See also, In a micro-blogging world, caution needed on macro of #iranelection by Maha Zimmo, below.
AJAX REDUX: US Heavy Meddle in Iran
By Nima Shirazi / The Rag Blog / June 26, 2009
The Western press has clearly taken a side and has successfully managed to drag its uninformed audience along with it. News reports all refer to the continuing groundswell of protest to the election results as an “unprecedented” show of courage, resistance, and people power against the government not seen in Iran since the 1979 revolution.
But what we have seen this past week seems to have far more in common with the events of fifty-six years ago, rather than just thirty.
In 1953, the United States government, at the behest of Britain, tasked CIA operatives Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. and Donald Wilber to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Iran, in order to put an end to the process of oil nationalization by Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. This nationalism “outraged the British, who had ‘bought’ the exclusive right to exploit Iranian oil from a corrupt Shah, and the Americans, who feared that allowing nationalization in Iran would encourage leftists around the world.” The coup d’etat, which took a mere three weeks to execute, was accomplished in a number of stages. First, members of the Iranian Parliament and leaders of political parties were bribed to oppose Mossadegh publicly, thereby making the government appear fragmented and not unified. Newspaper owners, editors, columnists and reporters were then paid off in order to spread lies and propaganda against the Prime Minister.
Furthermore, high-ranking clerics, influential businessmen, members of the police, security forces, and military were bribed, as well. Roosevelt hired the leaders of street gangs in Tehran, using them to help create the impression that the rule of law had totally disintegrated in Iran and that the government had no control over its population. Stephen Kinzer, journalist and author of All the Shah’s Men, tells us that “at one point, [Roosevelt] hired a gang to run through the streets of Tehran, beating up any pedestrian they found, breaking shop windows, firing their guns into mosques, and yelling, ‘We love Mossadegh and communism.’ This would naturally turn any decent citizen against him.” In a stroke of manipulative genius, Roosevelt then hired a second mob to attack the first mob, thereby giving the Iranian people the impression that there was no police presence and that civil society had devolved into complete chaos, with the government totally incapable of restoring order. Kinzer elaborates,
They rampaged through the streets by the tens of thousands. Many of them, I think, never even really understood they were being paid by the C.I.A. They just knew they had been given a good day’s wage to go out in the street and chant something. Many politicians whipped up the crowds during those days…They started storming government buildings. There were gunfights in front of important buildings.
After all was said and done, Prime Minister Mossadegh had been deposed and a military coup returned the monarchy to Iran by installing the pro-western Mohammed Reza Pahlevi on the Peacock throne. The Shah’s brutal, tyrannical dictatorship – established, supported, and funded by the United States – lasted 26 years. In 1979, the Iranian people returned the favor.
So what have we been seeing in Iran this past week?
Whereas there is scant evidence of any actual voter fraud or ballot rigging in the recent reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the popular movement we’ve been seeing on the streets of Tehran and elsewhere is being treated by the American media as some sort of new revolution; an energized, grassroots, and spontaneous effort to overthrow the leaders of the Islamic Republic in favor of a secular, pro-Western “democracy.”
Yet, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that, whereas there are surely thousands of sincere and committed activists and participants in the recent protests, what we are witnessing may very well be the culmination of years of American infiltration and manipulation of both the Iranian establishment and public.
Back in 2005, the United States government was already funding groups it designated as terrorist organizations to carry out violent attacks within Iran in order to destabilize the Iranian government. In 2007, ABC News reported that George W. Bush has signed a secret “Presidential finding” which authorized the CIA to “mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government.” These operations, according to current and former intelligence officials, included “a coordinated campaign of propaganda broadcasts, placement of negative newspaper articles, and the manipulation of Iran’s currency and international banking transactions.”
In May of that same year, the London Telegraph reported that Bush administration zealot John Bolton revealed that an American military attack on Iran would “be a ‘last option’ after economic sanctions and attempts to foment a popular revolution had failed.” Two weeks later, the Telegraph independently verified the ABC report, saying that, “Mr. Bush has signed an official document endorsing CIA plans for a propaganda and disinformation campaign intended to destabilize, and eventually topple, the theocratic rule of the mullahs.”
Daniel McAdams tells us that, at the time, “the president met with the Congressional Star Chamber, the “gang of 8″ House and Senate leaders, and was granted the authorization to use some $400 million for among other things, as the Washington Post reported, “activities ranging from spying on Iran’s nuclear program to supporting rebel groups opposed to the country’s ruling clerics…”
Then, in early May 2008, Counterpunch‘s Andrew Cockburn revealed that “Six weeks ago, President Bush signed a secret finding authorizing a covert offensive against the Iranian regime that, according to those familiar with its contents was ‘unprecedented in its scope.’
“Bush’s secret directive covers actions across a huge geographic area – from Lebanon to Afghanistan – but is also far more sweeping in the type of actions permitted under its guidelines – up to and including the assassination of targeted officials. This widened scope clears the way, for example, for full support for the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, the cultish Iranian opposition group, despite its enduring position on the State Department’s list of terrorist groups.
Similarly, covert funds can now flow without restriction to Jundullah, or “army of god,” the militant Sunni group in Iranian Baluchistan – just across the Afghan border – whose leader was featured not long ago on Dan Rather Reports cutting his brother-in-law’s throat.
Other elements that will benefit from U.S. largesse and advice include Iranian Kurdish nationalists, as well the Ahwazi Arabs of southwest Iran.
Of course, US officials denied any “direct funding” of Jundallah, but admitted regular contact since 2005 with its leader Abd el Malik Regi, who was widely reputed to be involved in heroin trafficking from Afghanistan. Funding has reportedly been funneled through Iranian exiles with connections in Europe and the Gulf States.
Furthermore, on June 29, 2008, Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker confirmed all of these reports, writing, “Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and Congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership.” Among the activities Hersh cited were “gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program”, “undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions” and “trying to undermine the government through regime change [by] working with opposition groups and passing money.”
But the US campaign against Iran didn’t come to a halt with the ascension of President Obama. There is no evidence to conclude that the $400 million dollars Bush signed off on has been put to different use (like, say, funding public schools or healthcare.) In early June 2008, Justin Raimondo of Antiwar wrote, “Obama, with his peace overtures [to Iran], serves as the smiley-face mask for some pretty loathsome activities. The U.S. government claims to be fighting terrorism, yet is sponsoring groups that plant bombs in mosques, kidnap tourists as well as Iranian policemen, and fund their activities with drug-running in addition to covert subsidies courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers.” He continues,
“What’s going on in Iran today – a sustained campaign of terrorism directed against civilians and government installations alike – is proof positive that nothing has really changed much in Washington, as far as U.S. policy toward Iran is concerned. We are on a collision course with Tehran, and both sides know it. Obama’s public “reaching out” to the Iranians is a fraud of epic proportions. While it’s true that our covert terrorist attacks on Iran were initiated under the Bush regime, under Obama we’re seeing no letup in these sorts of incidents; if anything, they’ve increased in frequency and severity.”
Days before the Iranian election, a suicide-bomber killed at least 25 people, and wounded over 125 others, inside a prominent Shi’a mosque in the city of Zahedan, in the southeast province of Sistan-Baluchistan. The rebel Sunni group, Jundallah, which is linked to the US, claimed responsibility for the blast, which was immediately followed up by attacks on banks, water-treatment facilities, and other key installations in and around Zahedan, including a strike against the local campaign headquarters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Last year, Jundallah ( which is committed to establishing a Baluchi Islamic state in southeastern Iran and parts of Pakistan and one of whose founding members is allegedly the infamously waterboarded al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) kidnapped 16 Iranian policemen and videotaped their execution. There was also recently an attempted bombing of an Iranian airplane, which took off from the southwestern city of Ahvaz on the Iraqi border, which has a heavily Arab population. These recent events add up to what Raimondo refers to as “a small-scale insurgency” arising in Iran’s southern provinces.
Both the White House and State Department immediately denounced these attacks and denied any involvement in what they called “recent terrorist attacks inside Iran.” Furthermore, there were reports that the Obama administration was considering adding Jundallah to the State’s Department’s list of terrorist organizations. However, analyst Steve Weissman notes, “the administration suddenly backed away from making the terrorist designation or from otherwise indicating that it would stop the destabilization campaign.”
(Incidentally, one of the only two provinces in Iran that went for Mousavi last Friday was Sistan-Baluchistan and crowds of about 2,000 people have taken to the streets in Ahvaz since the election.)
Support for Jundallah – which in what could be the result of a savvy public relations suggestion by the Pentagon, recently changed its name to the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement – is just one way the United States has worked to foment an anti-Iranian united front within the country on the verge of the Presidential elections. As such, we are told, “the U.S. is, in effect, conducting a secret war against Tehran, a covert campaign aimed at recruiting Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities – who make up the majority of the population in certain regions, such as in the southeast borderlands near Pakistan – into a movement to topple the government in Tehran, or, at least, to create so much instability that U.S. intervention to ‘keep order’ in the region is justified.”
Ken Timmerman, the executive director of the right-wing Foundation for Democracy in Iran, which is the Persian Service of Voice of America (VOA), “spilled the beans on activities of the other arm of US meddling overseas, the obscenely mis-named National Endowment for Democracy, in a piece written one day before the election,” McAdams tells us. Timmerman apparently stated that “there’s the talk of a ‘green revolution’ in Tehran,” prompting McAdams to “wonder where that ‘talk’ was coming from. Timmerman did not appear to be writing from Iran.” McAdams continues,
Timmerman went on to write, with admirable candor and honesty, that:
“The National Endowment for Democracy has spent millions of dollars during the past decade promoting ‘color’ revolutions in places such as Ukraine and Serbia, training political workers in modern communications and organizational techniques.
“Some of that money appears to have made it into the hands of pro-Mousavi groups, who have ties to non-governmental organizations outside Iran that the National Endowment for Democracy funds.”
Yes, you say, but what does a blow-hard propagandist like Timmerman know about such things? Well, he should know! His very spooky Foundation for Democracy in Iran has its own snout deep in the trough of NED’s “open covert actions” against the Iranian government.
How does the “Foundation for Democracy in Iran” seek to “promote democracy” in Iran with our tax dollars? Foundation co-founder Joshua Muravchik gives us a hint in his subtly-titled LA Times piece, “Bomb Iran.”
Additionally, Weissman warns of Timmerman’s devious sincerity: “Please note that this comes from a very involved right-wing critic who personally knows the expatriate Iranian community,” he writes. “It is impossible to know how much government money went to these groups, since Congress has purposely exempted the National Endowment for Democracy from having to make public how it spends taxpayer money.”
Even more recently, commentator Stephen Lendman reports that former Pakistani Army General Mirza Aslam Beig told Pasto Radio on June 15 that “undisputed” intelligence proves CIA interference in the internal affairs of Iran. “The documents prove that the CIA spend $400 million inside Iran to prop up a colorful-hollow revolution following the election” and to incite regime change for a pro-Western government.
So, are we finally seeing that $400 million pay off in Iran this past week?
There are plenty of clues that reveal the Iranian street protests we’re seeing daily in the news may not be all we’re told they are. Indeed, the sheer numbers of protesters are impressive and anyone who feels that an injustice has occurred should certainly take to the streets – and not be subject to any sort of police brutality – but much of what we’ve seen and heard in the past two weeks shows signs of orchestration and bears fingerprints of foreign manipulation.
Many of the protesters we have seen are well-dressed westernized young people in Tehran who are carrying signs written in English, reading, “Where is My Vote?” and other such slogans in English. If the young voters of Iran were addressing their frustrations to their own government, why weren’t they speaking the same language? Protesters seen in many YouTube videos and interviewed on American television also speak perfect English. An early message received through a social networking site after the election, sent to the National Iranian American Council and subsequently reported by the American media, came from (allegedly) an Iranian in Tehran. It read:
“I am in Tehran. Its 3:40 in the morning. I’ve connected with you [by hacking past the government filter]. It’s a big mess here. People are yelling from their houses – ‘death to the dictator.’ They are setting up a military government. No one dares to go out. No one has seen Mousavi today. Rumor has it that they have arrested him. I don’t have an email but I will contact you again.
The idea of an Iranian, aware of the long history of US interference in Iranian affairs, beseeching an audience in America for “help” is, to put it lightly, dubious.
(The same should definitely be said about a recent OpEd featured in the New York Times last Sunday which was supposedly written by “a student in Iran.” The article, clearly hoping to galvanize the American readership into strongly supporting pro-Mousavi protesters against the Iranian government, was almost surreal. In it, the author – curiously named “Shane M.” which is perhaps the least Iranian name ever – denies the accuracy of pre-election polling by writing, “let’s not cloud the results with numbers that were, like bagels, stale a week later.” Later, he describes a scene from the widespread pre-election pro-Mousavi street parties in Tehran, including this observation: “A girl hung off the edge of a car window “Dukes of Hazzard” style.” What possible young “Iranian student” would casually reference bagels and Dukes of Hazzard is beyond me, but I can probably think of a few CIA agents that may enjoy both.)
As for the widespread claim, published in nearly every major newspaper, that Mousavi had been disappeared, imprisoned, or put under house arrest, it obviously wasn’t true considering that the very next day Mousavi was addressing a crowd of tens of thousands in the middle of Tehran from the roof of his car.
Furthermore, the chants we hear of “death to the dictator, death to Ahmadinejad” don’t make much sense coming from Iranian citizens. As Paul Craig Roberts points out, “Every Iranian knows that the President of Iran is a public figure with limited powers. His main role is to take the heat from the governing grand Ayatollah. No Iranian, and no informed westerner, could possibly believe that Ahmadinejad is a dictator. Even Ahmadinejad’s superior, Khamenei, is not a dictator as he is appointed by a government body that can remove him.” Roberts goes on to say,
The demonstrations, like those in 1953, are intended to discredit the Iranian government and to establish for Western opinion that the government is a repressive regime that does not have the support of the Iranian people. This manipulation of opinion sets up Iran as another Iraq ruled by a dictator who must be overthrown by sanctions or an invasion.
Early reports of the Tehran rallies revealed that pro-Mousavi protesters were throwing rocks at Iranian police and security forces, as well as burning police motorcycles, city buses, and even private and government buildings. In contrast, we also heard of riot police beating protesters, gas and water cannons being used on crowds, and Basiji paramilitary groups opening fire on peaceful demonstrators. Even though Iranian officials have blamed recent street violence on Mousavi supporters and marchers point to pro-government gangs, accusing them of staging incidents in order to justify further “crackdown” of dissent, the truth may be even more sinister. As one pro-Mousavi protester, who has taken part in every single march so far this week, told Newsweek, “I think some small terrorist groups and criminal gangs are taking advantage of the situation.” American money well-spent, perhaps.
According to the national intelligence services, a group of US-linked terrorists who had planned to set off twenty explosions in Tehran were discovered. Nevertheless a bomb still went off near the shrine of Iran’s revolutionary founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killing one and injuring two.
Despite the rise in violence in the past week, Khamenei has consistently differentiated between what he believes are rebel groups and non-political protesters and “the electoral fans and supporters” of Mousavi. He is quoted as saying that “those who devastate the public assets and private belongings of the people are carrying out the aggressive actions without any political purposes” and urged the defeated presidential candidates to utilize “legal venues” to voice their complaints. Khamenei stated, “the destiny of elections would be determined on the ballots, not on the palm of the streets.”
Officials in the Iranian government are well-aware, and appropriately suspicious, of foreign meddling in their domestic affairs. Ali Larijani, the pragmatic, moderate conservative Speaker of Parliament and frequent Ahmadinejad opponent, said recently in a live televised speech, “those who under the mask of political fans of a certain movement or candidate impose damages to the public properties or paralyze the daily life of ordinary people are not among the protestors who want their votes to be virtuously preserved,” adding that “the liberty of demonstrations should be respected, and those who are in charge of issuing certifications to legitimize the protesting rallies should cooperate and issue them constructively.”
The Western media is certainly not helping matters. It should be remembered, first off, that both the BBC and New York Times played important roles in the 1953 overthrow. Bill Van Auken’s The New York Times and Iran: Journalism as State Provocation tells us of the documentation of journalism as the media arm of the imperial state, including the direct military participation of one of its CIA-connected reporters in the coup against Mossadegh:
In 1953, [the New York Times] correspondent in Tehran, Kennett Love, was not only a willing conduit for CIA disinformation, but also acknowledged participating directly in the coup. He subsequently wrote of giving an Iranian Army tank column instructions to attack Mossadegh’s house. Afterwards, the Times celebrated the coup and demanded unconditional support for the Shah’s regime.
The BBC is known to have spearheaded Britain’s own propaganda campaign, broadcasting the code word (“exactly”) that launched the coup d’état itself. Even the rise and importance of new media has to be viewed critically – something Western journalists aren’t very good at. CNN recently created a new disclaimer icon to account for all the “unverified” material they’ve been broadcasting ’round the clock in their effort to stand with protesters and against the Iranian government.
The Iranian “twitter boom” has, to a certain extent, been engineered by a small group of anti-Ahmadinejad advocates in the United States and Israel. Whereas media organizations excitedly report about young Iranians twittering away on the streets of Tehran, it’s clear that most of the activity is simply Americans “tweeting” amongst themselves. Nevertheless, the US government requested that Twitter postpone a scheduled downtime for maintenance so that tweeting from Iran could go uninterrupted. But, of course, this isn’t meddling. Additionally, Caroline McCarthy of CNET News reports that “Users from around the world are resetting the location data in their profiles to Tehran, the capital of Iran, in order to confuse Iranian authorities who may be attempting to use the microblogging tool to track down opposition activity.” While I’m not sure about “confusing” Iranian authorities, I am sure that actions like this serve to overhype the scope, reach, and importance of social networking and alternative media in Iranian politics and activism. The voices of the Iranian people should, of course, be heard and listened to – but the twittering mass of American, European, and Israeli support can hardly be said to speak on behalf of the Iranian public.
This disingenuous statement of President Obama may offer us some insight. In the early days of the post-election protests, he said, “It is not productive, given the history of US and Iranian relations to be seen as meddling in Iranian elections.”
American meddling, Mr. Obama? Never! Especially not when our government is responsible for thirty years of sanctions, overt and covert operations designed to weaken one of the only countries that has ever successfully stood up to American imperialism in the face of aggressive efforts to foment dissent and promote regime change.
Please also read Jeremy R. Hammond’s exceptional piece on Foreign Policy Journal, entitled “Has the U.S. Played a Role in Fomenting Unrest During Iran’s Election?“
What is not up for discussion here is whether Iran needs a revolution, as this is a call not to be made by you or I, but rather only by the citizenry of the country itself. Also not up for discussion is that we must always stand in solidarity with brutalized demonstrators of any country (regardless if they are representative of the minority or majority).
Slowly surfacing is that there are many other groups participating in these opposition rallies (both inside and outside of Iran), who do not share the same objectives as the dominant forces in the opposition. In many instances, the variances are quite large and range from a complete reformation yet protection of the existing political system, to the fantastical demand of the return of the Shah, to the hope of overthrowing the entire regime, to the simple demand of replacing one leader by another, to completely shedding the veil of a theocracy etc., ad infinitum.
Should the current political situation become the foundation of an actual revolution, then the possible absence of cohesion among the reformists may cause chaos, instability and great civil unrest within Iran for years to come. Chaos, instability and great civil unrest are not the intent of the reformist movement; anyone who would argue that does indeed require a snooze.
For the love of conspiracy
Some might consider it a conspiracy theory the claim that many of the alleged Twitter feeds from Iran were in fact all opened on the same day and from inside of the State of Israel, the argument being that the Mossad has been partly responsible for fanning the flames that may lead to the instability of Iran. If this is in fact true, then there are two main possible explanations for this interference: (1) this is being done in order to divert attention away from Israel’s criminal actions and oppression of the Palestinian people, of which we saw even more horrible images than what we are currently witnessing in Iran; and/or (2) The destabilization of Iran, and the subsequent possibly immediate affects on Syria and Lebanon.
Some might consider it a conspiracy theory the claim that the misrepresentation of that which is being hailed as a ‘revolution,’ does in fact serve, to the greatest interest, the political machinations of the American neo-conservative movement. But before calling it a conspiracy theory, consider the reality that as I type, the pressure on Obama — from the conservative right — to render null his campaign promise to engage in a dialogue with Iran persists, increases and may soon become the rallying call of well-meaning everyday folk. Our cries for ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ in Iran are the same rhetoric utilized by the American right power elite when they demand that Obama “stand for democracy” and “be on the right side of history” taking a stronger stand against Iran.
Stronger stand, how? Tossing a missile or two at ‘targeted’ regime-only locations (no civilians will die, we promise) within Iran, free Iran? (we heart Google Earth); advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in the Middle East begins with ensuring the success of a free Iran?
My apologies, there. Forgive that minor lapse of memory and the fact that I have just misquoted; it appears I am in fact brunette and therefore require a nap. Because actually, the transcript of the speech reads “advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in the Middle East begins with ensuring the success of a free Iraq.”
Conspiracy theory indeed. As conspiratorial as the idea of war-for-profit; as conspiratorial as the idea that torture is institutionalized behavior within the US military; and as conspiratorial as the notion that America’s is a rogue state.
The Empire always conspires, and no less so when people are taking to the streets with great courage to express legitimate grievances. But this doesn’t mean those of us opposed to the machinations of the U.S and Israeli right should be silent.
We can support the call for civil liberties and civil rights in Iran: the right to organize, to assemble, dissent, and to vote for whomever they choose. And, yes, even the right to tweet, so long as we remain vigilant about the macro geo politics as well.
[Maha Zimmo is a political analyst whose areas of concentration are the Middle East, Islam and the international legal system. She received her Master of Arts from the Department of Law at Carleton University.]
Source / Rabble