Chalabi-gate: None Dare Call It Treason

by , May 29, 2004

The fallout from Chalabi-gate continues to rain down on the heads of the War Party, opening up the exciting prospect that some neocons might well wind up behind bars.

The charge? Espionage, as Sidney Blumenthal informs us:

“At a well-appointed conservative think tank in downtown Washington and across the Potomac River at the Pentagon, FBI agents have begun paying quiet calls on prominent neoconservatives, who are being interviewed in an investigation of potential espionage, according to intelligence sources. Who gave Ahmed Chalabi classified information about the plans of the U.S. government and military?”

This information, says Vince Cannistraro, formerly at the CIA and the Pentagon, was so “very, very sensitive” that only a few U.S. government officials had access to it:

“The evidence has pointed quite clearly, not only the fact that Chalabi might be an agent of influence of the Iranian government and that [Chalabi’s intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib] may be a paid agent of the Iranian intelligence service, but it is shown that there is a leak of classified information from the United States to Iran through Chalabi and Karim and that is the particular point that the FBI is investigating. In other words, some U.S. officials are under investigation on suspicion of providing classified information to these people that ended up in Iran.”

Blumenthal has more:

“A former staff member of the Office of Special Plans and a currently serving defense official, two of those said to be questioned by the FBI, are considered witnesses, at least for now. Higher figures are under suspicion. Were they witting or unwitting? If those who are being questioned turn out to be misleading, they can be charged ultimately with perjury and obstruction of justice. For them, the Watergate principle applies: It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.”

The lies Chalabi fed to Washington policymakers, who eagerly scarfed them up and regurgitated them to the American public, originated with Iranian intelligence, as we are beginning to learn. But the neocon-Tehran information superhighway ran in both directions. As Julian Borger reports in the Guardian:

“An intelligence source in Washington said the CIA confirmed its long-held suspicions when it discovered that a piece of information from an electronic communications intercept by the National Security Agency had ended up in Iranian hands. The information was so sensitive that its circulation had been restricted to a handful of officials. ‘This was ‘sensitive compartmented information’ – SCI – and it was tracked right back to the Iranians through Aras Habib,’ the intelligence source said.”

UPI’s Richard Sale reports that “the Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched a full field investigation into the matter,” and gives more information on what was compromised and how the Iranians pulled off this intelligence coup:

“Chalabi allegedly passed National Security Agency/CIA intercepts to intelligence agents of the Iranian government using intermediaries or ‘cut-outs’ or ‘gophers’ within the INC, another former CIA agent said. Some of the intercepts, dated from December, were the basis for a recent Newsweek story, but there are others of a later date in possession of the FBI, this source said.”

How did Chalabi get his hot little hands on highly secret information? That’s why the FBI – instead of going after, say, Brandon Mayfield, or some other completely innocent person, as per usual – is now calling on “prominent” neocons at Washington’s poshest thinktanks. I hope they’re bringing an ample supply of handcuffs. But whom might they be handcuffing and frog-marching out the door, into a waiting paddywagon? UPI gives us the scoop, citing “a former very senior CIA official” as saying:

“‘Chalabi passed specially compartmented intelligence, extraordinarily sensitive stuff, to the Iranians.’ This source said that some of the intercepts are believed to have been given Chalabi by two U.S. officials of the Coalition Provision Authority, both of whom are not named here because UPI could not reach them for comment.”

Well, they aren’t named, but they might as well have been:

“One former CPA official has returned to the United States and is employed at the American Enterprise Institute, the former very senior official said, a fact which FBI sources confirmed without additional comment. The other is still a working Pentagon official, federal law enforcement officials and former CIA officials said.”

Independent journalist Bob Dreyfuss, whose excellent articles on the neocons in The American Prospect and Mother Jones puts him up there with Jim Lobe, Michael Lind, and Joshua Marshall as a veritable maven of neocon-ology, names names:

“The two officials in the UPI story are, according to my sources, Harold Rhode, an official in the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, and Michael Rubin, now at the American Enterprise Institute.”

Rubin, formerly of the Office of Special Plans and the CPA, who served as liaison with Chalabi’s group, the Iraqi National Congress, certainly fits the bill. No wonder he’s been so … cranky lately, what with FBI agents barging into his office and giving him the third degree.

Rhode, a longtime Pentagon official assigned to the Office of Net Assessment and a specialist on Islam, is reportedly Douglas Feith‘s chief enforcer of the anti-Arab party line among the civilian Pentagon hierarchy. In refusing to be interviewed by Dreyfuss for a piece on the neocons in Mother Jones, Rhode’s laconic reply was:

Those who speak, pay.”

Prescient words, and truer than perhaps even Rhode realized at the time. Hauled up before a grand jury, however, Rhode, Rubin, and the rest of Chalabi’s Pentagon fan club may have no choice about speaking – especially with the prospect of a long “vacation” at a federal facility staring them in the face.

Much is being made of how the Iranians “duped” us into invading Iraq, and “used” the U.S. in getting rid of Saddam Hussein and “paving the way,” as Julian Borger puts it, for a Shi’ite-ruled Iraq. But a simple map of the region and rudimentary knowledge of the history of the past decade or so would have revealed as much. As I wrote in this space over a year ago:

“In view of Iran’s growing sphere of influence in Iraq, it seems rather disingenuous to destroy the Sunni minority government run by the Ba’ath Party and then deny any responsibility for the Shi’ite-y outcome. The U.S. has made a gift of Iraq to Teheran, reigniting the religious passions that overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran and propelled Khomeini to power.”

In charting the outlines of “phase two” of the invasion of Iraq, that same week last year, I pointed out:

“The main political consequence of the war, internally, is to increase Iranian influence: if free elections were held in the southern Shi’a provinces of Iraq, they would undoubtedly usher in some sort of ‘Islamic Republic.’ The effort by the neocons in the administration to install Ahmed Chalabi as the Pentagon’s puppet, far from forestalling this possibility, only makes it a more credible threat to the postwar order.”

But why would the militantly pro-Israel neocons, American partisans of the ultra-nationalist Likud party, act as patrons and promoters of an outfit, Chalabi’s INC, that was really a cover for Iranian intelligence – their alleged mortal enemies? That’s what I couldn’t quite figure out, at least not until I read Robert Parry’s excellent piece on the subject, and here’s the money quote:

“As Chalabi’s operation fed anti-Saddam propaganda into the U.S. decision-making machinery, Bush also should have been alert to the Israeli role in opening doors for Chalabi in Washington. One intelligence source told me that Israel’s Likud government had quietly promoted Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress with Washington’s influential neoconservatives. That would help explain why the neoconservatives, who share an ideological alliance with the conservative Likud, would embrace and defend Chalabi even as the CIA and the State Department denounced him as a con man.

“The idea of Israel promoting an Iranian agent also is not far-fetched if one understands the history. The elder Bush could tell his son about the long-standing strategic ties that have existed between Israel and Iran, both before and after the Islamic revolution of 1979. It was Menachem Begin’s Likud Party that rebuilt the covert intelligence relationship in 1980. Since then, it has been maintained through thick and thin, despite Iran’s public anti-Israeli rhetoric.”

The enemy of my enemy is my friend: it’s a principle often invoked to justify a course of action seemingly in contradiction to the professed ideology of the actors. Lined up against a common enemy, American Likudniks and Ahmed Chalabi, an Iranian intelligence asset, teamed up to drag us into the Iraqi quagmire, with both members of this oddly coupled tag-team benefiting from the deal. While the neocons fed Chalabi – and his intelligence chief, Arras Karim Habib, a paid Iraqi agent – a steady diet of U.S. secrets, Chalabi fed the neocons (in government and much of the American media) a fresh serving of tall tales cooked up in the INC’s kitchen, and delivered piping hot to Judith Miller’s doorstep.

The Iranians, for their part, feasted on U.S. secrets so deep and dark that only a few top officials were privy to them – and had a good chunk of Iraq handed to them, while a de facto Kurdish state emerged as a buffer between Israel and the Shi’ite power rising in the East. The whole thing was supposed to have been presided over by the ostensibly pro-Western Chalabi, the neocons’ Alger Hiss. That was the plan, at any rate, but something seems to have gone awry….

As in the Abu Ghraib photo-gallery of horrors, the nature of the crime suggests that a few lowly spear carriers – Rubin is just barely out of knee pants, and Rhode was certainly not in the loop on super-sensitive intelligence – didn’t pull this off all on their own. Before it’s all over, Chalabi-gate will reach into the favored nesting place of the neocons, the very top echelons of the Pentagon.

As UPI editor Martin Walker reports:

“The real target goes beyond Chalabi. The hunt is on, in the Republican Party, in Congress, in the CIA and State Department and in a media which is being deluged with leaks, for Chalabi’s friends and sponsors in Washington – the group known as the neo-cons. In particular, the targets seem to be Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the former assistant secretary (in Reagan’s day) Richard Perle, Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security aide Scooter Libby, and the National Security Council’s Middle East aide Elliott Abrams. The leaking against them – from sources who insist on anonymity, but some CIA and FBI veterans – is intense. Some of the sources are now private citizens, making a good living through business connections in the Arab world.”

Speaking of business connections, how does Richard Perle make his living except by using his government connections to profit handsomely from the war-driven neocon agenda? Oh well, never mind that: let’s get to the juicy part. Walker also reports that these poor persecuted neocons “are now beginning to fight back,” and in a familiar fashion:

“Richard Perle told this reporter Tuesday that the gloves were off. … Perle has no doubts that some of the attacks on him are coming directly from the CIA, in order to cover their own exposed rears, attacking Chalabi’s intelligence to distract attention from their own mistakes. ‘I believe that much of the CIA operation in Iraq was owned by Saddam Hussein,’ Perle said. ‘There were 45 decapitation attempts against Saddam – and he survived them all. How could that be, if he was not manipulating the intelligence?'”

Gee, I guess this means that, on account of all those failed “decapitation attempts” on Fidel Castro over the years, the Cuban Communists exercised joint ownership of the CIA along with Saddam’s Ba’athists. Oh, what a Perle of wisdom, but the Prince of Darkness was just getting started:

“Perle went on to suggest an even darker motive behind the attacks on the neo-cons; that the real target was Israel’s Likud government and the staunch support for Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon in the Bush administration. When this was put to one CIA source, the reply was mocking: ‘That’s what they always do. As soon as these guys get any criticism, they scream Israel and anti-Semitism, and I think people are finally beginning to see through that smokescreen.'”

How and why an investigation into Iranian penetration of our most closely guarded secrets constitutes evidence of “anti-Semitism” is a question I’ll leave for weightier intellects to ponder. But such an unseemly outburst ought to put to rest any doubts about a neocon-Iranian convergence of interests: we know something’s afoot when both Richard Perle and the Iranian mullahs sound absolutely identical in tone as well as content.

We knew what the neocons were capable of: smearing their enemies, lying about practically anything, even outing a CIA agent doing high-priority undercover work. Is anyone surprised that they’re capable of espionage?

Perle is right about one thing: it’s time to take the gloves off.

Read more by Justin Raimondo