A night after leading with an “exclusive” about the more imminent than thought horrific threat posed by Iran's nuclear weapons capability, ABC's World News began Tuesday with another Brian Ross “exclusive” in which he exposed a clandestine “secret war” inside Iran, a revelation that seemingly could undermine U.S. efforts to prevent Iran's extremist leaders from using those weapons of mass destruction. “Tonight,” anchor Charles Gibson announced at the top of Monday's World News, “an alarming acceleration of Iran's nuclear program. Iran could have material for a bomb in two years. A Brian Ross exclusive.” Ross soon explained how “in the last three months Iran has more than tripled its ability to produce enriched uranium -- meaning, according to weapons experts, that it could have enough material for a nuclear bomb within two years...”
Jump ahead 24 hours, and Gibson teased Tuesday's World News: “Tonight, a secret war going on inside Iran. Deadly stealth attacks in Iran, being conducted with the knowledge of the U.S. government. Brian Ross investigates.” Ross outlined how “U.S. and Pakistani sources tell ABC News that the U.S. has been secretly advising and encouraging a militant group that has carried out a series of guerrilla raids inside Iran, raids that have led to the deaths or capture of Iranian soldiers and officials. The group operates out of the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, just across the border from Iran.” Naturally, ABC managed to make a connection to Dick Cheney as Ross relayed: “Pakistani sources say the secret campaign against Iran was on the agenda when Vice President Cheney met with Pakistani President Musharaff in February.”
Gibson led the April 3 World News:
“Good evening. We have an exclusive report tonight on efforts to undermine the government of Iran. Efforts undertaken with the knowledge of the U.S. government. Our chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, has uncovered a U.S. intelligence connection to a militant group in Pakistan that is conducting raids across that country's border with Iran, raids that in some cases, have been deadly. The purpose of those attacks, to destabilize Iran. Brian is here, tonight, with details. Brian?”
Ross elaborated: “Charlie, U.S. and Pakistani sources tell ABC News that the U.S. has been secretly advising and encouraging a militant group that has carried out a series of guerrilla raids inside Iran, raids that have led to the deaths or capture of Iranian soldiers and officials. The group operates out of the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, just across the border from Iran. The group, made up of Baluchi tribesmen, has produced its own videos showing Iranian soldiers and border guards it says it has captured and brought back to Pakistan. U.S. government sources say the U.S. provides no direct funding of the group. But since 2005, has maintained ties to its youthful leader, this man, Abd el Malik Regi, who claims to have personally executed some of the Iranian captives.”
Alexis Debat, ABC News consultant: “He used to fight with the Taliban. He's part drug smuggler, part Taliban, part Sunni activist.”
Ross: “Alexis Debat, a senior fellow on counter-terrorism at the Nixon Center and an ABC News consultant, says tribal sources told him Regi and his group, called Jundullah, are getting money funneled through Iranian exiles who have connections to European and Gulf state countries.”
Debat: “He is essentially commanding a force of several hundred guerilla fighters that stage attacks across the border into Iran on Iranian military officers, Iranian intelligence officers, kidnaping them, executing them on camera.”
Ross: “Most recently, Jundullah took credit for an attack in February that killed at least eleven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the city of Zehedan. Last month, Iranian state television broadcast what it said were confessions by those responsible for that bus attack. They reportedly admitted to being members of Jundullah and said they had been trained for the mission at a secret location in Pakistan.”
Debat: “This absolutely could not happen without the approval at the most senior level of the Pakistani government.”
Ross: “In fact, Pakistani sources say the secret campaign against Iran was on the agenda when Vice President Cheney met with Pakistani President Musharaff in February. The only relationship with the group that the U.S. intelligence will admit to for the record, is seeking its help in tracking al Qaeda figures in that part of Pakistan. Other than that, U.S. officials say only they do not provide direct funding to the group to attack Iran. Charlie.”
Gibson, at anchor desk with Ross: “But, Brian, could a small group like this actually have an effect in destabilizing the Iranian government?”
Ross: “There is a belief by U.S. officials, that this minority group, plus four or five other minority groups, if stirred up, could in fact destabilize and upset the Tehran central government, leading to a destabilization.”
Gibson: “All right. Our chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross. Brian will have more of his report later on Nightline."
The April 2 posting of the Ross story on ABC News' “The Blotter” blog, “Exclusive: Iran Nuclear Bomb Could Be Possible by 2009,” by Brian Ross and Christopher Isham.
The April 3 “The Blotter” posting of the Ross story, “ABC News Exclusive: The Secret War Against Iran,” by Brian Ross and Christopher Isham.