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June 02, 2004

Chalabi Dropped

Today's news about Chalabi is especially juicy, and I think it points directly to the storms of intrigue and infighting between the White House, Pentagon, CIA and FBI. In particular, I think Richard Perle is looking especially egg-faced today.

Assuming you know the story and/or are vaguely familiar with basic spycraft and/or information theory, you were probably laughing out loud at this paragraph in today's NYT.

According to American officials, the Iranian official in Baghdad, possibly not believing Mr. Chalabi's account, sent a cable to Tehran detailing his conversation with Mr. Chalabi, using the broken code. That encrypted cable, intercepted and read by the United States, tipped off American officials to the fact that Mr. Chalabi had betrayed the code-breaking operation, the American officials said.

That's rich. Echoes of Cryptonomicon huffduff.

My money says some spymaster at DIA who has been pissed at Chalabi for a long time put into motion this plot to discredit him once and for all, with the possible cooperation of State (or at least with the knowledge that Colin Powell could benefit from a discredited Chalabi who now becomes the 'source' of 'all' the 'bad intelligence' about Iraqi WMDs).

Sooner or later, Chalabi would become expendable especially given the way things have turned out in Iraq which make the PNAC crew look better than they deserved to. What career Pentagon intel officer could stomach Perle's pontifications and the general besmirching of CIA and other US intelligence organizations? Time to show what they can do.

So, suspecting as any spymaster should, that Chalabi is playing both sides of the fence, they set him up with a 'drunk' agent who 'inadvertantly' says that Iranian codes are broken. Chalabi falls into the honey pot and spills the beans.

The other possibility here, as suggested by Canistraro is that some guy really was drunk and no US intelligence agency knows any other Iranian codes. That would be incredibly stupid, in fact, unbelievably so. But in any case, Iranian agents in Iraq are going to have to be restrained considering that this news is all over the place and their codes and cyphers are going to be changed anyway.

I say this is a fairly interesting turn of events. The question now is, where are Chalabi's deadly enemies and what excuses are they going to find to wreck the Iraqi National Congress? Hmmm.

Posted by mbowen at June 2, 2004 08:27 PM

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"So, suspecting as any spymaster should, that Chalabi is playing both sides of the fence, they set him up with a 'drunk' agent who 'inadvertantly' says that Iranian codes are broken. Chalabi falls into the honey pot and spills the beans."

The problem with this theory is that it seems we had actually broken the Iranians code. That is some valuable intel and no sane agent would lose the value of such info merely to undermine and descredit a foolish character like Chalabi. There are other ways of taking him down such as raiding his home and having a parade of officials berate him before the media implying that he is to blame for the false WMD intelligence on him. By any stretch, Chalabi was passing disinformation (like State said he would) and was most likely playing both sides, but there are some very nervous people in the White House and Pentagon, and CIA (although I think they are less culpable than the other two and have been mostly made a scapegoat). I believe Tenet has had enough of these incompetents, or he was fired and is being made the sacrificial lamb.

It will certainly be an interesting summer

Posted by: walter at June 3, 2004 12:15 PM

Hell, Cobb, you want to get all cloak and dagger, how about these possibilities:

1. There never was any compromised Iranian codes. The powers that be decided we wanted Chalabi out so we cooked up this scenario. Iran? Of course they'll deny it, but for obvious reasons wouldn't offer proof.

- or -

2. The Iranians wanted to get Chalabi out of the picture. Knowing by other methods that their comms were hacked and that Chalabi had access they intentionally broadcasted using compromised crypto in order to spoof us into dropping Chalabi.

Got to love the spook business.

Posted by: submandave at June 3, 2004 12:19 PM

walter: On a serious note, I agree completely that Chalabi himself may not have worth blowing the compromise, but my guess is that the Iranians had already changed gear long before we acted on it and the intercepted "smoking gun" transmission was a fortunate mistake on their part. On the other hand, what sort of crypto it was and how it was used isn't clear, but if it was on a system of limited value we might might sacrificed it to plug a leak if it was determined that the strtegic value of the intercepted signals was less than the benefit of finding the leak. This would be especially true if we had already broken other Iranian circuits or had a high level of confidence in being able to compromise whatever follow-on was to be employed.

Posted by: submandave at June 3, 2004 12:29 PM

Well, there would be diplomatic codes and military codes and codes for spies. So certainly the CIA would broken certain of these. But you are right that it doesn't make sense to let the Iranians know that a code was broken unless it was a fairly low priority code. Chalabi might not have known what priority that code would be to us.

But I read the scenario that say there are 3 or 4 diplomatic codes and that the US had broken all of them. The leak goes that we had broken one. Would they replace all of them? Hard to say. They wouldn't necessarily change military or spy codes if the one or all of the diplomatic codes were broken. Either way it makes Chalabi somewhat valuable to the Iranians - but his use to the US political side (PNAC) is down to zero. The Pentagon has obviously cut him off, so now he's gone ronin.

Ultimately he's going to have to get on the good side of somebody in the new Iraqi government, but considering his burnt bridges in the US, somebody like Al Sadr might decide to take him out. After all, what good did this revelation to the Iranians mean for Iraq?

Posted by: Cobb at June 3, 2004 12:41 PM