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Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.

Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight.

The notification of a Finding, the aide said, “is just that—notification, and not a sign-off on activities.

Proper oversight of ongoing intelligence activities is done by fully briefing the members of the intelligence committee.” However, Congress does have the means to challenge the White House once it has been sent a Finding. said, “As a rule, we don’t comment one way or the other on allegations of covert activities or purported findings.” The White House also declined to comment.)A member of the House Appropriations Committee acknowledged that, even with a Democratic victory in November, “it will take another year before we get the intelligence activities under control.” He went on, “We control the money and they can’t do anything without the money. But I’m very leery of this Administration.” He added, “This Administration has been so secretive.”One irony of Admiral Fallon’s departure is that he was, in many areas, in agreement with President Bush on the threat posed by Iran.

Cheney has always wanted to go after Iran, and if he had more time he’d find a way to do it.

We still don’t get enough information from the agencies, and I have very little confidence that they give us information on the edge.”None of the four Democrats in the Gang of Eight—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D.

For example, late last year he told the that the “real objective” of U. policy was to change the Iranians’ behavior, and that “attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice.”Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements.

“Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual.

(Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.” (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.)The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were “pushing back very hard” against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with the Finding told me.

ate last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources.