apostatic electricity (hoolifan) wrote in balanceofpower,
apostatic electricity
hoolifan
balanceofpower

Intelligence 101: know your source.

Stratfor makes a pretty obvious case that Ahmed Chalabi and his cronies in Iran played US intel like a flute. It's hard to accept that the responsible agencies didn't discount their info considering that (A) their main source was a mortal enemy of Hussein and Sunni minority rule, and (B) any 'official' corroboration on WMD programs (or "program-related activities", if you prefer) was likely tainted by middle managers' desire to conflate their own accomplishments and stay in Saddam's favor.

"U.S. intelligence about Iraq was terrible. It was wrong about
WMD; it underestimated the extent to which the Shia in the south
had been organized by Iranian intelligence prior to the war; it
was wrong about how the war would end -- predicting unrest, but
not predicting a systematic guerrilla war. An enormous amount of
this intelligence -- and certainly critical parts of it -- came
to the United States by way of the INC or by channels the INC or
its members were involved in cultivating. All of it was wrong.

It was not only wrong, it created an irresistible process. The
WMD issue has delegitimized the war in the eyes of a substantial
number of Americans. The failure to understand the dynamic of the
Shiite community led to miscalculations about the nature of
postwar Iraqi politics. The miscalculation about the guerrilla
war created a U.S. dependence upon the Shia that is still
unfolding. It is al-Sistani, in consultation with U.N.
negotiators, who is setting the terms of the transfer of power.
The U.S. position in Iraq is securely on Shiite terms, and that
means it is on Iranian terms.

This is not an argument against the invasion from a strategic
point of view, nor an argument that it was a failure. In the real
world, things are rarely so clear-cut. But it does raise a vital
question: Who exactly is Ahmad Chalabi? He has been caricatured
as an American stooge and used as a tool by the Defense
Department. As we consider the intelligence failures in Iraq,
Chalabi's role in those failures and his relationship with senior
Iranian officials of all factions, a question needs to be raised:
Who was whose stooge?"


THE STRATFOR WEEKLY
18 February 2004

Ahmad Chalabi and His Iranian Connection

Summary

The United States is struggling over the question of how U.S.
intelligence was so deeply mistaken about Iraqi weapons of mass
destruction. One of the points that is consistently brought up is
that much of the intelligence flowed through the Iraqi National
Council, an opposition group led by Ahmad Chalabi. It is now well
known that Chalabi's sources were not ideal. What is less well
known is the close, long-term relationship that Chalabi, a
favorite of Washington's, had with Iran. Chalabi, an Iraqi
Shiite, was and remains in constant contact with Tehran. We have
assumed he was a channel between Washington and Tehran. Given the
erroneous intelligence he gave the United States, his
relationship with Iran requires careful examination.

Analysis

The United States is in the process of reviewing the intelligence
that led it to conclude that Iraq had weapons of mass
destruction, and which formed the public justification for war. A
great deal of the discussion has concerned the sources of this
intelligence. Some have pointed out that the main channel for
intelligence on the subject involved sources developed through
the Iraqi National Congress, a group opposed to Saddam Hussein,
whose leader was Ahmad Chalabi -- also a key official in the
U.S.-organized Iraqi Governing Council.

Chalabi, like any anti-Hussein leader, clearly would have had a
vested interest in providing the United States with information
that would lead it to invade Iraq and open the door for a new
regime -- particularly a regime in which Shia would play a
leading role. It ought not to have been a surprise that
intelligence coming from the INC and Chalabi would tend to entice
the United States to war. U.S. intelligence might have been more
cautious with the INC, but if that is all there is to this story,
then it is fairly straightforward.

However, there would appear to us to be something more here. In
particular, there is a complexity that is usually omitted:
namely, the relationship between Chalabi and leading figures in
Iran. Prior to the war, Chalabi, an Iraqi Shiite who lived in the
West for decades, made several trips to Tehran to confer with
Iranian officials on a number of issues. He has continued to
travel to Iran since the end of the war. Not to put too fine a
point on it, Chalabi has had and continues to have excellent
relations with Iran, as well as with leading Shia in Iraq.

As our readers will recall, we have argued since early fall that
the guerrilla war in Iraq could be managed only if the Iraqi Shia
were prepared to collaborate with the United States. We made two
additional points: first, that the strings of the Iraqi Shia
trail back to Iran, and any deal with the Shia would have to
include a deal with Iran; and second, that any deal ultimately
would hinge on a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq and the
inclusion of Iraq in an Iranian sphere of influence. It has
always been our view that the unanticipated rise of the guerrilla
movement in Iraq forced this alliance upon the United States.

If we step back now, a different potential explanation emerges.
First, Chalabi was extremely close to the Iranians prior to the
war. Second, he provided much of Washington's prewar intelligence
on Iraq. Third, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in
Iraq. Fourth, the Iranians, along with the Iraqi Shia, are the
main beneficiaries of the U.S. invasion. In that case, who
Chalabi was and whose interests he actually was serving become
the central questions.

Chalabi had a long, public and logical relationship with the
Iranians. The Iranians were enemies of Saddam Hussein; so was
Chalabi. It made perfect sense that they would collaborate. Let's
begin with the failure of Petra Bank, which Chalabi opened in
Amman, Jordan, in 1978 and which collapsed in 1989, when the
Jordanian government seized it for bank fraud. That story is well
known. Somewhat less known is an alternative explanation for the
Petra Bank collapse. Sources in Jordan and Israel long have
argued that the bank collapsed because Chalabi was collaborating
with the Iranians in financing the Iranian war effort and trying
to undermine Iraq's war financing. When the Iran-Iraq war ended
in defeat for Tehran, Iraq placed enormous pressure on Jordan to
shut down the bank, which was managing the flow of money through
Chalabi-controlled banks in Lebanon. It is interesting to note
that Chalabi escaped from Jordan in a car driven by Jordanian
Crown Prince Hassan -- hardly the kind of treatment your average
wanted criminal would receive -- and that King Hussein met with
Chalabi several times for years after the bank collapsed and the
Iraqi Shiite leader was convicted on fraud charges and sentenced
to prison, although he served no time.

The claim that Chalabi was working for the Iranians in the Petra
Bank scandal is plausible, but hardly provable. What is certain
is that Chalabi spent a great deal of time in Iran before and
after Sept. 11, and before and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
For example, in March 2001, Chalabi traveled to Tehran to meet
with senior leaders. He set up an office for the INC in the
capital that was to be paid for with U.S. aid -- and that
required a special waiver from Washington because of U.S.
sanctions. At a press briefing on March 19, 2001, State
Department spokesman Richard Boucher was specifically asked
whether Chalabi's trip to Iran bothered the United States.
Boucher did not answer the question, but it is clear that
Washington knew about Chalabi's contacts with Iran and was not
bothered by them.

Chalabi's relationship with Iran proved useful to the United
States in the run-up to the war. For example, Chalabi arranged
for a U.S.-financed transmitter to be installed on Iranian
territory, broadcasting into Iraq. In August 2002, Chalabi met
with senior Iranian officials in Tehran, then flew to Washington
for separate consultations. According to the INC, Chalabi spoke
to U.S. officials in Washington from Tehran while he was meeting
not only with Iranian officials, but also with Ayatollah Mohammad
Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic
Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the country's main Shiite opposition
group. Again in December 2002, as the war heated up, Chalabi flew
to Tehran and, according to IRNA (quoting Radio Free Iraq, which
was based in Prague and run by the United States) said, "The
secretary of Iraq's National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, is
mediating between Iran and America." During that meeting, Chalabi
was quoted as saying, "Our alliance with Iran is not temporary."
Again in January 2003, before a planned meeting of Iraqi
opposition leaders in London, Chalabi visited Tehran to meet with
al-Hakim.

As the invasion of Iraq moved to its conclusion, U.S. aircraft
flew Chalabi from northern Iraq to the city of An Nasiriyah on
April 6. It was a symbolic gesture, intended to demonstrate that
the INC was part of the fighting coalition. The problem was that
Chalabi had trouble rounding up enough troops. The troops he used
were drawn from the Badr Brigade, an Iranian-backed Shiite
militia. Most recently, after attacks in Al Fallujah on Feb. 14,
claims circulated that the attack was carried out by speakers of
Farsi, and that they were members of the still-functional Badr
Brigade. This might not be true, but the fact is that the Badr
Brigade continues to operate, constituting an important and
shadowy Shiite militia, and Chalabi was close enough to them in
April 2003 that they fleshed out his fighting force.

The relationship with Iran continued after the end of the
conventional war. On the evening of Dec. 1, 2003, Chalabi met
with the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Hassan
Rohani. At that meeting, Rohani laid out the argument for Iraqi
national elections that Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had begun
pressing the previous summer. Chalabi responded, "The role of the
Islamic Republic of Iran in supporting and guiding the opposition
in their struggles against Saddam's regime in the past, and its
assistance toward the establishment of security and stability in
Iraq at present, are regarded highly by the people of Iraq." In a
later interview with the Iranian Student News Agency, Chalabi
said, "Our cooperation with Iran is very good. One can argue that
Iran has cooperated with us more than any other neighbor."

Many people in the Bush administration championed Chalabi --
people well beyond the neoconservatives in the Defense Department
normally cited as his bedrock of support. One of his strongest
backers had been Vice President Dick Cheney. U.S. intelligence
became increasingly aware of the relationship between Chalabi and
the Iranians -- and discovered that he had equally good relations
with hard-liners and moderates. U.S. intelligence also was
tracking his relationship to the Badr Brigade. According to
Newsweek and other press reports, Cheney became extremely uneasy
about Chalabi's relationships, particularly after the CIA briefed
him on Chalabi's relations in Iran. There was a sense that those
relationships might be more substantial than mere opportunism and
mediation.

During the meetings in December with Rohani, Chalabi said Iraq
was ready to import Iranian oil, pipelines, construction
material, food and pharmaceuticals. Rumors in both countries
indicate that this trade is already under way outside normal
channels, which, of course, have not yet been established. Which
companies will be used to manage these transactions is not clear
to us.

That Chalabi had close relations with Iran is not in itself
startling. He is a Shiite who was deeply opposed to Saddam
Hussein; he took friends where he could get them. It is somewhat
more surprising that his extensive dealings with Iran were not
regarded as a hindrance to a U.S. relationship with him prior to
the war. He was in rather deep with the Iranians. After the war
ended and the guerrilla campaign began, Chalabi was clearly
useful in negotiating Iraqi Shiite cooperation with Tehran. The
postwar relationship was visible and reasonable.

Here is where the problem begins. Most reports say U.S.
intelligence on Iraqi WMD came through the INC, which means that
it came from Chalabi. Chalabi simply might have been trying to
get the Americans to invade Iraq, feeding them whatever it took
to get them there. The problem with that theory, from our point
of view, is that the administration intended to invade Iraq,
regardless. Choosing WMD was a persuasive, public justification -
- and a good one, given the proof Washington had at hand. Or more
precisely, it was a good justification based on the proof that
Chalabi provided.

U.S. intelligence about Iraq was terrible. It was wrong about
WMD; it underestimated the extent to which the Shia in the south
had been organized by Iranian intelligence prior to the war; it
was wrong about how the war would end -- predicting unrest, but
not predicting a systematic guerrilla war. An enormous amount of
this intelligence -- and certainly critical parts of it -- came
to the United States by way of the INC or by channels the INC or
its members were involved in cultivating. All of it was wrong.

It was not only wrong, it created an irresistible process. The
WMD issue has delegitimized the war in the eyes of a substantial
number of Americans. The failure to understand the dynamic of the
Shiite community led to miscalculations about the nature of
postwar Iraqi politics. The miscalculation about the guerrilla
war created a U.S. dependence upon the Shia that is still
unfolding. It is al-Sistani, in consultation with U.N.
negotiators, who is setting the terms of the transfer of power.
The U.S. position in Iraq is securely on Shiite terms, and that
means it is on Iranian terms.

This is not an argument against the invasion from a strategic
point of view, nor an argument that it was a failure. In the real
world, things are rarely so clear-cut. But it does raise a vital
question: Who exactly is Ahmad Chalabi? He has been caricatured
as an American stooge and used as a tool by the Defense
Department. As we consider the intelligence failures in Iraq,
Chalabi's role in those failures and his relationship with senior
Iranian officials of all factions, a question needs to be raised:
Who was whose stooge?

The review of U.S. intelligence on Iraq will have to study many
things. Many of those things will have nothing to do with
Chalabi. But some of the most important things will pivot around
intelligence directly or indirectly provided by Chalabi and his
network of sources inside and outside Iraq. Given the events that
have transpired, it is not unreasonable to expect the
intelligence review to undertake an intense analysis of Chalabi's
role, beginning with this question: What exactly was Chalabi's
relationship with Iran from the 1980s onward?
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