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Chalabi involved US, Iran policy making again, current and former intelligence officials say

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Monday May 1, 2006

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Ahmed Chalabi, the man who helped provide cooked intelligence on Iraq to the Pentagon and the New York Times in the lead-up to war, is once again being engaged in US policy decisions, current and former intelligence officials say.

According to two former high level counterintelligence officials, one former senior counterterrorist official and another intelligence officer, Chalabi is acting as broker between the US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Iranian officials in what are now stalled diplomatic efforts between the US and Iran.

"[Ahmed] Chalabi inserted himself and brought a proposal to Zel," one intelligence source said.

Intelligence officials say the proposal that Chalabi delivered asked both the US and Iran to focus diplomatic talks on the Iraqi insurgency, leaving all discussion of Iran's nuclear program off the table. The talks, however, are now stalled.

It is unclear, however, who has tasked Chalabi to act as middleman or who he is representing in these attempts at negotiations.

"Either he is taking it upon himself or being asked to intervene," one former senior counterintelligence official said. "What we know is that Chalabi has approached the US Ambassador to Iraq with a request from what appears to be the Iranian leadership to engage in talks."

Asked what is motivating Chalabi to attempt talks between Iran and the United States, another former intelligence official put it simply: "He is close to Iran."

This "closeness" to Iran could also be the reason the Office of the Vice President and the Pentagon decided to re-employ Iran-Contra middleman and arms dealer, Manucher Ghorbanifar. An earlier RAW STORY report revealed that Vice President Cheney and the Pentagon re-hired Ghorbanifar as "the man on the ground" in order to monitor any talks between the US ambassador and Iran.

"Khalilzad has been authorized to enter into discussions with the Iranians over the issue of stability inside Iraq," one former intelligence source asserted.

Discussions between the US and Iran over Iraq's insurgency are now on hold for unspecified reasons. Sources close to the UN Security Council and a former high ranking intelligence official, however, say that the failure of this latest attempt to bring Iran to the table is part of an ongoing pushback by Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to squash diplomatic activities, which they are said to view as a sign of "weakness."

Chalabi's reemergence has created no small concern in the intelligence community.

"Ask yourself: who has most benefited by [Chalabi's] actions of the last five years? Where does he own a house? What languages does he speak?" one former intelligence official said.

The answer, of course, is Iran.

Chalabi's checkered past

Allegations of Chalabi acting on behalf of Iran are not new. The former head of the Iraqi National Congress is known abroad for counterfeiting and bank fraud. He was convicted in absentia in 1992 by a Jordanian court and sentenced to twenty-two years of hard labor for the collapse of Petra Bank, which under Chalabi's leadership could not account for $200 million in holdings. Chalabi has not served any jail time.

Chalabi burned the CIA on multiple occasions, including fabricating a letter in which he implicated former CIA officer Bob Baer in an assassination plot against now deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. By all expert accounts, he has not been a source trusted in the intelligence community.

When asked if Chalabi's duplicity could be summarized in a single sentence, Baer told RAW STORY, "The CIA doesn't trust Chalabi because he has a long history of making arrangements with other countries... [and] not telling anyone about them."

Baer provides an account of run-ins with Chalabi in his bestselling book See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism, which was used as the basis for the Academy Award nominated film Syriana.

Yet despite security concerns, Chalabi was brought on board as a Pentagon intelligence asset in the lead-up to war with Iraq. The Iraqi expatriate allegedly provided the bulk of information regarding a secret Saddam Hussein weapons stash and concocted a fable in which fallen Gulf War Navy Pilot, Scott Speicher was alive and being held inside an Iraqi prison, sources say.

Chalabi had his home and offices raided by US forces in May 2004, following allegations he was passing classified US secrets to Iranian intelligence. His intelligence chief, Aras Karim, said to be an Iranian asset, had already fled.

In June of 2004, the FBI began an investigation into lower level Pentagon employees who may have had contact with Chalabi, in order to identify the person providing Chalabi with US secrets.

"An FBI investigation is under way to discover who leaked information about NSA intercepts to Mr. Chalabi," the Guardian reported in June 2004. "That investigation was said by intelligence sources to focus on a small group of Pentagon officials who worked closely with Mr. Chalabi, but a Pentagon spokesman angrily denied the report last week."

Yet Chalabi's close working relationship consisted of a small cabal of hawks operating out of an ultra-secretive group called the Office of Special Plans; more specifically, Chalabi's closest contacts were then Undersecretary of Defense Policy Douglas Feith, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Both Feith and Wolfowitz have had their clearances pulled in the past for leaking classified information.

It is not known what, if any, contact Chalabi had with lower level staff members at the Pentagon. Chalabi had most recently been appointed to head the oil ministry in Iraq, despite being unable to win a single seat in Iraq's December election.

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Larisa Alexandrovna, Raw Story's Managing Investigative News Editor, regularly covers national security and intelligence stories. Related articles:

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