Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The not-so-secret proxy war on Iran

Iran is accusing foreign powers -- Britain, Pakistan and the U.S. -- of being behind a recent bombing in its increasingly unstable Sistan-Baluchistan province that killed over 40 people, including at least five commanders of the Revolutionary Guard. Now, the Iranian regime -- like any other government -- has every reason to blame internal unrest on the meddling of some foreign enemies, but in this case their argument is at least plausible.

The New Yorker’s Sy Hersh reported last year that Jundullah, the Pakistan-based group that launched the attack on Iran, was receiving U.S. support -- with the knowledge of the Democratic Congress. According to Hersch, $400 million was dedicated to efforts “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.”

Meanwhile, following earlier reports in 2007 from Hersh and others that the Bush administration was backing such militant groups to destabilize Iran -- and doing so in such a way as to avoid congressional oversight -- I asked then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), one of the richest and most powerful lawmakers in the supposedly co-equal branch of government known as the U.S. Senate (ha!), what he made of the news. While saying he'd “seen no intelligence that would verify" claims of covert U.S. support for anti-Iranian terrorist organizations, he conceded the Bush administration would "go to any lengths" to avoid the oversight of his committee, citing the White House's concealment of its illicit warrantless wiretapping program.

When I inquired what he was, you know, going to do about that, Rockefeller became condescending -- while revealing the extent of the executive branch’s control over the state and the Congress' inability (or rather, its unwillingness) to challenge the centralization of power (listen to an mp3 of the exchange):
ROCKEFELLER: Don't you understand the way Intelligence works? Do you think that because I'm Chairman of the Intelligence Committee that I just say 'I want it', and they give it to me? They control it. All of it. All of it. All the time. I only get, and my committee only gets, what they want to give me.
DAVIS: Is there any way someone, maybe not you, they can somehow press the administration to find something—if they're doing something that may be illegal—
ROCKEFELLER: I don't know that. I don't know that. I deal with Intelligence. That's it. They tend to avoid us.
DAVIS: Well, what do you think about these allegations?
ROCKEFELLER: I'm not—I don't comment on allegations. I can't. I can't afford to.
Though Rockefeller couldn't "afford" to comment on the allegations in 2007 -- and claimed he was powerless to investigate possible lawbreaking on the part of the Bush administration -- he nonetheless agreed to fund just the sort of covert activities we were talking about a year later, if Hersh's reporting is to be believed. And according to former National Security Council staffers Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, such activities continue to this day under the benevolent reign of Nobel laureate Barack Obama. In addition to support for Jundullah from Pakistan's intelligence service, they write that "President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for 'democracy promotion' in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests. Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs - a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran."

At the same time, members of both parties -- including the Congressional Progressive Caucus' Bob Filner (D-CA) -- publicly proclaim their support for the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a "cult-like" terrorist organization that sided with Saddam Hussein against their fellow Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, as I reported for Antiwar.com. In other words: while the Iranian regime may in general be no more trustworthy than any other government when it blames foreign meddling for its internal problems, in this case there is plenty of evidence to suggest the U.S. has supported -- and very well may be continuing to support -- groups like Jundullah.

To his credit, though, Obama has yet to label the Jundullah militants "freedom fighters", in keeping with the generally more subtle approach to empire management that characterizes liberal administrations. Who says there's no difference between the parties?

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