"Weapons of Mass Deception"


Chalabi and U.S. 'Ignored' warnings, ruined alliance

Knight-Ridder Tribune News
May 28, 2004, 11:20PM

WASHINGTON -- In June 2001, at an annual retreat in Beaver Creek, Colo., for current and former world leaders, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle introduced two men to each other who would help guide the United States to war in Iraq.
Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi and Vice President Dick Cheney then went for a two-hour afternoon walk, according to a former senior U.S. government official who was present.
That day marked a turning point in the budding alliance between Chalabi and prominent U.S. conservatives. Both sides were eager to see Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ousted from power, and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, although there was no evidence that Saddam was involved, they pushed that goal relentlessly.
The partnership involved overt and covert U.S. support for Chalabi's bid to be Iraq's next leader. His Iraqi National Congress in turn provided intelligence about Saddam's weapons programs and links to terrorism -- most of which turned out to be bogus or unproved.
The alliance with Chalabi is now in ruins.
U.S. intelligence officials have accused his security chief of passing highly classified American secrets to Iran. Iraqi police, backed by U.S. personnel, raided Chalabi's home and his offices May 19, seeking to arrest associates on charges of financial corruption.
The FBI has opened a probe into who gave the compromised data -- so sensitive it put U.S. soldiers' lives at risk and was known to only a handful of officials -- to the INC.
Little has been made public about the investigation, but it's believed to be focusing on officials in the Pentagon and elsewhere in the U.S. government who were closest with Chalabi and were his strongest boosters.
Some current and former U.S. officials speculate that Iran not only received U.S. secrets but also used Chalabi's group to pass false threat information to the United States about Saddam, with whom Iran had fought an eight-year war. Iran's likely goal, they say, was to precipitate a U.S. invasion and take advantage of the ensuing chaos, or to keep pressure on for continuing U.N. sanctions that would keep Saddam contained.
CIA warnings that Chalabi had become too close to Iran's regime fell on deaf ears in Washington, current and former intelligence officials said.
"They ignored it," said Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer who dealt with Chalabi and other Iraqi opposition leaders in northern Iraq in the mid-1990s.
Baer said the CIA suspected for years that Arras Habib, Chalabi's security chief, worked for Iranian intelligence. U.S. intelligence officials say Habib, now a fugitive, is an agent of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security. Chalabi denies that he or anyone in his group passed U.S. secrets to Iran.
It remains unclear why the warnings about Chalabi and his group were ignored.
What's clear is that Chalabi and his group got extraordinary aid from some sectors of the U.S. government, even as the CIA, State Department and many in the uniformed military fought to limit reliance on him.
From 2000 to 2003, the INC received $33 million from the State Department, which gave control of the funding to the Pentagon in October 2003, and the CIA paid several million more for the INC's information. The payments were ended this month.
Middle East experts at the State Department who criticized Chalabi and his plans frequently were transferred or frozen out of U.S. policy-making on Iraq.
The senior INC adviser, who requested anonymity, said connections between Chalabi and conservatives in Washington are exaggerated.
Perle told the New York-based weekly The Forward last week that he believes Chalabi was the victim of a campaign orchestrated by Iran and the CIA. The Iranians "very well may have induced the CIA to believe Chalabi gave them (sensitive intelligence). And the CIA was certainly very happy to hear that," Perle was quoted as saying.
Others see a simpler explanation. Said the former official who witnessed the Cheney-Chalabi introduction: "Was Chalabi using us and being used by us?"

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Milton Frihetsson, 15:04


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