Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI AND THE IRANIANS, PART 2....My previous post was about Michael Ledeen's article today at NRO telling us what it was that Ahmed Chalabi supposedly leaked to the Iranians that got everyone so pissed off at him. In order to unpack this a bit further, here's the entire section of his column that discusses this. (The conceit of the piece is that Ledeen is talking to the late James Jesus Angleton, longtime chief of CIA counterintelligence, via a ouija board.)

ML: It's fascinating to watch the anti-Chalabi campaign in Washington. You probably can't keep up with it, but some intel officials in town are saying two things to the journalists: 1) We broke the Iranians' communication codes, so we were reading their mail. Chalabi found out about this, and told the Iranian intelligence chief in Baghdad. 2) The Iranian immediately contacted Tehran to tell them that we had broken the code. Then they said to journalists, "you can't write about this because it would jeopardize our people."

JJA: So they're saying that the Iranians' chief operative in Baghdad told Tehran that their codes had been broken...and his message was sent in the same code?

ML: Seems so.

JJA: Hahahahahahaha. Impossible! If the Iranians knew that we were reading their mail, they would never let us know that they knew. They would continue to use the codes, but instead of sending accurate messages they would use those channels for disinformation against us.

ML: Yes, they're smart enough for that. I've often said that they may be crazy, but they are certainly not stupid.

JJA: Furthermore, using the same logic, if we knew that Chalabi had told the Iranians, we would never go public with the accusations. We would use Chalabi to disinform them. And the information that we had broken the Iranian code doesn't compromise human sources, because most codebreaking is done by supercomputers, and isn't obtained from spies.

Naturally, I don't know if Ledeen is right about this, but let's suppose he is. Here are his objections:

  • "...they're saying that the Iranians' chief operative in Baghdad told Tehran that their codes had been broken...and his message was sent in the same code?"

    That's pretty stupid, all right, but nowhere in his piece does he say that this is what actually happened. All he says is that the Iranian intel guy "immediately contacted Tehran." The imaginary Angleton character just infers (for some reason) that he used the busted code to do it.

  • "...if we knew that Chalabi had told the Iranians, we would never go public with the accusations."

    No, of course not. Unless this all happened some time ago and it no longer matters. Or unless someone foolishly leaked it anyway just out of spite. Or unless some enterprising reporters have known about this for a while through other sources and are only now spilling the beans. It seems like there are plenty of reasonable ways this could have happened.

  • "We would use Chalabi to disinform them."

    Perhaps, but only if we trusted Chalabi. Which we obviously don't.

  • "...the information that we had broken the Iranian code doesn't compromise human sources, because most codebreaking is done by supercomputers."

    Perhaps "most" codebreaking is indeed done with supercomputers, but that doesn't mean there might not be human sources involved in this case. Who knows?

The main thing missing here is the timeframe. Did this happen years ago and we only now found about it? Or was it ongoing, and we only found out the Iranians were on to us when the Jordanians told us about it a couple of weeks ago?

So many details. And we'll probably never learn any of them, super sensitive intel being what it is. Regardless, though, I still don't understand Ledeen's arguments. Maybe he'll clear it up tomorrow.

Kevin Drum 7:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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