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US Covert Operations to “Destabilize” Iran

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Seymour Hersh is an investigative reporter and a contributer to the New Yorker. His article, Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran appears in this week's issue.

The price of oil has again hit record highs, and part of that price is the “risk premium” that comes from the perception of an increasing threat of war involving Iran .

Last month, Israel conducted military drills that prompted speculation of plans for air raids of Iranian facilities.

In this week's New Yorker, Seymour Hersh breaks the story of an escalation in U.S. covert operations against Iran . He's confirmed the existence of a Presidential Finding, the legal requirement for covert action, that was authorized by Congress late last year. 

Hardliners in the Bush administration believe that they have no legal obligations to report covert military action, and these operations in Iran are being conducted by the “Joint Special Operations Command” or “JSOC.”

This finding was only sought after the JSOC needed CIA help with things like translations. Hersh reports the CIA is still sensitive about legal liability after controversy over interrogation techniques. 

So: they demanded an official Presidential Finding, and Congressional leadership had to be notified.

Jerome asked Seymour Hersh how the White House and Congress are getting along over funding for covert action in


“This is a big deal,” the person familiar with the Finding said. “The C.I.A. needed the Finding to do its traditional stuff, but the Finding does not apply to JSOC. The President signed an Executive Order after September 11th giving the Pentagon license to do things that it had never been able to do before without notifying Congress. The claim was that the military was ‘preparing the battle space,' and by using that term they were able to circumvent congressional oversight. Everything is justified in terms of fighting the global war on terror.” He added, “The Administration has been fuzzing the lines; there used to be a shade of gray”—between operations that had to be briefed to the senior congressional leadership and those which did not—“but now it's a shade of mush.”

“The agency says we're not going to get in the position of helping to kill people without a Finding,” the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the legal threat confronting some agency operatives for their involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of suspects in the war on terror. “This drove the military people up the wall,” he said. As far as the C.I.A. was concerned, the former senior intelligence official said, “the over-all authorization includes killing, but it's not as though that's what they're setting out to do. It's about gathering information, enlisting support.” The Finding sent to Congress was a compromise, providing legal cover for the C.I.A. while referring to the use of lethal force in ambiguous terms.

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