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Jewish World Review May 25, 2004 / 5 Sivan, 5764

Michael Ledeen

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Consumer Reports

The Agency Rides Again: Angleton on Chalabi | Like everyone else, I've been reading the stories about my friend Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, and the accusations that he's an Iranian spy. I don't believe it, but before launching a tirade against the misnamed Central Intelligence Agency I thought I'd better check with the greatest unliving expert on intelligence, the late James Jesus Angleton. He was the longtime chief of CIA counterintelligence, and knew everything there was to know about spying, so I dusted off the ouija board and got him on the second try.

JJA: I reckoned you'd decide it was time for another chat.

ML: Right you were. It's about Chalabi. He's a friend of mine, and I would be really upset if he turned out to be an Iranian agent.

JJA: You shouldn't take these things personally. Kim Philby was a friend of mine, after all, and he turned out to be a big-time KGB agent.

ML: Fair enough, we all make mistakes. But the stories in the press don't make sense, and some of the newspapers — like Newsday — have made claims unworthy of a sane person.

JJA: I saw that Newsday story. They said that DIA was convinced that the Iraqi National Congress, from its very inception, was an Iranian master plot to penetrate the American government and organize the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

ML: Which is one of those stories that only a B-movie Hollywood scriptwriter could put down on paper without praying for forgiveness.

JJA: Not to worry; journalists don't pray. That's why there are so few of them up here. But you're right, the theory is too clever by half. It was probably concocted by somebody who had studied the "Trust," the legendary Soviet operation after the First World War that became famous in the stories about "Reilly, Ace of Spies." Some White Russians had created what appeared to be an anti-Soviet organization that claimed both to have agents at high levels of the Soviet regime, and also to have an underground network within the Soviet Union that was capable of organizing a coup against Lenin. They provided Western intelligence agencies with very good intelligence, and showed their capacities by actually assassinating some fairly high-level Communists. So the Western agencies supported the "Trust," and worked very closely with them.

In reality, the "Trust" was a Soviet operation that actually penetrated Western intelligence services, to the great advantage of the Kremlin. A masterpiece.

ML: So why is it fanciful to accuse the INC of being a Middle Eastern "Trust"?

JJA: Because Chalabi's behavior doesn't fit. He went to Tehran all the time, in part because the State Department and CIA refused to support him, and in part because anyone who wants to operate in that part of the world has to be on decent terms with the mullahs if he wants to survive. They're great killers, you know.

ML: I know, I know. I write about it all the time.

JJA: If anything, the United States pushed him toward the Iranians, and it's laughable that the intelligence community should now blame him for their previous actions.

ML: It's fascinating to watch the anti-Chalabi campaign in Washington. You probably can't keep up with it, but some intel officials in town are saying two things to the journalists: 1) We broke the Iranians' communication codes, so we were reading their mail. Chalabi found out about this, and told the Iranian intelligence chief in Baghdad. 2) The Iranian immediately contacted Tehran to tell them that we had broken the code. Then they said to journalists, "you can't write about this because it would jeopardize our people."

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JJA: So they're saying that the Iranians' chief operative in Baghdad told Tehran that their codes had been broken...and his message was sent in the same code?

ML: Seems so.

JJA: Hahahahahahaha. Impossible! If the Iranians knew that we were reading their mail, they would never let us know that they knew. They would continue to use the codes, but instead of sending accurate messages they would use those channels for disinformation against us.

ML: Yes, they're smart enough for that. I've often said that they may be crazy, but they are certainly not stupid.

JJA: Furthermore, using the same logic, if we knew that Chalabi had told the Iranians, we would never go public with the accusations. We would use Chalabi to disinform them. And the information that we had broken the Iranian code doesn't compromise human sources, because most codebreaking is done by supercomputers, and isn't obtained from spies.

ML: So what was this all about?

JJA: Oh, I think it's mostly political, and has little if anything to do with intelligence. The CIA loves to smear people they don't like with claims of super-secret intelligence that rarely exists.

ML: Like those Iraqis who ran from Saddam after the debacle in the mid-Nineties?

JJA: Of course. Remember that we rescued them, and they ended up in Guam?

ML: Uh huh.

JJA: And then the CIA denied entry to three of them, claiming they were spies for Saddam, and they wouldn't let anyone see the intelligence, and they were demanding the three be sent back to Iraq?

ML: And they would have been sent there, to a terrible death, and were only saved because Jim Woolsey volunteered his legal assistance, went to court, demanded to see the intelligence, and found there was nothing there.

JJA: Right. There are many such cases, as you know well.

ML: Sure, they used to say I was an Israeli agent. The head of counterintelligence even claimed I had dual citizenship, and an Israeli passport. All nonsense. He finally shut up when one of his colleagues asked him for the passport number.

JJA: And there was the fairly recent case of a Russian named Luchansky, accused by CIA of being one of the top honchos of the Russian Mafia. He had to go to court in England to get a British judge to demand the "intelligence," and found it was baseless.

ML: And there was another one, in my own experience. Round about 1980, a CIA official whispered to me that they had a tape of a conversation between an NSC staff member and a Polish diplomat, in which the NSC staffer had provided classified information. I never believed it and never wrote it, but it finally made its way into print. After the usual damage to the poor guy's reputation, the "intelligence" was shown to be fanciful.

JJA: As I said, these things are usually political, and the Chalabi case is part of a long campaign by CIA to destroy him. In fact, you can make a fairly convincing case that the "raid" on Chalabi's house was probably an effort to get him killed.

ML: Killed? They were going to shoot him?

JJA: Not "they," even though it does seem there were CIA people on the scene. No, they're smarter than that. They sent Iraqi police to do the dirty work. The police were armed. It was reasonable to assume that at least one of Chalabi's bodyguards would shoot at the intruders, and then a gunfire would ensue, in which...well, people do get hurt at such times, don't they?

ML: Well, it might be even cleverer. The police took all weapons from the compound, and then the raid was announced. Maybe Chalabi's enemies, knowing he was disarmed, would take advantage and go after him.

JJA: Could be. Whatever the truth, the whole sequence of events placed Chalabi in mortal danger, even though it seems to have strengthened him enormously in the eyes of the Iraqi people.

ML: But how is a journalist, or a citizen, to tell what's going on?

JJA: By reasoning paradoxically. Almost all the time, if the intelligence community has real evidence, you'll never hear about it. They will keep it to themselves and use it in their work. If they leak something about someone, it will usually be false.

At which point the ouija board shorted out.

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.


05/24/04: Lying into the mirror: Misunderstaning the war on terror
05/18/04: Kristof’s Iran
04/19/04: The Iranian Hand: Regime change in Tehran is necessary for peace in Iraq
04/15/04: Dealing with the Libyans: Is Khaddafi about to cash out?
04/08/04: From Tyranny to Freedom: Democracy in Iraq has precedent
03/18/04: Drifting, Dangerously: We must support freedom
03/02/04: Once Upon a Spymaster, Part II: Returning to a conversation
02/24/04: The Great Iranian Election Fiasco: What actually happened; what we must do
02/20/04: Stalinist Mullahs: The Iranian regime is in open battle with its own people
02/11/04: The Jihadis' Primal Scream: Zarkawi's "Yaarrrhhh!"
02/04/04: Inelegant Lies: Making sense out of mullahs
02/03/04: Potemkin WMDs? Really?
01/27/04: The Jihad on Iraq: Bad analysis and bad policy
01/20/04: Our Moment of Vainglory: A p.c. mess
01/06/04: Aftershocks: The West must read the meter in Bam and Tehran
12/02/03: Managing Iraq: We can't continue this way
11/26/03: Back to the Angleton Files
11/25/03: The Turks, Italians & us — never again
11/06/03: Regional Struggle: Fighting narrow vision in Iraq
11/04/03: Unpunished Failure: What are we waiting for?
10/21/03: Curses: Diamonds and Naples
10/15/03: Into the Quagmire: Important days ahead for Iran
09/18/03: The Ayatollahs’ bomb: An invulnerability strategy
09/12/03: You can't make peace until the war is won
09/11/03: Ron Paul, dishonorable congressman
09/03/03: The Latest Horrors: Still organized
08/29/03: The Peace Trap: Back to the war, please
08/27/03: Angrier and Angrier: Self-deception, big-time
08/25/03: Iraq's terrorists have friends in high places
07/10/03: The Future of Iran: Armitage might want to rethink that "democracy" line
07/02/03: Looking Toward July 9: Independence Day in Iran?
06/24/03: Iran: Back the freedom fighters
06/17/03: The Iranian Revolution, 2003: Regime change in the air
06/05/03: Academic Standards: A Middle East scholar has his way with the truth.
05/28/03: The Moment of Truth? U.S. policy could determine Iran's destiny
05/15/03: Iran's Path: Stopping the mullahs in their tracks
05/13/03: The Nuclear Axis of Evil: The people solution
05/08/03: Inside the Dark: Applebaum's ‘Gulag’
05/06/03: Tough Guy: Powell's curious priority list
05/01/03: Desert Shame Redux: Want a free Iran and a free Syria? We have to fight for it
04/25/03: Timing Is Everything: We have a narrow window in Iraq to win Shiite support
04/15/03: Political war can remove terror masters in Syria and Iran
04/07/03: The Others: We have miles to go in eliminating the Axis
04/02/03: French Lies: Take the foreign minister at his word
03/31/03: Why muzzle Saddam's foes?
03/28/03: The post-war terror threat
03/26/03: All Fronts: Military war, political war, psychological war
03/24/03: More Bad News for Daschle: Taking out terror of all nationalities
03/21/03: The Killer Pneu: Virus terror from China
03/13/03: Iran: Nuclear suicide bombers?
03/11/03: A Theory: What if there's method to the Franco-German madness?
03/05/03: The Iranian-Election Revolt: The people speak. The West won't listen
02/19/03: The willful blindness of those who will not see
02/12/03: The Europeans Know More Than They Now Pretend? They choose to dawdle and obstruct
02/03/03: Monumental failure: Nelson Mandela had promise
01/30/03: Elevation: The president knows what it's all about
01/29/03: No Leader: France's Chirac is all about personal interest
01/28/03: The Axis of Evil Redux: Same place, a year later
01/27/03: The Return of the Ayatollah: Washington could afford a little more attention on Iran
01/13/03: How we could lose
01/09/03: Fish are Better than Women: Gauging U.S. priorities
01/07/03: The Shape of Things to Come: The terror masters are now waiting for us
12/20/02: A Prophecy for the New Year --- Faster, please!
12/16/02: Scud Surrender: The "W" factor
12/13/02: The Heart of Darkness: The mullahs make terror possible
12/12/02: The Real War
12/09/02: Tom Friedman's Reformation: His Iran
11/26/02: How Tyrannies Fall: Opportunity time in Iran
11/22/02: The Blind Leading the Blind: The New York Times and the Iranian crisis
11/13/02: The Temperature Rises: We should liberate Iran first --- now
11/05/02: End of the Road: Iran's Mohammed Khatami, on his way out
10/29/02: The Angleton Dialogues, Contnued: What George Tenet doesn’t know
10/24/02: The Iranian Comedy Hour: In the U.S., the silence continues
10/16/02: Sniper, Saboteur, or Sleeper? Channeling James Jesus Angleton
10/01/02: The real foe
09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen