The Chalabi Story
Intelligence failure in CYA mode.


Michael Ledeen

We’re going to hear a lot about Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress (which he heads), and his supporters (soon to be labeled “dupes” and “fools” if not something far worse) in Washington. The FBI is said (by, among others, the notorious liar Sidney Blumenthal, who is now sliming away for Salon and the Guardian) to have opened an investigation into the source(s) of the “leak” of “highly classified information” from somebody to Chalabi. From there it is said to have arrived in the hands of the Iranians’ spymaster in Baghdad, and said spymaster is purported to have sent it on to Tehran. Several, maybe even most, leading journalists in town have been told–after promising not to reveal it–that the “highly classified information” was the fact that we had broken the Iranian code and could therefore read messages between Baghdad and Tehran. And many leading journalists have also been told that the “leaker” was some “drunk” from the Coalition Provisional Authority (which makes one wonder why the FBI is snooping around Washington–if it actually is–instead of examining bar bills in Baghdad). Notice, too, that the tacit assumption here is that the Iranian spymaster used the same insecure code to tell Tehran he knew the code was insecure. Which makes him an idiot. But we know that Iranians are highly professional. Ergo he’s not an idiot. Ergo the story is idiotic, if you get my drift.

Before getting any deeper in this story, I want to repeat that Chalabi is a friend, and that I don’t believe he’s an Iranian agent. I do believe that the INC, along with every other significant organization in Iraq, has been penetrated by the extremely skilled Iranian intelligence services, and therefore I would not be at all surprised to find one or another of his associates working with Tehran.

But there is a lot of cognitive dissonance in the air. The intelligence community’s story doesn’t make sense, starting with the notion that the Iranians’ man in Baghdad would instantly send a message to Tehran saying “thanks to our buddy Ahmad we have learned that the Americans can read our mail.”

If such a message exists, it is most likely Iranian disinformation, designed to discredit Chalabi.

Next: What do we think about Iran, and its actions in Iraq? We’ve heard a lot of talk from the State Department, and some whispers from CIA, that Iran has been “helpful,” and even “restrained” in Iraq. But the import of the accusations against Chalabi–and his supporters and friends in America–is that he has betrayed us to an enemy. If we’re going to get tough with people who are too close to the mullahs, can Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage feel safe these days? Let’s go back a bit: the INC had an office in Tehran for some years. The State Department paid for it. Later on, State did a lot to prevent the INC from receiving American money, in defiance of legislation requiring it, thereby making Chalabi more dependent on Iran. So his presumed intimacy with the mullahs is the direct result of our policies.

Next: If we’re going to worry about Iraqi political groups’ associations with Iran, let’s look at the really dramatic cases. There’s Abdul Aziz al Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI is funded directly by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (RG) to the tune of $1.2 million a month, and significant numbers of SCIRI members are paid personally by the RG. Hakim reports regularly to an Iranian intelligence official named Sulemani, surely one of the most dangerous men in the country. And SCIRI has its own militia, the Badr Brigades, which at least until very recently conducted military maneuvers with units of the Revolutionary Guards on Iraqi territory adjoining the Iranian border.

But Hakim is a member of the Governing Council and is in our good graces.

Then there’s the Dawa party, represented on the Governing Council by Ibrahim Jaffari. The Dawa is a fundamentalist Islamic party that was part of the Iranian-supported campaign against Saddam Hussein in the early 1980s. Its leaders lived in Iran for years–Jaffari was there from 1982-89 recruiting Iraqis to spy in their homeland, and reportedly informed on Iraqis in Iran who might be problems for the regime–and the party is funded directly by the Iranians. Dawa was believed involved in terrorist attacks against United States targets in the Persian Gulf in the early and mid-1980s. On his frequent trips to Iran, Jaffari meets the top leaders of the Islamic Republic, including Supreme Leader Khamenei.

But Jaffari is in our good graces.

Then there are the Kurds, most of whom are actively engaged in commerce with Iran, including arms, explosives, and alcohol. Jalal Talabani is closely linked to the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian Intelligence Service, and reported to Tehran on U.S. activities in 1996 during the failed uprising against Saddam. His deputy reports directly to Iranian intelligence. Massoud Barzani, the other prime Kurdish leader, uses his cousin as a conduit to Iran, and the cousin is the head of Kurdish Hezbollah, an Iranian creation. Barzani meets regularly in Baghdad with the Iranians’ top man, who was a guest in Barzani’s house just two weeks ago. Barzani and Talabani both get funding from Iran.

Both Barzani and Talabani are in our good graces.

I could go on, but these cases illustrate the situation adequately. Many of these are excellent people. Their standing and their experience fully qualify them for positions of leadership in Iraq. I would be the last to argue that we should exclude any Iraqi simply because he has good relations with the Iranian regime–he really has no choice. Open opposition to Tehran is an invitation to your own assassination. My questions are simply: If it is bad for Chalabi to do it, why isn’t it equally bad for all the rest of them? And if Iran is an enemy, why aren’t we treating the mullahs and their henchmen as such?

The answer is, because this “story” isn’t about any of that. It’s about the failure of the intelligence community to do its job properly, and the fear that they may be held to account. By now everybody knows that the IC failed to appreciate the significance of al Qaeda, failed to see 9/11 coming, failed to develop reliable information about Iraq, whether it be about internal political realities (those failed coups, remember?), or the WMD facts, from their existence to their location, and so forth. The spooks must be wondering if some political or budgetary axe is hovering over them, and so they need a scapegoat. They picked Chalabi, a man they have always disliked, ever since he exposed one of their coup plots as amateur night. So now they say that they really knew better all along, but they were “duped” by the diabolical genius Chalabi.

Oh really? If Chalabi’s handful of defectors hornswoggled the entire U.S. intelligence community, then why are we spending tens of billions of dollars on it each and every fiscal year? What happened, the polygraphs had some moisture? They are now even trying to blame him for the “mobile labs” story. Good luck with that one. Among their sources were foreign intelligence services and their own human recruits.

Finally, if Chalabi is so unreliable why is it that General Myers praised INC intelligence for saving American lives? Is he a dupe, too? Doesn’t he know what’s happening on the battlefield?

In my view, the worst of the dupes are those who refuse to see what is in front of our collective nose. Somehow, despite a torrent of evidence, this administration refuses to recognize that Iran was, and is, the greatest menace to us, the greatest sponsor of the terror network, and either in possession of atomic bombs or soon to have them. Even if Chalabi turns out to be a master spy, he cannot be blamed for this enormous intelligence and policy failure. Yet we still have no Iran policy. And the nuclear clock continues to tick in Tehran.

Faster, please.


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