Veteran US journalist Seymour Hersh writes in the latest edition of The New Yorker weekly magazine that US Special Forces are conducting reconnaissance operations in Iran in preparation of possible future military strikes against suspected nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons installations there.
The report, posted on Monday, is entitled “The Coming Wars – What the Pentagon can now do in secret”?. Citing high-ranking defense officials, Hersh says that the so-called “neoconservatives”? in the administration regard US President George Bush’s election victory in November as a vindication and legitimization of their militant foreign policy. As a result, the role of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld can be expected to increase, a former high-level defense official said.
Responsibility for the expanded “war on terror”? will be taken away from the CIA – which will be downgraded to serve as a “facilitator”? of White House policy – and given to the Pentagon, which has the freedom to run “black”? operations “free from legal restrictions imposed on the CIA”?, Hersh writes. Such secret operations have been authorized by Bush in up to ten Middle Eastern and South Asian states, according to The New Yorker.
Iran in particular has been a nuisance for so long that patience with EU-led negotiations over its nuclear program is said to be fading in Washington. One senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told Hersh that “the civilian leadership in the Pentagon”? considered negotiations “a bad deal”? because they did not exert enough pressure on Tehran, and thought Iran needed “to be whacked”?.
The extent of Iran’s nuclear program is difficult to assess, and leaders in Tehran say that they are only conducting research for peaceful applications. US and other Western intelligence agencies believe that Iran is three to five years away from producing its own nuclear warheads, while the Islamic state is already believed to possess an advanced delivery system.
A government consultant with close ties to the US Defense Department told Hersh that US Special Forces had conducted secret reconnaissance missions in Iran since the summer of 2004 to identify three dozen or more target installations for destruction by air strikes or commando raids. Sources also told Hersh that Pakistan was cooperating closely with US officials on this issue, allowing US military task forces to infiltrate Iran from across the Pakistani border and supplying information on Iran’s alleged nuclear developments.
In return, Washington is turning a blind eye on the nuclear proliferation activities of the former head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and is allowing Pakistan to purchase spare parts for its nuclear arsenal on the international black market, Hersh writes. The transfer of primary responsibility for Washington’s “global terror war”? from the CIA to Rumsfeld’s Defense Department dovetails with recent reports of a Presidential Finding signed by Bush that allows unilateral clandestine military operations in countries seen as hosting terrorists.
That list of countries may include Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Malaysia, and Tunisia, and others, Hersh indicates.