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Iran-Syria Operations Group

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."

The Iran-Syria Operations Group (ISOG) appears to be an extension of the Office of Iranian Affairs (OIA), which, in turn, is a reincarnation of the Office of Special Plans (OSP).

The OIA, "apparently housed in the same Pentagon offices inhabited by its predecessor and involving some of the same slimy personnel," including Abram Shulsky, head of the OSP under Douglas Feith. OIA staff report to "none other than Elizabeth Cheney, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and daughter of the Vice President," Gary Leupp wrote May 29, 2006, in Dissident Voice.

The purpose of ISOG, likewise headed by Elizabeth Cheney, is "to encourage regime change in Iran. It's no secret that Cheney has over $80 million at her disposal to promote democracy in Iran. But ISOG isn't simply about promoting democracy. It's about helping to craft official policy, doing so not with one but two countries in its sights, and creating a policymaking apparatus that parallels--and skirts--Foggy Bottom's suspect Iran desk," Lawrence F. Kaplan wrote April 10, 2006, in The New Republic Online.

"The question is whether democratic reform can be achieved before Iran becomes a nuclear power," which is "Cheney's job," Sarah Baxter wrote March 5, 2006, in the UK's Times. "In the State Department she is referred to as the 'freedom agenda co-ordinator' and the 'democracy czar' for the broader Middle East."

Cheney and her father, Vice President Dick Cheney, "agree it would be better for the mullahs’ regime to collapse from within than to be ousted by force," Baxter wrote.

ISOG "was established to plot a more aggressive democracy promotion strategy for those two 'rogue' states. Funding is to come from $75m that Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, announced in February she was requesting from Congress this year, plus some $10m already in the budget," Guy Dinmore wrote in the April 21, 2006, Financial Times.

The additional funds were allocated "to promote democracy in Iran. Much of it will be spent on broadcasting the views of exiles, dissidents and reformers inside Iran," Baxter wrote. "Cheney is better known to Iranian listeners of Voice of America's Persian service than she is to Americans ... She rarely gives interviews but set out her agenda in a speech to the Foreign Policy Associations annual dinner [in June 2005]. Cheney said there was a 'direct parallel' between reform movements in the Arab world and Poland's Solidarity in the 1980s, which lit the 'spark of freedom' in the Soviet bloc."

Robert Dreyfuss differs with this opinion, stating April 17, 2006, in The American Prospect that Dick Cheney's office, which he calls the "Vice Squad", is "pushing hard for confrontations with both Iran and Syria. Liz Cheney, who exercises enormous power inside the State Department, has secured millions of dollars to support opposition elements in both countries, and she has met with Syria’s version of Ahmad Chalabi, a discredited businessman from Virginia named Farid al-Ghadry."

"During the past 15 months, Elizabeth Cheney has met with and bolstered a gaggle of Syrian exiles, often in tandem with John Hannah and David Wurmser, top officials in the Office of the Vice President (OVP); has pressed hard for money to accelerate the administration's ever more overt campaign for forced regime change in both Damascus and Teheran; and has overseen an increasingly discredited push for American-inspired democratic reform from Morocco to Iran," Dreyfuss added June 15, 2006.

It should be noted that the "efforts" of the OIA have been "denounced by Iran's leaders as meddling in their internal affairs." [1] It is not unrealistic to expect that the efforts of ISOG have received a similar response.

"Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, denied the operations group existed. But two other US officials and a European diplomat insisted that it did. They said the inter-agency group, which is supposed to co-ordinate with the Pentagon and other departments, is headed by David Denehy, a special adviser who served in the coalition government in Iraq, and Alberto Fernandez, a public diplomacy official," Dinmore wrote April 21, 2006. Denehy's name is also affiliated with the OIA.


Background

"In 2005 the balance shifted within the US government in favor of those who pressed for a regime change in Iran. This ultimately led to the formation of the Iran / Syria Operations Group within the State department," an article published in Zeit-fragen, October 2006, summarizing Col. Sam Gardiner, USAF (Ret.)'s "The End of the 'Summer of Diplomacy': Assessing US Military Options on Iran" states.

"The United States passed from gathering secret service information in Iran to establishing contacts to ethnic minorities. Reports suggest the US supports militant groups in the Iranian region of Belutschistan, according to Gardiner. 'There were murders and kidnappings in this area. Convoys of Iranian revolutionary guards were attacked. In his article in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh confirmed this region was one of the areas where US forces operated. The Iranian press also accused the United States of operating there. In addition, press reports presumed the US may have been support[ing] former members of the MEK (Mudschaheddin-e Khalq) in Belutschistan that have their base in Iraq'," the article states. "The Iranians also charged the US with involvement in shooting down two of their aircraft, an old C-130 and a Falcon jet with the leader of the revolutionary guard on board."

Cheney Name Carries Negative Connotations in Middle East

President George W. Bush said in November 2005 that "The US has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East," Simon Tisdall wrote November 15, 2005, in The Guardian (UK). "Backed by Liz Cheney, the vice-president's daughter and state department expert, and Karen Hughes, Mr Bush's image polisher-in-chief, Condoleezza Rice is trying to turn presidential vision into reality."

However, Tisdall wrote, the Cheney name is "associated with the Iraq invasion" and "has negative connotations on the Arab street." Hughes's "goodwill tour was widely ridiculed" and Rice's "call for international monitoring of Egypt's presidential election [in June 2005] was rejected."

Syria

In March 2005, Elizabeth Cheney "met with Syrian-American Farid Ghadry, President of the Reform Party of Syria, which reminiscent of Bush's own position on Iraq, openly advocates regime change in Syria as the only means to usher democracy, uphold the rule of law and stimulate economic reforms," Farrah Hassen wrote May 7, 2005, in ZMag:

"As the following ultimatum on the Party's official website (http://reformsyria.org/) sums it up, 'Either Syria changes course or course will be changed for Syria.'"

This was not Cheney's first acquaintance with Syrian officials, as disclosed by Ghadry in a July 20, 2006, op-ed published by the Washington Times:

"Syrian President Bashir Assad has blundered amid amplified U.S. pressure on his tyrannical regime aimed at changing his behavior, ... Among the many policies that the United States used to pressure Mr. Assad was a meeting with the Syrian opposition on March 24, 2004. The meeting was the first of its kind, held with Liz Cheney, then the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Since then, the United States has escalated both its rhetoric and the implementation of some of the components of the Syria Accountability Act."

Middle East Partnership Initiative Programs: Forum for the Future and Fund for the Future

Democracy and Censorship

"While the U.S. government touts democracy promotion abroad, American companies are undermining that paradigm by providing technology that censors and prohibits the foundation of liberal democracy—freedom of expression," Michael Shtender-Auerbach wrote April 27, 2006, for The Century Foundation.

Shtender-Auerbach cites ISOG as an example:

"Ironically, a program within the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, the Iran-Syria Operations Group (ISOG), led by Vice President Cheney’s daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, operates with an $80 million dollar budget for the promotion of democracy in Iran and Syria. This program and others have invested in anonymous Internet communication systems like TOR that allow users to bypass government censors. So, while the State Department is actively helping Iranian dissidents, Congress is turning a blind eye to U.S. corporations that are providing the tools of control to other, more repressive regimes. How can we demand freedom of expression in one country—and accept the denial of it in another—just because of corporate interests and financial gain?"

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