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On Cheney, Rumsfeld order, US outsourcing special ops, intelligence to Iraq terror group, intelligence officials say

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Thursday April 13, 2006

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The Pentagon is bypassing official US intelligence channels and turning to a dangerous and unruly cast of characters in order to create strife in Iran in preparation for any possible attack, former and current intelligence officials say.

One of the operational assets being used by the Defense Department is a right-wing terrorist organization known as Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), which is being “run” in two southern regional areas of Iran. They are Baluchistan, a Sunni stronghold, and Khuzestan, a Shia region where a series of recent attacks has left many dead and hundreds injured in the last three months.

One former counterintelligence official, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the information, describes the Pentagon as pushing MEK shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The drive to use the insurgent group was said to have been advanced by the Pentagon under the influence of the Vice President’s office and opposed by the State Department, National Security Council and then-National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice.

“The MEK is run by a husband and wife team who were given bases in northern Baghdad by Saddam,” the intelligence official told RAW STORY. “The US army secured a key MEK facility 60 miles northwest of Baghdad shortly after the 2003 invasion, but they did not secure the MEK and let them basically be because [then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz was thinking ahead to Iran.”

Another former intelligence official added that the US military had detained as many as 3,500 members of MEK at Iraq’s Camp Ashraf since the start of the war, including the highest level ranking MEK leaders. Ashraf is about 60 miles west of the Iranian border.

This intelligence official, wishing to remain anonymous, confirmed the policy tensions and also described them as most departments on one side and the Pentegon on the other.

“We disarmed [the MEK] of major weapons but not small arms. [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld was pushing to use them as a military special ops team, but policy infighting between their camp and Condi, but she was able to fight them off for a while,” said the intelligence official. According to still another intelligence source, the policy infighting ended last year when Donald Rumsfeld, under pressure from Vice President Cheney, came up with a plan to “convert” the MEK by having them simply quit their organization.

“These guys are nuts,” this intelligence source said. “Cambone and those guys made MEK members swear an oath to Democracy and resign from the MEK and then our guys incorporated them into their unit and trained them.”

Stephen Cambone is the Undersecretary of Defense Intelligence. His office did not return calls for comment.

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According to all three intelligence sources, military and intelligence officials alike were alarmed that instead of securing a known terrorist organization, which has been responsible for acts of terror against Iranian targets and individuals all over the world – including US civilian and military casualties – Rumsfeld under instructions from Cheney, began using the group on special ops missions into Iran to pave the way for a potential Iran strike.

“They are doing whatever they want, no oversight at all,” one intelligence source said.

Indeed, Saddam Hussein himself had used the MEK for acts of terror against non-Sunni Muslims and had assigned domestic security detail to the MEK as a way of policing dissent among his own people. It was under the guidance of MEK ‘policing’ that Iraqi citizens who were not Sunni were routinely tortured, attacked and arrested.

Although the specifics of what the MEK is being used for remain unclear, a UN official close to the Security Council explained that the newly renamed MEK soldiers are being run instead of military advance teams, committing acts of violence in hopes of staging an insurgency of the Iranian Sunni population.

“We are already at war,” the UN official told RAW STORY.

Asked how long the MEK agents have been active in the region under the guidance of the US military civilian leadership, the UN official explained that the clandestine war had been going on for roughly a year and included unmanned drones run jointly by several agencies.

In a stunning repeat of pre-war Iraq activities, the Bush administration continues to publicly call for action and pursue diplomatic solutions to allegations that Iran is bomb-ready. Behind the scenes, however, the administration is already well underway and engaged in ground operations in Iran.

The British, however, are less enthused about a strike in Iran. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called an American strike on Iran “inconceivable,” while Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he’s keeping all his options open. Asked about the MEK, a senior British intelligence official said that the Brits are not yet sure of what the situation on Iran’s southern border is, but vehemently condemned any joint activity with the terrorist organization.

“We don’t know who precisely is carrying out those attacks in the south but we believe it is MEK,” the British official said.

When asked if the US military is running the MEK, the source was careful to indicate that while there is a US unit in Iran gathering information, it’s difficult to say if they are in any way involved with MEK.

“The people who are inside Iran are from a US Special mission unit,” the source explained. “They are called by codenames, but would not be involved in the bomb blasts. They want to get in, get the intelligence and go out with anyone knowing they have been there. But the bomb blasts might be diversions away from the operations by this US special mission unit. The British are definitely not involved in any of this.”

Moreover, the British official expressed that any operations with MEK would violate their own military code and would absolutely not be tolerated.

“We have very strict rules and can’t go consorting with terrorists," the official added. "We did it in Northern Ireland. No more.”

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the geographic position of Khuzestan Province. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

Editor's note #2: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the MEK leadership duo as brother and sister, they are in fact husband and wife. There seemed to have been some disagreement with various experts just what that relationship was and how much of it was for public appearances. There is however enough agreement with experts and sources to issue a correction on this small point. We apologize for the confusion.