Hmmph, the Defense Intelligence Agency says that the intelligence provided by the people that - in effect the Bush Admin paid - wasn't accurate about the state of Iraq weapons. What a surprise....
Agency Belittles Information Given by Iraq Defectors
By DOUGLAS JEHL
WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 — An internal assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that most of the information provided by Iraqi defectors who were made available by the Iraqi National Congress was of little or no value, according to federal officials briefed on the arrangement.
In addition, several Iraqi defectors introduced to American intelligence agents by the exile organization and its leader, Ahmad Chalabi, invented or exaggerated their credentials as people with direct knowledge of the Iraqi government and its suspected unconventional weapons program, the officials said.
The arrangement, paid for with taxpayer funds supplied to the exile group under the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, involved extensive debriefing of at least half a dozen defectors by defense intelligence agents in European capitals and at a base in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil in late 2002 and early 2003, the officials said. But a review early this year by the defense agency concluded that no more than one-third of the information was potentially useful, and efforts to explore those leads since have generally failed to pan out, the officials said.
Mr. Chalabi has defended the arrangement, saying that his organization had helped just three defectors provide information to American intelligence about Iraq's suspected weapons program, and that two of them had been judged to be credible.
But several federal officials said the arrangement had wasted more than $1 million in taxpayers' money and had prompted them to question the credibility of Mr. Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. Both have enjoyed powerful backing from civilian officials at the Pentagon and are playing a significant role in the provisional government in Baghdad.
Intelligence provided by the defectors that could not be substantiated included information about Iraq's suspected program for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as other information about the Iraqi government, the officials said. They said they would not speculate on whether the defectors had knowingly provided false information and, if so, what their motivation might have been. One Defense Department official said that some of the people were not who they said they were and that the money for the program could have been better spent.
Two other Defense Department officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, defended the arrangement. While the credibility of the Iraqi defectors debriefed under the program had been low, they said, it had been roughly on par with that of most human intelligence about Iraq. The officials also said the Defense Intelligence Agency had been generally skeptical of the defectors from the start, on the ground that they were motivated more by the money and the desire to stir up sentiment against Saddam Hussein than by a desire to provide accurate information.
A Defense Department official who defended the arrangement said that even most of the useful information provided by the defectors included "a lot of stuff that we already knew or thought we knew." But the official said that information had "improved our situational awareness" by "making us more confident about our assessments."
The Defense Intelligence Agency's conclusions about the value of the intelligence provided as part of the arrangement are believed to have been included in a broader, classified report sent this month to Stephen Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, the officials said. That report focused on lessons learned by intelligence agents during the war in Iraq, they said.
The Iraqi National Congress had made some of these defectors available to several news organizations, including The New York Times, which reported their allegations about prisoners and the country's weapons program.
The Iraqi National Congress, a London-based umbrella group, was formed with American help in 1992 and received millions of dollars under the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. In a stance that angered the dissidents and some Pentagon officials, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency had long been skeptical of the information from defectors that Mr. Chalabi's organization had brought out of Iraq. Among that group of defectors was Khadhir Hamza, the most senior Iraqi official ever to defect from Mr. Hussein's nuclear program, who complained about the seeming lack of interest of American intelligence organizations in hearing what he had to say.
The partnership between the Iraqi exiles and the American government was initially run by the State Department, with millions of dollars provided to the Iraqi National Congress under the Iraq Liberation Act, whose declared purpose was to promote a transition to democracy in Iraq. One element was intended to collect information about Iraq in order to promote public awareness about the failings of Mr. Hussein's government.
Instead, State Department officials involved in the program said, the Iraqi exiles used most of the money to recruit defectors who claimed to have sensitive intelligence information. Until 2002, the State Department handed over those defectors to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for debriefing. Federal officials said that very few of them had been judged to be credible, but that they knew of no specific assessment of their credibility.
After internal State Department reviews in 2001 and 2002 concluded that much of the $4 million allocated for the program had not been properly accounted for and that the intelligence-gathering program was not part of the department's mission, oversight was transferred to the Defense Department in 2002.
The Defense Intelligence Agency then took the lead in debriefing the defectors, Defense Department officials said. The officials said they believed that the review of the defectors' credibility overed only the period in which the defense agency had run the program.