Target Iran: Former UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter and Investigative Journalist Seymour Hersh on White House Plans for Regime Change
Thursday, December 21st, 2006http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/12/21/143259
The Pentagon has announced plans to move additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region to be within striking range of Iran. We air an in-depth discussion between two of the leading critical voices on the Bush administration’s policy in Iran: former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, author of "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change", and Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine. [includes rush transcript - partial]
We turn now to the latest on Iran – the New York Times is reporting the United States and Britain will soon move additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region to be within striking range of Iran. Senior U.S. officers told the paper that the increase in naval power should not be viewed as preparations for any offensive strike against Iran. But they acknowledged that the ability to hit Iran would be increased.
The aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its strike group entered the Persian Gulf on Dec. 11. Another aircraft carrier, the Stennis, is expected to depart for the Gulf within the next month. The military said it is also taking steps to prevent Iran from blocking oil shipments from the Gulf.
Well today on Democracy Now we present an in-depth discussion between two figures who have critical of the Bush administration’s policy on Iran. Scott Ritter is a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. He recently wrote the book "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change." Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine. In October, Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh held a public conversation in New York about Scott Ritter’s new book.
- Scott Ritter. Former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. His new book is "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change."
- Seymour Hersh. Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine.
AMY GOODMAN: Today on a Democracy Now!, we present an in-depth discussion between two figures who have been very critical of the Bush administration's policy on Iran. Scott Ritter is a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. He recently wrote the book, Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change. Seymour Hersh is the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist for the New Yorker magazine. In October, Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh held a public conversation in New York about Scott Ritter's new book. Seymour Hersh began the conversation.
SEYMOUR HERSH: So, Scott, in your book you write at some point -- you list a -- you have an account of some of the things that are going on today inside Iran. You say Israel and the United States were carrying out -- this is on page 147, etc. -- were carrying out a full-court press to try and identify and locate secret nuclear facilities inside Iran. Israel made heavy use of its connections to the Iraqi Kurdistan and to Azerbaijan to set up covert intelligence cells inside Iran, whose work was allegedly supplemented with specially trained commandos entering Iran disguised as local villagers.
The United States was conducting similar operations using Iranian opposition forces, in particular the MEK -- that’s the Mujahideen cult, which is a terrorist group, defined by us as an at-one-time anti-Saddam, now anti-Iran group that works very closely still with us, despite its being listed as a terrorist group.
And you describe using opposition forces inside Iran and the MEK to conduct cross-border operations under the supervision of the CIA. The US has also made use of its considerable technical intelligence-collection capabilities, focusing the attention of imagery and electronic eavesdropping satellites, etc., for operating along Iran’s periphery. The problem was that neither the Israelis nor the United States could detect any activity whatsoever that could point to a definitive location on the ground where secret nuclear weapons activity was taking place.
A couple of questions. Says who? I haven’t read this in the New York Times. You don’t source it. What’s the source? And what do you know? And how do you know this?
SCOTT RITTER: Well, as I mentioned in the back, where I talk about sources, most of that information is readily available in the press -- not the American press. You’re not going to read about it in the New York Times, you’re not going to read about it in the Washington Post, you probably won’t read about it in most mainstream English-language newspapers. But, you know, we used to have an organization in the CIA called FBIS, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, that would translate the newspapers of the various nations around the world to give you literally a bird's-eye view of what’s going on in that country.
So if you read the Azeri press, for instance, you’ll find out that the Israeli Mossad has upped its efforts to build a station in Azerbaijan. And the Azeri press will delve into that more. Why does the Mossad want to build a station operating? There’s a couple reasons. One, the Mossad is working with the Azeri population. You know, there is a Jewish minority in Azerbaijan that has emigrated to Israel. And so, there’s a number of Azeri Israelis that the Israeli government now is bringing back to Azerbaijan to work on this issue. This is spelled out in the Azeri press, so if you want to get some good insights, read the Azeri press. Read the Turkish press. The Turkish press will also talk about what’s going on in Iran and Azerbaijan. This will give you the leads.
And then, because I’m not an active in-service intelligence officer anymore, I will take these leads and call friends who are active serving intelligence officers. And while they’re not going to divulge classified information, I’ll say, “Hey, I read something, where certain activities are taking place. Can you comment on this news?” We’ll sit down over some beers, and they’ll comment. And then you dig even further. And I’ll tell you that I wrote the book before I went to Iran. But when I got to Iran and I talked to Revolutionary Guard commanders, what surprised me is that they knew all this. The Iranians were very cognizant of what was going on in the Azeri section of Iran, in the Kurdish section. They could quote, you know, chapter and verse about what the CIA is up to, what the Israelis are up to.
But, you know, again, the bottom line is, why don’t I footnote this? For probably the same reason why a lot of people don’t footnote things, because if I commit to a specific piece of information coming from a specific written source, that means that another piece of information that I don’t commit to a specific written source, where did that come from? Well, maybe it came from a human source. Now, I’ve just made it easier in this day and age for those who don’t want factual information to get in the hands of the average American citizen, those who want to keep American foreign policy and national security policy secret from the Americans they are supposed to be protecting. They’ll go after these people, and you know they go after these people. And I’m going to do everything I can to ensure that I don’t facilitate harm coming to those who have the courage to assist me in trying to get facts out to people so they can know more about this problem we call Iran.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Why doesn’t my colleagues in the American press do better with this story?
SCOTT RITTER: One of the big problems is -- and here goes the grenade -- Israel. The second you mention the word “Israel,” the nation Israel, the concept Israel, many in the American press become very defensive. We're not allowed to be highly critical of the state of Israel. And the other thing we're not allowed to do is discuss the notion that Israel and the notion of Israeli interests may in fact be dictating what America is doing, that what we're doing in the Middle East may not be to the benefit of America's national security, but to Israel's national security. But, see, we don’t want to talk about that, because one of the great success stories out there is the pro-Israeli lobby that has successfully enabled themselves to blend the two together, so that when we speak of Israeli interests, they say, “No, we're speaking of American interests.”
It’s interesting that AIPAC and other elements of the Israeli lobby don’t have to register as agents of a foreign government. It would be nice if they did, because then we’d know when they’re advocating on behalf of Israel or they're advocating on behalf of the United States of America.
I would challenge the New York Times to sit down and do a critical story on Israel, on the role of Israel's influence, the role that Israel plays in influencing American foreign policy. There’s nothing wrong with Israel trying to influence American foreign policy. Let me make that clear. The British seek to influence our foreign policy. The French seek to influence our foreign policy. The Saudis seek to influence our foreign policy. The difference is, when they do this and they bring American citizens into play, these Americans, once they take the money of a foreign government and they advocate on behalf of that foreign government, they register themselves as an agent of that government, so we know where they're coming from. That’s all I ask the Israelis to do. Let us know where you’re coming from, because stop confusing the American public that Israel's interests are necessarily America's interests.
I have to tell you right now, Israel has a viable, valid concern about Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. If I were an Israeli, I would be extremely concerned about Hezbollah, and I would want to do everything possible to nullify that organization. As an American, I will tell you, Hezbollah does not threaten the national security of the United States of America one iota. So we should not be talking about using American military forces to deal with the Hezbollah issue. That is an Israeli problem. And yet, you’ll see the New York Times, the Washington Post and other media outlets confusing the issue. They want us to believe that Hezbollah is an American problem. It isn’t, ladies and gentleman. Hezbollah was created three years after Israel invaded Lebanon, not three years after the United States invaded Lebanon. And Hezbollah’s sole purpose was to liberate southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation. I’m not here to condone or sing high praises in virtue for Hezbollah. But I’m here to tell you right now, Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization that threatens the security of the United States of America.
AMY GOODMAN: Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, in conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh. We’ll be back with them in a minute.