[eDebate] iran next war

Jake Stromboli infracaninophile
Fri Jul 28 09:29:45 CDT 2006


http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/10962352/iran_the_next_war

Iran: The Next War
    By James Bamford
    Rolling Stone

    Monday 24 July 2006

Even before the bombs fell on Baghdad, a group of senior Pentagon officials 
were plotting to invade another country. Their covert campaign once again 
relied on false intelligence and shady allies. But this time, the target was 
Iran.

How did the Bush administration sell the Iraq war? Is war with Iran 
unavoidable?
    I. The Israeli Connection

A few blocks off Pennsylvania Avenue, the FBI's eight-story Washington field 
office exudes all the charm of a maximum-security prison. Its curved roof is 
made of thick stainless steel, the bottom three floors are wrapped in 
granite and limestone, hydraulic bollards protect the ramp to the four-floor 
garage, and bulletproof security booths guard the entrance to the narrow 
lobby. On the fourth floor, like a tomb within a tomb, lies the most secret 
room in the $100 million concrete fortress - out-of-bounds even for special 
agents without an escort. Here, in the Language Services Section, hundreds 
of linguists in padded earphones sit elbow-to-elbow in long rows, tapping 
computer keyboards as they eavesdrop on the phone lines of foreign embassies 
and other high-priority targets in the nation's capital.

    At the far end of that room, on the morning of February 12th, 2003, a 
small group of eavesdroppers were listening intently for evidence of a 
treacherous crime. At the very moment that American forces were massing for 
an invasion of Iraq, there were indications that a rogue group of senior 
Pentagon officials were already conspiring to push the United States into 
another war - this time with Iran.

    A few miles away, FBI agents watched as Larry Franklin, an Iran expert 
and career employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency, drove up to the 
Ritz-Carlton hotel across the Potomac from Washington. A trim man of 
fifty-six, with a tangle of blond hair speckled gray, Franklin had left his 
modest home in Kearneysville, West Virginia, shortly before dawn that 
morning to make the eighty-mile commute to his job at the Pentagon. Since 
2002, he had been working in the Office of Special Plans, a crowded warren 
of blue cubicles on the building's fifth floor. A secretive unit responsible 
for long-term planning and propaganda for the invasion of Iraq, the office's 
staffers referred to themselves as "the cabal." They reported to Douglas 
Feith, the third-most-powerful official in the Defense Department, helping 
to concoct the fraudulent intelligence reports that were driving America to 
war in Iraq.

    Just two weeks before, in his State of the Union address, President Bush 
had begun laying the groundwork for the invasion, falsely claiming that 
Saddam Hussein had the means to produce tens of thousands of biological and 
chemical weapons, including anthrax, botulinum toxin, sarin, mustard and VX 
nerve agent. But an attack on Iraq would require something that alarmed 
Franklin and other neoconservatives almost as much as weapons of mass 
destruction: detente with Iran. As political columnist David Broder reported 
in The Washington Post, moderates in the Bush administration were "covertly 
negotiating for Iran to stay quiet and offer help to refugees when we go 
into Iraq."

    Franklin - a devout neoconservative who had been brought into Feith's 
office because of his political beliefs - was hoping to undermine those 
talks. As FBI agents looked on, Franklin entered the restaurant at the Ritz 
and joined two other Americans who were also looking for ways to push the 
U.S. into a war with Iran. One was Steven Rosen, one of the most influential 
lobbyists in Washington. Sixty years old and nearly bald, with dark eyebrows 
and a seemingly permanent frown, Rosen was director of foreign-policy issues 
at Israel's powerful lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. 
Seated next to Rosen was AIPAC's Iran expert, Keith Weissman. He and Rosen 
had been working together closely for a decade to pressure U.S. officials 
and members of Congress to turn up the heat on Tehran.

    Over breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton, Franklin told the two lobbyists 
about a draft of a top-secret National Security Presidential Directive that 
dealt with U.S. policy on Iran. Crafted by Michael Rubin, the desk officer 
for Iraq and Iran in Feith's office, the document called, in essence, for 
regime change in Iran. In the Pentagon's view, according to one senior 
official there at the time, Iran was nothing but "a house of cards ready to 
be pushed over the precipice." So far, though, the White House had rejected 
the Pentagon's plan, favoring the State Department's more moderate position 
of diplomacy. Now, unwilling to play by the rules any longer, Franklin was 
taking the extraordinary - and illegal - step of passing on highly 
classified information to lobbyists for a foreign state. Unable to win the 
internal battle over Iran being waged within the administration, a member of 
Feith's secret unit in the Pentagon was effectively resorting to treason, 
recruiting AIPAC to use its enormous influence to pressure the president 
into adopting the draft directive and wage war against Iran.

    It was a role that AIPAC was eager to play. Rosen, recognizing that 
Franklin could serve as a useful spy, immediately began plotting ways to 
plant him in the White House - specifically in the National Security 
Council, the epicenter of intelligence and national-security policy. By 
working there, Rosen told Franklin a few days later, he would be "by the 
elbow of the president."

    Knowing that such a maneuver was well within AIPAC's capabilities, 
Franklin asked Rosen to "put in a good word" for him. Rosen agreed. "I'll do 
what I can," he said, adding that the breakfast meeting had been a real 
"eye-opener."

    Working together, the two men hoped to sell the United States on yet 
another bloody war. A few miles away, digital recorders at the FBI's 
Language Services Section captured every word.

    II. The Guru and the Exile



The White House accuses Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of 
developing WMDs and posing "a grave threat" - the exact same pretexts it 
used to invade Iraq.
(Photo: Vahid Salemi / AP)

    In recent weeks, the attacks by Hezbollah on Israel have given 
neoconservatives in the Bush administration the pretext they were seeking to 
launch what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls "World War III." 
Denouncing the bombings as "Iran's proxy war," William Kristol of The Weekly 
Standard is urging the Pentagon to counter "this act of Iranian aggression 
with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities." According to 
Joseph Cirincione, an arms expert and the author of Deadly Arsenals: 
Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, "The neoconservatives are now 
hoping to use the Israeli-Lebanon conflict as the trigger to launch a U.S. 
war against Syria, Iran or both."

    But the Bush administration's hostility toward Iran is not simply an 
outgrowth of the current crisis. War with Iran has been in the works for the 
past five years, shaped in almost complete secrecy by a small group of 
senior Pentagon officials attached to the Office of Special Plans. The man 
who created the OSP was Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for 
policy. A former Middle East specialist on the National Security Council in 
the Reagan administration, Feith had long urged Israel to secure its borders 
in the Middle East by attacking Iraq and Iran. After Bush's election, Feith 
went to work to make that vision a reality, putting together a team of 
neoconservative hawks determined to drive the U.S. to attack Tehran. Before 
Bush had been in office a year, Feith's team had arranged a covert meeting 
in Rome with a group of Iranians to discuss their clandestine help.

    The meeting was arranged by Michael Ledeen, a member of the cabal 
brought aboard by Feith because of his connections in Iran. Described by The 
Jerusalem Post as "Washington's neoconservative guru," Ledeen grew up in 
California during the 1940s. His father designed the air-conditioning system 
for Walt Disney Studios, and Ledeen spent much of his early life surrounded 
by a world of fantasy. "All through my childhood we were an adjunct of the 
Disney universe," he once recalled. "According to family legend, my mother 
was the model for Snow White, and we have a picture of her that does indeed 
look just like the movie character."

    In 1977, after earning a Ph.D. in history and philosophy and teaching in 
Rome for two years, Ledeen became the first executive director of the Jewish 
Institute for National Security Affairs, a pro-Israel pressure group that 
served as a flagship of the neoconservative movement. A few years later, 
after Reagan was elected, Ledeen had become prominent enough to earn a spot 
as a consultant to the National Security Council alongside Feith. There he 
played a central role in the worst scandal of Reagan's presidency: the 
covert deal to provide arms to Iran in exchange for American hostages being 
held in Lebanon. Ledeen served as the administration's intermediary with 
Israel in the illegal-arms deal. In 1985, he met with Manucher Ghorbanifar, 
a one-time Iranian carpet salesman who was widely believed to be an Israeli 
agent. The CIA considered Ghorbanifar a dangerous con man and had issued a 
"burn notice" recommending that no U.S. agency have any dealings with him. 
Unfazed, Ledeen called Ghorbanifar "one of the most honest, educated, 
honorable men I have ever known." The two men brokered the arms exchange - a 
transaction that would result in the indictment of fourteen senior officials 
in the Reagan administration.

    "It was awful - you know, bad things happened," Ledeen says now. "When 
Iran-Contra was over, I said, Boy, I'm never going to touch Iran again.'"

    But in 2001, soon after he arrived at the Pentagon, Ledeen once again 
met with Ghorbanifar. This time, instead of selling missiles to the Iranian 
regime, the two men were exploring how best to topple it.

    "The meeting in Rome came about because my friend Manucher Ghorbanifar 
called me up," Ledeen says. Stout and balding, with a scruffy white beard, 
Ledeen is sitting in the living room of his white-brick home in Chevy Chase, 
Maryland, smoking a Dominican cigar. His Airedale terrier, Thurber, roams 
the room protectively. In his first extensive interview about the covert 
Pentagon operation, Ledeen makes no secret of his desire to topple the 
government in Tehran. "I want to bring down the regime," he says. "I want 
the regime gone. It's a country that is fanatically devoted to our 
destruction."

    When Ghorbanifar called Ledeen in the fall of 2001, he claimed, as he 
often does, to have explosive intelligence that was vital to U.S. interests. 
"There are Iranians who have firsthand information about Iranian plans to 
kill Americans in Afghanistan," he told Ledeen. "Does anyone want to hear 
about it?"

    Ledeen took the information to Stephen Hadley, the deputy national 
security adviser at the White House. "I know you're going to throw me out of 
the office," Ledeen told him, "and if I were you I would throw me out of the 
office too. But I promised that I would give you this option. Ghorbanifar 
has called me. He said these people are willing to come. Do you want anybody 
to go and talk to them?"

    Hadley was interested. So was Zalmay Khalilzad, then the point man on 
Near East issues for the National Security Council and now the U.S. 
ambassador to Baghdad. "I think we have to do this, we have to hear this," 
Hadley said. Ledeen had the green light: As he puts it, "Every element of 
the American government knew this was going to happen in advance."

    III. The Meeting in Rome



Larry Franklin, a former Bush administration official who attended the 
meeting in Rome, has pleaded guilty to passing classified information about 
Iran to a pro-Israel lobbying group.
(Photo: Kevin Wolf / AP)

    Weeks later, in December, a plane carrying Ledeen traveled to Rome with 
two other members of Feith's secret Pentagon unit: Larry Franklin and Harold 
Rhode, a prot?g? of Ledeen who has been called the "theoretician of the 
neocon movement." A specialist on Islam who speaks Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish 
and Farsi, Rhode had experience with shady exiles like Ghorbanifar: He was 
close to Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi dissident whose discredited intelligence 
helped drive the Bush administration to invade Baghdad. According to UPI, 
Rhode himself was later observed by CIA operatives passing "mind-boggling" 
intelligence to Israel, including sensitive information about U.S. military 
deployments in Iraq.

    Completing the rogues' gallery that assembled in Rome that day was the 
man who helped Ledeen arrange the meeting: Nicol? Pollari, the director of 
Italy's military intelligence. Only two months earlier, Pollari had informed 
the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein had obtained uranium from West 
Africa - a key piece of false intelligence that Bush used to justify the 
invasion of Iraq.

    To hide the shadowy rendezvous in Rome, Pollari provided a 
well-protected safe house near the noisy espresso bars and busy trattorias 
that surround the Piazza di Spagna in central Rome. "It was in a private 
apartment," Ledeen recalls. "It was fucking freezing - it was unheated." The 
Pentagon operatives and the men from Iran sat at a dining-room table strewn 
with demitasse cups of blackish coffee, ashtrays littered with crushed 
cigarette butts and detailed maps of Iran, Iraq and Syria. "They gave us 
information about the location and plans of Iranian terrorists who were 
going to kill Americans," Ledeen says.

    Ledeen insists the intelligence was on the mark. "It was true," he says. 
"The information was accurate." Not according to his boss. "There wasn't 
anything there that was of substance or of value that needed to be pursued 
further," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later conceded. "It went 
nowhere."

    The men then turned their attention to their larger goal: regime change 
in Iran. Ghorbanifar suggested funding the overthrow of the Iranian 
government using hundreds of millions of dollars in cash supposedly hidden 
by Saddam Hussein. He even hinted that Saddam was hiding in Iran.

    Ledeen, Franklin and Rhode were taking a page from Feith's playbook on 
Iraq: They needed a front group of exiles and dissidents to call for the 
overthrow of Iran. According to sources familiar with the meeting, the 
Americans discussed joining forces with the Mujahedin-e Khalq, an 
anti-Iranian guerrilla army operating out of Iraq.

    There was only one small problem: The MEK had been certified by the 
State Department as a terrorist organization. In fact, the White House was 
in the midst of negotiations with Tehran, which was offering to extradite 
five members of Al Qaeda thought to be of high intelligence value in return 
for Washington's promise to drop all support for the MEK.

    Ledeen denies any dealings with the group. "I wouldn't get within a 
hundred miles of the MEK," he says. "They have no following, no legitimacy." 
But neoconservatives were eager to undermine any deal that involved 
cooperating with Iran. To the neocons, the value of the MEK as a weapon 
against Tehran greatly outweighed any benefit that might be derived from 
interrogating the Al Qaeda operatives - even though they might provide 
intelligence on future terrorist attacks, as well as clues to the 
whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

    Ledeen and his Pentagon cabal were not the only American officials to 
whom Ghorbanifar tried to funnel false intelligence on Iran. Last year, Rep. 
Curt Weldon, a Republican from Pennsylvania, claimed he had intelligence - 
from an "impeccable clandestine source" he code-named "Ali" - that the 
Iranian government was plotting to launch attacks against the United States. 
But when the CIA investigated the allegations, it turned out that Ali was 
Fereidoun Mahdavi, an Iranian exile who was serving as a frontman for 
Ghorbanifar and trying to shake down the CIA for $150,000. "He is a 
fabricator," said Bill Murray, the former CIA station chief in Paris. Weldon 
was furious: The agency had dismissed Ali, he insisted, "because they want 
to avoid, at all costs, drawing the United States into a war with Iran."

    After the Rome rendezvous, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar continued to meet 
several times a year, often for a day or two at a time. Rhode also met with 
Ghorbanifar in Paris, and the Iranian phoned or faxed his Pentagon contacts 
almost every day. At one point Ledeen notified the Pentagon that Ghorbanifar 
knew of highly enriched uranium being moved from Iraq to Iran. At another 
point, in 2003, he claimed that Tehran was only a few months away from 
exploding a nuclear bomb - even though international experts estimate that 
Iran is years away from developing nuclear weapons. But the accuracy of the 
reports wasn't important - what mattered was their value in drumming up 
support for war. It was Iraq all over again.

    IV. On the Trail of Mr. X

    Such covert efforts by Feith's team in the Pentagon started to have the 
desired effect. In November 2003, Rumsfeld approved a plan known as CONPLAN 
8022-02, which for the first time established a pre-emptive-strike 
capability against Iran. That was followed in 2004 by a top-secret "Interim 
Global Strike Alert Order" that put the military on a state of readiness to 
launch an airborne and missile attack against Iran, should Bush issue the 
command. "We're now at the point where we are essentially on alert," said 
Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force. "We have the 
capacity to plan and execute global strikes in half a day or less."

    But as the Pentagon moved the country closer to war with Iran, the FBI 
was expanding its investigation of AIPAC and its role in the plot. David 
Szady, then the bureau's top spy-catcher, had become convinced that at least 
one American citizen working inside the U.S. government was spying for 
Israel. "It's no longer just our traditional adversaries who want to steal 
our secrets, but sometimes even our allies," Szady declared. "The threat is 
incredibly serious." To locate the spy sometimes referred to as Mr. X, 
agents working for Szady began focusing on a small group of neoconservatives 
in the Pentagon - including Feith, Ledeen and Rhode.

    The FBI also had its sights on Larry Franklin, who continued to hold 
clandestine meetings with Rosen at AIPAC. Apparently nervous that the FBI 
might be on to them, the two men started taking precautions. On March 10th, 
2003, barely a week before the invasion of Iraq, Rosen met Franklin in 
Washington's cavernous Union Station. The pair met at one restaurant, then 
they hustled to another, and finally they ended up in a third - this one 
totally empty. As an added precaution, Franklin also began sending faxes to 
Rosen's home instead of to his AIPAC offices.

    A few days later, Rosen and Weissman passed on to Israeli-embassy 
officials details about the draft of the top-secret presidential directive 
on Iran, saying they had received the document from a "friend of ours in the 
Pentagon." They also relayed to the Israelis details about internal 
Bush-administration discussions on Iran. Then, two days before the U.S. 
invasion of Iraq, Rosen leaked the information to the press with the comment 
"I'm not supposed to know this." The Washington Post eventually published 
the story under the headline "Pressure Builds for President to Declare 
Strategy on Iran," crediting the classified information to "well-placed 
sources." The story mentioned Ledeen, who helped found the Coalition for 
Democracy in Iran, a pressure group dedicated to the overthrow of the 
Iranian government, but gave no indication that the leak had come from 
someone with a definite agenda for planting the information.

    That June, Weissman called Franklin and left a message that he and Rosen 
wanted to meet with him again and talk about "our favorite country." The 
meeting took place in the Tivoli Restaurant, a dimly lit establishment two 
floors above the metro station in Arlington that was frequently used by 
intelligence types for quiet rendezvous. Over lunch in the mirrored dining 
room, the three men discussed the Post article, and Rosen acknowledged "the 
constraints" Franklin was under to meet with them. But the Pentagon official 
placed himself fully at AIPAC's disposal. "You set the agenda," Franklin 
told Rosen.

    In addition to meeting Rosen and Weissman, Franklin was also getting 
together regularly with Naor Gilon, an Israeli embassy official who, 
according to a senior U.S. counterintelligence official, "showed every sign 
of being an intelligence agent." Franklin and Gilon would normally meet amid 
the weight machines and punching bags at the Pentagon Officers Athletic 
Club, where Franklin passed along secret information regarding Iran's 
activities in Iraq, its missile-testing program and even, apparently, New 
York Times reporter Judith Miller. At one point, Gilon suggested that 
Franklin meet with Uzi Arad, Mossad's former director of intelligence and 
former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's foreign-policy adviser. A week 
later, Franklin had lunch in the Pentagon cafeteria with the former top 
Israeli spy.

    V. Iran's Double Agent

    Larry Franklin, it turns out, wasn't the only person involved in the 
Pentagon's covert operation who was exchanging state secrets with other 
governments. As the FBI monitored Franklin and his clandestine dealings with 
AIPAC, it was also investigating another explosive case of espionage linked 
to Feith's office and Iran. This one focused on Ahmed Chalabi, the head of 
the Iraqi National Congress, the militant anti-Saddam opposition group that 
had worked for more than a decade to pressure the U.S. into invading Iraq.

    For years, the National Security Agency had possessed the codes used by 
Iran to encrypt its diplomatic messages, enabling the U.S. government to 
eavesdrop on virtually every communication between Tehran and its embassies. 
After the U.S. invaded Baghdad, the NSA used the codes to listen in on 
details of Iran's covert operations inside Iraq. But in 2004, the agency 
intercepted a series of urgent messages from the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. 
Intelligence officials at the embassy had discovered the massive security 
breach - tipped off by someone familiar with the U.S. code-breaking 
operation.

    The blow to intelligence-gathering could not have come at a worse time. 
The Bush administration suspected that the Shiite government in Iran was 
aiding Shiite insurgents in Iraq, who were killing U.S. soldiers. The 
administration was also worried that Tehran was secretly developing nuclear 
weapons. Now, crucial intelligence that might have shed light on those 
operations had been cut off, potentially endangering American lives.

    On May 20th, shortly after the discovery of the leak, Iraqi police 
backed by American soldiers raided Chalabi's home and offices in Baghdad. 
The FBI suspected that Chalabi, a Shiite who had a luxurious villa in Tehran 
and was close to senior Iranian officials, was actually working as a spy for 
the Shiite government of Iran. Getting the U.S. to invade Iraq was 
apparently part of a plan to install a pro-Iranian Shiite government in 
Baghdad, with Chalabi in charge. The bureau also suspected that Chalabi's 
intelligence chief had furnished Iran with highly classified information on 
U.S. troop movements, top-secret communications, plans of the provisional 
government and other closely guarded material on U.S. operations in Iraq. On 
the night of the raid, The CBS Evening News carried an exclusive report by 
correspondent Lesley Stahl that the U.S. government had "rock-solid" 
evidence that Chalabi had been passing extremely sensitive intelligence to 
Iran - evidence so sensitive that it could "get Americans killed."

    The revelation shocked Franklin and other members of Feith's office. If 
true, the allegations meant that they had just launched a war to put into 
power an agent of their mortal enemy, Iran. Their man - the dissident leader 
who sat behind the first lady in the president's box during the State of the 
Union address in which Bush prepared the country for war - appeared to have 
been working for Iran all along.

    Franklin needed to control the damage, and fast. He was one of the very 
few in the government who knew that it was the NSA code-breaking information 
that Chalabi was suspected of passing to Iran, and that there was absolute 
proof that Chalabi had met with a covert Iranian agent involved in 
operations against the U.S. To protect those in the Pentagon working for 
regime change in Tehran, Franklin needed to get out a simple message: We 
didn't know about Chalabi's secret dealings with Iran.

    Franklin decided to leak the information to a friendly contact in the 
media: Adam Ciralsky, a CBS producer who had been fired from the CIA, 
allegedly for his close ties to Israel. On May 21st, the day after CBS 
broadcast its exclusive report on Chalabi, Franklin phoned Ciralsky and fed 
him the information. As the two men talked, eavesdroppers at the FBI's 
Washington field office recorded the conversation.

    That night, Stahl followed up her original report with "new details" - 
the information leaked earlier that day by Franklin. She began, however, by 
making clear that she would not divulge the most explosive detail of all: 
the fact that Chalabi had wrecked the NSA's ability to eavesdrop on Iran. 
"Senior intelligence officials were stressing today that the information 
Ahmed Chalabi is alleged to have passed on to Iran is so seriously sensitive 
that the result of full disclosure would be highly damaging to U.S. 
security," Stahl said. "Because of that, we are not reporting the details of 
what exactly Chalabi is said to have compromised, at the request of U.S. 
officials at the highest levels. The information involves secrets that were 
held by only a handful of very senior intelligence officials." Thanks to the 
pressure from the administration, the public was prevented from learning the 
most damaging aspect of Chalabi's treachery.

    Then Stahl moved on to Franklin's central message. "Meanwhile," she 
said, "we have been told that grave concerns about the true nature of 
Chalabi's relationship with Iran started after the U.S. obtained, quote, 
'undeniable intelligence' that Chalabi met with a senior Iranian 
intelligence officer, a, quote, 'nefarious figure from the dark side of the 
regime, an individual with a direct hand in covert operations against the 
United States.' Chalabi never reported this meeting to anyone in the U.S. 
government, including his friends and sponsors." In short, the Pentagon - 
and Feith's office in particular - was blameless.

    VI. The Cabal's Triumph

    Soon after the broadcast, David Szady's team at the FBI decided to wrap 
up its investigation before Franklin leaked any more information. Agents 
quietly confronted Franklin with the taped phone call and pressured him to 
cooperate in a sting operation directed at AIPAC and members of Feith's team 
in the Pentagon. Franklin, facing a long prison sentence, agreed. On August 
4th, 2005, Rosen and Weissman were indicted, and on January 20th, 2006, 
Franklin, who had earlier pleaded guilty, was sentenced to twelve years and 
seven months in prison. In an attempt to reduce his sentence, he agreed to 
testify against the former AIPAC officials. The case is set to go to trial 
this fall.

    So far, however, Franklin is the only member of Feith's team to face 
charges. The continuing lack of indictments demonstrates how frighteningly 
easy it is for a small group of government officials to join forces with 
agents of foreign powers - whether it is AIPAC or the MEK or the INC - to 
sell the country on a disastrous war.

    The most glaring unindicted co-conspirator is Ahmed Chalabi. Even 
top-ranking Republicans suspect him of double dealing: "I wouldn't be 
surprised if he told Iranians facts, issues, whatever, that we did not want 
them to know," said Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., who chairs the House 
subcommittee on national security. Yet the FBI has been unable to so much as 
question Chalabi as part of its ongoing espionage case. Last November, when 
Chalabi returned to the United States for a series of speeches and media 
events, the FBI tried to interview him. But because he was under State 
Department protection during his visit, sources in the Justice Department 
say, the bureau's request was flatly denied.

    "Chalabi's running around saying, 'I have nothing to hide,'" says one 
senior FBI official. "Yet he's using our State Department to keep us from 
him at the same time. And we've got to keep our mouth shut."

    In the end, the work of Franklin and the other members of Feith's secret 
office had the desired effect. Working behind the scenes, the members of the 
Office of Special Plans succeeded in setting the United States on the path 
to all-out war with Iran. Indeed, since Bush was re-elected to a second 
term, he has made no secret of his desire to see Tehran fall. In a victory 
speech of sorts on Inauguration Day in January 2005, Vice President Dick 
Cheney warned bluntly that Iran was "right at the top" of the 
administration's list of "trouble spots" - and that Israel "might well 
decide to act first" by attacking Iran. The Israelis, Cheney added in an 
obvious swipe at moderates in the State Department, would "let the rest of 
the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterward."

    Over the past six months, the administration has adopted almost all of 
the hard-line stance advocated by the war cabal in the Pentagon. In May, 
Bush's ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, appeared before 
AIPAC's annual conference and warned that Iran "must be made aware that if 
it continues down the path of international isolation, there will be 
tangible and painful consequences." To back up the tough talk, the State 
Department is spending $66 million to promote political change inside Iran - 
funding the same kind of dissident groups that helped drive the U.S. to war 
in Iraq. "We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from 
Iran," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared.

    In addition, the State Department recently beefed up its Iran Desk from 
two people to ten, hired more Farsi speakers and set up eight intelligence 
units in foreign countries to focus on Iran. The administration's National 
Security Strategy - the official policy document that sets out U.S. 
strategic priorities - now calls Iran the "single country" that most 
threatens U.S. interests.

    The shift in official policy has thrilled former members of the cabal. 
To them, the war in Lebanon represents the final step in their plan to turn 
Iran into the next Iraq. Ledeen, writing in the National Review on July 
13th, could hardly restrain himself. "Faster, please," he urged the White 
House, arguing that the war should now be taken over by the U.S. military 
and expanded across the entire region. "The only way we are going to win 
this war is to bring down those regimes in Tehran and Damascus, and they are 
not going to fall as a result of fighting between their terrorist proxies in 
Gaza and Lebanon on the one hand, and Israel on the other. Only the United 
States can accomplish it," he concluded. "There is no other way."

    --------

    James Bamford is the author of A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq and the 
Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies. His story for RS on consultant 
John Rendon, "The Man Who Sold the War" [RS 988], won the 2006 National 
Magazine Award for reporting.

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