Contextual Content

Seymour Hersh: The secret war in Iran

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.

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Hi. Welcome to the first in our series of interviews with Seymour Hersh, famed author for The New Yorker. In a recent piece titled "Preparing the Battlefield," Seymour Hersh says that the leadership of the Democratic Party has authorized spending over $400 million in support of a presidential finding that greatly expands the use of secret operations inside Iran, including perhaps the use of lethal force. Here’s what Seymour Hersh wrote in his piece.

(TEXT ON SCREEN): 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 co-opted" 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."

JAY: Just how dangerous? Well, there’s a suggestion in the article that the program is being modeled after the program being executed by the special ops in Waziristan, which includes the use of Predators and other forms of lethal force against selected targets. While there’s not yet suggestion these kinds of activities will take place in Iran, it’s a little ambiguous just what’s been authorized. Joining me now is one of America’s most renowned investigative journalists, Seymour Hersh. Mr. Hersh, just what did congressional leadership authorize, anyway?

SEYMOUR HERSH, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST & AUTHOR: It’s more like acquiescence. I don’t think anybody in the leadership got a briefing on this or wanted to know what the details are. Where the problems arose is there are some people in the Congress who have accessed this—we’re talking about, you know, the highly classified stuff. There are some people who have access, who realize they don’t know the whole story. You know, that’s the issue. But the leadership is—I mean, what else is new? The government walks in with a finding, and they sign off on it. They sit in their office and they sign off on it. One of the things that’s gone on since the Cold War has been the ascendancy of, you know, the intelligence military, basically, over the Congress. The Congress has become pretty much a rubber stamp.

JAY: But wittingly or unwittingly, have they given authorization for the use of lethal force in Iran?

HERSH: They don’t have that power. That power is not granted to them by this president. This president has decided that any time he’s going to invoke the military—we’re talking about military now, the paramilitary units, the Joint Special Operations Command, the Special Operations Command, all these various groups. Congress has never told anything about them. This president has a fiat that anything that’s military is part of warfare, preparing the battlefield. Even intelligence collection, per se, under the legislation, any covert operation by any agency, including the Pentagon and the CIA, obviously, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, must be briefed. This president has read it this way: anything that has to do with the military, even if it’s intelligence collection by the military, is part of warfare, preparing the battlefield, and they don’t have to tell Congress anything. The finding that I’m writing about in the New Yorker article is about a finding that basically looks and feels the same as the same sort of operations we’ve been doing for years inside Iran, trying to [inaudible] the city groups who might do regime change, and also working on trying to—. You know, the White House believes, no matter what the intelligence—as many in your audience would know, the National Intelligence Estimate last year, put out by the US intelligence community, said Iran hasn’t done any weaponization in five years. In other words, Iran is still playing with enrichment, which they are doing, and still working at missiles. But the other part of the triad, in terms of making a nuclear weapon, the actual fabrication of warhead, has stopped at least since ’03.

JAY: But they don’t believe it.

HERSH: This government doesn’t believe it, no.

JAY: Do they not believe it? Or is it more about the whole role of Iran in the region and not accepting Iran as a regional power?

HERSH: You know, that’s a subjective—you know, I don’t know. But they certainly don’t believe it. You saw the candidates, all three candidates, Clinton, Obama, and McCain, all said the same thing, all during the campaign: we will not let Iran get a nuclear weapon. That was said in the debates repeatedly. And, of course, there’s intelligence saying they don’t have one and won’t have one for years. But the point I’m making is that Congress is a passive player in this. What the issue was here this time, when the White House did its finding and asked for a lot more money at the same time the NIE came up for up to $400 million, there was language in the findings I read about that talked about "lethal defensive"—having the right to take lethal defensive action. And that was troubling to the people. The legislators, the few who know about it, look at this stuff. Some of them are troubled, because what the hell does that mean, "lethal defense"? And the head of the CIA came in privately and said to them, "Oh, just in case our boys get in trouble, they can shoot their way out." Well, of course they can. So that’s how they began to realize there was something else going on. And the something else going on was the dramatic increase in operations by this Joint Special Operations Command.

JAY: On CNN in your interview, you said sometimes you feel a bit like Chicken Little, because you’ve been talking about a possible attack for a few years. And a lot of this analysis or everyone wondering, "Is there going to be an attack or not an attack?" has a lot to do with the role of Cheney in the White House. In your piece, you talk about a meeting in Cheney’s office after the Iranian boats had the confrontation with the American fleet. And there was a conversation. Could you tell us a bit about that part of your article? And where do you think Cheney is in this picture now?

HERSH: Again, what I know about Cheney is that I think he’s among—I think the president might actually be with him on this, but one doesn’t know. It’s more hidden. Cheney certainly doesn’t believe the intelligence. He thinks Iran either has or will get a bomb, and that, basically, he said privately a couple of times that if a group like Hezbollah, you know, the Lebanese Shiite group that was very big in terrorism at one point and very tough customers, that they will have the wherewithal to get a bomb into America, into New York and Washington. So, therefore, what he’s doing is really saving us with all this bellicosity. He’s really saving us is the way he thinks about it. You know, Paul, I’ve been a reporter for about 40-some-odd years—police stuff, I covered crime stuff in Chicago, covered Vietnam War, all kinds of atrocities, and stuff like that, Abu Ghraib. And in all my years, I’ve never found anybody—not one—who thought he did anything wrong. And so, you know, Cheney thinks he’s doing the right thing.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.