THE IRAN LEAK….Yesterday ABC News revealed that President Bush has signed a “nonlethal presidential finding” that approves covert action to destabilize the Iranian regime. The CIA plan “reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions.”

The very first comment on this story over at the ABC site is this: “If it was a secret, it isn’t any longer. I will turn off ABC News and never watch again. I consider ABC News [traitors] to the United States.” Plenty of other commenters agree, as do most conservative pundits and bloggers.

But there’s something about this story that’s been nagging at me. ABC says its sources are “current and former officials in the intelligence community,” and I’m having a hard time figuring out who they might be. The presumption among right-wing bloggers is that the leakers are a cabal of CIA doves, and this makes sense since it’s an article of faith among modern conservatives that the CIA is a virtual fifth column, full of Ivy League softies unwilling to do anything more forceful than write a stern memo to the United Nations. And they all hate Bush and are just itching for a chance to undermine him.

That’s the view from the fever swamp, anyway. Back in consensus reality, 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. And they love presidential findings, too, since this is what covers their ass legally when they start up their field operations. What’s more, contrary to conservative dogma, 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.

And let’s face it: a campaign of “propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions” 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?

Beats me. Maybe I’m not using my imagination enough. But there is an alternative: namely that this wasn’t the work of malcontents at all. Rather, it was deliberately leaked as a way of sending a message to Iran, in much the same way that Simon Tisdall’s “senior US official in Baghdad” decided that the Guardian might be a good place to plant a similar message. There seems to be a fair amount of that kind of thing going on right now.

Anyway, it’s just a thought. Things are not always as they seem on the surface.

UPDATE: Here’s a statement from ABC News responding to criticism that they disclosed a covert operation:

In the six days since we first contacted the CIA and the White House, at no time did they indicate that broadcasting this report would jeopardize lives or operations on the ground. ABC News management gave them the repeated opportunity to make whatever objection they wanted to regarding our report. They chose not to.


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