The New York Times reports that U.S. agents read in a decrypted intelligence communiquÈ from Iran that Ahmad Chalabi had revealed that the U.S. possessed the Iranian code, a fact he had learned from a drunken American. "Civilians at the Pentagon who were among Mr. Chalabi's strongest supporters" -- Wolfowitz? Feith? Perle? -- are reported to be among those the F.B.I. is investigating as possible sources of Chalabi's information....
CHALABI REPORTEDLY TOLD IRAN THAT U.S. HAD CODE
By James Risen And David Johnston
New York Times
June 2, 2004
WASHINGTON -- Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi leader and former ally of the Bush administration, disclosed to an Iranian official that the United States had broken the secret communications code of Iran's intelligence service, betraying one of Washington's most valuable sources of information about Iran, according to United States intelligence officials.
The general charge that Mr. Chalabi provided Iran with critical American intelligence secrets was widely reported last month after the Bush administration cut off financial aid to Mr. Chalabi's organization, the Iraqi National Congress, and American and Iraqi security forces raided his Baghdad headquarters.
The Bush administration, citing national security concerns, asked the New York Times and other news organizations not to publish details of the case. The Times agreed to hold off publication of some specific information that top intelligence officials said would compromise a vital, continuing intelligence operation. The administration withdrew its request on Tuesday, saying information about the code-breaking was starting to appear in news accounts.
Mr. Chalabi and his aides have said he knew of no secret information related to Iran and therefore could not have communicated any intelligence to Tehran.
American officials said that about six weeks ago, Mr. Chalabi told the Baghdad station chief of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security that the United States was reading the communications traffic of the Iranian spy service, one of the most sophisticated in the Middle East.
According to American officials, the Iranian official in Baghdad, possibly not believing Mr. Chalabi's account, sent a cable to Tehran detailing his conversation with Mr. Chalabi, using the broken code. That encrypted cable, intercepted and read by the United States, tipped off American officials to the fact that Mr. Chalabi had betrayed the code-breaking operation, the American officials said.
American officials reported that in the cable to Tehran, the Iranian official recounted how Mr. Chalabi had said that one of "them" -- a reference to an American -- had revealed the code-breaking operation, the officials said. The Iranian reported that Mr. Chalabi said the American was drunk.
The Iranians sent what American intelligence regarded as a test message, which mentioned a cache of weapons inside Iraq, believing that if the code had been broken, United States military forces would be quickly dispatched to the specified site. But there was no such action.
The account of Mr. Chalabi's actions has been confirmed by several senior American officials, who said the leak contributed to the White House decision to break with him.
It could not be learned exactly how the United States broke the code. But intelligence sources said that in the past, the United States has broken into the embassies of foreign governments, including those of Iran, to steal information, including codes.
The F.B.I. has opened an espionage investigation seeking to determine exactly what information Mr. Chalabi turned over to the Iranians as well as who told Mr. Chalabi that the Iranian code had been broken, government officials said. The inquiry, still in an early phase, is focused on a very small number of people who were close to Mr. Chalabi and also had access to the highly restricted information about the Iran code.
Some of the people the F.B.I. expects to interview are civilians at the Pentagon who were among Mr. Chalabi's strongest supporters and served as his main point of contact with the government, the officials said. So far, no one has been accused of any wrongdoing.
In a television interview on May 23, Mr. Chalabi said on CNN's "Late Edition" that he met in Tehran in December with the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami. He also said he had met with Iran's minister of information.
Mr. Chalabi attacked the C.I.A. and the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, saying the agency was behind what Mr. Chalabi asserted was an effort to smear him.
"I have never passed any classified information to Iran or have done anything -- participated in any scheme of intelligence against the United States," Mr. Chalabi said on "Fox News Sunday." "This charge is false. I have never seen a U.S. classified document, and I have never seen -- had a U.S. classified briefing."
Mr. Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, said, "We meet people from the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad regularly," but said that was to be expected of Iraqi officials like himself.
Some defenders of Mr. Chalabi in the United States say American officials had encouraged him in his dealings with Iran, urging him to open an office in Tehran in hopes of improving relations between Iran and Washington. Those defenders also say they do not believe that his relationship with Iran involved any exchange of intelligence.
Mr. Chalabi's allies in Washington also saw the Bush administration's decision to sever its ties with Mr. Chalabi and his group as a cynical effort instigated by the C.I.A. and longtime Chalabi critics at the State Department. They believe those agencies want to blame him for mistaken estimates and incorrect information about Iraq before the war, like whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
One of those who has defended Mr. Chalabi is Richard N. Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board. "The C.I.A. has disliked him passionately for a long time and has mounted a campaign against him with some considerable success," Mr. Perle said Tuesday. "I've seen no evidence of improper behavior on his part. No evidence whatsoever."
Mr. Perle said he thought the C.I.A. had turned against Mr. Chalabi because he refused to be the agency's "puppet." Mr. Chalabi "has a mind of his own," Mr. Perle said.
American intelligence officials said the F.B.I. investigation into the intelligence leak to Iran did not extend to any charges that Mr. Chalabi provided the United States with incorrect information, or any allegations of corruption.
American officials said the leak about the Iranian codes was a serious loss because the Iranian intelligence service's highly encrypted cable traffic was a crucial source of information, supplying Washington with information about Iranian operations inside Iraq, where Tehran's agents have become increasingly active. It also helped the United States keep track of Iranian intelligence operations around the world.
Until last month, the Iraqi National Congress had a lucrative contract with the Defense Intelligence Agency to provide information about Iraq. Before the United States invasion last year, the group arranged for Iraqi defectors to provide the Pentagon with information about Saddam Hussein's government, particularly evidence purporting to show that Baghdad had active programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Today, the American intelligence community believes that much of the information passed by the defectors was either wrong or fabricated.