Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Call for CIA probe into Iran dissident 'leak'

Demetri Sevastopulos, The Financial Times:
A senior Republican politician will ask the Central Intelligence Agency to investigate whether a former agent endangered US national security by allegedly leaking the identity of an Iranian dissident to journalists.

Curt Weldon, vice-chairman of the House armed services committee, told the FT he wants the CIA to investigate whether Bill Murray, a former CIA Paris station chief, disclosed the identity of “Ali,” the alias used by a Paris-based Iranian dissident which he says was classified.

The move is the latest attack on the agency by members of Congress who are critical of its failure to prevent the September 11 2001 attacks. Congress has already passed legislation overhauling the intelligence community, and creating a new director of national intelligence to oversee the 15 intelligence branches, reducing the power of the CIA.

In his recent book, Countdown to Terror, Mr Weldon accused the CIA of ignoring information provided by Ali about potential terror attacks on the US and the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Those claims led Mr Murray to respond publicly that Ali never provided any credible information.

Last month, Mr Murray, who has met Ali in Paris, described him as a “fabricator who has close ties to Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian arms dealer discredited by the CIA over his role in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal in the late 1980s.

In response to Mr Weldon, Mr Murray says he did not provide the identity of Ali to journalists who wrote stories for the Washington Post and the American Prospect or “to anyone else”.

He also denies that his identity was classified, a view shared by another former senior intelligence official familiar with the Ali case, who described Mr Weldon's charges as “reprehensible”. Mr Murray says the claims by Mr Weldon and Ali hurt, not helped, CIA efforts to counter terrorism.

“Ali and his boss Manucher Ghorbanifar and people like them make the real job of ferreting out terrorist plotting more difficult, they waste time and resources in the field and in Washington and they confuse the issue,” he said

In a letter to Mr Weldon, the CIA said Ali was simply “embellishing press reporting in a likely attempt to influence the US to overthrow the current Iranian government. That conclusion has echoes of the case of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who worked with neo-conservatives to push the case for war in Iraq based on evidence of weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be false.

Mr Murray says he warned Mr Weldon that Ali was a fabricator the night before the congressman met Ali and Mr Ghorbanifar in Paris last year, which Mr Weldon said is “an absolute lie.

Mr Weldon said the CIA is trying to protect its reputation. He accused Steven Kappes, former CIA deputy director of operations, of lying by saying he would arrange for a CIA operative to meet Ali, only to learn that he was interviewed instead by French intelligence. Former senior officials say the French met Ali after he alleged that Iranians were planning to assassinate former President George Bush. Mr Murray later met Ali on several occasions.

Mr Weldon also said he threw Mr Kappes out of a meeting in Moscow in 1999 when Mr Kappes was CIA station chief because he believed embassy officials had lied about their ability to contact a source he wanted to meet. But former officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr Kappes was not present.

James Woolsey, former director of the CIA who endorsed Mr Weldon's book as "a case study of an intelligence failure with potentially catastrophic consequences for the US" on Wednesday said he had no knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Ali. But he said he generally agreed with Mr Weldon's criticisms of the CIA.

"I don't know Ali," said Mr Woolsey. "But I have a good deal of confidence in Curt Weldon. The CIA is far too hasty in writing off contacts with people because they believe they some bad association or some association with someone that they think has not dealt properly with them in the past."