WASHINGTON – While US President Barack Obama is offering a compromise offer that would allow Iran to pursue a civilian nuclear program, more and more reports are being published regarding covert American activity in strategic sites throughout the Islamic Republic.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that over the past three years the CIA has been dispatching stealth surveillance drones that have penetrated more than 600 miles inside Iran. According to the report, CIA stealth drones scoured dozens of sites throughout Iran, making hundreds of passes over suspicious facilities, before a version of the RQ-170 drone crashed inside the Islamic Republic's borders in December.
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"The surveillance has been part of what current and former US officials describe as an intelligence surge that is aimed at Iran’s nuclear program and that has been gaining momentum since the final years of George W. Bush’s administration," the newspaper said.
Current and former US intelligence officials told the Washington Post that the expanded intelligence gathering has reinforced the view within the White House that it will have early warning of any move by Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb.
"There is confidence that we would see activity indicating that a decision had been made," a senior US official involved in high-level discussions about Iran policy told the daily. “Across the board, our access has been significantly improved.”
According to the report, White House officials contend that Iran’s leaders have not decided to build a nuclear weapon, and they say it would take Iran at least a year to do so if it were to launch a crash program now.
Site of hit on Iranian nuclear scientist
“Even in the absolute worst case — six months — there is time for the president to have options,” the senior US official said.
Obama administration officials further claim that the improved intelligence also strengthens Washington's bargaining position ahead of nuclear negotiations with Iran, which are scheduled to begin Friday.
Meanwhile, the New Yorker reported over the weekend that the US trained members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahideen-e-Khalq. According to previous reports, Israel has been cooperating with the group, which allegedly carried out hits on Iranian nuclear scientists.
Sources quoted by the New Yorker said members of the organization, also known as the MEK, or the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, were taught how to intercept telephone conversations and text messages inside Iran, which were then translated and shared with American intelligence officials.
Other sources confirmed a previous report in March by NBC News, which claimed that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency was also involved in financing and training MEK units, with the purpose of targeting Iranian nuclear enrichment sites and power plants.
There are growing calls within the US Congress to remove MEK from the State Department's list of terror organizations.
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported that the US military trained members of an Iranian group in Nevada beginning in 2005, adding that American intelligence continues to be transferred to the MEK for use in operations that include the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.
According to Hersh, the training was conducted at a site located some 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. He said the site was once used for nuclear testing and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and a private airport capable of handling Boeing 737 aircraft.
The MEK had its beginnings as a Marxist-Islamist student-led group and, in the nineteen-seventies, it was linked to the assassination of six American citizens. It was initially part of the broad-based revolution that led to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran. But, within a few years, the group was waging a bloody internal war with the ruling clerics, and, in 1997, it was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department.
Hersh said that in 2002, the MEK earned some international credibility by publicly revealing—accurately—that Iran had begun enriching uranium at a secret underground location. The reporter quoted American military and intelligence officials as saying that the MEK’s ties with Western intelligence deepened after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, and the Joint Special Operations Command began operating inside Iran in an effort to substantiate the Bush Administration’s fears that Iran was building the bomb at one or more secret underground locations.
The training of MEK members ended before Obama took office, they said.
According to the officials, funds were covertly passed to a number of dissident organizations, for intelligence collection and, ultimately, for anti-regime terrorist activities. Directly, or indirectly, the MEK ended up with resources like arms and intelligence. Some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, they told Hersh.
In his report, Hersh admitted he could not verify whether MEK members who took part in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists were among those who were trained in Nevada.
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