Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The head of the Iraqi National Congress, a group of exiles that opposed Saddam Hussein, said yesterday that his organization helped three Iraqi defectors provide intelligence to the CIA on Iraq’s weapons programs.

INC chief Ahmed Chalabi also said his group had no connection to British intelligence and to bogus reports the British received saying Iraq purchased uranium from Niger.

“We provided exactly three people to the U.S. who we thought could provide information about the weapons programs,” Mr. Chalabi said during a lunch meeting with reporters and editors of The Washington Times.

The INC first located an Iraqi engineer, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who met U.S. intelligence officials in Bangkok.

At the Dec. 17, 2001, meeting, the CIA took Mr. Haideri into the U.S. defector-relocation program. “And we have not seen him since,” Mr. Chalabi said. “They liked him so much, they put him in the witness-protection program.”

The defector has since provided information to the CIA, but he did not have “operational information” about Iraq’s weapons programs.

Mr. Haideri gave the INC data on the country’s weapons-storage facilities, Mr. Chalabi said. The defector was an expert on concrete-injection techniques used in building water- and radiation-proof facilities, both above and below ground, as part of the Iraqi defense complex, Mr. Chalabi said.

A second defector identified by Mr. Chalabi as Mohammed Harith met with U.S. intelligence in Amman, Jordan, and provided details on Iraq’s mobile biological-weapons vans.

Two of the vans were discovered in Iraq by Kurdish forces and coalition troops in late April and early last month. The CIA concluded in a report made public last month that the vans are “the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological-weapons program.”

The third Iraqi provided was a young physicist who worked on isotope separation, but who was not accepted by U.S. intelligence debriefers, he said.

“They talked to him briefly and they didn’t want to talk to him any more and told us about that,” Mr. Chalabi said. “That is it. That is the extent of our intelligence provided by the INC to the United States’ government on weapons of mass destruction.”

Mr. Chalabi said his group provided no information or documents to the British government on any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“We don’t talk to the British in any intelligence capacity,” he said.

Critics have accused the INC of providing falsified documents showing that Iraqi agents tried to buy uranium ore from Niger in 1999.

The false information turned up in U.S. and British intelligence reports and in President Bush’s State of the Union speech in January. Mr. Bush said at the time that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Asked about the debate on Iraq’s banned arms programs, Mr. Chalabi said U.S. intelligence is derived from many sources and is vetted and corroborated.

“From our point of view, [U.S. intelligence agencies] made a determination themselves from their intelligence about the weapons programs, and press reports that have been blown up about the INC providing exaggerated information about the weapons of mass destruction, I believe, is basically blame-shifting,” Mr. Chalabi said.

Critics of the INC are using the group as “a nice target” to deflect criticism of intelligence agencies, he said.

“The questions that should be asked about the weapons of mass destruction intelligence now is, what are the procedures that are being followed to find the weapons?” Mr. Chalabi said.

Asked if any banned weapons of mass destruction will be discovered in the coming months, he said the arms will be uncovered if the search effort is conducted properly.

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