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US Officials Investigate Ahmad Chalabi - 2004-06-03

The man once considered by many senior Pentagon officials to be the most likely future leader of a free Iraq is at the center of an espionage controversy. U.S. officials are investigating whether Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, leaked sensitive intelligence information.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether Ahmad Chalabi, a wealthy Iraqi former exile passed sensitive intelligence information to Iran.

Media reports say FBI agents are questioning Defense Department employees who had contact with Mr. Chalabi, in an effort to determine who might have disclosed highly classified information to the Iraqi exile leader. News reports say Mr. Chalabi learned that the United States had broken the codes used by Iran's worldwide intelligence apparatus, and had passed that information to the Iranian intelligence station chief in Baghdad.

Accusations that Mr. Chalabi or his organization may have been spying for Iran surfaced in late May, after his Baghdad offices were raided.

Mr. Chalabi has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, as he did in an interview with NBC's Meet the Press television program last week.

?We have had many meetings with the Iranian government, but we have passed no secret information, no classified documents to them from the United States,? he said.

Iranian officials have also denied the reports.

Prior to the war, Mr. Chalabi was in high favor with many U.S. officials, particularly among those in the Defense Department in favor of attacking Iraq. Information provided by Mr. Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress on Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to al-Qaida formed much of the basis for the U.S. invasion.

But no stockpiles of banned weapons have been found, nor any conclusive links to al-Qaida proven, leading to charges of a massive intelligence failure by U.S. agencies.

On Thursday, Central Intelligence chief George Tenet resigned for what were termed personal reasons.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said this week the U.S. government had a working relationship with Mr. Chalabi, but it had obviously soured.

?Ahmad Chalabi did, I think, do a lot of good work on behalf of his country when he was in exile,? she said. ?And, yes, there was a relationship. It has not been an easy relationship of late. I think you can see that, it is not hard to see.?

Mr. Chalabi's proponents, such as Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, rushed to Mr. Chalabi's defense, claiming he is the victim of a smear campaign.

Mr. Chalabi himself says he is under attack because he opposes some U.S. policies in Iraq.

?I am now calling for policies to liberate the Iraqi people, to get full sovereignty now. And I am putting the case in a way, which they [the coalition] do not like,? Mr. Chalabi said.

Last month, Iraqi authorities led a raid on the Iraqi National Congress compound in Baghdad, carting away computers and records. Prior to that, a $340,000 a month Defense Department stipend to the organization was cut off.