The article by Seymour Hersh centres around a highly classified presidential finding signed by Bush, which by US law must be made known to Democratic and Republican House and Senate leaders and ranking members of the intelligence committees.
“The finding was focused on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change, working with opposition groups and passing money,” the article quoted a source as saying.
Mr Hersh has written previously about possible administration plans to go to war to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including an April 2006 article that suggested regime change in Iran was Bush’s ultimate goal.
Funding for the covert escalation, for which Bush requested up to $400 million, (€250m) was approved by congressional leaders, according to the article.
Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. US Special Operations Forces have been conducting crossborder operations from southern Iraq since last year, the article said.
These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation as well as the pursuit of “high-value targets” in Bush’s “war on terror”, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which include the Central Intelligence Agency, have now been significantly expanded, the article said.
Among groups inside Iran benefiting from US support is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement.
Council on Foreign Relations analyst Vali Nasr described the group to Hersh as a vicious organisation, suspected of links to al-Qaida.
The article said US support for dissident groups could prompt a violent crackdown by Iran, giving the Bush administration a reason to intervene.