TEHRAN - There is a valid possibility that CIA is playing a sinister role behind the scenes to exploit the current Iranian election protests to destabilise the country, observers said.
The CIA secret programme involves playing the media (especially websites) as well as having secret agents on the ground in Iran, they add.
In May 2007, ABC News reported that the CIA has received secret presidential (Bush) approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, citing officials in the intelligence community.
The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.
The CIA was allowed to supply communications equipment which would enable opposition groups in Iran to work together and bypass internet censorship by the government.
The White House does not usually comment on intelligence matters.
Under the law, the CIA needs an official presidential finding to carry out such covert actions. But the CIA is permitted to mount covert "collection" operations without a presidential finding.
Terror against Tehran
The "nonlethal" aspect of the presidential finding means CIA officers may not use deadly force in carrying out the secret operations against Iran.
Still, some fear that even a nonlethal covert CIA program carries great risks.
As earlier reported on the Blotter on ABCNews.com, the United States has supported and encouraged an Iranian militant group, Jundullah, that has conducted deadly raids inside Iran from bases on the rugged Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan "tri-border region."
US officials deny any "direct funding" of Jundullah groups but say the leader of Jundullah was in regular contact with US officials.
Spying and funding
Reports also suggest that the so called US "National Endowment for Democracy" has been involved in funding candidates favourable to the US in many countries.
Observers say their interference could very well include Iran in 2009.
Roxana Saberi, a US-Iranian journalist who was recently released after being charged for spying for the US in Iran, is said to have been convicted of spying in part because she had a copy of a confidential Iranian report on the war in Iraq.
Her lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, said that she had copied the report "out of curiosity."
Saberi had admitted that she had copied the document two years ago but said she had not passed it on to the Americans as the Iranian prosecutors had claimed. She had apologised, saying it had been a mistake to take the report.
Observers say there is no reason to believe that there has been a change of CIA policy towards Iran.
Iran strikes back
Iran Wednesday said it had identified websites run by companies it said were backed by the US and British secret services.
"We warn those who propagate riots and spread rumours that our legal action against them will cost them dearly, especially since some of the youth of this land were killed by the thugs' action, so we urge them to delete such material from their sites," a statement said.
"It shows the animosity of the Western media towards the Iranian people," it added.
Iran said the sites had been "identified" and were "financially and technically sponsored by Canadian and American firms which are backed by the US and British intelligence services."
Iran on Wednesday accused some foreign media outlets of becoming the "mouthpiece of rioters."
"The presence of hundreds of foreign media (personnel) during the last election and their observation of the existing realities alongside the successful experience in the past 30 years in organising elections is a symbol of utter transparency in the election process," the foreign ministry said.
"But some countries, in an uncalculated, hasty and rude reaction towards the illegal gatherings, have supported them contrary to democratic principles and regulations and have become the mouthpiece of the rioters' movement."
The ministry also warned the foreign media to change its "approach towards Iranian events."
"...The chess players will monitor their behaviour and at the appropriate time, without any doubt, checkmate the enemies of Iran's national unity."
The statement carried by the ISNA news agency was directed to "interfering comments by some Western countries, officials and media."
Twitter takes part
The US government took the unusual step of asking Twitter to delay a planned maintenance outage because of its use as a communications tool by Iranians following their disputed election, a US senior official said Tuesday.
The request highlighted the Obama administration's Web-savvy and the power of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook in organizing protests over the election results in the face of a ban by Iranian authorities on other media.
But it also seemed to run counter to Obama's public efforts not to appear to be meddling in Iran's internal affairs.
A State Department official in Washington said Twitter had been asked to delay Monday's shutdown because it was being used as "an important means of communications" in Iran.
The official told reporters on condition of anonymity that Twitter was all the more important because the Iranian government had shut down other websites, cell phones, and newspapers.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, in a blog post, noted the State Department request but said the decision to delay the outage was made with Twitter's network provider, NTT America.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said meanwhile that the United States does not intend to meddle in Iranian politics. "We don't want to be seen as interfering," he said.
"We're of course monitoring the situation through a number of different media, including social media networks like Facebook and Twitter," he said.