WASHINGTON -- The CIA has asked Congress for $19 million next year to continue covert operations to destabilize Iraq and to curb what the administration calls Iran's expansionist ambitions, administration officials say.
The operations -- with about $15 million to be spent against Iraq and about $4 million against Iran -- are designed to support the Clinton administration's stated policy goal of "dual containment."
The policy is aimed at weakening but not specifically overthrowing Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein; keeping together an anti-Iraq coalition at the United Nations; and strangling Iran's economy as it tries to rebuild its military muscle.
But the limits of the intelligence operations in pursuing those goals is raising questions about whether the United States can accomplish some of those objectives in overt ways.
The very existence of the secret operations are a reminder that 16 years after Iran's revolution and more than four years after Iraq's defeat in the Persian Gulf War, the United States is still unable to moderate the policies of what Secretary of State Warren Christopher calls "those two rogue states."
In Iraq, for example, the U.S. is still struggling to win the release of two American citizens who were jailed last month after they crossed into the country from Kuwait.
Administration officials familiar with the secret operations against Iran and Iraq were reluctant to discuss them in detail. But they defended the programs as a way to try to influence events in countries that the United States has branded outlaw states and where it has no diplomatic presence.
"It's a risk-versus-gain calculation," said one administration official familiar with the programs. "You want to be prepared to shape events if the opportunity arises."
Mark Mansfield, a spokesman for the CIA, declined to discuss the covert operations, saying, "As a matter of policy we do not comment on such matters."
The $4 million for Iran is to be used mainly to spread propaganda against its Islamic government, about the same amount the CIA received for anti-Iranian activities last year, officials said.
An intelligence order signed by Mr. Clinton last year defined the purpose of future covert action as "enhanced containment" through an aggressive anti-Iranian information campaign led mainly by Iranian exiles, American officials said. The operation also includes a propaganda effort to promote the American approach to Iran's trading partners.
The operation is not intended to destabilize or overthrow Iran's government, officials said. And they said it does not finance the Iranian armed opposition group known as the People's Mujahedeen, which is based in Baghdad and receives the bulk of its money from Iraq.