On Hill, Rice Pledges Probe Of Alleged Chalabi Leak
U.S. intelligence officials said the disclosure of the code-breaking would mean Tehran's security agencies will redo their codes and that for some time, perhaps years, American intelligence will not be able to read the transmissions.
The Bush administration considers Iran a potential threat to stability in the Middle East and is particularly worried about its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has been accused by nonproliferation officials at the United Nations of misstating details of its nuclear program and pursuing enrichment technology more aggressively than it admits.
The National Security Agency will now have to painstakingly try to break the new codes. Another technique is for the CIA to attempt to steal codebooks.
U.S. officials who have supported Chalabi defended him yesterday. And some officials raised the possibility that the incident could be an attempt by Iran to discredit Chalabi and remove him from contention as a future leader of Iraq.
"As a secular Shia and a democrat, he's a threat to Iran, which wants to see an Islamic government in Iraq," one official said. "Maybe these two Iranians were trying to set Chalabi up, knowing that the Americans would react viscerally if they suspected he had compromised codes."
The official also confirmed a report in this week's Time magazine about a National Security Council paper drafted in April on "marginalizing Chalabi." The official said that officials at the White House, the State Department and the CIA were upset with Chalabi because he opposed U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's mission to help form an interim Iraqi government and some U.S. policies in Baghdad.
The paper was brought up in a meeting of top administration officials, "but everybody got calmer heads and said, 'This is dumb. We should not do this. We don't want to make an enemy of him,' " the official said.
Rice discussed the allegations in a series of closed meetings yesterday on Capitol Hill.
In one session, Rice told the legislators that the FBI is investigating the matter, with a particular focus on who may have provided the code-breaking information to Chalabi. "Everyone in the room took it very seriously," said Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.).
After hearing Rice, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said: "We need to get the facts. These are pretty serious charges."
In an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America," Rice said, "I can't comment on intelligence matters, but I can say that we have had a relationship with Mr. Chalabi in the past that's been strained recently."
In Najaf, Chalabi told the Associated Press allegations that he leaked highly classified information were "false" and "stupid." "Where would I get this from?" he asked. "I have no such information. How would I know anything about that?"
A senior administration official yesterday said that after the message about Chalabi was sent to Iran, the Iranians then transmitted an encrypted message in the same channel describing the location of an arms cache in Iraq, perhaps expecting the United States to follow up on it and thus confirm the code was broken. No action was taken by U.S. officials, who were hoping that their code-breaking would remain secret.
Richard N. Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and a longtime supporter of Chalabi's, said yesterday he found it "impossible to believe" that Chalabi is accused of informing the Iranians about U.S. code-breaking and the station chief "would use a compromised code to report to Baghdad when he could convey it in 2 1/2 hours by car." Perle added: "It would be a tragedy if we jettisoned an Iraqi leader on such a hairy story."
Staff writers Helen Dewar, Bradley Graham and Thomas E. Ricks in Washington and correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran in Baghdad contributed to this report.
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