Steve Roeder / Talon News – 2005-01-19 23:52:24
WASHINGTON (January 19, 2005) — The Pentagon is criticizing a recent article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. Hersh contends that the U.S. has been “conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran since at least last summer” to identify and isolate at least three dozen targets in Iran “that could be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term commando raids.” Nuclear, chemical and missile sites are considered the main targets.
On Monday, Pentagon Spokesman Lawrence DiRita’s written statement claimed, “Mr. Hersh’s source[s] feed him with rumor, innuendo, and assertions about meetings that never happened, programs that do not exist, and statements by officials that were never made.”
Continued DiRita, “The Iranian regime’s apparent nuclear ambitions and its demonstrated support for terrorist organizations is a global challenge that deserves much more serious treatment than Seymour Hersh provides in The New Yorker article titled ‘The Coming Wars.'”
“Mr. Hersh’s article is so riddled with errors of fundamental fact that the credibility of his entire piece is destroyed,” summarized DiRita.
Iran has refused to dismantle its nuclear program, which it insists is legal and intended solely for peaceful purposes. Iran currently denies access to certain facilities.
The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted a defiant Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani. “We are able to say that we have strength such that no country can attack us because they do not have precise information about our military capabilities due to our ability to implement flexible strategies”.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan indicated that the Bush administration expects Iran to fully comply with its international obligations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“We have a number of concerns about Iran, including their pursuit of nuclear weapons and their interest in longer-range ballistic missiles, and we’ve expressed those concerns,” McClellan said. “And we’ll continue working closely with the international community to address these issues.”
Hersh told the BBC the White House is trying to make a plausible case that Tehran is cheating U.N. nuclear inspectors in order to justify possible future military action against it.
“There is plausible deniability — of course [the Bush administration doesn’t] want it known,” he said. “But it’s very simple. This administration has won a new election and the president is pretty clear about what he says — he has a mandate to carry out, to democratize the Middle East, and Iran is next.”
On CNN’s “Late Edition” Sunday, Hersh indicated that “inside” sources presented him with information hoping that resultant publicity would force the administration to reconsider them. “I think that’s one of the reasons some of the people on the inside talk to me,” said Hersh.
White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett countered Hersh on the same program, citing that the article was “riddled with inaccuracies.” Continued Bartlett, “I don’t believe that some of the conclusions he’s drawing are based on fact.”
When asked if military actions were an option if diplomacy failed, Bartlett said, “No president at any juncture in history has ever taken military options off the table.”
Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen told CNN Monday that, since the Pentagon had not “categorically denied” the contents of Hersh’s article, that it could be happening, just not as Hersh explains it. “So there seems to be some confirmation that there is a fairly serious effort under way to gather this kind of information for potential military operations,” he said.
Senior officials told CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr that there is no immediate planning for a strike against Iran. DiRita also indicated, “The post-election meeting [Hersh] describes between the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not happen.”
In the article, Hersh attributes the meeting to “a former high-level intelligence official.”
Hersh also claimed, “Rumsfeld and two of his key deputies, Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Army Lt. Gen. William G. [Jerry] Boykin, will be part of the chain of command for the new commando operations.”
DiRita harshly responded, “The only civilians in the chain-of-command are the president and the secretary of defense, despite Mr. Hersh’s confident assertion that the chain of command now includes two Department policy officials. His assertion is outrageous, and constitutionally specious.”
Hersh also said Doug Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, oversaw Defense Department civilians who “have been working with Israeli planners and consultants to develop and refine potential nuclear, chemical-weapons and missile targets inside Iran.”
DiRita flatly denounced the position, saying, “Arrangements Mr. Hersh alleges between Under Secretary Douglas Feith and Israel, government or non-government, do not exist.”
Hersh responded to DiRita’s criticisms as “quibbling.” Hersh said his information came from “very, very senior” sources. Countered DiRita, “Mr. Hersh’s preference for single, anonymous, unofficial sources for his most fantastic claims makes it difficult to parse his discussion of Defense Department operations.”
DiRita continued to poke holes at Hersh’s article. “Mr. Hersh cannot even keep track of his own wanderings. At one point in his article, he makes the outlandish assertion that the military operations he describes are so secret that the operations are being kept secret even from U.S. military Combatant Commanders.” explained DiRita in his written release. “Mr. Hersh later states, though, that the locus of this super-secret activity is at the U.S. Central Command headquarters, evidently without the knowledge of the commander if Mr. Hersh is to be believed.”
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