U.S. Conducting Secret Missions Inside Iran?

U.S. Conducting Secret Missions Inside Iran (Reuters)

The United States has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran to help identify potential nuclear, chemical and missile targets, The New Yorker magazine reported Sunday. The article, by award-winning reporter Seymour Hersh, said the secret missions have been going on at least since last summer with the goal of identifying target information for three dozen or more suspected sites. Hersh quotes one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon as saying, “The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible.” One former high-level intelligence official told The New Yorker, “This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush administration is looking at this as a huge war zone. Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign.”

The White House said Iran is a concern and a threat that needs to be taken seriously. But it disputed the report by Hersh, who last year exposed the extent of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. “We obviously have a concern about Iran. The whole world has a concern about Iran,” Dan Bartlett, a top aide to President Bush, told CNN’s “Late Edition.” Of The New Yorker report, he said: “I think it’s riddled with inaccuracies, and I don’t believe that some of the conclusions he’s drawing are based on fact.” Bartlett said the administration “will continue to work through the diplomatic initiatives” to convince Iran — which Bush once called part of an “axis of evil” — not to pursue nuclear weapons. “No president, at any juncture in history, has ever taken military options off the table,” Bartlett added. “But what President Bush has shown is that he believes we can emphasize the diplomatic initiatives that are underway right now.”

Interesting. The fact that Bartlett didn’t deny the report outright gives it some credence. Given that Iran has been the biggest state supporter of terrorism for 25 years and is on the verge of gaining nuclear weapons, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if some sort of covert reconnaisance operations were ongoing. Indeed, I’d be surprised if they weren’t.

Kos correctly notes, though, that our military options in Iran are quite limited given the ongoing commitment of forces in Iraq.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    This isn’t really very surprising. I would be shocked if special ops haven’t been crawling all over Iran making up a targeting list. They’re probably having a hard time bumping into the Israelis doing the same thing.

  2. Hal says:

    Um, isn’t this considered an act of war? Regardless of whether we should or should not be doing it, isn’t this something that we would regard as an act of war?

    And are we actually going to have an argument about who gets to declare war this time, or we just going to let it happen by default?

    Just wondering.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Hal: Probably so. But so what? Iran’s regime is hostile to the U.S. and has been in a defacto state of war against us since 1979.

    Congress hasn’t declared war since 1945. We’ve fought several, under Democrats and Republicans, since. In the case of Iraq, though, Bush did secure congressional authorization for war, which was voted on by a huge bipartisan margin.

  4. anjin-san says:

    Iran under its current leadership, is clearly a threat. Its sad, I always felt hostility between American & Iran was a historic mistake for both countries. That aside, the thought of Iran’s mullahs with nukes is scary.

    How strong are our options? While Bush has comitted us to fighting against non-existant WMD’s in Iraq, Iran & N Korea can move forward building the real thing with less fear from the US.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    “Um, isn’t this considered an act of war?”

    So are funding insurgents in Iraq to oppose the U. S. (Moqtada al Sadr), sending regulars and irregulars across the border (frequent allegations and attestations), and shielding al Qaeda members within their borders (acknowledged by the regime).

  6. Hal says:

    Um, “so what”? Yee gods, I’m not talking about Iraq, I’m talking about Iran. Let’s just look at the way the last war turned out (20x cost, no planning for occupation, wrong troop mix, not enough troops). And let’s just think about the ability of the US to actually prosecute another one while we have Iraq still to deal with. So, is the threat such that we should actually run around provoking a war?

    And BTW, I just love the attitude “so what”? I mean, it really shows a high regard for the constitution. As any cop’ll tell you, no matter how many people break the law, it doesn’t mean it’s right.


    And even if you think the pres doesn’t need no stinking congress, comprehending the wisdom of such a thing simply boggles the mind.

  7. Didsbury says:

    President Bush pledged repeatedly during the debates that he would NOT reinstate the draft. Yet, I find it hard to believe that we could sustain a war in Iraq AND Iran without beefing up our force. Already, Senators on both sides of the aisle are calling for an increase in the Army of 1 or 2 divisions. This is to meet current commitments, not including an incursion into Iran. Can an all-volunteer force meet this demand?

    And what about money? GWB is about to request 100 billion in emergency funding for Iraq operations. Where will this money come from, and where would he get money for an Iran campaign? As they say, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon we’re talking real money! Maybe after they’re done with the tsunami aid, former Presidents Bush and Clinton will lead a war bond drive?

    And what about Syria? This whole thing looks like a REGIONAL WAR to me. Maybe we should stop calling it the Iraq War, and start calling it the Middle East War.

  8. m, Dids, no we can’t fight Iran without a bigger military, and 2, of course this is a regional war, as we predicted long ago. Syria will be attacked next month. It’s all a Zionist conspiracy, pretty much. Schuler, Iran is not funding Sadr to attack us, because Sadr is not attacking us. Iran never sent irregulars across the border. A few came across during the Sadr thing, but that’s over and they were just volunteers. Iran is not sending irregulars at the moment. Iran is not shielding AQ members in Iran. It has some in custody, but that is not shielding.

  9. LOL, Joyner, a “de facto state of war”? How exactly do you figure anyway? Yes Bush got Congress to authorize the Iraq fiasco, but he did it under an explicit threat that he was going to go ahead and attack Iraq no matter what Congress did. Anjin-din: LOL, Iran is exactly a threat to whom now? Israel, possibly? The US? How? The thought of Iran with nukes does not frighten me one bit. In fact, I really hope that both Iran and North Korea get as many nukes as possible as soon as they can, and then threaten to shoot them at US forces if we attack their countries. That ought to push the Bushdogs off for a while. Iran’s nukes are not a threat to anyone except ppl who wish to attack Iran. And if the US or Israel attacks Iran, I really hope Iran fights back REALLY REALLY hard, and makes the US and Israel pay dearly for their belligerence.

  10. Van Helsing says:

    Iran has been at war with United States since 1979. Through state-sponsored terrorism they have killed hundreds of Americans. After Iraq has been stabilized, the mullahs will need to be dealt with before useful idiot moonbats learn the hard way that we do have something to fear from our country’s worst enemy acquiring nuclear weapons.

  11. Tom Carter says:

    I don’t doubt that Hersh is quite proud of himself for revealing this secret, if that’s what it is. Despite the value of some of his reporting in the past, it’s irresponsible to report this kind of information. If it’s actually true, it very well might endanger the lives of people involved in such missions. I’m sure this doesn’t bother people like Hersh, but it bothers me.

  12. Jim says:


    Considering that you live in CA maybe having North Korea have nukes isn’t such a good idea? Beyond that, you obvious desire to have the country suffer ffor your disdain of President Bush shows that you are many things but you don’t love the United States and are no patriot. You should be glad of the professional military members who have protected your rights at considerable cost.

  13. Hello there Jim. North Korean nukes do not worry me the slightest, as North Korea has no aggressive intentions towards any regime in a first-strike sense. North Korea’s nukes serve the useful purpose of fending off US aggressions, so they are noble. Iran’s nukes the same. Iran has no intentions to use those nukes agressively against anyone – they are desired to fend off the US and level the playing field with that sh-tty little country to her west. As far as whether immoral, criminal regimes like Bush’s America ought to suffer for her aggressive crimes, it’s long been my theory that belligerent militarist aggressor nations like Bush, or the Axis in WW2, whom Bush’s USA *somewhat* resembles, ought to suffer for their aggressions, the same as criminals and other bad ppl ought to suffer for their crimes and bad behaviors. At the moment, no, I am not a patriot in terms of Bush’s America at all. I also would love to see Bush send the economy down the tubes, lots of ppl lose their jobs and suffer, the death rate go up due to Bush’s social spending cuts, etc. That’s the only way ppl learn.

  14. Van Helsing, what state-sponsored terrorism? You mean Lebanon 1983. Well, we deserved it. We went in there claiming to be neutral and immediately sided with the Zionist entity and the Lebanese Falangist fascists against the Lebanese Shia ppl. They fought back. Tough! I can’t think of any other Iranian-sponsored acts. You mean in Saudi Arabia? I am not sure about that one. We had no business there anyway. The Saudis wanted us out, 95% of the people wanted us out, and like arrogant jerks, we stayed anyway and thumbed our nose at them. So the Saudi ppl hit us. BIG DEAL. Van Helsing, you will find that the invasion of Iran is not such a hot idea, I am afraid. I want to see the Iranian ppl give us the fight of our life to make us think 2 times.

  15. Tom Carter, I don’t know but this is obviously some kind of an official leak here I would imagine. I can’t be sure. I agree I don’t know if it’s a moral act to reveal covert operations. As far as the Americans engaged in these operations to spy on Iran and attack Iran, I hope the Iranian people catch them and hang them high.

  16. Marc says:

    Robert Lindsey: “Iran has no intentions to use those nukes agressively against anyone – they are desired to fend off the US and level the playing field with that sh-tty little country to her west.”

    So tell us Robert what is that hotline number to the Iranian Mullahs so we can all be so “well informed.” Or are you a disciple of the Amazing Kreskin?


    Then there is this: “You mean in Saudi Arabia? I am not sure about that one.” You shouldn’t be sure, the attack was carried out by Hezbollah, backed by the Iranian government! But don’t let a few facts cloud your mostly non-sensical screeds.

  17. Jim says:


    I have to admit that there is no way I can believe that any American could have the hatred you have for oour country. To wish that Americans get killed, our economy crash just as a political lesson disgusts me. I have always thought that there is enough of a common ground with most people to have a dialoge, you have proven me wrong.

  18. Well gosh Marc. I simply do not believe that the mullahs are going to use nukes aggressively against any nation, especially the Zionist entity. They know full well that an aggressive attack on the entity will cause the entity pulverize Iran. You have no basis whatsoever to state that Iran has aggressive intentions with those nukes. You are not a mindreader, and it would be suicide anyway. You read too much Zionist propaganda.

    The Khobar Towers attack. Well that is not Lebanese Hezbollah, that is Saudi Hezbollah, a different entity. I don’t know what to say except that if every nation on Earth had a right to go attack the US for all the similar attacks that the US has supported against their own organizations or states, about 50% of the world would have a right to attack the US. Though I don’t sympathize with Saudi Hezbollah, I can’t really fault any Saudis for attacking Khobar. The Saudi people did not want us there, the Saudi regime did not want us there, and we knew it full well. We had been told endlessly by the Saudi people to get the Hell out. We refused to leave due to our own malevelant imperial designs. We deserved Khobar.

  19. Well I don’t know about “America”. A nation is only as its government, and it’s military is an armed reflection of the state. Neither “America”, nor any country really, has any true essence at all, good or bad, at all times. A nation called “America” could be either the finest country on Earth or the worst, or various places in between, depending on the government. A bad government can turn a good country bad and vice versa. “America” has no “essentially good at all times* essence.

    If it is ruled by a good government it can be good, if ruled by a wicked government, it can be very bad, like any nation. Right now, I regard Bush’s America as one of the most wicked nations on Earth in the last 100 years. In the past century, wicked nations had to pay Hell for their behaviors at times, as you recall. Under Bush, we deserve no less. A wicked nation deserves to see its economy flushed away.

    An aggressive militarist invader criminal regime like Bush’s deserves to reap to have its military suffer mightily in battle for its crimes. My advice: if you are going to join the military, then agree with the Bush regime. If you don’t agree with this monster regime, then don’t sign up. Those who agree with Bush’s wicked agenda and want to go fight for it with gun in hand deserve to either enjoy their victories or suffer whatever pain they must.

    The US military has no ideology and has no essential form or essence. With a good government, the US military is a force for good. With a wicked regime that sends its troops on wicked missions, the US military is a force of criminality. If Bush attacks North Korea, Syria or Iran, I will gladly defend all of those proud states against our minions. An army is the armed face of the government. Under Clinton, the military was the armed face of the Clinton regime. Under Bush, the military is the armed face of the Bush regime. I am not liable to support a lot of Bush’s missions, sorry, and I may even root for the enemy.

  20. Do I support Bush’s military? Depends on the mission! I contine to support our mission in Afghanistan and the war against Al Qaeda (more of a law enforcement action really). I do not support our mission in Iraq or Haiti, but I can hardly support the Iraqi insurgents either. If Bush attacks Syria or Iran, I am going to root for Syria and Iran 100%.

  21. Marc says:

    Robert: “the Saudi regime did not want us there, and we knew it full well.”

    How does that explain the Saudi government financed, and built and offer its free use til the day the US pulled out. Enlighten us all, provide a source document stating the SA Gov didn’t desire our presence.

    Robert: “You have no basis whatsoever to state that Iran has aggressive intentions with those nukes. You are not a mindreader, and it would be suicide anyway. You read too much Zionist propaganda.”

    Can you quote from my last post anything related to Iranian aggressiveness? I thought not. You can quote from my post and the link provided, (that you either failed to read or comprehend)that the Khobar attack was financed and directed by the Iranian government. something your response didn’t address.

    Robert: “Right now, I regard Bush’s America as one of the most wicked nations on Earth in the last 100 years.”

    Care to quantify that? Worse than Nazi Germany?
    Worse than Pol Pots Cambodia?
    Worse than Slobo’s Yugoslavia?
    Worse than Rwanda of the ’90’s?

    Provide the empirical evidence, not your “opinion” which by now has proven to be driven by Bush hate not facts. At least none you provide.

    Robert: “I do not support our mission in Iraq or Haiti, but I can hardly support the Iraqi insurgents either.”

    And the following quote from you isn’t support, or maybe you just call it “cheerleading.”

    Robert “An aggressive militarist invader criminal regime like Bush’s deserves to reap to have its military suffer mightily in battle for its crimes.” (I see nothing in this statement excluding Iraqi insurgents)

    And finally, Robert: “If Bush attacks North Korea, Syria or Iran, I will gladly defend all of those proud states against our minions.”

    And the gauntlet is thrown. Hit a PayPal button near you, with a large enough collection we can send Robert, first class, to any of the three countires he would so “gladly defend.”

    To await the slobbering, evil, pick-up truck driving Bushies before they invade.

    Oh and Canada is an option also, you may even be able to WALK there.

  22. Marc, I supported the Iraqi government, not the US, during the invasion. Afterwards, not so sure. Right now, both sides just totally disgust me. The project of the US military is really bad in Iraq and guerrillas are just repulsive. So basically you have a choice between which of 2 sh-t sandwitches you want to eat. How bout none? In Iraq now, sometimes I might even support the US, if they go out and kill a bunch of Salafist scumbags.

    But if there are US soldiers over there acting like total scumbags, bombing hospitals, shooting up radio and TV stations, shooting up ambulances, shooting anything that moves, deliberately targeting obvious civilians with sniper fire, well that is crap, and those soldiers who behave that way, I pray that they die. A soldier who hates Arabs and goes over there to kill as many Arabs as possible, I hope he dies. Depends on their behavior and mindset.

    A soldier who fights respectfully, I would not really say that about. Mostly, now, I just want us out.

    No, US is not worse than any of your 4 countries but it doesn’t matter at all. That’s another one of the insane rightwing lies. It’s like you pick up a 2 bit criminal. You can’t call him a criminal call he was just a burglar and wifebeater and not a serial killer. Nonsense – there are degrees of aggressive militarist invaders, of criminals, of bad nations. Some are worse, some are better and they are all bad.

    Aggressive militaristic nations out to rule the world, create empires by violence and overthrow nations right and left for no good reason are all scum. That’s Bush’s America. The fact that Nazis, or Japs or whatever, acted similarly but way worse is not relevant. There are degrees of criminal behavior.

    That is a complete lie about the Saudis building and financing that base and wanting us there until the day we left. I know ppl who lived in Saudi Arabia. Everybody knew the regime wanted us out after the Gulf War, and increasingly so did the people, and of course the Americans did. We refused to leave like the total fu–ing imperialist arrogant d-cks that we are, so we got attacked at Khobar. GOOD!

    Ok, if you have no evidence about Iranian aggressive intentions, why so gung-ho about taking out the Iranian nukes? You have no idea what the mullahs think, and I do.

    As far as Iraqi insurgents, um, I am burned out on Iraq now, and both sides are terrible. If the US needs to feel some pain over there, for God’s sake, so do those Wahhabi freak guerrillas. I can’t really root for either side, and we’re losing plenty of men anyway no matter what I think in my head.

    Absolutely, 100%, I will definitely support the proud North Koreans, Syrians and Iranians defending their beloved soil against the Bush militarist kooks. They don’t need my gun to defend them, they need to defend their own lands. I’m not in the business of running around the Earth fighting for anyone being attacked. I’ll support them from the sidelines, just like most Americans do with any conflict – support one side or the other.

    No one has to go fight for any foreign land or foreign organization. There are wars all over the world, and one is free to pick sides, and it’s not hypocrisy if you don’t run off with a gun to fight alongside every 4th world guerrilla band. This is just the usual rightwing lunacy. Anyone who supports an “anti-US” group anywhere on Earth has to go grab an AK-47 and shoot with them or else be a “hypocrite”. It’s as brain dead as “love it or leave it” or any of the rest of their stupidities.

    If you don’t support Bush, don’t join the army. If you have a diplomat job and hate Bush, quit. Lots of ppl are going to be targets soon (deservedly so) and it’s better if the Bush supporters either enjoy the fruits, or suffer the pains, of his imperial aggression mania, on their own.

    I thought about leaving the country early in November, but I am over the election now, and 51% voted for Kerry anyway. The country isn’t really bad; it’s 50% bad. My life is ok, and I don’t want to dwell on the malevalent freaks in the White House. Would you say “love it or leave it” to a Syrian, an Iranian, a Saudi, an Egyptian, a Lebanese, a German, a Venezuelan, a North Korean, a Frenchman, a Palestinian, a Cuban? Then why to an American?

  23. Marc says:

    Robert: “Aggressive militaristic nations out to rule the world, create empires by violence and overthrow nations right and left for no good reason are all scum. That’s Bush’s America.”

    The normal definition of empire is a group of countries under a single authority; “the British empire” In that light can you name the countries under Bush’s single authority?

    And can we assume that Clinton was also “scum” as he entered Kosovo with “both guns blazing?” After all by using the criteria asigned to the Iraq war, “no UN backing,” Clinton’s efforts in Kosovo were just all illegal were they not. Or are you being selective in who your slur?

    Robert: I thought about leaving the country early in November, but I am over the election now, and 51% voted for Kerry anyway.”

    Proof of delusion unless you provide the link and documented proof of that alleged 51%.

    BTW: Here is more proof of the Iraqi “insurgents” and their being funded by the Iranians and Syrians. Something you claimed didn’t occur but couldn’t provide a link stating otherwise.