Walter Pincus and Dana Priest make a point I hadn’t considered. There are two leaks to consider in the case of Chalabi and the cryptographic secrets. (1) If in fact some drunken American official blabbed to Chalabi, who was it? (2) Who told the press (at least five different outlets) that the Iranians knew we had broken their codes and that Chalabi was suspected of telling them?
One possibility, of course, is that no one in the intelligence loop intentionally leaked the Chalabi information, but that various people learned about it when the FBI started asking questions. (The FBI didn’t start polygraphing at DoD until yesterday, but the investigation had been underway for weeks.) But that wouldn’t explain all the gory detail about what was in the Iranian resident’s cable back to Teheran.
So this starts to look like a deliberate attempt by someone inside the government to discredit Chalabi. More infighting between the CIA/State axis and the neocons in DoD and the VP’s office? Where’s the NSC in all this? Is Condi Rice completely incapable of refereeing a bureaucratic squabble without having it appear on the front page of every newspaper in the world? (Apparently an NSC staffer drew up a staff paper — presumably on instructions — about how to marginalize Chalabi, but it got shot down.)
I’m either pleased or appalled to discover that Richard Perle is capable of the same sort of spy-novel analysis that occurred to me. The difference is that he believes it, or professes to believe it, as demonstrable truth, while I still think it’s rather a far fetch. (In particular, if Chalabi was on the outs with the mullahs, what’s his chief of intelligence doing holed up in Teheran?) Moreover, if the charge against Chalabi is false, why aren’t we hearing leaks to that effect from OSD and the VP’s office? (Josh Marshall reports that isn’t happening.)
So far, though, Perle is standing firmly with Chalabi, and Chalabi’s American lawyers (partners in Jim Woolsey’s former firm) are blaming the story on shadowy “individuals within the U.S. government who have undermined the President’s policies in Iraq” (read: non-neocons at State and CIA). But Woolsey himself, who went with Gingrich and Perle to confront Rice on Chalabi’s behalf earlier in the week, before the cryptanalysis stuff went public, doesn’t seem to have been heard from since. If I were a reporter, I’d really, really want to know what Woolsey has to say now. Are the extragovernmental neocons really prepared to back Chalabi against what seems to be a temporarily united Bush Administration?
[Update: Woolsey gives Salon a “no-comment” on Chalabi. I’d now assign a probability near zero to any story that makes Chalabi innocent. Perle, of course, is merely deranged.]
The day George Tenet leaves the government — sometime next month, we’re told — should be a very interesting day indeed.