Sunday, July 08, 2007

The U.S. black propaganda campaign against Iran

The U.S. black propaganda campaign against Iran

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been given the green light by the Bush administration to carry out an “information war” against several states in the Middle East, including Iran, Lebanon and Syria.

By Emile Tayyip

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been given the green light by the Bush administration to carry out an “information war” against several states in the Middle East, including Iran, Lebanon and Syria, according to an article on The Raw Story. Quoting current and former intelligence officials, the report also stated that the Bush administration has been conducting secret operations against Middle Eastern countries through the Defense Department that aren’t monitored by the Congress.

Last month, ABC News reported that President Bush signed a presidential order allowing the CIA to carry out “non-lethal” covert operations against the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to intelligence sources, there have been “at least two” other presidential orders signed over the past few years that have authorized the CIA to run an “open-secret” information war against Iranian interests, mainly leveraging resources and assets “within the United States and France.”

“It's a propaganda operation,” said a former intelligence official who demanded anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. “It is not new,” he added, explaining that the campaign has been going on for a long time and has Congressional funding and support.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano declined to comment on the ABC News report. “The CIA does not, as a matter of course, publicly discuss allegations of covert action, whether the assertions are wrong, right, or somewhere in-between,” he said. “That's one reason why the term ‘covert action’ still exists... But it's important to remember that, through the Congress, there is vigorous oversight of secret intelligence activities.”

ABC News may have reported the recent presidential order as “new” because of the recently-passed massive intelligence budget. Under the bill, about $50 million was appropriated for the “Democracy Fund” and the “Broadcasting Board of Governors,” both earmarked for Iran operations.

Perhaps the ABC News report is somehow old as it was published last month. But the Raw Story, quoting intelligence officials, said that there have been several other presidential orders authorizing secret operations against many countries in the Middle East, including Iran, Syria and Lebanon, as well as resistance groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, who are all being targeted through what intelligence officials call “black propaganda” operations.

The CIA is targeting Iran with a “pro-democracy” message, sources say, and the agency is backing anti-Iranian groups. However, the officials say such operations are almost entirely limited to information warfare, without specifying what mechanism is being used to distribute the propaganda; whether it includes news media, individuals or organizations. One former intelligence official said the CIA’s program is aimed at identifying potential allies and using them along with existing well-known groups that can disseminate false information.

Backing terrorist groups

In addition to the black propaganda campaign, the Pentagon is carrying out more aggressive covert operations to destabilize Iran. Stressing that such operations are far riskier than the activities of the CIA, intelligence officials said they started almost immediately after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Because these operations can be deemed as part of a military campaign, they aren’t subject to Congressional approval as the activities of the CIA, intelligence sources say.

This covert war of aggression has been approved by the National Security Council, and carried out by the U.S. Defense Department, largely steered by the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney and by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The Raw Story mentioned one of these “off book” or black operations that started in 2003, when the Defense Department began working with terrorist and dissident groups in a bid to topple the Iranian government, bypassing traditional intelligence channels. One of these groups was a terrorist organization known as Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), which has been used for intelligence gathering; an activity usually carried out by the CIA. Intelligence sources say the MEK was being “run” in two southern regional areas of Iran, including a Shia region where a series of attacks in 2006 claimed the lives of many people and wounded hundreds.

U.S. officials interviewed by the Raw Story all expressed grave concern over the lack of attention to the Pentagon’s covert operations. Some believe that such illegal activities are being hidden under the loophole of “traditional military activities” to avoid Congressional oversight.

Steven Aftergood, director for the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, says this loophole exists in Congressional oversight with regards to military covert activities. “CIA covert actions have to be authorized by a written presidential finding, which must be provided to Congress,” he says. “By contrast, DOD operations, including clandestine or covert operations, are not subject to this procedure... As a result, there may be a temptation to opt for a purely military action to take advantage of the loophole in congressional notification requirements.”

Economic warfare

Intelligence officials also said that the CIA has been allowed to target Iran’s economic interests, but that the authorization is only restricted to non-aggressive activities. The CIA “has been empowered to put economic pressure on Iran,” a former intelligence officer said, but didn’t say what the meaning of “pressure” is.

Other officials suggest that the economic warfare is either far more aggressive or is being attributed to the CIA while it’s being carried out by other agencies. According to a foreign intelligence official, the U.S. economic pressure is mainly aimed at Iran’s oil-rich economy, with Washington pressing financial institutions, oil firms, and international investment companies to boycott Tehran and even withdraw from existing energy projects. Other possible forms of pressure include less subtle activities, such as intercepting supply convoys and confiscating equipment.