A Washington Post article on the new office noted money would be spent on “opposition activities” and observed that “Although administration officials do not use the term ‘regime change’ in public, that in effect is the goal they outline as they aim to build resistance to the theocracy.” The Post also noted that a “setback” for the Bush administration had come when Congress cut $19 million from the funding that would mainly affect broadcast operations, thus affecting plans to increase Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts into Iran to 24-hours a day.
The Financial Times reported in April, 2006 that the effort was being coordinated with the U.K. and noted that criticism of the administration’s strategy included some of the same Iranians the program was designed to bolster. “Serious Iranian opposition politicians are virtually unanimous in saying that foreign funding of activities designed to promote democracy, especially by the US or UK, would be counter-productive”, the Financial Times reported. The article also quoted Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a press adviser to President Ahmadinejad, as saying that Iranians are “alert” to the “propaganda of enemies”.
In May, the Los Angeles Times reported that the OIA was headed by David Denehy, a specialist at the International Republican Institute (IRI). The IRI has been a recipient of NED funds, and was active in Venezuela, including the year of the attempted coup, when the IRI received $299,999 from NED to “train” political parties (including the IRI, over $1 million in grants was given by NED to groups operating in Venezuela in 2002).
NIAC president Trita Parsi explained the goal of the U.S. policy by saying, “The administration is trying to make regime change through democratization the policy, instead of making confrontation by military means the policy.”
The L.A. Times also reported that “at the Pentagon, an Iranian directorate will work with the State Department office to undercut the government in Tehran.” The new Iranian directorate, the report noted, “has been set up inside its policy shop, which previously housed the Office of Special Plans [OSP]”.
The OSP was the office headed by Douglas Feith that was created to bypass the normal intelligence review process and stovepipe information bolstering the policy of regime change in Iraq, including information from Iraqi dissidents like Ahmad Chalabi, who was afforded little credibility outside Feith’s office.
In an article for Rolling Stone, author James Bamford revealed how a member of Feith’s cabal at the OSP, Michael Ledeen, set up a meeting with Iranian dissidents to further the goal of regime change in Iran. Ledeen had served as the Reagan administration’s intermediary with Israel during the illegal arms deal that became known as the Iran-Contra Affair.
At the meeting in Rome, Ledeen, along with Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, met with an Iranian named Manucher Ghorbanifer in a safehouse provided by Nicolò Pollari, the director of Italy’s Military Intelligence and Security Service (SISMI). Pollari had just months before been responsible for providing to that Bush administration what would later be revealed to have been fabricated documents purporting to show that Saddam Hussein had obtained yellowcake uranium from Africa. The men discussed the possibility of using the MEK to further their goal of regime change in Iran, according to Bamford’s sources who were familiar with the meeting.
Additionally, Larry Franklin, who worked under Feith in the OSP, later met with two other men “who were also looking for ways to push the U.S. into a war with Iran.” The two men were Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). With the FBI watching, Franklin illegally passed classified information on a National Security Presidential Directive dealing with U.S. policy on Iran to AIPAC with the goal of having the influential Israeli lobby exert pressure on the White House to adopt the draft directive.
In the July 24 article, Bamford wrote, “Over the past six months, the administration has adopted almost all of the hard-line stance advocated by the war cabal in the Pentagon…. To back up the tough talk, the State Department is spending $66 million to promote political changes inside Iran—funding the same kind of dissident groups that helped drive the U.S. to war in Iraq.”
Writing in the New York Times Magazine in June, 2007, Negar Azimi wrote about how the Iranian newspaper Kayhan “editorializes almost daily about an elaborate network conspiring to topple the regime. Called ‘khaneh ankaboot,’ or ‘the spider nest,’ the network is reportedly bankrolled by the $75 million and includes everyone from George Soros to George W. Bush to Francis Fukuyama to dissident Iranians of all shades.”
Azimi added, “If the spider’s nest had a headquarters, it might well be the Office of Iranian Affairs, which sits on the second floor of the State Department” and “was charged with outlining, in close consultation with Denehy, how to spend the democracy fund.”
$36.1 million of the funds was to go to VOA Persian and Radio Farda. VOA has often featured Reza Pahlavi, son of the former Shah, who now lives in Maryland. On April 1, 2007, VOA featured the head of the Balochi terrorist group Jundallah, Abdel Malek Rigi, who was “introduced as the leader of an armed national resistance group.”
Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who previously had worked for three years at Radio Farda, told Azimi that the VOA’s new administrators “do not seem to be able to distinguish between journalism and propaganda…. If you host the head of Jundallah and call him a freedom fighter or present a Voice of America run by monarchists, Iranians are going to stop listening.”
U.S. Covert Operations in Iran
In April, 2006, investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh wrote in the New Yorker magazine that “The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack.”
A source with ties to the Pentagon told Hersh that American units were operating in Iran and “working with minority groups in Iran, including the Azeris, in the north, the Balochis, in the southeast, and the Kurds, in the northeast.” The principle goal was to “‘encourage ethnic tensions’ and undermine the regime.”
Asia Times Online reported shortly thereafter that a “former Iranian ambassador and Islamic Republic insider” had provided details “about US covert operations inside Iran aimed at destabilizing the country and toppling the regime – or preparing for an American attack.” According to the source, “The Iranian government knows and is aware of such infiltration.”
Richard Sale, intelligence correspondent for United Press International, corroborated the charges made by Hersh, saying that “The Iranian accusations are true,” but that “it is being done on such a small scale – a series of pinpricks – it would seem to have no strategic value at all.”
The Asia Times Online article continued, noting recent unrest in Iranian ethnic minority communities, including amongst Kurdish, Arab, and Balochi populations. In one incident “in late January, a previously unknown Sunni Muslim group called Jundallah (Soldier of Allah) captured nine Iranian soldiers in the remote badlands of Sistan-Balochistan province that borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.”