The ABC News story about covert operations in Iran just turned into a political football, and Mitt Romney, in seeking to emphasize his tough guy credentials yet again, is making an ass of himself.
Two days ago, ABC's investigative unit revealed that the "CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government." But the CIA isn't allowed to kill anyone because the presidential finding authorizing the black op is "non-lethal." In fact, the main thrust of the thing is informational and financial -- the CIA is charged with executing a "coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation, and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions." This is according to current and former officials in the intelligence community.
Now, Kevin Drum makes a couple very good points. The whole leak is suspicious. Insiders go to the press when they feel the CIA or any other government agency has clearly crossed the line -- the NSA wiretapping story, for example, was uncovered by the New York Times because government officials were willing to come forward and say, "This is totally not kosher and public outrage is the only way we have of putting a stop to it." As Drum writes, this business about "disinformation" and "manipulation of Iran's currency" is "just about the mildest possible covert operation you can imagine. Why would anyone at the CIA, let alone multiple sources, be so outraged by it that they decided to leak its existence to ABC News?"
It's a good question. Moreover, writes Drum, "the CIA is mostly populated by hardnosed Republicans who hate countries like Iran and love covert operations like this that strike back at them. It's their bread and butter.... they really, really don't make a habit of disclosing active covert operations to major news organizations. That can get people killed, whether the operation itself is lethal or not."
So the CIA has no reason to be up in a tizzy about this new presidential authorization to go after Iran. Then why did multiple members of the intelligence community go to the press? Drum speculates this was a plant coordinated by the government "as a way of sending a message to Iran."
Supporting Drum's theory is the fact, recently revealed by ABC, that the White House had six days to register any objection at all to the story, and they chose not to act.
The story pretty clearly came out with the Bush Administration's consent.
But that isn't stopping Mitt Romney from trying to score cheap political points. The web is flooded with stories blaring the headline "Romney: ABC Story Puts Lives at Risk." Says Romney, "The reporting has the potential of jeopardizing our national security... it has the potential of affecting human life."
The president of ABC News, David Westin, shot back that ABC wouldn't run a story (and hasn't run stories in the past) that put lives at risk, and that American covert ops in Iran have been reported before. "The facts don't bear out the accusations (from Romney)," Westin said. "I even think that any brief look at the facts says that. This is not a complicated one."
Romney isn't dumb. He has to know this is a story the government intended to put in the public sphere, either to send a message to Iran, as Drum wrote, or amidst news that Iran is three to eight years from having a nuclear weapon, to send a message to the American people. "We're doing something about this," they're saying. "Don't worry." Romney knows this. But it's an opportunity to look macho. Chest-puffing, on display during the second GOP debate when the topic of torture came up, is perhaps the most obscene and disgusting part of the GOP primary.
Oh, and PS -- I'd be willing to bet a ton of money that there are other, more "lethal" covert ops going on in Iran right now, but no official in the intelligence community would ever come forward to tell the press, because it would be a PR nightmare for the CIA and could more directly jeopardize national security.