with Iran by asking them to oppose H Con Res 362 today.