COVERT OPS….Seymour Hersh’s latest New Yorker article is getting a lot of attention because of his allegation that the Bush administration has plans to invade Iran. But that’s not what really caught my eye after reading through his piece. Here’s what Hersh said.

First, that the Defense Department is conducting special ops reconnaissance inside Iran and developing plans to destroy Iran’s nuclear bomb program. This is undoubtedly true. But that’s what militaries do: they create plans. Frankly, they’d be derelict if they weren’t trying to figure out where Iran’s nuclear sites were and developing contingencies for taking them out.

Second, that in return for Pakistani cooperation we agreed not to make a fuss about A.Q. Khan’s nuclear network. By itself, that doesn’t strike me as much of a bombshell either. The Pakistanis have supposedly agreed to shut down Khan’s network, after all, and it’s merely a public humiliation of Khan himself that we’ve agreed to forego. I can live with that if we genuinely got some valuable cooperation in return.

Third, that they’re dead serious about all these plans and a strike against Iran is already a certainty. But that’s not all: Hersh says administration hawks are convinced ? again ? that not only will this destroy Iran’s nuclear program, but will also provoke a pro-western uprising against the mullahs. It’s regime change on the cheap, Part 2! This fantasyland thinking is obviously more disturbing, but at the same time Hersh’s sources for all this seem fairly thin. Definitely worth keeping an eye on, though.

Fourth, though, is the part that ought to be getting more attention. Hersh says ? with seemingly considerable backup ? that the administration has a broad plan to remove covert operations from the CIA and centralize them all in the Pentagon. Why? Because they believe that Pentagon ops are exempt from 70s-era laws that limit covert activities. In other words, no oversight. Just lock and load.

That’s something that deserves some more scrutiny. You can obviously make an argument that 9/11 profoundly changed the way we wage war, and you can also make an argument that laws passed three decades ago ought to be revisited and updated. But this is a debate we should be having loudly and publicly, not in back rooms and closed door briefings. If we don’t, we’ll regret it a decade from now. We always do.

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