"Weapons of Mass Deception"


Intelligence: A Double Game

Has Chalabi given 'sensitive' information on U.S. interests to Iran? He denies it, but the White House is wary

By Mark Hosenball
May 10 issue - Ahmad Chalabi, the longtime Pentagon favorite to become leader of a free Iraq, has never made a secret of his close ties to Iran. Before the U.S. invasion of Baghdad, Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress maintained a $36,000-a-month branch office in Tehran—funded by U.S. taxpayers. INC representatives, including Chalabi himself, paid regular visits to the Iranian capital. Since the war, Chalabi's contacts with Iran may have intensified: a Chalabi aide says that since December, he has met with most of Iran's top leaders, including supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his top national-security aide, Hassan Rowhani. "Iran is Iraq's neighbor, and it is in Iraq's interest to have a good relationship with Iran," Chalabi's aide says.

But U.S. intelligence agencies have recently raised concerns that Chalabi has become too close to Iran's theocratic rulers. NEWSWEEK has learned that top Bush administration officials have been briefed on intelligence indicating that Chalabi and some of his top aides have supplied Iran with "sensitive" information on the American occupation in Iraq. U.S. officials say that electronic intercepts of discussions between Iranian leaders indicate that Chalabi and his entourage told Iranian contacts about American political plans in Iraq. There are also indications that Chalabi has provided details of U.S. security operations. According to one U.S. government source, some of the information Chalabi turned over to Iran could "get people killed." (A Chalabi aide calls the allegations "absolutely false.")

Why would Chalabi risk his cozy ties to Washington by cuddling up to Iran's fundamentalist rulers? Administration officials say Chalabi may be working both sides in an effort to solidify his own power and block the advancement of rival Iraqis. A U.S. official familiar with information presented to policymakers said that White House advisers were concerned that Chalabi was "playing footsie" with the Iranians. Yet Chalabi still has loyal defenders among some neoconservatives in the Pentagon. They say Chalabi has provided information that saved American lives. "Rushing to judgment and cutting off this relationship could have unintended consequences," says one Pentagon official, who did not respond to questions about Chalabi's dealings with Tehran. Each month the Pentagon still pays his group a $340,000 stipend, drawn from secret intelligence funds, for "information collection."

Still, the State Department and the CIA are using the intelligence about his Iran ties to persuade the president to cut him loose once and for all. Officials say that even some of Chalabi's old allies in Washington now see him as a liability. If Chalabi's support in the administration was once an iceberg, says one Bush aide, "it's now an ice cube."
© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.

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Milton Frihetsson, 19:53


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