msnbc.com news services
updated 6/3/2004 1:57:18 PM ET 2004-06-03T17:57:18

Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi accused CIA Director George Tenet on Thursday of being responsible for allegations that he passed intelligence information to Iran.

Chalabi, a former member of the Iraqi Governing Council, made the accusation after President Bush announced that Tenet was stepping down as CIA director for personal reasons.

Tenet’s announcement came amid new storms over intelligence issues, including an alleged Defense Department leak of highly classified intelligence to Chalabi.

Chalabi told reporters that Tenet “was behind the charges against me that claimed that I gave intelligence information to Iran. I denied these charges, and I will deny them again.”

In Washington, a U.S. law enforcement official said on condition of anonymity that the FBI was examining whether defense officials who had frequent contacts with Chalabi may have leaked that U.S. intelligence had broken Iran’s secret communications codes.

The FBI has begun administering polygraph examinations to a small number of defense employees who had access to the information, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Government officials said providing Chalabi with the information could be a potential criminal offense that may have hurt U.S. efforts to monitor Tehran’s activities.

The law enforcement official, who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said that the defense officials were a logical place to start but that the investigation would not be limited until the FBI determined how the information was compromised.

Chalabi dismisses ‘stupid’ allegation
In Najaf, Iraq, Chalabi told the AP that the reports were “false” and “stupid.”

“Where would I get this from?” Chalabi asked. “I have no such information. How would I know anything about that? That’s stupid from every aspect.”

Chalabi lashed out at Tenet, saying the effects of his policies toward Iraq over the past years “have been not helpful to say the least.”

“He continued attempting to make a coup d’etat against [former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] in the face of all possible evidence that this would be unsuccessful,” Chalabi said. “His policies caused the death of hundreds of Iraqis in this futile efforts.”

Chalabi also accused Tenet of providing “erroneous information about weapons of mass destruction to President Bush, which caused the government much embarrassment at the United Nations and his own country.”

U.S. officials have said much of the information about Saddam’s banned weapons programs came from Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. No major banned weapons stockpiles have been found.

Chalabi’s defenders have used the unattributed nature of the alleged leak to Iran to suggest that they were part of a baseless smear campaign.

Richard Perle, a former Defense Department adviser now with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington public policy institution, said he found it inconceivable that Iran’s top intelligence official in Baghdad would have used a compromised channel to tell Tehran that the United States was reading its communications, as has been reported.

U.S. intelligence reportedly intercepted that message, which indicated that Chalabi had provided the information.

“The idea that the Iranians, having been informed that their codes were broken, would then use their broken codes back to Iran is absurd,” Perle said. “It is so basic of a mistake. ... It is comparable to a math teacher instructing a student that 2 and 2 is 5.”

Congressional aides said on condition of anonymity that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee received a briefing Wednesday on Chalabi.

House Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., said he has never had a great deal of confidence in Chalabi. He would not comment directly on whether his committee was inquiring into Chalabi’s actions, but he said, “I would say that the oversight has worked well in matters relating to Mr. Chalabi.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, meanwhile, said he knew nothing about the case.

Rumsfeld also said he was unaware whether the United States was investigating the matter or if any U.S. Defense Department officials had been questioned about who might have told Chalabi that the code was broken.

“The press is reporting that there is an investigation going on,” Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him to Singapore for an Asia security conference. “I do not have personal knowledge of that. I have asked somebody, and it may very well be the case. And normally when that’s the case, you let those things run their course.”

“Law enforcement’s law enforcement,” he added.

Longtime doubts about exile
The CIA and some in the State Department have been suspicious of Chalabi’s information and allegiances for some time. He provided intelligence sources to the Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction, which Washington used to justify the war against Iraq, but his information came under major criticism after no weapons were found.

Chalabi, a member of the hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council, has also been accused of meddling in an investigation into Iraq’s oil-for-food program under Saddam.

The Bush administration last month cut off financial aid to Chalabi’s organization, the Iraqi National Congress, and U.S. and Iraqi security forces raided his headquarters in Baghdad.

Allegations that Chalabi passed highly sensitive information to Iran have lingered for weeks, and some news organizations were asked by U.S. officials not to report the details about the code-breaking because it would endanger an investigation.

Entifadh Qanbar, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, said the group welcomed any congressional investigations because it had nothing to hide.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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