CIA Black Op to Destabilize Iranian Regime

CIA sources have leaked to ABC News an alleged covert plan to destabilize the Iranian regime through non-lethal means.

The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com. The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a “nonlethal presidential finding” that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions.

CIA Iran Logo The sources say the CIA developed the covert plan over the last year and received approval from White House officials and other officials in the intelligence community. Officials say the covert plan is designed to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment program and end aid to insurgents in Iraq. “There are some channels where the United States government may want to do things without its hand showing, and legally, therefore, the administration would, if it’s doing that, need an intelligence finding and would need to tell the Congress,” said ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism official.

Current and former intelligence officials say the approval of the covert action means the Bush administration, for the time being, has decided not to pursue a military option against Iran. “Vice President Cheney helped to lead the side favoring a military strike,” said former CIA official Riedel, “but I think they have come to the conclusion that a military strike has more downsides than upsides.”

There’s not much meat to the alleged plan laid out in the piece, so I’m less concerned than Ed Morrissey or AllahPundit that these revelations necessarily derail it. After all, the working assumption has long been that we’ve got covert ops going on in Iran for both intelligence collection and counter-regime purposes. Indeed, it’s quite possible that these “leaks” are part of an authorized psychological warfare campaign aimed at bolstering diplomatic efforts and/or strengthening the resolve of anti-regime players in Iran.

If that’s not the case, however, and these are rogue agents going to the press over internal policy disputes, they should be rooted out and put in jail for a very long time. We simply can not have people entrusted with classified mission going to the press when they don’t like their orders.

That’s true regardless of the merits of the plan. The details outlined in ABC’s report are sketchy at best and I don’t have the expertise in ops planning or the Iranian situation to effectively assess it, anyway. Offhand, I’m skeptical at plans to “destabilize” regimes unless there’s a pretty good answer to “And then what?” at the ready.

Still, that’s a call that the president gets to make, not the hired help.

UPDATE: In the comments below, Dave Schuler draws attention to Dan Drezner‘s remarks on this, with which I largely concur. Money quote: “If I have to choose between a 20% chance at regime change (I’m being generous) or an 80% chance of Iran’s current regime agreeing to suspend its nuclear weapons program (equally generous), I’ll take the latter option.” I would put the odds at something closer than 2% and 30%, but yes.

Steven Taylor‘s comparison is also apt: “[T]his news is about as shocking as a headline that states: ‘Jerry Sloan Authorizes New Plan to Slow Tim Duncan for Game 3’—of course the administration has covert processes in place to try and destabilize Iran.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ABC News said, “This piece was very carefully reported, and it puts solid facts on the table concerning a crucial foreign policy challenge facing the United States and the world.” I guess that confirms the story is true. And moderate conservative James Joyner poured some cold water on the idea that this leak presents any kind of danger to U.S. agents. There’s not much meat to the alleged plan laid out in the piece, so I’m less concerned than Ed Morrissey or AllahPundit that these revelations necessarily

  2. nonlethal presidential finding” that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions. [IMG CIA Iran Logo] The sources say the CIA developed the covert plan over the last year and received approval from White House officials and other officials in the intelligence community. Officials say the covert plan is designed to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear

  3. Of course, it could be a false flag operation as well. Nothing might get the Iranians spun up to do something stupid like thinking they are under attack when they aren’t.

    Could this make life more diffuclt for Haleh Esfandiari?

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    So far the best take on this story is Dan Drezner’s which, in abbreviated form, is “Duh”.

    The hysterics on the part of a good bit of the right blogosphere is not unexpected, however, I’m finding the reaction of the left blogosphere puzzling: it’s universally negative ranging from charges of war mongering to charges of fascism.

    My own reaction is closest to Dan’s but I also think that the alternatives are quite limited:

    1) One can support the present Iranian regime (all that is necessary for the triumph of evil, etc.);

    2) One can support non-military measures to get rid of the present Iranian regime;

    3) One can support military measures to get rid of the present Iranian regime.

    Since I think the cost of alternative 3 is likely to be unsupportably high, I don’t think that Door #2 looks that bad.

  5. […] Joyner has a good post on this subject as well. Sphere: Related Content Filed under: US Politics, Iran || […]

  6. […] James Joyner has a good post on this subject as well. […]

  7. Anderson says:

    Charles Austin’s comment raises the bizarre, but colorable, possibility that the leakers did so on behalf of the Administration, to further antagonize Iran into doing something rash.

    Once Bush and Cheney were forced to decide that attacking Iran was off the table, the logical next step was to wonder whether Iran might not be encouraged to attack us.

    (Cf. the famous “Ems dispatch” whereby Bismarck goaded France into declaring war — that’s too classically neat to work today, but it’s the gold standard by which similar plans are judged.)

  8. Alan Kellogg says:

    I’m thinking fake-out operation myself. I mean, who would suspect the Bush administration of doing something so sly? 🙂

  9. G.A. Phillips says:

    Anderson, so when did Bush And Cheney take throwing Iran a beat down off the table? I must have missed that.

  10. Blogs of War says:

    ABC News Report: Bush Authorizes Covert Operation to Destabilize the Iranian Government…

    It looks like overt military action is off the table – for now:
    The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence co…

  11. Tlaloc says:

    If that’s not the case, however, and these are rogue agents going to the press over internal policy disputes, they should be rooted out and put in jail for a very long time. We simply can not have people entrusted with classified mission going to the press when they don’t like their orders.

    I think the concepts of national security and executive privelege are voided by manifest incompetence. When you can’t do anything right you don’t get to keep secrets from your bosses (i.e. us) about what you are working on for our supposed benefit.

    From that perspective I think the whole government has a duty to blow the whistle on *everything* the bush administration is doing. They simply do not deserve one atom of trust anymore.

  12. Anderson says:

    Anderson, so when did Bush And Cheney take throwing Iran a beat down off the table? I must have missed that.

    You’re not on their e-mail list?

  13. CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government…

    Well, so much for ‘secret’ and ‘black op.’ Now who do we investigate, censure, impeach or indict for screwing up that one?

    Meanwhile, in other non-surprising news, I’m having a martini.

  14. Anderson says:

    ABC:

    In the six days since we first contacted the CIA and the White House, at no time did they indicate that broadcasting this report would jeopardize lives or operations on the ground. ABC News management gave them the repeated opportunity to make whatever objection they wanted to regarding our report. They chose not to.

    Almost like they wanted it leaked? Drum thinks so.

  15. James Joyner says:

    It wouldn’t surprise me in the least:

    Indeed, it’s quite possible that these “leaks” are part of an authorized psychological warfare campaign aimed at bolstering diplomatic efforts and/or strengthening the resolve of anti-regime players in Iran.

  16. Anderson says:

    See? Great minds think alike!