Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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On the new charges that Ahmed Chalabi's 'intelligence chief' Aras Karim is in fact an Iranian spy, Knut Royce's piece in Newsday contains the biggest bombshells. This is a follow-up on his piece from yesterday.

The Post meanwhile has a lengthier, though less clear-cut account, which includes important new details and an interview with Chalabi's long-time Washington handler Francis Brooke.

(ed. note: Most of the articles discussing this issue refer to the man in question as Aras Karim Habib, though he is sometimes referred to as Aras Habib, Aras Karim, or Aras Habib Karim.)

Now, you probably remember all that has been said about the $340,000 a month stipend that the US was paying until just a few days ago for Chalabi's 'Information Collection Program' (ICP), basically the INC's intelligence operation, which was until recently supposed to become the nucleus of the new Iraqi intelligence service.

(According to a June 2001 letter which the INC sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the information collected was sent directly to the Pentagon and the Office of the Vice President.)

Now, who was in charge of the ICP?

Right, Aras Karim.

A few more details.

We've been discussing for some time that Chalabi's connections to the Iranians and his flow of money from the Iranians has been known about among Chalabi's Washington supporters for years. But suspicions that Aras Karim was an Iranian agent are not new either.

Take this October 13th, 1998 New York Times article, which says that "An F.B.I. report said Mr. Karim's cousin Aras Habib Muhamad Al-Ufayli, who had been the intelligence chief for the Iraqi National Congress, had a 'well-documented connection to Iranian intelligence.'"

That article in the Times was about the on-going INS detention of a group of Iraqis who had worked with the INC in northern Iraq and were later held in detention by the INS because of alleged national security concerns. They were represented by former CIA Director James Woolsey, who was also a lobbyist for the INC.

(At the time, the case garnered a great deal of attention, and for good reason, because of the use of so-called 'secret evidence' in the detentions.)

Two years later, Dr. Ali Yasin Mohammed Karim, of the six original detainees, was finally released from INS custody. And the following passage appeared in an August 19th, 2000 article in the LA Times (emphasis added)...

Attorneys for the INS have contended that there is a reasonable belief Karim is a danger to national security. They have argued that one of the doctor's cousins is a suspected Iranian intelligence agent, the doctor's travel patterns were suspicious, and he might have misled federal agents about how his brother Mohammed made it into the United States.

Defense lawyers say the declassified material amounted to little more than rumor.

They said the espionage allegations were largely based on uncorroborated reports culled by FBI agents from Iraqi refugees, who were interviewed in Guam by the FBI after being evacuated from Iraq.

That information shows, for example, that one FBI agent thought Karim might be a spy for Iran, while another agent thought he was a mole for Iraq; the two countries are enemies.

In addition, the summary states that Karim's cousin, Aras, is suspected of being an Iranian intelligence agent, but it offers no specifics.

I suspect we'll be hearing more specifics.

The Ryan campaign, it seems, has decided to cut its losses.

As we reported early Friday, Jason Miller, campaign manager for Illinois Republican senate candidate Jack Ryan, defended the actions of the videographer/stalker his campaign sicced on opponent Barack Obama in quotes given to the Chicago Sun-Times.

(For the details of what was involved, see this earlier post.)

But the campaign has now decided to apologize, according to this late report, and call off the dogs, or rather the dog.

"I have no reason to doubt [Obama's] word and I offer an apology on behalf of the campaign," said Communications Director Bill Pascoe, according to late reports.

I've asked you, the TPM readership, for many things -- to give contributions, to take surveys, and certainly other things I can't remember. But this is the greatest request. Someone ... someone out there, I have to imagine, and probably it will be someone with connections in the New York theater world, where I'm told the site has a few fans, can secure me prime seats at the premier of the Iraq regime change opera, which I assume will debut sometime toward the end of this decade, probably in New York but perhaps on the continent.

At an earlier point, we might have imagined it would be Wagnerian. But I'm thinking more Verdi or actually Mozart, some sort of Opera Buffa, though perhaps the better question is whether Paul Sorvino is cast as Ahmed Chalabi or Richard Perle.

Who could miss the duet between Chalabi and Ali Khamenei in which the dark secret is revealed or Richard Perle's haunting, despairing aria at the beginning of the final act, in which this hawk of hawks, friend of Israel, swordsman against terror, and deacon in the high church of moral clarity confronts the shattering truth that he's played the cat's paw for what the Defense Intelligence Agency, according to this just-released article from Newsday, has determined was (horribile dictu!) actually a front for Iranian intelligence.

(Yes, the DIA, says Newsday, has concluded that the INC's 'Information Collection Program' was an Iranian front.)

Even now, I can almost feel myself raising a tissue to my eye for his moment of bleak sorrow. La Donna e Mobile, indeed!

From a trickle to a torrent ...

On Friday, Stahl reported that senior intelligence officials stress the information Ahmad Chalibi is alleged to have passed on to Iran is of such a seriously sensitive nature, the result of full disclosure could be highly damaging to U.S. security. The information involves secrets that were held by only a handful of very senior U.S. officials, says Stahl.

Meanwhile, Stahl reports that "grave concerns" about the true nature of Chalabi's relationship with Iran started after the U.S. obtained "undeniable intelligence" that Chalabi met with a senior Iranian intelligence, a "nefarious figure from the dark side of the regime - an individual with a direct hand in covert operations directed against the United States."

Chalabi never reported this meeting to his friends and sponsors in the U.S. government, says Stahl.

In truth, and not to defend Chalabi, but I think we need to wait and watch these reports closely. Much <$Ad$> of the charges we're seeing here have been out there for some time, though not with quite the specifics or with such gravity. Chalabi's ties with Iran have been known (and winked at) for years; claims that he was sharing sensitive US info with them have been out there for at least a few months.

It's not that the claims are false. In fact, I quite suspect the opposite. But what we're seeing here is less the result of new revelations than the outward signs of deep tectonic shifts within the US government -- the discrediting of some factions and agencies, the attempts of others to reposition themselves in a moment of acute crisis and get ahead of the storm, and the freeing up of others to assert themselves for the first time in years.

It's probably too dramatic to compare this to the bubbles, choppy water and occasional scraps churned up by a Piranha feeding. But the struggles that are giving rise to all these leaks and tergiversations of the state are the real story -- one that it is difficult to see directly, but possible to glimpse in what we can infer from its effects and repercussions.

From regime change to seat change.

Here's <$NoAd$> a clip from the Washington Post's Inside the Loop column from January 23rd, providing some backdrop to that Chalabi at the State of the Union picture ...

Meanwhile, the buzz is that enemies of Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon's favorite, appeared to have misplaced his seating reservations. Council chief (they rotate) Adnan Pachachi was set to be on Laura Bush's left and the council's rep here, Rend Rahim Francke, given a seat on her right.

Chalabi and his folks are said to have mounted a fierce campaign to correct this obvious oversight. The effort rivaled in intensity one undertaken at the end of the Iraq invasion which, as reported in The Washington Post, the Pentagon flew Chalabi and several hundred heavily armed men into Baghdad. Vice President Cheney approved that move, which some people thought might have been an effort to have Chalabi take over and avoid all this messy transition business.

And so it goes ...

Another article to read: the San Francisco Chronicle's Robert Collier on the Chalabi, the dense web of power he's put together by installing (with our backing) relatives and cronies at the key government ministries in Baghdad, and how much mischief there still is for him to make.

A note from a reader who is a former US government <$NoAd$>official ...

OK, the press has now understood that Chalabi was providing US intelligence to the Iranian intelligence service. That's a start.

Here are some questions you might want to ask.

Where did he get the intelligence to leak? Who gave Chalabi the leaked classified information? Was it lawful to provide Chalabi with classified USG military information that included such things as where our troops were and what they were doing? Who is under investigation as a result of the intercepts of the Iranians discussing the intelligence provided by Chalabi? Who are the investigators? Has this been referred to the Department of Justice? Did his provision of that information to Iran result in the death of US soldiers in Shi'ia areas? Are the intel leaks the reason for the raids of Chalabi's home? Are the intel leaks the reason they cut off his income? Why did the USG say that Chalabi was not a "target" of the raids on his home? (It's possible other members of his family are the ones who are being used directly to provide the intel to Iran.)

Hmmmm. Who were Chalabi's US government interlocutors? What a mystery ...

Politics is certainly a rough business. And it's common, and understandable, that candidates will often send staffers to videotape or record their opponents' speeches.

But we seem to have an embarrassing new low in the Illinois senate race -- one that might even amount to stalking.

Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate for the open seat and his opponent is Republican Jack Ryan. For the last ten days, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Ryan has had a campaign staffer, Justin Warfel, follow Obama with a video camera all day.

And I mean, all day.

Not only does he record Obama's public appearances, he tails Obama in his car; he follows him into restrooms; he stays a couple feet behind him when he's walking in public; he waits outside his office and pesters his secretary. And he heckles Obama at public appearances.

The Chicago Sun-Times asked Ryan's campaign manager if this was appropriate ...

But Jason Miller, Ryan's campaign manager, insisted Obama's public movements are fair game and the point is to make sure Obama doesn't contradict himself with his public statements.

"If he's having a phone conversation, then Justin is not trying to tap into the conversation or record what he is saying or something like that," Miller said. "He's monitoring because you never know when ... a reporter comes up and starts asking questions."

The State's Republican Senate Minority Leader disagreed. "I don't care if you're in public life or who you are," Frank Watson (R-Greenville) told the Sun-Times. "You deserve your space, your privacy. I don't think it's appropriate."

If you'd like to register your opinion here's Obama's website and here's Ryan's.