"I thought he was unreliable and corrupt, but just because someone is a sleazebag doesn't mean he might not know something or that everything he says is wrong," Hedges said. Hedges described Chalabi as having an "endless stable" of ready sources who could fill in American reporters on any number of Iraq-related topics.
The Salman Pak story would be one of many products from the INC's propaganda mill that would prove influential in the run-up to the Iraq War but would be knocked down later by U.S. intelligence agencies.
According to the Senate Intelligence Committee's post-mortem, the DIA stated in June 2006 that it found "no credible reports that non-Iraqis were trained to conduct or support transnational terrorist operations at Salman Pak after 1991."
Explaining the origins for the bogus tales, the DIA concluded that Operation Desert Storm had brought attention to the training base at Salman Pak, so "fabricators and unestablished sources who reported hearsay or third-hand information created a large volume of human intelligence reporting. This type of reporting surged after September 2001."
Going with the Flow
However, in the prelude to the Iraq War, U.S. intelligence agencies found it hard to resist the INC's "defectors" when that would have meant bucking the White House and going against Washington's conventional wisdom. Rather than take those career chances, many intelligence analysts found it easier to go with the flow.
Referring to the INC's "Source One," a U.S. intelligence memorandum in July 2002 hailed the information as "highly credible and includes reports on a wide range of subjects including conventional weapons facilities, denial and deception; communications security; suspected terrorist training locations; illicit trade and smuggling; Saddam's palaces; the Iraqi prison system; and Iraqi petrochemical plants."
Only analysts in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research were skeptical because they felt Source One was making unfounded assumptions, especially about possible nuclear research sites.
After the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence finally began to recognize the holes in Source One's stories and spot examples of analysts extrapolating faulty conclusions from his limited first-hand knowledge.
"In early February 2004, in order to resolve...credibility issues with Source One, Intelligence Community elements brought Source One to Iraq," the Senate Intelligence Committee report said. "When taken to the location Source One had described as the suspect [nuclear] facility, he was unable to identify it.
"According to one intelligence assessment, the 'subject appeared stunned upon hearing that he was standing on the spot that he reported as the location of the facility, insisted that he had never been to that spot, and wanted to check a map'...
"Intelligence Community officers confirmed that they were standing on the location he was identifying. " During questioning, Source One acknowledged contact with the INC's Washington Director [name redacted], but denied that the Washington Director directed Source One to provide any false information."
The U.S. intelligence community had mixed reactions to other Iraqi "walk-ins" arranged by the INC. Some were caught in outright deceptions, such as "Source Two" who talked about Iraq supposedly building mobile biological weapons labs.
After catching Source Two in contradictions, the CIA issued a "fabrication notice" in May 2002, deeming him "a fabricator/provocateur" and asserting that he had "been coached by the Iraqi National Congress prior to his meeting with western intelligence services."
However, the DIA never repudiated the specific reports that had been based on Source Two's debriefings. So, Source Two continued to be cited in five CIA intelligence assessments and the pivotal National Intelligence Estimate in October 2002, "as corroborating other source reporting about a mobile biological weapons program," the Senate Intelligence Committee report said.
Source Two was one of four human sources referred to by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his United Nations speech on Feb. 5, 2003. When asked how a "fabricator" could have been used for such an important speech, a CIA analyst who worked on Powell's speech said, "we lost the thread of concern ... as time progressed I don't think we remembered."