Once cozy with the Pentagon, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi now is under fire — literally.
Iraqi police backed by American soldiers on Thursday raided the home and offices of the controversial figure who provided the Bush administration with prewar intelligence on supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, including the now-discredited information about mobile labs whose true use is still a matter of debate.
Despite Chalabi's seat on the U.S.-handpicked Iraqi Governing Council, it seems the Bush administration is going out of its way to ensure that the man who made a career lobbying to get rid of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has no American-backed political future in Iraq.
Senior U.S. officials have toldthat they have evidence Chalabi has been passing highly classified U.S. intelligence to Iran. The evidence shows that Chalabi personally gave Iranian intelligence officers information so sensitive that if revealed it could, quote, "get Americans killed." The evidence is said to be "rock solid."
On Friday, Stahl reported that senior intelligence officials stress the information Ahmad Chalibi is alleged to have passed on to Iran is of such a seriously sensitive nature, the result of full disclosure could be highly damaging to U.S. security. The information involves secrets that were held by only a handful of very senior U.S. officials, says Stahl.
Meanwhile, Stahl reports that "grave concerns" about the true nature of Chalabi's relationship with Iran started after the U.S. obtained "undeniable intelligence" that Chalabi met with a senior Iranian intelligence, a "nefarious figure from the dark side of the regime - an individual with a direct hand in covert operations directed against the United States."
Chalabi never reported this meeting to his friends and sponsors in the U.S. government, says Stahl.
Other tense situations in recent months between the Bush administration and Chalabi include:
Chalabi still has strong supporters in Washington, and the Pentagon continued to pay for intelligence provided by his organization until recently.
It's unclear why Chalabi's home was raided Thursday. A senior coalition official said an Iraqi judge had issued several warrants, and details would be released later. Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor said Chalabi and his group were not the targets.
Haidar Musawi, an aide of Chalabi's, said three security guards were arrested, but they weren't linked to any allegations. Chalabi said his chief security official, Aras Habib, was named in one arrest warrant but was not detained.
Danielle Pletka, a vice president at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said she believes the raid was likely "political manipulation in order to disable somebody who has been a thorn in the side of the CPA."
"We need the United Nations right now, and Chalabi is the prime mover behind the investigation in the oil-for-food program," Pletka said.
The CIA — long suspicious of information provided by Chalabi's group — has not been paying it for intelligence.
Last weekend, Secretary of State Colin Powell said for the first time on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the United States was intentionally misled about information on Iraq's much-debated mobile labs. Not said during the show was that the information came from a defector connected to the Iraqi National Congress.
"It turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong, and in some cases deliberately misleading," Powell said, "and for that I am disappointed, and I regret it."
For officials like Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the distancing from Chalabi has been "a long time coming."
"I could never quite understand the incredible preoccupation of the administration with Mr. Chalabi. I think that reliance has done us great damage in terms of establishing legitimacy," Biden said.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz confirmed earlier this week that the $340,000-a-month payments from the U.S. government to Chalabi's organization for intelligence recently ended.
Wolfowitz said the decision was made as part of the upcoming transition to Iraqi rule. "There has been some very valuable intelligence that's been gathered through that process that's been very important for our forces, but we will seek to obtain that in the future through normal intelligence channels," he said.
Three weeks ago, one U.S. defense official justified the payments to the Iraqi National Congress, saying the organization provided valuable tactical intelligence to war planners. For instance, the official said, the INC may hear that a shopkeeper was told not to open his store one day, indicating an upcoming attack.
"It is a night-and-day difference" on the INC's information before and after Saddam's fall, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "They speak the language. They know the country."
Of all the controversies surrounding Chalabi, perhaps the most pointed has been his group's prewar intelligence about Saddam's purported weapons of mass destruction — the Bush administration's leading justification for the war.
Chalabi has come under criticism because large stockpiles of these weapons were never found.
Some U.S. officials were angered by comments Chalabi made in the London press in February. "We are heroes in error," he told the Daily Telegraph in Baghdad. "That tyrant Saddam is going and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important."
Intelligence and defense officials concede mistakes were made, including an overlooked flag that one defector had previously provided bad information. The defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, defended the use of INC sources, saying they were only used to bolster cases that were already being made.
At a press conference after Thursday's raid, Chalabi lashed out at the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, complaining it was coddling former members of Saddam's Baath Party and mistreating Iraqis.
"I am America's best friend in Iraq," Chalabi said.