Appearing on CNN’s Late Edition to discuss his new article, “The Redirection,” Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh warned that the Bush administration is “very far along” in its plans for a war with Iran.
Among the other highlights from the interview:
— Hersh said U.S. special forces and intelligence operatives have been conducting a lot of “very aggressive” activities inside Iran on the border of Iraq.
— Inside the military, they are planning “a 24 hour package” — that is, a plan to operationalize a strike on Iran within 24 hours of Bush’s order.
— Noting Bush’s steadfast refusal to talk with Iran, Hersh said, “Maybe we just have to really listen to what he is saying. And I don’t know what can stop him because he is president.”
BLITZER: And joining us now from Cairo, Sy Hersh. The article entitled, “The Redirection.” Sy, let me read one line from it. You wrote, “The Iran planning group has been handed a new assignment, to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities and possible regime change.” Based on all your reporting, how far along are U.S. military plans for a war with Iran?
HERSH: Well, of course, they’re very far along. They have been studying this forever. They’re constantly redesigning, retooling, but right now, as I wrote, the new — look, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on. In the last month or so, the president has been talking more and more about cross- border attacks and more and more about Iranian interference and threatening American lives. So it’s not surprising they would fine-tune the targeting to after suspected training sites et cetera across the border and inside Iran. That’s just normal, I think.
BLITZER: And you write that already, some special operations forces, some U.S. intelligence forces have crossed the line and have gone into Iran. Is that right?
HERSH: Oh, yes, that’s been happening for months. There’s been a lot of very aggressive cross-border activity. It’s more than just casual. There has been a lot of — of jumping over the border, chasing bad guys, or people we think are bad guys. That’s been going on quite a bit.
BLITZER: And this is what the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, said on February 15th. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT M. GATES: We are not, you know, for the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran. We are not planning a war with Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, that’s the Pentagon statement and the statement from Robert Gates. What do you say?
HERSH: Well, I guess Mr. Cheney, the vice president, did not get that message, because the other day in Australia, he once again publicly renewed the fact that all options are on the table, and pretty much made another strong threat against the Iranians.
It’s very possible, Wolf, that some of this is simply games being played by the administration that is simply designed to increase the political pressure on Iran, to jack it up. And a lot of this may be agitprop, propaganda. But inside the military, they are planning very seriously, at the president’s request, to attack Iran. And as I wrote in the article, one of the assignments they’d been given, contingency assignments — there is no operational order, no order to hit anything — but one of the contingency assignments would enable the president to at 2:00 in the afternoon say, “I want to hit,” and within 24 hours, targets would be struck — a 24-hour package.
HERSH: You know, I have been writing the same story for a year, sort of like I would call up my friends and say, it is Chicken Little, you know, the sky is falling, in the last year.
And now, obviously, it seems to be much more serious. It is much more intent. My own instinct is, Wolf, that this president is not going to leave office without doing something about Iran. And he could always negotiate, it is always on the table. And he keeps on refusing to negotiate. He keeps on saying he will not. And he keeps on talking tough. And maybe we just have to really listen to what he is saying. And I don’t know what can stop him because he is president.