By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - A specter of the Iran-Contra affair
is haunting Washington. Even some of the people and
countries are the same. And the methods - particularly
the pursuit by a network of well-placed individuals of a
covert, parallel foreign policy that is at odds with
official policy - are definitely the same.
Boiled down to its essentials, the Iran-Contra
affair was about a small group of officials based in the
National Security Council (NSC) and the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) that ran an "off-the-books"
operation to secretly sell arms to Iran in exchange for
hostages held in Lebanon.
They used the proceeds over
the following years to sustain the Nicaraguan Contras -
US-sponsored rebels fighting Managua's left-wing
government - in defiance of both a congressional ban and
of official US policy as enunciated by the State
Department and then president Ronald Reagan. It was
never clear whether Reagan understood, let alone
approved, the operation.
The picture emerging
from the latest reports about the manipulation of
intelligence in the drive to war with Iraq, as well as
efforts by administration hawks to deliberately
aggravate tensions with Syria, Iran, and North Korea in
defiance of official State Department and US policy,
suggest a similar but much more ambitious scheme at
As with Reagan, in this case, too, it is
difficult to determine whether President George W Bush -
or even his NSC director, Condoleezza Rice - fully
understand, let alone approve, of what the hawks are
There was some hint of a parallel policy
apparatus dating back just after the terrorist attacks
of September 11, 2001. It was known early on, for
example, that the Pentagon leadership, without notice to
the State Department, the NSC, or the CIA, convened its
advisory Defense Policy Board (DPB), headed by Richard
Perle, to discuss attacking Iraq within days of the
The three agencies were also kept in
the dark about a mission undertaken immediately
afterward by former CIA director and DPB member James
Woolsey to London to gather intelligence about possible
links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's
al-Qaeda, as if the CIA or the Pentagon's own Defense
Intelligence Agency (DIA) could not be trusted.
While Woolsey's trip recalls the more benign
shenanigans of the Iran-Contra crowd, consider some of
the more recent press reports.
Item: Iran-Contra alumnus Michael
Ledeen (and close Perle associate) has renewed ties with
his old acquaintance, Manichur Ghorbanifar, an Iranian
arms merchant who became the key link between the NSC's
Oliver North, the operational head of Iran-Contra, and
the so-called "moderates" in the Islamic Republic.
To what end? It appears that certain elements in
the Pentagon leadership, specifically Under Secretary of
Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, are trying to sabotage
sensitive talks between Tehran and the State Department
on cooperation over al-Qaeda and other pressing issues
affecting Afghanistan and Iraq.
They think that
Ledeen's old friend Ghorbanifar can help, according to
Newsday, which reported on Friday that two of Feith's
senior aides - without notice to the other agencies -
have held several meetings with the Iranian, whom the
CIA has long considered "an intelligence fabricator and
Item: US aircraft and
special operations force intercepted and destroyed a
residential compound and two small convoys that were
heading from Iraq into Syria in mid-June, killing as
many as 80 civilians. They then subdued and arrested
five Syrian guards across the border, taking them back
to Iraq, where they were held and interrogated over the
strong objections of the State Department for five days.
For what purpose? The Pentagon says that it
thought senior Saddam officials were trying to make a
run for it on a smuggling route. But an expose last
month by The New Yorker suggested that the raid and
arrests may have been part of a deliberate effort to
inflame tensions with Damascus and thus put an end to
remarkably close cooperation between Syria, the CIA and
the State Department in the campaign against al-Qaeda.
Item: Certain "high-level circles
within the administration" were reported by the
right-wing Washington Times on Friday to be hoping to
persuade Chinese military officers to co-sponsor a coup
with their North Korean counterparts against leader Kim
While it is not clear the proposals
have been acted on concretely, the Times noted that the
Pentagon leadership disagrees strongly with the State
Department's efforts to engage Kim in talks to persuade
him to abandon his nuclear-weapons program in exchange
for a non-aggression pledge.
Just before Korea
agreed to resume talks recently, Under Secretary of
State John Bolton, widely considered to be much closer
to the Pentagon hawks than his superiors at the State
Department, delivered a blistering attack on Kim in what
was seen by analysts as a deliberate provocation.
Item: Anonymous "senior
administration officials" informed a prominent
conservative columnist of a covert CIA operative (whose
name he then published) jeopardizing her career and
possibly exposing numerous ongoing covert actions and
agents who worked with her.
To what end? The
agent is the wife of Joseph Wilson, a retired career
foreign service officer who publicly exposed Bush's
now-infamous assertion that Iraq had tried to buy
uranium yellowcake in Africa as a fabrication.
While some analysts have said the disclosure of
his wife's identity, a felony under US law, was an
attempt to discredit him, he charged this week that the
move "was clearly designed to intimidate others from
coming forward" to tell what they know about the
administration's manipulation of intelligence.
No one knows yet whether such intimidation will
work, but recently retired intelligence and foreign
service officials and military officers, and a growing
number of anonymous active-duty officials, have indeed
been coming forward with consistent stories about the
manipulation and exaggeration of intelligence in order
to justify the war against Iraq and, more recently,
efforts to hype evidence about the alleged
unconventional threat posed by Syria.
collectively, what these officials describe and what is
already on the public record suggest the existence of a
disciplined network of zealous, like-minded individuals
centered in Feith's office and around Perle in the DPB
and operating with the approval of Deputy Defense
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld
and Vice President Dick Cheney.
includes high-level political appointees, such as
Bolton, who are scattered around several other key
bureaucracies, notably in the State Department, the NSC
staff, and, most importantly, in Cheney's office.
Cheney, of course, has a direct link to Bush
(and all the heads of agencies) independent of Rice,
while his powerful chief of staff and national security
adviser, I Lewis "Scooter" Libby, also enjoys
exceptional access and influence.
two men's frequent visits (as well as those of another
DPB member, former Republican House Speaker Newt
Gingrich) to CIA headquarters before the Iraq war have
been cited by retired and anonymous intelligence
officers as having exercised an intimidating influence
on analysts who disagreed with the more sensational
assessments about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and
ties to al-Qaeda produced by Feith's office.
Newsday's disclosure that Feith's office has
been used for secret contacts with Ghorbanifar suggests
that its work goes well beyond assessing intelligence
and making policy recommendations.
one career military officer who worked for eight months
in the Near East/South Asia bureau in that office, the
political appointees assigned there and their contacts
at the State Department, the NSC and Cheney's office
tended to work as a "network" and often deliberately cut
out, ignored or circumvented normal channels of
communication both within the Pentagon and with other
"I personally witnessed several cases
of staff officers being told not to contact their
counterparts at the State [Department] or the [NSC]
because that particular decision would be processed
through a different channel," wrote retired
Lieutenant-Colonel Karen Kwiatkowsky. "What I saw was
aberrant, pervasive and contrary to good order and
In an interview with Inter Press
Service, she insisted that her views of Feith's
appointees and operations were widely shared by other
professional staff, and quoted one veteran career
officer "who was in a position to know what he was
talking about" as telling her before the Iraq war: "What
these people are doing now makes Iran-Contra look like
"I think it's time for a serious
investigation [of Feith's office]," she said. "I just
hope Congress will take it on."