U.S. officials yesterday confirmed the FBI is investigating whether a government employee provided Iraqi political leader Ahmed Chalabi intelligence he is accused of giving Iran, but several said the prominent member of Iraq’s now-dissolved Governing Council is the target of a disinformation campaign.
One official said Mr. Chalabi, who until recently had been on the payroll of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was set up by his enemies in Iraq, Iran or the Central Intelligence Agency, which views him with suspicion.
“Why are the Iranians setting up Chalabi? They want an Islamic republic and he represents democratic, secular Shi’ites. They saw him maneuvering for power and they wanted to discredit him,” the official said.
A U.S. intelligence official said the unauthorized disclosure probe is focusing on officials in Baghdad.
Several news organizations, quoting anonymous U.S. officials, reported yesterday Mr. Chalabi told the Iranian intelligence chief in Baghdad that the United States had cracked the communication codes Iran uses and was intercepting its messages.
The Iranian supposedly then transmitted the information to Tehran by electronic communication that was intercepted and decoded by U.S. intelligence. The message said Mr. Chalabi learned of the code breaking from an intoxicated American official.
The intercepted message, which was closely held by the White House National Security Council, was viewed with suspicion at the Pentagon but welcomed at the CIA, which has viewed Mr. Chalabi as an unreliable informant.
No other information links Mr. Chalabi, whose home in Iraq was raided last month, to the Iranian compromise, one official said.
An intelligence source said U.S. intelligence has not been gaining valuable intelligence from Iranian communications for longer than the reported compromise several weeks ago.
The CIA declined to comment on the accusations against Mr. Chalabi.
In Najaf, Iraq, Mr. Chalabi dismissed reports that he compromised U.S. intelligence to Iran.
“This is false,” Mr. Chalabi told the Associated Press. “Where would I get this from? I have no such information. How would I know anything about that? That’s stupid from every aspect.”
The New York Times first reported the FBI investigation into the suspected intelligence disclosure.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that she could not comment on intelligence issues related to Mr. Chalabi.
Within the Bush administration, Mr. Chalabi created enemies at the State Department and CIA, an official said.
“The State Department is petrified he’s going to become the prime minister in Iraq and the CIA is afraid that if he becomes a leader, he will never let them into the country,” the official said.
Richard Perle, a Chalabi supporter who until recently was a member of a Pentagon policy advisory board, said he doubts that Mr. Chalabi would disclose such information or that Iran would risk revealing that it had learned of the compromise through a suspect communications exchange.
“I think it’s absurd on its face to think that if the Iranians had learned from Ahmed Chalabi or anybody else that their most sensitive communications channels were compromised they would reveal that in those channels,” Mr. Perle said.
“Instead, they would use those channels for disinformation and would not reveal their knowledge. That’s [Intelligence] 101. It doesn’t pass the laugh test.”