2004 May 22 Saturday
Did Iran Trick The Bush Administration About Iraq's WMD?

Knut Royce of Newsday reports that the Defense Intelligence Agency believes the Iraqi National Congress (INC) headed Ahmed Chalabi has been used as a tool to fool US intelligence about Iraq and to collect information about US activities. (same article here)

"Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency's conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.

...

Patrick Lang, former director of the intelligence agency's Middle East branch, said he had been told by colleagues in the intelligence community that Chalabi's U.S.-funded program to provide information about weapons of mass destruction and insurgents was effectively an Iranian intelligence operation. "They [the Iranians] knew exactly what we were up to," he said.

He described it as "one of the most sophisticated and successful intelligence operations in history."

"I'm a spook. I appreciate good work. This was good work," he said.

Kurdish INC officlal Aras Karim (aka Aras Habib) is suspected of being a spy for Iran.

The inquiries are focusing on allegations of corruption, kidnapping and robbery, and on a U.S. suspicion that one of Chalabi's closest advisers is a paid agent of the Iranian intelligence service, according to U.S., INC and Iraqi police officials. The adviser, Aras Habib, has a long working relationship with the Defense Intelligence Agency and is now a fugitive.

Karim/Habib is (perhaps about to become "was") Chalabi's chief of security.

Two U.S. officials said that evidence suggests that Arras Habib, Chalabi's security chief, is a longtime agent of Iran's intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or MOIS.

A group of INC officials are alleged to have been going around Baghdad kidnapping people.

Andrew Cockburn reports that as early as 1995 the International Atomic Energy Agency found a document that appeared to be an Iranian forgery to make it look like the Iraqis were developing a nuclear bomb.

The document was almost faultless, but not quite. The scientists noticed that some of the technical descriptions used terms that would only be used by an Iranian. "Most notable," says one scientist, "was the use of the term 'dome'--'Qubba' in Iranian, instead of 'hemisphere'--'Nisuf Kura' in Arabic." In other words, the document had to have been originally written in Farsi by an Iranian scientist and then translated into Arabic.

Tom Killeen, of the Iraq Nuclear Verification Office at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, confirms this account of the incident. "After a thorough investigation the documents were determined not to be authentic and the matter was closed."

Asked how the IAEA obtained the document in the first place, Killeen replied "Khidir Hamza." Hamza was the former member of the Iraqi weapons team who briefly headed the bomb design group before being relegated to a sinecure posting (his effectiveness as a nuclear engineer was limited by his pathological fear of radioactivity and consequent refusal to enter any building where experiments were underway.) In 1994 he made his way to Ahmed Chalabi's headquarters in Iraqi Kurdistan, and eventually arrived in Washington. where he carved out a career based on an imaginative claim to have been "Saddam's Bombmaker."

As late as the summer of 2002 Hamza was being escorted by Chalabi's Washington representative Francis Brooke to the Pentagon to brief Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on details of Saddam's allegedly burgeoning nuclear weapons program.

The secrets that Iran learned were known by very few in Washington DC.

U.S. intelligence officials on Friday said Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council with ties to senior Pentagon officials, gave intelligence secrets to Iran so closely held in the U.S. government that only "a handful" of senior officials know them.

Did the US official that gave Chalabi the information that he gave to the Iranians break national security laws by providing that information? Should, say, Wolfowitz or Feith be prosecuted for this?

The New York Post is reporting that King Abdullah of Jordan recently provided key information that Chalabi was extorting money Baathists to allow them to avoid arrest or to be eligible for jobs that were supposed to be off-limits to Baathists.

King Abdullah's dossier provided critical confirmation of U.S intelligence gathered elsewhere that the INC was playing a double game with Ba'athists and that Chalabi and his security chief were passing sensitive information to Iran.

It looks like the United States was played by Iran to go after Saddam Hussein's regime. The Bush Administration's professed main reason for invading Iraq was Iraq's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But the most dangerous WMDs at this point in time are nuclear weapons and it seemed obvious before the war that Iran had (and still has) a bigger effort to develop nuclear weapons. After all, Iran had very visible nuclear facilities under construction and more money and a larger population to support a nuclear program.

At this point the Bush Administration is rather like the boy who cried wolf. Who is going to believe the Bushies about Iran as a threat? The Bush Administration underestimated and didn't prepare for post-war occupation of Iraq, was incredibly naive about the obstacles in the way of building a democracy, and all the WMD news and the post-war events in Iraq have seriously undermined the US government's ability to stop Iran's or North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. The US has spent more than $100 billion on Iraq and the amount is still rising with estimates of total cost running between $300 billion and $450 billion.

If these reports about Iran fooling the United States come to be widely believed what is the political fall-out?

Even as the revelations about Chalabi and other INC officlals continue to pile up we can still find an assortment of neoconservatives defending Chalabi. See, for example, recent Chalabi defenses (and implicitly defenses of themselves for their long term support of Chalabi) by Kenneth Timmerman and Michael Rubin, Michael Ledeen, Frank Gaffney, and David Frum. For a excellent critical analysis of another recent Frum article defending Chalabi see Noah Millman's dissection of Frum on Chalabi. In retrospect I really didn't pay enough attention either to Chalabi or to the top neocons such as Feith and Perle. I naively thought the US government foreign policy couldn't be under control of a bunch of ideologues and expected that Bush would have appointed people to the Defense Department who were more empirical and practical.

At this point the neocons are arguing that their critics are making too much of the leaks and speculation about INC links to Iran. But the major neocons active in Washington policy circles now suffer from serious credibility problems. The neocon judgements about Chalabi and the INC deserve the skeptical treatment they are receiving because so many other decisions made by neocon policy makers on Iraq both before and after the war were big mistakes. Many of the mistakes that might have been corrected were responded to with a recurring pattern of too little too late. These guys don't just make mistakes. They resist learning from their mistakes when the lessons would require them to abandon their incorrect models of the world. These guys are hopeless. The Bush Administration needs a housecleaning of its foreign policy apparatus. Most of Bush's major foreign policy figures should be replaced.

After pointing that confirmation of this report will be extremely humiliating to the US in the eyes of the world Steve Sailer asks two questions about these revelations:

First question: If the spin doesn't work, legally speaking, how does the Republican Party dump Bush? The primaries are all over and he won almost all the delegates. Can the delegates legally rebel at the GOP Convention or are they bound by law to vote for the Chump-in-Chief?

Second question: Who should replace Bush on the GOP ticket? The Cabinet is discredited, even Powell. For instant name recognition, the obvious choice would be Ah-nold, but he ain't eligible.

There's an added twist here: We can tell the Europeans and Arabs that they should be more mad at Iran than at the United States for the invasion of Iraq. We can't help we are a bunch of country hick rubes.

On the subject of who is to blame for what has gone wrong in Iraq: If Iran tricked the United States then why didn't the French intelligence agency figure it out in advance? The French or Russians could have stopped the war by digging up the intelligence in Iran that would show that was really happening. This whole affair demonstrates the need for absolutely great intelligence. The CIA didn't catch this one either. It is finally time for George Tenet to resign too?

Update: There are more twists and turns to this story than we can hope to get our minds around. Knut Royce says a Guantanamo prisoner provided information implicating Aras Karim Habib as an Iranian agent.

A U.S. intelligence source said that information about Karim's activities came in part from a detainee at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are being held.

But of course those people at Guantanamo are Taliban and Ql Qaeda. So what does that say about the connections between those groups and Iran as well?

A November 24, 2003 profile of Chalabi by Sally Quinn in the Washington Post shows the depth of the divisions in Washington DC over Chalabi. It is worth reading in full.

"He's a patriot who has the best interests of his country at heart," says Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"He's a fake, one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated on the American people," says Pat Lang, the man who headed counterterrorism in the Middle East and South Asia for eight years at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

"He's a class act," says former CIA director Jim Woolsey.

"He is exasperating, frustrating and not a team player," says Whitley Bruner, a former CIA agent who worked with Chalabi in London.

"Unlike so many Iraqi oppositionists, he actually does what he says he's going to do," says Ken Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

"If we pulled out he wouldn't last two hours," says former CIA agent Bob Baer. "He's like Rockefeller. He couldn't be president. He's a rich boy."

A July 23 2000 piece by Andrew Cockburn (see my previous link to another Cockburn piece above) about James Woolsey shows Woolsey was defending Aras Karim's brother Ali Karim and found out in a court case then that Aras Karim was already suspected by the CIA in the 1990s of being an Iranian agent.

There was one more surprise in store. For two years, Woolsey had been eloquent in denouncing the "blithering incompetence" of the I.N.S., which behaved "as if it were plucked from Pinochet's Chile." Now, in cross-examination by Woolsey and his fellow counsel, it emerged that all along, in the background, the C.I.A. had been pulling the strings. F.B.I. agents testified that Ali had been targeted because his cousin, Aras, the resistance commander in northern Iraq, was deemed by the C.I.A. to be on the Iranian payroll. Former colleagues of Aras's, including his leader, Ahmad Chalabi, and Warren Marik, a former agency case officer who had worked closely with him, testified eloquently and convincingly that the charges were groundless. So what was really going on here?

Woolsey had his suspicions. Operating in northern Iraq, Aras was known to have seriously irritated a senior C.I.A. official who resented Aras's and Chalabi's disinclination to follow orders. It was indeed possible, Woolsey speculated, that Ali had simply been the victim of a private C.I.A. "jihad" against his cousin and ended up spending three years in jail. "Jim has always operated at the top level," says Bill Butler, a fellow Washington lawyer and Woolsey's close friend and next-door neighbor. "It's educational for someone like him to see what happens at the bottom."

The use of the term "Jihad" is spin that ignores the possibility of a more Machiavellian motive on the part of the CIA. Sounds like the CIA might have been trying to use the threat of extradition of Ali Karim as a tool for leverage against Aras Karim.

Josh Marshall reports that already in 1998 Aras Karim Habib was suspected by the FBI to be an Iranian spy.

We've been discussing for some time that Chalabi's connections to the Iranians and his flow of money from the Iranians has been known about among Chalabi's Washington supporters for years. But suspicions that Aras Karim was an Iranian agent are not new either.

Take this October 13th, 1998 New York Times article, which says that "An F.B.I. report said Mr. Karim's cousin Aras Habib Muhamad Al-Ufayli, who had been the intelligence chief for the Iraqi National Congress, had a 'well-documented connection to Iranian intelligence.'"

Chalabi may benefit by being seen as an enemy of the United States.

By the time of the raid, Chalabi was already engaged in open political warfare with the Bush administration.

On Thursday he took that war a step further, declaring that now that the United States had liberated Iraq, it was time to get out of the way.

"My message . . . is let my people go, let my people be free,'' he said, clearly angry that his bedroom had been invaded, his computers and papers confiscated. "We are grateful to President Bush for liberating Iraq, but it is time for the Iraqi people to run their affairs,'' he said.

In order to remain a player in Iraq Chalabi had to distance himself from the United States anyhow. So this turning on the United States was predictable. Expect similar attempts by other major Iraqi figures to put distance between themselves and the United States as they all try to pose as ardent nationalsts (or ardent defenders of their sects).

Chalabi advisor Francis Brooke says the INC knew about the raid in advance and says it has helped the INC in Iraq.

One of Chalabi's advisers said Friday that INC officials received advance notice of U.S. plans to search the INC intelligence building and removed their computers weeks ago. The adviser, Francis Brooke, said "nothing of any intelligence value" was recovered in the raids.

...

But Brooke said the fallout has had political benefits, particularly in galvanizing council support for Chalabi.

Of course Chalabi wants to distance himself from the United States. He wants to portray himself as an Iraqi nationalist. It still seems unlikely he will succeed, what with INC members apparently running a kidnapping ring for profit and corruption charges being levelled at INC leaders he's not exactly as popular among Iraqis as he is among neoconservatives.

Leaders of Jewish political groups have apparently been arguing with each other for years over whether Chalabi could deliver friendlier Iraqi relations with Israel.

Some also worry that Chalabi's good words won't translate into a pro- Israel foreign policy. Pressure to garner support from inside Iraq and the rest of the Arab world could force the INC to abandon its pro-Israel position.

In addition, the Bush administration's appointment of a military leader and encouragement of a dissident group with ties to Israel has played into conspiracy theories in the Arab world that the United States went to war in Iraq for Israel's benefit perhaps constraining the next Iraqi government's latitude to approach Israel.

"It's far too early to even speculate where any of them will be and what their positions will be," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "It never works out the way people think it is going to work out."

Neoconsevative hopes that a regime change in Iraq would produce a government friendly to Israel were always naive and never had a chance of succeeding. Any new government in Iraq is going to need to prove itself to the populace as a nationalistic government which is not a puppet of the United States or Israel. Therefore such a government will not be able to afford to take a foreign policy position that is out of sync with general Arab sentiments against Israel. Chalabi conned the neocons. Iran, Chalabi, and the neocons conned the American people. That's a bitter pill to swallow. But we can begin to limit the extent of the damage if we accept what happened.

Update II: The neocons who believed Chalabi as leader of Iraq would want to make peace with Israel are naive not just because of the sentiments of the masses in Iraq but also because of the likely motives of Chalabi himself. Why would Chalabi personally want to make peace with Israel? What would have been in it for him to even attach much importance to that as a goal? The neocon expectations about him seem ridiculous on so many levels. Why would any ardent Iraqi nationalist who rises to power in Iraq see any reason to make peace with Israel? Also, why would an extremely ambitious Iraqi living in exile desperate for backing from powerful Americans be expected to be honest in his pursuit of that influence? The neocons are so parochial with their interest in Israel that they have a real problem understanding people who have radically different sets of priorities.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 22 03:20 AM  Mideast Iraq


Comments
TangoMan said at May 22, 2004 4:20 AM:

I really enjoyed your essay. Good job. For more information on the discrediting of the NeoCons, look here.

I've often asked why no one in the Republican Party stood up to challenge President Bush for the nomination like Kennedy did to President Carter. Now it's too late. Besides, the inertia of "Bush is our man" is too strong for these types of revelations to have much effect in the near future. Even if these revelations resonate more fully around election time, you'll have people, who for ideological reasons, won't vote for Kerry and would prefer incompetents be re-elected rather than see a Democrat in the White House - at least Bush would be their team's idiot.

If this really was an Iranian op, WOW! This was high stakes poker. What would the downside for the Iranians have been if the US had uncovered the operation in its infancy? Would they have calculated that the US war machine could have been turned on them? Could they have avoided retaliation? How secure did they feel in their deep cover operatives not blowing their covers and thus showing the strings leading back to Tehran?

Our intelligence agencies really do need to get more professional and lessen their reliance on electronic intercepts.

Brock said at May 22, 2004 9:30 AM:

The most amazing thing about this is that before the invasion NO ONE, not the Russians or anytone else, disputed that he had WMDs. The questions was always what to do about it.

Considering how close the Russians were to Saddam (and they had military advisors there are recently has 2-3 months before the invasion), I'm going to remain skeptical that ALL of the WMDs are an Iranian plot.

But wow, none-the-less. Wherever this goes, it's going to be huge. And it probably is too late to replace Bush on the ticket (unless he resigns??). Man, having a Presinator would be cool. Too bad it can't happen. Ah-nold has risen as far as he can in US politics.

gcochran said at May 22, 2004 6:53 PM:

Am I 'no one' ?

Randall, this is perhaps the funniest thing that ever happened.


Gregory Cochran


Randall Parker said at May 22, 2004 7:21 PM:

Greg,

A few years ago C-SPAN broadcast a speech Tom Wolfe was delivering at Yale (the Yale Student Union perhaps?) on the modern challenge facing the novelist. Wolfe said one difficulty facing novelists was that plot elements that would seem plausible to a novelist would seem absurd and ridiculous to the audience since the events wouldn't resemble anything that happened or would be seen as within the realm the possible. He then said that weirder unexpected things happen in real life. The novelist has to compete with the absurdities of real life that people have to accept (e.g. the Monica Lewinsky story) because those absurdities are real. How can a novelist make his fictional plot elements more exciting than the unexpected absurdities of real life but at the same time make the stories seem believable? It is obviously becoming harder for novelists to do this and I sympathize with Wolfe's plight.

If someone would have told me 20 years ago that ideological Jewish intellectuals who pose as right-wingers would be fooled by an Iraqi exile to successfully promote a war to carry out the will of the Iranian government to invade Iraq for Iran's benefit I would have thought the person telling me this was hopelessly naive about how the real world worked. As a movie plot it would have been a bad idea because the audience would never have believed it. The real world couldn't possibly be as crazy as a movie could it? After all, the people who work in national security capacities in the United States government are sober serious men who could never be that naive. Could they?

I need to adjust my thinking. I've held back too often from voicing doubts in the past about what our government was doing or what some major faction was advocating. I've been introspecting about this and I think one reason I've held back was an unwarranted assumption about the competence of people in positions of authority. I really need to get over that.

Yes, I agree it is funny.

I also think this revelation is going to be incredibly beneficial. Some heads ought to roll.

It is also going to be deeply historical. Think about it. The most powerful country in the world has been played by a much smaller enemy in a con game.

Kenelm Digby. said at May 23, 2004 1:29 AM:

Of course, the Iranians like most Eastern peoples, have a very long and very refined hiatory of mendacity and trickery.
A recent example is the American hostage crisis of 1980 that destroyed the Carter administration.An old example from history is dishonor and decit the great Persian king Shapur used to personally capture the besieged Roman emperor Valerian, when Valerian was "given protection" on a peace embassy.Valerian was later used as a "human-footstall" by Shapur, and his skin, tanned and dyed in vermillion was hung-up in one of Shapur's temples for centuries after as a trophy and warning to foreign kings.
For an excellent account of this refer to Gibbons "Roman Empire".

Kenelm Digby. said at May 23, 2004 1:30 AM:

Of course, the Iranians like most Eastern peoples, have a very long and very refined hiatory of mendacity and trickery.
A recent example is the American hostage crisis of 1980 that destroyed the Carter administration.An old example from history is dishonor and decit the great Persian king Shapur used to personally capture the besieged Roman emperor Valerian, when Valerian was "given protection" on a peace embassy.Valerian was later used as a "human-footstall" by Shapur, and his skin, tanned and dyed in vermillion was hung-up in one of Shapur's temples for centuries after as a trophy and warning to foreign kings.
For an excellent account of this refer to Gibbons "Roman Empire".

Steve Davies said at May 23, 2004 3:07 PM:

If this is true then I am awestruck with admiration as this would have to be the most brilliant intelligence 'sting' in recorded history. I don't think there would be any substantial downside for the Iranians. Suppose the US government found out early, what would be the costs? The US government would be seriously pissed off. Sure, but US-Iran relations aren't warm anyway. Military action? No chance, Iran is big country with a large population and a terrain that doesn't suit standard American military practice, plus the Russians and Chinese would be really upset.

On the other side, Iran's strategic goal is to become the predominant power in the Gulf and, by extension, in the entire Middle East. Iranians are very aware that they are the descendants of Cyrus and Darius and the heirs to an ancient civilisation (unlike the Arabs, who they look down on generally). They are Shiite and very hostile to the ultra-Sunni Wahabis in Saudi. Suppose they inveigle the US into invading IRAQ. Saddam is overthrown, the Baath state disintegrates so Iraq is no longer a serious rival. If the US succeeds in Keeping Iraq a single state then it will be dominated by the Shia (as long as it's democratic and maybe even if it isn't). If Iraq falls apart the southern region which has the bulk of the oil will become a Shia state which will depend on Iran.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia is in bad shape because of the impact of the war and underlying problems. If the House of Saud were to fall (very likely in the next few years) everything there would be up for grabs, including the province where the bulk of the oil is which has a majority Shiite population. Remember Saudi started exporting Wahabism to the rest of the Islamic world in a big way only after 1979 when a large group of armed shiites tried to sieze control of the Great Mosque during the hajj. They did it partly in response to fears of Iranian subversion and a popular backlash in Saudi to the corrupt ways of the House of Saud. Also, getting the US involved in a war in the ME in such a way that they can't win (because they've bought dud intelligence/disinformation) weakens the US in the region in the long run. As I say, if true it's a work of genius.

What does this say though about the quality of the people in positions of authority?

John Bartley K7AAY said at May 24, 2004 9:27 AM:


"King Abdullah of Jordan recently provided key information "

Remember who are friends, our real friends are.

If King Abdullah was so foolish as to want Iraq as a satrapy, we could do worse.


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