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Did Chalabi Help Write Bush’s State of the Union Address?

by JASON LEOPOLD

Last weekend, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz explained that the United States at times relied on “murky” intelligence in trying to link Iraq to the al-Qaeda terrorist group, but the war against Iraq was justified despite the fact that the White House is now being dogged by questions about the accuracy of its prewar intelligence.

“The nature of terrorism intelligence is intrinsically murky,” Wolfowitz said on “Meet the Press. “If you wait until the terrorism picture is clear, you’re going to wait until after something terrible has happened.”

But the reasons behind the murky intelligence used by the White House to build a case for war against Iraq may have more to do with the people who provided the Pentagon and the White House with its information on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction than the difficulties the intelligence community already faces in trying to obtain reliable intelligence from a variety of sources.

“Having concluded that international inspectors are unlikely to find tangible and irrefutable evidence that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration is preparing its own assessment that will rely heavily on evidence from Iraqi defectors, according to senior administration officials,” The New York Times reported Jan. 23.

In addition, Bush administration officials said Jan. 23 some of the intelligence information provided by the Iraqi defectors would likely be included in the president’s State of the Union address, which may explain why the White House has come under fire for failing to paint an accurate picture of the Iraqi threat_it is well-known among intelligence experts that much of the information provided by Iraqi defectors is unreliable.

“The White House asked administration intelligence analysts … to use the information from the defectors as part of a “bill of particulars” that the administration hopes will convince skeptical allies and the American public that Iraq’s behavior warrants military action, the officials said,” The Times reported. “In addition, they said, it may be incorporated into President Bush’s State of the Union address on Jan. 28.”

Many of the defectors were encouraged to speak to intelligence officials by Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group with close ties to the White House. There continue to be deep divisions in Washington over the value of information from defectors associated with Chalabi’s group.

“The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency has been the most receptive to the defectors intelligence, saying that defectors are critical to penetrating Iraq’s deceptive practices. The CIA has often been dismissive of the defectors and questioned their credibility, according to administration officials,” the Times reported.

As lawmakers in Washington begin investigations into the accuracy of pre-war intelligence, they should question whether the White House and the Pentagon used dubious information from Iraqi defectors to help sway public opinion in supporting the war and whether some of that information was included in Bush’s State of the Union address in January.

Five days before President’s Bush’s State of the Union Speech Jan. 28, Wolfowitz spoke to the Council of Foreign Relations in New York and credited Iraqi defectors with providing the Pentagon and other U.S. “intelligence agencies” much of the information on Iraq’s secret weapons programs that has long been dismissed by military personnel in Iraq as unreliable.

Wolfowitz said in his Jan. 23, presentation to the Council of Foreign Relations that it was Iraqi defectors who told the CIA and the Pentagon about mobile trailers in Iraq that were allegedly used to produce biological weapons.

“We know about that capability from defectors and other sources,” Wolfowitz said during his speech, which can be found at <http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jan2003/t01232003_t0123cfr. html> “For a great body of what we need to know, we are very dependent on traditional methods of intelligence _ that is to say, human beings who are either deliberately or inadvertently communicating to us.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell in his February presentation to the United Nations where he was trying to win support for war, pointed to the trailers as evidence of Iraq’s secret weapons program.

When the trailers were found in May, President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice were quick to point out that the trailers were used to produce lethal chemical weapons, even though no traces of any chemical weapons were found inside the trailers.

But the State Department in a June 2 classified memorandum disputed the conclusion that the trailers were used to cook up deadly weapons. United Nations weapons inspectors said that the trailers were likely used to produce hydrogen for weather balloons.

Prior to the war in March, Wolfowitz said some of the most valuable information it received came from Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a contractor who escaped Iraq in the summer of 2001. He told American officials that chemical and biological weapons laboratories were hidden beneath hospitals and inside presidential palaces and he provided documents to back up some of his other assertions about Iraq’s weapons programs.

In December and January, the White House highlighted Haideri’s claims against Iraq in a report called “Iraq; A Decade of Deception and Defiance” and in a fact sheet on Iraq posted on the White Houses web site. But when U.S. forces searched the hospitals and presidential palaces where Haideri said weapons were hidden they found nothing, not even evidence that weapons had ever been there.

JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

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