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Iran/Iraq "Defectors" and Disinformation

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Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmed Chalabi

A new American war hysteria is rising, this time over Iran, and -- like its predecessor with Iraq -- this one employs "defectors" who come forward, often under the umbrella of neocon organizations, to impart alarming tales.

The latest example is a "default judgment" by a U.S. federal judge implicating Iran in the 9/11 attacks. It is based largely on Iranian "defectors" whose testimony was given without Iranian lawyers or anyone else present to challenge the lurid claims. Since Iran has no diplomatic relations with the United States and rejects the judgments of U.S. courts, the "default judgment" was predictable.

Nevertheless, it is being used as another talking point for launching a war against Iran. [For a dissection of the Iran-9/11 case, see Gareth Porter's analysis, "Muslim Haters Tie Iran to 9/11."]

Beyond the exaggerations and falsehoods of this Iran-9/11 argument, it is also worth recalling how Iraqi "defectors" were deployed in the run-up to war with Iraq. American journalists and intelligence analysts were either duped or overwhelmed by the sheer number of these "walk-ins."

Yet, as the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee belatedly discovered, some "defectors" had been coached by the neocon-backed Iraqi National Congress, which was fabricating a casus belli around Iraq's alleged WMD stockpiles and Iraq's purported ties to al-Qaeda to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The Iraqi "defectors" and their stories then played into a sophisticated propaganda campaign led by neocon pundits and pro-war officials who acted as intellectual shock troops to bully the few U.S. voices of skepticism that spoke out. With President George W. Bush eager for war with Iraq -- and Democrats in Congress fearful of being labeled "soft on terror" -- the enforced "group think" led the United States to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003.

It was not until 2006 -- after Iraq's WMD stockpiles proved non-existent and the Iraq-al-Qaeda ties were discredited -- that the Senate Intelligence Committee released a little-noticed study on the role of phony "defectors."

The report revealed not only specific cases of coached Iraqi "defectors" lying to intelligence analysts but a stunning failure of the U.S. political/media system to challenge the lies. The intimidated U.S. intelligence process often worked like a reverse filter, letting the dross of disinformation pass through.

The Backdrop

According to the Senate report, the official U.S. relationship with these Iraqi exiles dated back to 1991 after President George H.W. Bush had routed Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait and wanted to help Hussein's domestic opponents.

In May 1991, the CIA approached Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shiite who had not lived in Iraq since 1956. Chalabi was far from a perfect opposition candidate, however. Beyond his long isolation from his homeland, Chalabi was a fugitive from bank fraud charges in Jordan.

Still, in June 1992, the Iraqi exiles held an organizational meeting in Vienna, Austria, out of which came the Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi emerged as the group's chairman and most visible spokesman.

But Chalabi soon began rubbing CIA officers the wrong way. They complained about the quality of his information, the excessive size of his security detail, his lobbying of Congress, and his resistance to working as a team player. For his part, smooth-talking Chalabi bristled at the idea that he was a U.S. intelligence asset, preferring to see himself as an independent political leader. Nevertheless, he and his organization were not averse to accepting American money.

With U.S. financial backing, the INC waged a propaganda campaign against Hussein and arranged for "a steady stream of low-ranking walk-ins" to provide intelligence about the Iraqi military, the Senate Intelligence Committee report said.

The INC's mix of duties -- propaganda and intelligence -- would create concerns within the CIA as would the issue of Chalabi's "coziness" with the Shiite government of Iran. The CIA concluded that Chalabi was double-dealing both sides when he falsely informed Iran that the United States wanted Iran's help in conducting anti-Hussein operations.

"Chalabi passed a fabricated message from the White House to" an Iranian intelligence officer in northern Iraq, the CIA reported. According to one CIA representative, Chalabi used National Security Council stationery for the fabricated letter, a charge that Chalabi denied.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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