US paid $1m for ' useless intelligence' from Chalabi

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington

30 September 2003: (The Independent. UK) Information from Iraqi defectors made available by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress before the US invasion was of little or no use, a Pentagon intelligence review shows.

The Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) said defectors introduced to US intelligence agents by the organisation invented or exaggerated their claims to have personal knowledge of the regime and its alleged weapons of mass destruction. The US paid more than $1m for such information.

In 1998, Congress provided $97m to the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the London-based group that claimed to be an umbrella organisation for Iraqi interests. Its chairman, Mr Chalabi, is president of Iraq's Governing Council.

The defectors were interviewed before the war in various European capitals and the Kurdish-controlled city of Arbil in northern Iraq. Defectors were also made available to newspapers and magazines which reported stories about the cruelty of Saddam's regime and his efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

But the DIA review, mentioned in a leaked letter to Stephen Cambone, the under secretary of defence for intelligence, makes clear that no more than a third of the information was potentially useful, and efforts to explore even these leads were generally unproductive.

Opinion about the INC in the Bush administration was already divided. The Pentagon and those pushing for war against Iraq were quick to cite the information it provided and to promote the cause of Mr Chalabi, but the CIA and the State Department were much more cautious about the organisation's reliability.

"The [INC's] intelligence isn't reliable at all," Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior CIA official and counter-terrorism expert, said before the war. "Much of it is propaganda. Much of it is telling the Defence Department what they want to hear. And much of it is used to support Chalabi's own presidential ambitions. They make no distinction between intelligence and propaganda, using alleged informants and defectors who say what Chalabi wants them to say, [creating] cooked information that goes right into presidential and vice-presidential speeches."

Information provided by Mr Chalabi was used extensively by the administration and US journalists. Surces said The New York Times reporter Judith Miller relied on the INC for many of her stories about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. Most of the claims in those stories have since proved unfounded but in an e-mail to a colleague she wrote: "I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper. He has provided most of the front-page exclusives on WMD to our paper."

A DIA spokesman, Ken Gerhart, said yesterday he "would not comment on classified information". Mr Cambone was unavailable for comment.

The INC angrily dismissed the suggestion that its information was of no use. A spokesman, Ahmed al-Chalabi (no relation) said: "That is bullshit. That means there was nothing of use from any of the Iraqi groups because we are an umbrella organisation made up of seven or more groups. Any of the information going to the US was not just from Ahmed Chalabi."

The congressional intelli-gence committee concluded in a recent report that the CIA's information about Iraqi weapons was "outdated, circumstantial and fragmentary".

The White House has denied that President George Bush's leading political adviser, Karl Rove, was behind a leak of secret information apparently aimed at discrediting a vocal critic of pre-war intelligence on Iraq, and has rebuffed Democratic calls for an investigation by a special counsel.

The controversy is pinned on the public disclosure that Valerie Plame, the wife of the former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, was an undercover CIA operative specialising in weapons of mass destruction

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