Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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A couple thoughts on the charges against Chalabi.

Chalabi's advocates are arguing that the case against him simply makes no sense. If Chalabi had told this Iranian in Baghdad that we'd cracked one of their codes, why would he turn around and use that code to inform his masters in Tehran?

My answer? Good question. I have no idea.

Reports suggest that the Iranian agent didn't believe Chalabi. And perhaps this is the explanation. Sloppiness could be another. In my mind, however, the key is we -- i.e., we on the outside -- are dealing with extremely fragmentary and limited information.

Most of the details we simply don't know.

Since that's the case we're just not in much of a position to outlogic the counter-espionage people who've decided to take this seriously. And notwithstanding all the stuff we've heard about incompetence in our intelligence community, these folks aren't fools. If the story so obviously made no sense that any chat show oaf could tear it apart, I don't think they'd be taking it as seriously as they are.

The other argument, of course, from the Chalabites is that Chalabi's enemies at the CIA have seized on obviously bogus or questionable intelligence to neutralize him because of their long-standing hostility to him. Basically, they argue, this is just his enemies using an excuse to destroy him.

In my mind, two facts argue against this hypothesis. The first is that people on the inside -- people who know the relevant facts -- and who are either indifferent to or friendly to Chalabi seem to be taking this very seriously. If it was so obviously trumped up, I doubt they would do so.

The second point goes more to the root of the claim. Every charge we've ever heard about Chalabi -- going back almost a decade now -- has been answered by his friends with claims that the CIA or the State Department simply has it out for him because they don't believe he can be controlled and that they're against the 'democracy' that Chalabi represents.

They on the other hand maintained that they just thought Chalabi was a liar and a crook and that we shouldn't have anything to do with him.

At this point, who has the better part of that argument? The Chalabites or the CIA/State? Right. Pretty much answers itself, doesn't it?

One other point, the word I've heard from several Chalabi-friendly sources with good contacts on the inside doesn't throw doubt on the charges against Chalabi so much as it suggests that someone at the CIA or elsewhere in the Intelligence Community might be responsible for the leak to Chalabi. I think that's inherently implausible. But I think that tells us a lot about how seriously we should take claims that Chalabi is being set up.

Tenet resigning for 'personal reasons'. More on that soon. And more thoughts on the alternative theories explaining the evidence against Chalabi.

A couple of months ago I suggested that "rather than continue to give [Chalabi] taxpayer dollars, perhaps we might better spend our time considering how to take him into custody while we're still the sovereign authority in Iraq and have it within our power."

I wasn't kidding then. So how about it? If Chalabi is really responsible for espionage against the United States shouldn't we be thinking about getting a hold of him while we still can?

This new article in the Times suggests that the current investigation may later turn to Chalabi himself but that the "decision on that could be left to the new Iraqi government."

This is all rather hypothetical, I grant you. But why not act while we're still the sovereign authority in the country?

In any case, off to other things. The Times article is mainly about polygraph testing now being done on civilian employees at the Pentagon to see who spilled the beans to Chalabi.

A few points stand out to me about the piece.

First, we have Chalabi's lawyers sending a letter to DOJ protesting his innocence and demanding investigations into whomever is leaking these accusations against him. We also have more of his grandstanding claims that he "is very happy to come to the United States to appear before Congress or be interviewed by legitimate investigative agents in this matter." The idea here must be that Chalabi is like MacArthur being recalled from the field or something or that he gets to choose which branches of American law enforcement or the intelligence community are 'legitimate'. But to the best of my knowledge that's not a privilege we generally extend to foreign crooks or spies.

Let's also note in passing that one of the two attorneys who wrote the letter on Chalabi's behalf is Collette C. Goodman, an attorney at Shea & Gardner, Jim Woolsey's old firm which has been a registered foreign lobbyist/agent for the INC for years. It's a relationship that might bear some renewed scrutiny.

Finally, there's this passage in the Times article ...

The F.B.I. is looking at officials who both knew of the code-breaking operation and had dealings with Mr. Chalabi, either in Washington or Baghdad, the government officials said. Information about code-breaking work is considered among the most confidential material in the government and is handled under tight security and with very limited access.

But a wider circle of officials could have inferred from intelligence reports about Iran that the United States had access to the internal communications of Iran's spy service, intelligence officials said. That may make it difficult to identify the source of any leak.

This is something I've been giving a lot of thought to. But let me add another possible wrinkle to the story.

It says here that this could have been inferred from "intelligence reports". And that's probably right. But what we know about the shop Doug Feith et al. set up at the Pentagon is that they wanted to be sure they weren't relying on the CIA's or anyone else's analyses and reports. They wanted to look at the raw material itself. Now, there's raw and there's raw. And presumably such highly sensitive sources and methods info like this code stuff still wouldn't have been promiscuously discussed. But one can imagine that that raw intel might have included lots of highly valuable decoded communications from Iranian intelligence. And any of those folks, even if they weren't told directly, could have easily ascertained that we had broken the Iranians' code.

Finally, this article in the Post -- and some other news sources -- raises a new line of defense for Chalabi: namely, that Chalabi may be the victim of an Iranian disinformation campaign.

As one administration official told the Post: "As a secular Shia and a democrat, he's a threat to Iran, which wants to see an Islamic government in Iraq. Maybe these two Iranians were trying to set Chalabi up, knowing that the Americans would react viscerally if they suspected he had compromised codes."

This new line of reasoning is either disingenuous or truly sad, and perhaps both.

I'm not at all convinced that Chalabi was a spy per se. From all we know about the guy I think it far more likely that he was just playing both sides and only truly working for himself. As our star waned in Iraq and Iran's waxed, he probably did more and more to curry their favor. And that may have led to sharing some of our prized information with them. I also don't completely discount the possibility that much of Chalabi's current problems are the result of a bureaucratic war being fought against his supporters in the administration. People can, after all, be both framed and guilty. Finally, perhaps the Iranians sent this some disinformation back to us simply to sow confusion in our ranks, notwithstanding who it might hurt in Iraq.

But the idea that they see Chalabi as a threat because he's likely to light the region afire with democracy is a sad misreading of which way the wind has been blowing of late. Set aside whether Chalabi compromised this piece of highly classified information. He has quite openly been courting Islamist groups in the country, setting up his Sharia caucus, hobnobbing with Iraqi Hezbollah, strengthening his ties to the Iranians and pro-Iranianian groups. (Of course, time has to be set aside for kidnapping and extortion and stealing SUVs. But, you know, I'm talking about the political front here.) And I don't know much of anyone who now doubts that Chalabi's intelligence chief was actually an Iranian agent.

So the idea that the Iranians see Chalabi as a threat that needs to be neutralized doesn't seem that likely -- though it does match up with a fantasy some folks seem to have a very hard time shaking.

I was making my way down a dark country road this evening, trying to find a market and hoping I'd be able to find my way back, when I heard Donna Brazile on the radio talking about her new book, Cooking with Grease.

It was great stuff and made me want to go out and buy it.

The best part was her description of sitting in on Al Gore's testy non-concession phone call with then-Governor Bush on election night 2000. When Gore tells Bush that things are too close in Florida, that there's going to be a recount, Bush comes back with something like "But my brother says ..."

(Doesn't this jerk know our family owns that state? Where's Karl?)

Even in the interview you could feel her pride and fight swell up as she recounted how Gore got his back up in the face of Bush's swagger and entitlement. In any case, the rough outlines of the story have been told before. But so much about these two men is contained that one interaction. I'm eager to read what else Brazile has to say about that, the rest of the recount drama, and her recollections of other defining political moments.

Watch out! Shoes dropping<$NoAd$>!

From Newsweek ...

One Bush administration official said that in addition to harboring suspicions that Chalabi had been leaking sensitive U.S. information to Iran both before and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, some U.S. officials also believe that Chalabi had collected and maintained files of potentially damaging information on U.S. officials with whom he had or was going to interact for the purpose of influencing them. Some officials said that when Iraqi authorities raided Chalabi’s offices, one of the things American officials hoped they would look for was Chalabi’s cache of information he had gathered on Americans.

Could get ugly.

More on the president's lawyering up in the Plame case.

The lawyer in question is identified as Jim Sharp. I assume that's James E. Sharp, a Washington attorney who also represented Iran-Contra luminary Richard V. Secord.

That may prove convenient since the case will quite possibly involve some of the players from the old days.

And here is the next logical question.

From everything we know about this case, the probable connections would far more likely be to the vice-president rather than the president. So someone should ask whether Vice President Cheney has lawyered up too.

A snippet from today's Nelson <$NoAd$>Report ...

4. If it's possible to imagine anything more damaging to DOD [than the Iran/Chalabi revelations], and perhaps also to White House staff, it is the CIA's conclusion that some information Chalabi turned over to Iran was available to only "a handful" of senior U.S. officials. That would be Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Cheney, and Cheney's consigleiri, Scooter Libby, our sources helpfully explain.

-- perhaps not entirely by coincidence, the Vice President's office is already on extra orders of TUMS, as it awaits the promised Grand Jury indictments of those responsible for leaking the name of a secret CIA officer to newspaper columnist Bob Novak, allegedly to "punish" the agent's husband, Amb. Joe Wilson, for revealing that President Bush used faulty intelligence about Iraq and Niger in the State of the Union Address two years ago. From our own days as a police and court reporter, we can tell you that Grand Juries often grind exceeding slow, but that if they report, not much gets left out.

More soon.

Convicted of embezzlement over the Petra Bank collapse? A politically-motivated attack by pro-Saddam forces in Jordan. Questioned over what happened to US taxpayer funds provided to the INC? A bureaucratic hit-job by wimpy Foggy-Bottomites. Accused of leaking classified intelligence to the Iranians? A political smear by Paul Bremer and George Tenet.

All the baseless accusations.

Some folks just can't catch a break ...

If this new piece in the Times has the Chalabi story right, someone -- and probably someone at the Pentagon -- is in a world of trouble. Actually, there's some other trouble coming down the pike in a few weeks. But then, sufficient to the day is the trouble thereof. So, to Chalabi. Here's the key passage ...

The F.B.I. has opened an espionage investigation seeking to determine exactly what information Mr. Chalabi turned over to the Iranians as well as who told Mr. Chalabi that the Iranian code had been broken, government officials said. The inquiry, still in an early phase, is focused on a very small number of people who were close to Mr. Chalabi and also had access to the highly restricted information about the Iran code.

Some of the people the F.B.I. expects to interview are civilians at the Pentagon who were among Mr. Chalabi's strongest supporters and served as his main point of contact with the government, the officials said. So far, no one has been accused of any wrongdoing.

Hmmm. People who were close to Chalabi and had access to the highly restricted information about the Iran code. Hmmm. Who would be caught in the sweet spot of that <$Ad$>Venn Diagram?

I'll try not to be too coy. There are a number of folks who could fit that bill. But for anyone who's followed this story, there's one guy who's just got to jump right to the top of the list: an expert on Iran who is extremely close to Chalabi, served as his civilian Pentagon handler for some time in Iraq after the war, and is known for comparing Chalabi to Mohammed and other equally august worthies.

Anyway, that's one pretty good possibility.

I could speculate about who else would have known this key piece of information. But the truth is that I just don't know how such information would be compartmented. So it's impossible for me to say. You'd figure that the folks at OSD involved in B-teaming the regular intelligence community's Middle East analyses would have learned this information. And many of them are close to Chalabi. But again, that's speculation.

The Chalabi virus was very widespread at the highest levels of this administration. So I'd say it's possible, though not likely, that the culprit or culprits could be very high-level administration figures, particularly if they turn out to hang their hats in the White House complex rather than at the Pentagon.

One point that is key to keep in mind here is that if you know the way a lot of these guys treated Chalabi, how they thought of him, it's really not at all surprising that they would have shared this sort of information with him. It would, frankly, be much more surprising if they hadn't. Remember, this was Ahmed Chalabi, the 'leader of Free Iraq', the man of destiny around whom the democratic transformation of the region would turn like a wheel on an axle.