2004 May 23 Sunday
More Accusations About Chalabi Deceptions

Foreign confirmations of US intelligence estimates of Iraqi WMD development may have been produced by false information that the Iraqi National Congress fed to intelligence agencies in other countries. (LA Times, free registration required)

It is not clear whether Iran had any role in the alleged use of the INC to provide disinformation to the West. U.S. officials say the INC may have been acting on its own when it sent out a steady stream of defectors from 1998 to 2003 with apparently coordinated claims about Baghdad's purported weapons of mass destruction.

Because even friendly spy services rarely share the identities of their informants or let outsiders meet or debrief their sources, it has only in recent months become clear that Chalabi's group sent defectors with inaccurate or misleading information to Denmark, England, Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, as well as to the United States, the officials said.

Expect the Bush Administration to spln this by arguing that if so many countries could be fooled then there is not special negligence on the part of the Bushies. That argument will sound plausible to some people. But if this report about INC deception of intelligence agencies of many countries is true it points to a serious deficiency in the hiring practices of intelligence agencies in Western countries. They need the level of talent (particularly in science and technology but also in cultural knowledge and economics training) that would allow them to see through deceptions which they currently are easily fooled by.

It might be that the Iraqi National Congress (INC) deceptions on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) development in Iraq were really initiated run by Chalabi. But even if Iran's government wasn't in charge of the deception project it seems very possible that Chalabi used the Iranians for technical assistance to produce materials that would fool Western governments into thinking that documents and drawings really came from within Saddam's regime.

So many governments may have been conned by Chalabi. I have to admire his skill at deceit. The guy has a bachelor's from MIT and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in math and by all reports I've read he has a very fast mind. Well, he's apparently smart enough to fool many different governments. If the accusations now being made about him are confirmed he may turn out to be one of the most clever spies in history.

Andrew Cockburn reports that Chalabi is trying to become a major Shia factional leader and aims to overthrow the appointed government that will shortly be granted partial sovereignty.

Lashing out against his exclusion from power, he has in effect been laying the groundwork for a coup, assembling a Shia political coalition with the express aim of destabilising the "Brahimi" government even before it takes office. "He has been mobilising forces to make sure the UN initiative fails," one well connected Iraqi political observer, who knows Chalabi well, told me today. "Hehas been tellling these people that Brahimi is part of a Sunni conspiracy against the Shia."

This scheme is by no means wholly outlandish. Chalabi has recruited significant Shia support, including Ayatollah Mohammed Bahr al Uloom, a leading member of the Governing Council and two other lesser known Council members. Significantly, his support also includes a faction of the Dawa Party that has been excluded from the political process by the occupation authority and which also supports rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Other recently recruited allies include Iraqi Hezbollah. All are joined in a Chalabi dominated Supreme Shia Council, similar to a sectarian Lebanese model. "Sooner rather than later," the Iraqi observer, a close student of Shia politics, points out, "Moqtada al Sadr is going to be killed. That willl leave tens, hundreds of thousands of his supporters looking for a new leader. If Ahmed plays the role of victim, he can take on that role. His dream has always been to be a sectarian Shia leader."

Chalabi's ability to get control of so many files of the old Saddam Hussein regime does not reflect well on the Bush Administration.

His prescient seizure of Saddam's intelligence files a year ago has equipped him with a useful tool to intimidate opponents

I first became aware of this while reading about the investigation of the UN oil for food program from the Saddam days. The reports relayed claims that Chalabi is holding back the files that are the basis of his claim of large scale corruption in the UN administration of the program. The immediate question comes up: Why didn't the US military and the CIA grab all these files when they first entered Baghdad? Why wouldn't the US want all the regime files for intelligence purposes? Did Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith all sign off on Chalabi's INC getting control of these files? I'd ask whether they are that foolish but there is already ample evidence to answer that question in the affirmative. Chalabi appears to be more clever and worldly wise than his neocon supporters.

The raids on the INC and Chalabi's residence may have been motivated in part to get the UN oil-for-food documents that he was believed to possess.

Many of the documents alleging bribes in the program were believed to be under Ahmed Chalabi's control.

Even as Chalabi has been trumpeting the perfidy of UN officials involved in the oil-for-food-program Chalabi may have been holding back information about them from the public domain in order to blackmail those UN officials.

A U.S. defense official in Washington told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity that the raid resulted from suspicions that Mr. Chalabi was blackmailing people involved in the disbanded U.N. oil-for-food program, the subject of several graft investigations.

"The investigation centers on suspicions that Chalabi was extorting money from Iraqis who have been implicated" in the scandal, the official said.

But the New York Post argues that the US State Department wants to block the oil-for-food investigation.

Of course, it's no secret that powerful elements in the State Department have actively opposed efforts to investigate the U.N. Oil for Food scandal.

And it may be that the Bush administration itself wants to go easy on the U.N., and Secretary General Kofi Annan, now that it is seeking to have the U.N. help shape a new Iraqi government.

Robin Gedye of the Daily Telegraph says the US raids to get the documents may have been motivated by a desire to save friendly foreign governments from embarrassment.

Ahmad Chalabi is in possession of "miles" of documents with the potential to expose politicians, corporations and the United Nations as having connived in a system of kickbacks and false pricing worth billions of pounds.

That may have been enough to provoke yesterday's American raid. So explosive are the contents of the files that their publication would cause serious problems for US allies and friendly states around the globe.

It may well be the case that Chalabi is using UN food-for-oil files to blackmail people and the US government is trying to save some governments from embarrassing disclosures. There are certainly non-democratic but friendly governments (hint: what is located East of the West Bank?) that the US would try very hard to protect from revelations that could be destabilising.

If Chalabi is smart he has taken some documents that are highly damanging to US allies and he's set it up so that the documents only get released if Chalabi is killed or held for some brutal interrogations. Chalabi needs that kind of insurance at this point because he has a really long and growing list of powerful enemies including one especially powerful one: George W. Bush.

Update: On this topic Laura Rozen has a lot of great information at her War And Peace blog. Read about "Curveball" the INC agent who fed false information to German intelligence about Iraqi WMD efforts. Also read about the fight to control the US-funded INC intelligence agency called the Information Collection Program. Props to Steve Sailer for pointing out Rozen's blog.

Everything about Chalabi's past activities, WMD misinformation, the Iran connection, and the battle between the neocons and other factions in the US is the biggest story happening right now. Read all about it. It is incredibly important.

Update II: Evan Thomas and Mark Hosenball report for Newsweek that the White House bypassed the Pentagon in allowing the raids against Chalabi.

May 31 issue - For the hard-liners at the Defense Department, the raid came as a surprise. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, got the news from the media. When Iraqi police, guarded by American GIs, burst into the home and offices of Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, looking for evidence of kidnapping, embezzlement, torture and theft, the men who run the Pentagon were left asking some uncomfortable questions. "Who signed off on this raid?" wondered one very high-ranking official. "What were U.S. soldiers doing there?" asked another, according to a source who was present in the room.

...

Though Bremer was picked for his Baghdad job by Rumsfeld, he has fallen out with the Pentagon and now speaks more regularly to Rice and her staff at the White House. The uniformed military is in almost open revolt against its civilian masters in the offices of Wolfowitz and Feith. The troops resent the Bush administration hard-liners as dangerously ideological.

Are the neocons way far out of the loop? Could Dubya be feeling some serious anger at them for leading him down the Chalabi Iraq path? There has to be a point where Dubya figures out he's been very poorly served by some of his advisers. Though he's also been very poorly served by himself he still wants to get reelected and he certainly does have good reason to be mad at the neoconservatives in his Administration.

Update III: Time reports signs that the break with Chalabi represents a much larger shift in American policy.

It may still take months for the U.S. to sort out just how much damage its flirtation with Chalabi has wrought. Bush Administration officials argue that their willingness to cut Chalabi loose shows that the U.S. is learning from the faulty assumptions that have plagued the occupation for more than a year. That's a point that Bush plans to stress in a series of speeches he will begin to deliver this week in an effort to prepare the country for June 30.

A willingness to accept that there are a lot of mistakes to learn from would represent a step in the right direction. Bush may feel a need to publically shift away from policies originally advocated by the neocons because the neocon policies are now so widely criticised and because the public at large has very serious doubts about the wisdom of the whole Iraq project. If an abandonment of neocon policies comes to be seen as a political necessity for Bush's reelection campaign then a lot of alternative policies and approaches which heretofore were beyond the pale may now be within the realm of the possible.

My guess is that Bush is going to try to engineer a rapprochement between the Shias and Sunnis so that Baathist intelligence and military figures can be used to run down the insurgents. Whether prominent Shia figures such as Sistani will sign off on such a deal remains to be seen. But the establishment Shia clerics have got to seriously fear the young Shia hotheads as well as some of the Sunni groups who try to kill them. Perhaps a deal can be made if it includes US guarantees that the US will keep the Sunnis from staging a coup and taking over entirely.

Update IV: On the whole subject of what is going on in George W. Bush's mind at this point Steve Sailer comments:

As you may have noticed, I'm not the biggest fan of Mr. Bush's leadership. But, he's finally waking up to how he got snookered. And I sure as hell trust my President in this dispute more than I trust the convicted Iraqi conman who is known throughout the bazaars of the Fertile Crescent as "Ahmed-the-Thief." I am astonished at the number of neocons who have, in the crisis, decided to turn against their President and side with Ahmed Chalabi.

Steve is responding in part to this quote of what Bush is reported to have told King Abdullah of Jordan:

"To King Abdullah of Jordan, Mr Bush remarked: 'You can piss on Chalabi.'"

Are the neocons going to continue to side with Bush? Some will. But some may not. See what Laurie Mylorie has to say about the raid on Chalabi. Or check out Michael Rubin on Chalabi. As the permanence and depth of the split between the Bush Administration and the INC sinks in some of the neocons who had placed huge hopes in Chalabi are going to find themselves unable to abandon their belief in the rightness of their judgement. So I expect many of those who decide to hold firmly to their faith in Chalabi will become more critical of Bush. The only thing that would shake that faith would be publically presented evidence of Chalabi's passing of vital secrets to Iran. But much of that investigation will probably be kept pretty secret unless and until prosecutions are filed against American citizens over what is found.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 23 03:17 AM  Mideast Iraq


Comments
Brock said at May 23, 2004 1:13 PM:

R - you provide a lot of good links, and some useful observations. Query: What's the point of referring to the Bush Administration as "the Bushies"? It does nothing to them, and makes you look like a petulent child. The Bush Administration will be reelected or hung by their heels on the evidence. The petty name calling only makes your argument easier to dismiss.

Randall Parker said at May 23, 2004 1:30 PM:

Brock, To my ear it is not petty name calling. If Clintonians were still in office I'd probably be calling them Clintonites. It is fewer syllables than referring to "Clinton Administration policy makers" or something else similarly unwieldy.

As for the strongest partisans who want to dismiss my arguments: I do not write to them. I think they are unreachable.

In a debate with Fly I provided my views about partisan loyalty and why I talk about the Bushies the way I do. See my post US Military Officers Increasingly Critical Of US Strategy In Iraq and the argument I had with Fly in the comments.

Randall Parker said at May 23, 2004 1:52 PM:

Upon introspection: Part of the reason I use the term "Bushies" is that it is a shorthand to refer to a group that is very tight and cliqueish in a way that far exceeds what is seen in the average Presidential administration. There was far more factional infighting in Reagan's administration between movement conservatives and technocratic and business conservatives (Ed Meese and Jim Baker notable as high level White House aids in opposing factions). Clinton's was split up into factions that included Hillary's faction, a New Democrat DLC faction, and others.

The Bush Administration is now finally witnessing some factional infighting over Iraq as, for instance, the neocons are attacked via various bureaucratic manuevers such as the raids against Chalabi in Baghdad. But up until this point the Bush Administration has suffered from an excessive amount of Borg consciousness and not enough internal debate.

gcochran said at May 23, 2004 1:56 PM:

Just to keep things balanced: Randall, you err by not calling for Bush's crucifixion. I say this as a partisan - sixth-generation Republican, a straight-ticket voter for 30 years. Bush is a stinking albatross around the neck of the party and the country. If it were up to me I'd arrest him as an enemy combatant and send him to Gitmo, along with all his little friends.

He does not 'mean well'. Someone who refuses to do the intellectual work requited to ensure that a venture has high probability of success does not 'mean well'. Bush has failed to exercise due diligence - he has gravely harmed the country. Crucify him.

No president has ever faced the kind of professional contempt that Buh now does. For example:

I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure," retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, a former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We are looking into the abyss. We cannot start soon enough to begin the turnaround."

Howard Zinni, another recent head of CentCom, says much the same thing (He's on 60 Minutes tonight) . The head of the 82nd Airborne says, in public, that we're losing:

> Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, which returned from Iraq in April, has given reporters an equally blunt view. "We are winning tactically, but have made a few tactical blunders [which] created strategic consequences in world opinion," Swannack said in an e-mail message. "We are losing public support regionally, internationally and within America thus, currently, we are losing strategically."
He added: "I believe Operation Iraqi Freedom is a just cause, America needs to stay the course and we must regain the moral high ground." >

The Army War College says that the war was just plain stupid.

Odom, retired three star who headed the NSA under Reagan, says that the was pointless and is now lost.

No President has ever faced this kind of criticism from the professional military. But then, George W. Bush is the _worst_ _President_ _ever_.


Gregory Cochran


WetMan said at May 24, 2004 1:24 AM:

This is all just an elaborate scheme to get Chalabi more credibility with the Iraqi people.
Some rumours of leaked secrets, some discord in public, a high publicity raid on his house (mind you, not in the middle of the night as is usual in Iraq, Ahmad needs his sleep).

The White House has decided that a friendly dictator is the best it can hope for in the long run.
Trouble is, the Iraqis won't swallow one the US openly likes.
So they have decided to do some image surgery on their long-standing friend Ahmad.


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