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Has the CIA Been Caught in Iran's Cookie Jar, Again?

Iran and Washington’s Hidden Hand

by ESAM AL-AMIN

Only weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist and mouthpiece of the neoconservatives, revealed the target list of the Bush administration as it set out on its post-9/11 war footing. The list included six nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, and the Palestinian Authority. While the priority allotted to Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq was not in dispute, the remaining order was in flux.

Israel was given a free hand in dealing with the Palestinian Authority (PA). President George W. Bush completely shunned and isolated PA President Yasser Arafat, until he died under siege in November 2004. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was allowed to use brutal military tactics to crush the Al-Aqsa intifada, reoccupying much of the West Bank, and setting up hundreds of military checkpoints devastating Palestinian life and what remained of the PA.

By January 2002, the Afghan campaign was over as far as Bush was concerned, and preparations for the invasion of Iraq had begun in earnest. Dozens of books have been written explaining in elaborate detail the schemes, plots and deceptions by the neocons for regime change in Iraq. In fact, Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward documented the events and the roles of senior administration officials in a series of books.

As Libyan Leader Muammar Qadhafi watched the toppling of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the spring of 2003, he initiated contact with London and then Washington, trying to identify the conditions needed, in an attempt to avoid Saddam’s fate. By January 2004, Libya agreed to all their conditions: accepting responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, paying over $3 billion in reparations, signing the Chemical Weapons Ban treaty, and perhaps most importantly, giving up its nuclear program, including handing over all equipment purchased over two decades to the U.S.

On the other hand, Syria faced economic pressure and diplomatic isolation, coupled with veiled and direct threats. By April 2005, Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence. Although American pressure succeeded in forcing Damascus to withdraw from Lebanon, Syria remained a target for regime change within the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment. Its alleged role in supporting the Iraqi resistance against the American occupation, as well as hosting the headquarters of the major Palestinian resistance groups represented its major “sins.”

But the toughest nut to crack among all these targets has always been Iran. Ironically, Iran’s strategic situation vastly improved following the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the overthrow of those regimes. By 2004, Iran’s Shiite allies in Iraq were in control of the government, even as the country was still under American occupation. Further, Iran exercised tremendous influence with Muqtada Sadr’s militia, the main Shiite opposition to the occupation in the streets.

After Bush’s second inauguration in January 2005, the National Security Council had an intense internal debate regarding Iran. The conflict did not center on whether there should be a regime change in Iran, but rather, whether to employ soft or hard power to achieve it. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld advocated a series of escalating military strikes, while former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for the use of soft power. Eventually, the president’s military advisors ended the debate when they cautioned Bush that with the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, engaging Iran militarily would be highly risky and draining for the U.S. armed forces.

Between 2005-2009, the U.S. Congress appropriated more than $400 million for State Department programs designed to “promote democracy,” among other means of employing soft power in Iran. This was implemented, in part, by funding the activities of Iranian dissident groups. By 2008, Congress included money in the budget that would specifically “go to software programmers to develop programs that thwart internet firewalls erected by the government of Iran, ” and for a program to “provide anti-censorship tools and services for the advancement of information freedom in closed societies.”

On May 24, 2007, Brian Ross, ABC News’s Chief Investigative Correspondent broke a story about the elements of soft power utilized by the CIA and authorized by Bush. “Current and former intelligence officials told ABC News that the CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount what is known as a black or covert operations to destabilize the Iranian regime, and it is underway,” he reported.  He then added, “Those officials describe the Iranian plan as non-lethal involving a campaign of coordinated propaganda broadcasts, placement of negative newspaper articles, the manipulation of Iran’s currency and international banking transactions.” The ABC correspondent stated, “Propaganda was one of the most important tools utilized by the CIA.”

Three days later, the British  Daily Telegraph, detailed  CIA plans for “a propaganda and disinformation campaign intended to destabilize, and eventually topple” the regime. The report said that the presidential finding gave the U.S. spy agency, for the first time, “the right to collect intelligence domestically, an area that is usually the preserve of the FBI, from the many Iranian exiles and émigrés within the US.” In the report, an intelligence official was quoted as saying, "Iranians in America have links with their families at home, and they are a good two-way source of information."

Part of the CIA program, as reported by ABC News and the Daily Telegraph, was “supplying money and weapons, to the militant group, Jundullah, which has conducted raids into Iran from bases in Pakistan.” Since 2007, Iranian officials have announced the capture of dozens of members of violent groups, allegedly tied to the CIA, that carried out bombings around the nation including one that killed 20 people only two weeks prior to the recent elections, on May 30, 2009. The following day, another bombing took place at a campaign office of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Further, about two thousand militia members of the Mujahideen Khalq Organization, a violent group seeking to forcibly topple the Iranian regime, have been given sanctuary in Iraq by the American occupation authority, although the group has appeared on the State Department’s list of international terrorist organizations since 1997. The report also quoted Mark Fitzpatrick, a former senior State Department official, now with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, as saying that industrial sabotage was the strategy of choice to combat Iran’s nuclear program "without military action, without fingerprints on the operation."

The Telegraph report also stated that the CIA was allowed to supply “communications equipment which would enable opposition groups in Iran to work together and bypass Internet censorship” by the regime. The use of this equipment has surfaced prominently in the recent standoff between the government and the opposition in Iran. It should be noted though that this destabilization program by the CIA is totally separate from the State Department’s $400 million program, and is being funded through the CIA budget. Thus, since 2006, the total figure for Iran’s destabilization program could have easily exceeded $1 billion.

During the 1980s, the U.S. Government, and particularly the CIA, was very active in fomenting rebellions, mass unrest and protest movements in Eastern Europe. These efforts have been documented in numerous books and biographies. Former National Security Advisor during the Carter Administration, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, admitted as much in a CNN interview on June 21, 2009.

Commenting on the 1980 founding of the Solidarity movement during the Communist era in Poland, he told his host, “I was up to my ears in dealing with it and trying to steer it and manipulate it.” When asked about regime change in Iran, Brzezinski answered that regime change is desired because it would provide a “greater accommodation” to the U.S., but it requires, among other things, “intelligent manipulation.”

On June 28, CNN program host Fareed Zakaria put a very telling question to Bob Baer, a retired twenty-one year CIA veteran, who served as the top operative in the Middle East for many years. He asked, “Isn’t it true that we do [try to destabilize the regime]? Don’t we fund various groups inside and outside Iran that do try to destabilize the government?”  Baer answered, “ Oh absolutely,” then added, “There is a covert action program against Iran where the [U.S.] military is running; a covert action against Iran from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The overt involvement of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and other U.S. Government-funded NGOs in supporting many of the groups and dissidents that led the colored and flowering “revolutions,” is also well documented. The Orange (Ukraine), Rose (Georgia), Tulip (Kyrgyzstan), Cedar (Lebanon), Saffron (Burma) and now Green (Iran) “revolutions” have involved mostly pro-Western groups or Western-favored individuals against nationalists.

The Guardian claimed that USAID, National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and Freedom House were directly involved in supporting these revolutions. The Washington Post and the New York Times also reported substantial Western involvement in some of these events.

According to Saeed Behbahani, a fierce critic of the current Iranian regime, and founder of Mihan TV outside Washington D.C., the American administration exchanged messages with the campaign of Mir Hossein Mousavi in early June. He claims that, at that time, an unidentified Iranian-American businessman, who is close to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, met with Mousavi’s campaign manager, Mehdi Khazali, in Dubai.

The following day, Khazali was prominently interviewed and hailed by the Voice of America’s Persian language broadcast. The VOA claims that its broadcast reaches 15 million Iranians. Other Iranian opposition groups complained that the VOA  had adopted a policy of supporting the reformist candidates, and had disregarded those who called for a boycott of the elections to deny the regime legitimacy.

The role of the Western media in the few weeks before and in the aftermath of the elections is illuminating. These same outlets traditionally act as enablers to Washington’s agenda, a role notoriously on display in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

In November 2005, Egypt held elections for its parliament. The elections were held in three stages so they could be easily managed by the regime. When the opposition led by the Kefaya (Enough) Movement and the Muslim Brotherhood scored impressive gains in the first stage, the government initiated a crackdown by beating and arresting the opposition candidates and organizers. Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in protest of the government’s intimidation tactics and manipulation of the elections. Western TV networks provided scant coverage of these events, and never covered the massive protests or crackdown by government authorities.

Furthermore, earlier this year, during Israel’s 22-day onslaught on Gaza, millions of people around the world, including tens of thousands in the U.S., protested daily the brutality of the Israeli military machine against the defenseless civilians. Despite the fact that over 1,400 people were killed and over 5,000 injured – one third of whom were children- there was hardly the wall-to-wall coverage given to the protests in Iran.

The biased performance of the mainstream media in reporting the Iranian elections can be illustrated through the coverage of the over-votes. Soon after the elections, it was reported that a major proof of fraud was that the participation rate exceeded 100 percent in many districts. The clear implication was that the authorities were so sloppy in their election tampering that they simply stuffed the ballot boxes.

Had media outlets consulted any experts on Iranian elections, they would have discovered the simple explanation. In Iran, there is no requirement to vote in a designated district. People do not carry a voter registration card like American citizens. Each voter has a voting book allowing him or her to vote anywhere in the country. After voting, the book is stamped and the index finger is inked to ensure that no one can vote more than once. This fact was not unique to this election. In many previous elections, many districts had a high turnout when compared to the number of registered voters in that district because many Iranians had voted there while traveling or during their summer vacations.

The example of the over-votes, not only demonstrates gross negligence by the media, but also deliberate deception. On June 22, Abbas Kadkhodaei, a spokesperson for Iran’s Guidance Council (GC), the official body in charge of investigating all 646 complaints filed by the defeated candidates, held a press conference. He gave details about the complaints under investigation by the Council.

Kadkhodaei explained that the main complaint filed by Mousavi related to the elections was that the number of over-votes existed in as many as 170 cities, potentially affecting more votes than the margin between the top two candidates. Kadkhodaei then presented the GC’s preliminary findings, which showed that such over-votes existed (as they had existed in previous elections), but in no more than 50 cities across Iran, affecting no more than three million votes. In other words, there were no more than three million voters who had voted outside their districts. He emphasized that, with 11 million votes between the top two candidates, even if all three million votes were to be excluded (although there is no valid reason to do that), clearly the outcome of the elections would not be affected.

But within minutes the German News Agency followed by Reuters, reported that the GC “admitted” that there were an excess of three million votes in 50 cities, leaving the listener and reader with the impression that these were fraudulent votes, rather than valid votes for people voting outside their districts like the spokesman explained. This report was instantly placed on the front pages of every major Western news media websites. The deception continued and made the front page of every major Western paper the following day.

Opposition groups have relied on Internet communication technology such as text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and political blogs during their protests. In fact, Secretary Clinton took the unusual step in asking Twitter to change its maintenance schedule to accommodate Iran’s time zone and allow opposition groups the ability to utilize it. What is striking is that most of the postings were in English, not Persian, begging the question: who was the target audience of these tweets? Similarly, why were the protesters holding signs saying, “Where is my vote?” in English, rather than the language spoken by the voters of Iran?

But a study by the website, www.chartingstocks.net, concluded that during three days after the election, the overwhelming majority of Tweets (over 30,000), were manipulated through a handful of accounts; all created within one day of the elections on June 13. It is interesting to note that only 0.6 percent of Twitter accounts are used by Iranians (as compared to 44 percent by Americans).

In a recent interview with the BBC on June 19, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the foreign policy icon and ultimate insider, exposed Washington’s deep involvement in the Iranian affair.

Dr. Kissinger said, “If it turns out that it is not possible for a government to emerge in Iran that can deal with itself as a nation rather than as a cause, then we have a different situation.” Translation: if our preferred candidate did not emerge a winner after using all our soft power… He continued, “Then we may conclude that we must work for regime change in Iran from the outside,” Translation: then the U.S. (or perhaps Israel) may have to resort to hard power, meaning military strikes.

He then added, “But if I understand the president correctly, he does not want to do this as a visible intervention in the current crisis.” Translation: Whatever President Barack Obama is doing in Iran, he wants to make sure that Washington’s hand is invisible.

ESAM AL-AMIN can be reached at: alamin1919@gmail.com