Friday, June 6, 2008

The Iranian Answer to Ahmed Chalabi Plays the Pentagon

Lost amidst the yawns greeting the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on pre-war intelligence [Is it news, anymore?] was the supplemental report on the 2001 visit between Americans and Iranian exiles in Rome, in which the US solicited yet more faulty intelligence from previously-debunked exiles.

Defense Department counterintelligence investigators suspected that Iranian exiles who provided dubious intelligence on Iraq and Iran to a small group of Pentagon officials might have "been used as agents of a foreign intelligence service ... to reach into and influence the highest levels of the U.S. government," a Senate Intelligence Committee report said Thursday.

A top aide to then-secretary of defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, however, shut down the 2003 investigation into the Pentagon officials' activities after only a month, and the Defense Department's top brass never followed up on the investigators' recommendation for a more thorough investigation, the Senate report said.

The revelation raises questions about whether Iran may have used a small cabal of officials in the Pentagon and in Vice President Dick Cheney's office to feed bogus intelligence on Iraq and Iran to senior policymakers in the Bush administration who were eager to oust the Iraqi dictator.

Much as Ahmad Chalabi sold his bill of goods to eager and unwitting Bush officials like Doug Feith long after the CIA declared him an unreliable charlatan, US officials eager to depose Saddam and topple the Iranian regime eagerly soaked up faulty intelligence from Iranian exile Manucher Ghorbanifar.

Ghorbanifar, who was a middle man in the Iran-Contra dealings, was labeled a 'fabricator' by the CIA in 1984 in a notice which said Ghorbanifar "should be regarded as an intelligence fabricator and a nuisance. Any future approaches by subject...should...not be taken seriously." [SIC, pg 5] The situation mirrors that with Chalabi, whereas an exile who's been long regarded as unreliable continued to be welcomed, and paid well, by hawks in and out of the administration who were fixing the intelligence around the preordained end, rather than setting the end goal based on reliable intelligence.

Among the three members of the US party were Larry Franklin, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to passing classified information to AIPAC, Michael Ledeen, employed by the American Enterprise Institute and traveling as a citizen, and Harold Rhode, personally charged with "purging the DoD of anyone opposing the anti-Iraq policy." Surrounding Franklin's conviction, the Pentagon released a statement indicating that Franklin, in spite of the accusations, never influence Middle East policy and was thus not a liability. The Rome visits, however, belie that claim outright.

Returning to McClatchy:

The Senate committee also found that Pentagon officials concealed the contacts with Ghorbanifar from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department. Pentagon officials also provided Senate investigators with an inaccurate account of events and, with support from two unnamed officials in Cheney's office, continued meeting with Ghorbanifar after contact with him was officially ordered to stop.

Again, the Defense Department, and Feith's Office of Special Plans, was soliciting dubious intelligence from exiles, but had to conceal that it was doing so because it knew that the other US intelligence agencies would not accept any intelligence culled from meetings with Ghorbanifar as reliable. There is only one explanation for continually seeking the consult of long-debunked sources, and that is because the US team knew what they were getting. As Chalabi and Ghorbanifar supplied the stories the OSP wanted to hear, there was little concern for veracity.

Indeed, when other agencies learned of the meetings, they were none too pleased:

When the CIA and the State Department discovered that Ledeen and Ghorbanifar were involved, they opposed any further contact with the two. Ledeen's contacts, the Defense Human Intelligence Service concluded, were "nefarious and unreliable," the Senate committee reported.

On the surface, the Iranian exiles were concerned with the toppling of the Iranian regime [including a curious--and expensive--plan for a regime-crushing traffic jam], but Ledeen's association with Ghorbanifar "was widely known, and therefore it should be presumed other foreign intelligence services, including those of Iran, would know." As Iran has been the biggest strategic beneficiary of the Iraq invasion, it is not inconceivable that information could have been peddled by Iranian intelligence covertly in order to expedite the toppling of their arch-nemesis, Saddam Hussein. The animosity between Saddam and Iran seemed invisible to the OSP, however:

According to the report, Ledeen, however, persisted, presenting then-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith with a new 100-day plan to provide, among other things, evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that supposedly had been moved to Iran — Saddam Hussein's archenemy.

Again Ledeen is providing a plan for the evidence he will supposedly find, rather than finding evidence and reaching a conclusion based upon it.

The Rome meetings illustrate a contradiction to the running narrative of those on the defensive over pre-war intelligence. People such as John McCain are fond of saying that, while faulty, the intelligence available at the time all told the same story and was without conflict. The reports released today tell a much different story. Aside from the shading of intelligence to fit preordained conclusions, the Bush administration actively sought the council of sources long known as "nefarious and unreliable."

That the reliability of the sources was of no concern to the DoD is perhaps one of the clearest indications of the reverse relationship between intelligence and conclusions in the years prior to the invasion of Iraq.

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