It's not Over
Though little-known outside the Beltway, the Pentagon officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, were at the height of their powers among a small, tight-knit coterie of Washington Iran hawks determined, in the wake of 9/11, to push for regime change not just in Kabul and Baghdad, but in Tehran as well. Farsi speakers both, they had become increasingly influential as advisers to top Pentagon officials consumed with planning a response to the terror attacks. Franklin was the Iran desk officer in a Pentagon policy office that would eventually include the Office of Special Plans, an alternative intelligence shop that became closely allied with Ahmed Chalabi and his band of Iraqi exile informants. Joining the pair in Rome was Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative historian and activist who is among the most impassioned advocates for overthrowing the Iranian regime.
The real story, as I learned in the course of a two-year investigation that took me from sterile Washington offices to smoky exile pubs in Paris, is more interesting. It’s also not over. As the crisis with Iran deepens and moves to the fore, the Bush administration is putting in place key elements of the vision spun in part by the men at the Rome meeting. In a new campaign to ramp up pressure on the Iranian regime, millions of dollars are pouring into exile groups, anti-regime propaganda, pro-democracy projects, and intelligence gathering. State Department and intelligence personnel are being deployed to the region and new Iran operations offices are being “stood up” in the State Department and Pentagon—the latter even featuring some of the names familiar from the pre-Iraq-war Office of special Plans.