OLBERMANN: A growing body of evidence tonight that the neoconservatives inside the Bush administration who engineered the U.S. invasion of Iraq might now be setting their sights on Iran, the fight between Hezbollah and Israel serving as a conduit, Sidney Blumenthal reporting on Salon.com that, with the president‘s approval, the national Security Agency, the NSA, is secretly providing intelligence to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran are supplying new armaments to Hezbollah as it fires Katyusha missiles and other vehicles into northern Israel.
At the same time, Salon reports, hard-liners in the administration believe Secretary of State Rice is not doing enough to push the neoconservative agenda.
Joining me now to discuss that revelation is James Bamford, an expert on the U.S. intelligence community and the author of groundbreaking books on the NSA called “Body of Secrets” and “The Puzzle Palace.” He now has an article on the prospect of war in Iran in the current issue of “Rolling Stone” magazine.
Mr. Bamford, thank you for your time tonight.
JAMES BAMFORD, “ROLLING STONE”: No, my pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Is the passing of secret intelligence to Israel, with the approval of the president, a clear sign that the administration might be looking to widen the conflict in the Middle East, instead of trying to contain it now?
BAMFORD: Well, it‘s not just intelligence. If you remember, last week there was a major report about how the U.S. was rushing sophisticated weapons to Israel for use in the war. So it‘s clear that the U.S., particularly the Pentagon, is pushing hard on behalf of Israel in this war.
OLBERMANN: Is it Condoleezza Rice herself that the neoconservatives view as a threat? Are they Colin-Powelling her? Or would anyone holding the post of secretary of state prove threatening to this line of thought, because diplomacy really is the antithesis of regime change?
BAMFORD: Well, I think Condi Rice is pretty much a protegee of Colin Powell, who they just couldn‘t stand as secretary of state. And they would prefer to have John Bolton, our ambassador to the U.N., as secretary of state, a fellow neocon.
So they‘re—at every chance they can, I think they‘re going to try to undermine her, and she‘s pushing to get a peace settlement as soon as possible, and I think they would like to delay it as long as possible.
OLBERMANN: By the mere fact, though, that Iraq has not and is not going and doesn‘t seem to be in the future going to be going the way the neocons had planned, does that not detract from their credibility about regime change anywhere else, particularly in Iran, even if it‘s as simple as wanting a do-over? What would make destabilizing that country and the process of that turn out any differently than the process in Iraq has?
BAMFORD: Well, they‘re on an entirely different plane, I think, than most people. And I don‘t think this deters them at all. They‘ve had this goal for years, for a decade, at least. In 1996, they came up with the clean-break plan, which was an outline for how Israel would basically get rid of Iraq and Saddam Hussein and move into Syria, Lebanon, and on to Iran.
I think they‘re trying to carry out this plan. It was written by the person who‘s now the Middle East adviser to Dick Cheney, and the person who was in charge of the war in Iraq, largely, Doug Feith at the Pentagon, in addition to the person who is head of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle.
So this has been a plan that‘s been in the works for a long time. And I think now it‘s their chance to see a possibility for this to come to fruition.
OLBERMANN: Is there an irony in all this, that Hezbollah‘s greatest ally in the region right now might not be Iran, but given that rally we saw in Baghdad today, that it might turn out to be the Arab Shi‘ite majority that we have installed in Iraq?
BAMFORD: Well, that‘s certainly one irony. Another irony is the fact that it was Ahmed Chalabi, the darling of the neoconservatives, that was used to gin up all the phony information to help us get into this war so that they could put Chalabi in there as president of Iraq. And now it turns out that the FBI is investigating Chalabi as possibly a spy for Iran.
So the ultimate irony would be if this was a plot all along by Iran, using Chalabi, to get the United States to get rid of their worst enemy, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and make Iraq very convenient for a new Iranian government, a Shi‘ite-dominated government. And that‘s basically what‘s happened.
OLBERMANN: Sooner or later, if you deal with faith-based facts, you‘re going to trip on something. National security expert James Bamford, great thanks for joining us tonight.
BAMFORD: My pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: No rest in the Middle East, of course. At least 28 farm workers killed in Lebanon today while Hezbollah rockets pound deeper and harder into Israel.
And also tonight, the story of Tony Godby (ph) Johnson makes it, in a form, to the big screen, to thousands of people who believed in his book and believed his book, including me, was that of a teenaged boy dying of AIDS. In actual life, he was a middle-aged, perfectly healthy woman named Vicky.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: A new dimension to the Mideast fighting is tonight‘s fourth story. The dimension is dimensions, size, Israeli air strikes expanding the combat zone deeper into Lebanon today. More in a moment on just how deep.
And 200 Hezbollah rockets landing further into Israel than they ever have before. They are using new rockets as well, packing 50,000 ball bearings, not the sort of munition one uses for the purpose of taking out infrastructure.
Hezbollah killed at least three people in Israel today, including some in Arab towns.
Filling us in now on the toll Lebanon paid, our Beirut bureau chief, Richard Engel, reporting from Tyre.
RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: Keith, Israeli air strikes here in Tyre have intensified tonight at the end of one of the deadliest days in Lebanon so far.
(voice-over): Lebanese troops and paramedics struggle to separate the dead from the debris after four Israeli bombs killed at least 28 farmers. They‘d been loading peaches and plums into a refrigerated container near the border with Syria. Empty fruit baskets lay beside a row of their bodies.
Israel said it targeted a Hezbollah weapons depot.
MIRI EISEN, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: The buildings that we attacked, we did not know had any people in them. If we had known that they had people in them, any civilians, and any uninvolved people, we would not have attacked.
ENGEL: But there is a dispute about what happened in two southern villages today. Lebanese security says Israel flattened two houses with 58 people inside. Tonight, Israel denied it targeted the villages.
Human Rights Watch today, after an investigation, lowered the estimated number of civilians killed in by an Israeli air strike in Qana on Sunday from more than 50 to 28, with 13 still missing.
But with more than 700 dead, most of them civilians, there is a lot of anger here.
“Does the world want to see more massacres?” asked this man. “The world is silent. It‘s unbelievable.”
Lebanese were also shocked Israel overnight destroyed four bridges near Beirut.
KHALED MANSOUR, U.N. SPOKESPERSON: This was the only road, safe road for us, and the only equipped road, so to speak, so trucks can move in from Syria and come down to Beirut and then to the people who are displaced, or to the people who are still in the south.
ENGEL (on camera): Israel claims that all the attacks on convoys, roads, and bridges have eliminated 95 percent of Hezbollah‘s ability to resupply. But all the damage has made it almost impossible for aid convoys to reach the south, where they‘re needed most.
(voice-over): The U.N. and Medicins sans Frontieres both turned convoys around, saying they had no access, and it was too dangerous.
(on camera): Aid workers say they do have supplies, They do have supplies, but with no way to distribute them, they just sit in warehouses, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Richard Engel in Tyre in Lebanon. Great thanks.
Also tonight, the germ counter. Apparently you are better off putting a toilet seat or the bottom of your shoe to your ear, Maxwell Smart, anything except your cell phone.
And move over, Virgin Mary on a piece of toast. We got Jesus on a crustacean. Unto us this day a prawn is born.
Ahead, on COUNTDOWN.