[promoted by BooMan. Hersh strikes again.]

     Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker article is so well written and engaging I’m not really going to even try to summarize it. Or even analyze it too much. Suffice to say that if this is true — and verifiable — it represents a serious threat to the Bush presidency’s legacy, legitimacy, and legality.

     If Bush — stung by the popularity of pro-Iran Shiite factions, the dismal polling of Allawi, and the refusal of Congress to authorize secret election meddling — went “off the books” and financed fraudulent Iraqi election manipulation without Congress’ acquiescence or appropriations… Well, you can imagine. The most important excerpt — though the whole thing is astounding — after the jump:
Excerpt from “Get Out The Vote,” by Seymour Hersh:

A Pentagon consultant who deals with the senior military leadership acknowledged that the American authorities in Iraq “did an operation” to try to influence the results of the election. “They had to,” he said. “They were trying to make a case that Allawi was popular, and he had no juice.” A government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon’s civilian leaders said, “We didn’t want to take a chance.”

I was informed by several former military and intelligence officials that the activities were kept, in part, “off the books”–they were conducted by retired C.I.A. officers and other non-government personnel, and used funds that were not necessarily appropriated by Congress. Some in the White House and at the Pentagon believed that keeping an operation off the books eliminated the need to give a formal briefing to the relevant members of Congress and congressional intelligence committees, whose jurisdiction is limited, in their view, to officially sanctioned C.I.A. operations. (The Pentagon is known to be running clandestine operations today in North Africa and Central Asia with little or no official C.I.A. involvement.)

“The Administration wouldn’t take the chance of doing it within the system,” the former senior intelligence official said. “The genius of the operation lies in the behind-the-scenes operatives–we have hired hands that deal with this.” He added that a number of military and intelligence officials were angered by the covert plans. Their feeling was “How could we take such a risk, when we didn’t have to? The Shiites were going to win the election anyway.”

In my reporting for this story, one theme that emerged was the Bush Administration’s increasing tendency to turn to off-the-books covert actions to accomplish its goals. This allowed the Administration to avoid the kind of stumbling blocks it encountered in the debate about how to handle the elections: bureaucratic infighting, congressional second-guessing, complaints from outsiders.

     Wow. Just, wow. I hope there’s hard proof. Go read it and then think of ways to make sure this is true, and then ways to make sure the media doesn’t ignore it. By rights it’s the biggest Iraq story so far this year, and if it’s both true and has no media impact then the lefty blogosphere is inept, incompetent, and impotent in doing what needs to be done when it matters.

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