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Saturday, May 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Iran used Chalabi to dupe U.S., report says
By Knut Royce
WASHINGTON The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that for years Iran has used a U.S.-funded arm of Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress to funnel disinformation to the United States and to collect highly sensitive American secrets, according to intelligence sources.
"Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program (ICP) information to provoke the United Sates into getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said an intelligence source who was briefed on the conclusions of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
The ICP also "kept the Iranians informed about what we were doing" by passing classified U.S. documents and other sensitive information, he said. The ICP has received millions of dollars from the U.S. government over several years.
An administration official confirmed that "highly classified information had been provided (to the Iranians) through that channel."
The Defense Department this week halted payment of $340,000 a month to Chalabi's program.
Patrick Lang, former director of the DIA's Middle East branch, said he had been told by colleagues 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.
An DIA spokesman would not discuss questions about his agency's internal conclusions about the alleged Iranian operation. But he said some of its information had been helpful. "Some of the information was great, especially as it pertained to arresting high-value targets and on force-protection issues," he said. "And some of the information wasn't so great."
Habib is in charge of the information collection program.
The intelligence source briefed on the DIA's conclusions said that Habib's "fingerprints are all over it."
"There was an ongoing intelligence relationship between Habib and the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, all funded by the U.S. government, inadvertently," he said.
A U.S. intelligence official said the evidence of Habib's ties to Iran includes both intercepts and some documentation. The official said Habib provided sensitive information, some of it classified above top secret, to the Iranians.
The Iraqi National Congress (INC) has received about $40 million in U.S. funds over the past four years, including $33 million from the State Department and $6 million from the DIA.
The links between the INC and U.S. intelligence go back to at least 1992, when Habib was picked by Chalabi to run his security and military operations.
An intelligence official said Habib also was the INC official who handled most of the Iraqi defectors, including one code-named "Curveball," who provided much of the fabricated, exaggerated and unconfirmed information about Iraqi weapons programs and links to terrorism that President Bush used in making his case for invading Iraq.
Indications that Iran, which fought a bloody war against Iraq during the 1980s, was trying to lure the United States into action against Saddam Hussein appeared many years before the Bush administration decided in 2001 that ousting Saddam was a national priority.
In 1995, for instance, Khidhir Hamza, who had once worked in Iraq's nuclear program and whose claims that Iraq had continued a massive bomb program in the 1990s are now largely discredited, gave United Nations nuclear inspectors what appeared to be explosive documents about Iraq's program.
Hamza, who fled Iraq in 1994, later teamed up with Chalabi.
The documents, which referred to results of experiments on enriched uranium in the bomb's core, were almost flawless, according to Andrew Cockburn's recent account of the event in Counterpunch, a political newsletter and Web site.
But the scientists were troubled by one minor matter: Some of the technical descriptions used terms that would be used only by an Iranian. They determined that the original copy had been written in Farsi by an Iranian scientist and then translated into Arabic.
The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded the documents were fraudulent.
Material from Knight-Ridder Newspapers is included in this report.
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