WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials on Friday said Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council with ties to senior Pentagon officials, gave intelligence secrets to Iran so closely held in the U.S. government that only “a handful” of senior officials know them.
They also said there is evidence Chalabi met with a senior Iranian intelligence official described as a “nefarious figure” who has played a direct role in activities against the United States. This information was first reported on CBS News.
Meanwhile, government sources said the FBI is investigating who may have passed on the classified information to Chalabi.
Chalabi has denied charges that he passed intelligence information about U.S. operations in Iraq to the Iranians, and he has also dismissed fears that a hard-line Shiite regime might emerge in Iraq.
On Thursday, Iraqi police, accompanied by American troops, raided Chalabi’s compound — a raid that Chalabi claimed was engineered by elements of the deposed Baathist regime, under protection of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.
Chalabi has claimed the raid was politically motivated, but coalition officials have distanced themselves from their one-time ally, saying it was part of a suspected fraud investigation, authorized by an Iraqi judge and led by the Iraqis.
Senior coalition law enforcement and justice officials said the raid was part of an investigation of “suspected fraud in a government ministry.” Chalabi himself was not named in any of the warrants.
Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said, “It was an Iraqi-led investigation, an Iraqi-led raid. It was the result of Iraqi arrest warrants.”
A key ally to America when Washington geared up for war with Iraq, Chalabi has been the beneficiary of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars for his Iraqi National Congress, with easy access to top officials in Washington.
After Saddam Hussein’s regime fell, he was appointed to the Iraqi Governing Council and put in charge of its finances.
As the post-war situation deteriorated, and the pre-war intelligence Chalabi supplied about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction did not pan out, the relationship soured.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon shut off the monthly stipend of $340,000, and U.S. officials accused Chalabi of passing information about its operations in Iraq to Iran, which he hotly denied.
The information he has passed on, as one U.S. official put it, “could get Americans killed.”
Chalabi, a Shiite political figure who has kept ties with the leadership in Shia Iran, has strongly denied that allegation.
Questioned by reporters about his travels to Iran to meet with senior officials there, Chalabi has insisted that it is logical and important for Iraq to establish a relationship with a key neighbor.
In Thursday’s raid, Iraqi police and U.S. forces took away computers and documents but arrested no one, Chalabi told reporters at a Baghdad news conference.
Chalabi said the Coalition Provisional Authority is unhappy with his demands for Iraq’s provisional government to be given full control of the Iraqi army after the June 30 handover and for control of the investigation of fraud in the U.N. oil-for-food program.
The U.S.-educated exile called Thursday’s raid “the penultimate act of failure of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.”
The man who once had American friends in the highest places then described his relationship with the CPA as “non-existent.”
While Chalabi was a close adviser to the Pentagon, he was regarded as divisive and untrustworthy by the U.S. State Department.
After last year’s invasion of Iraq, Chalabi returned from exile, on an American aircraft, to try to establish a political base in the country.
But he has struggled to gain a foothold, with many Iraqis distrusting him because of his many years in exile and close ties to the United States.
He was also the champion of a plan to rid Iraq of Baath Party influence that has caused rancor among many Iraqis.
Chalabi was convicted in absentia for bank fraud by a Jordanian military court in 1982 — charges he insists were politically motivated.