The Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi may have violated restrictions against using taxpayer money to lobby when it campaigned for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Congress' General Accounting Office will investigate the allegation, which if proven true, means that U.S. taxpayers paid to have themselves persuaded that it was necessary to invade Iraq.
Iraqi exile group fed false information to news media
The former Iraqi exile group that gave the Bush administration exaggerated and fabricated intelligence on Iraq also fed much of the same information to leading newspapers, news agencies and magazines in the United States, Britain and Australia.
A June 26, 2002, letter from the Iraqi National Congress to the Senate Appropriations Committee listed 108 articles based on information provided by the INC's Information Collection Program, a U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq.
The assertions in the articles reinforced President Bush's claims that Saddam Hussein should be ousted because he was in league with Osama bin Laden, was developing nuclear weapons and was hiding biological and chemical weapons.
Feeding the information to the news media, as well as to selected administration officials and members of Congress, helped foster an impression that there were multiple sources of intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons programs and links to bin Laden.
In fact, many of the allegations came from the same half-dozen defectors, weren't confirmed by other intelligence and were hotly disputed by intelligence professionals at the CIA, the Defense Department and the State Department.
Nevertheless, U.S. officials and others who supported a pre-emptive invasion quoted the allegations in statements and interviews without running afoul of restrictions on classified information or doubts about the defectors' reliability.
Other Iraqi groups made similar allegations about Iraq's links to terrorism and hidden weapons that also found their way into official administration statements and into news reports, including several by Knight Ridder.
Knight Ridder, which obtained a copy of the INC letter, reviewed all of the articles in what the document called a "summary of ICP product cited in major English language news outlets worldwide (October 2001-May 2002)."
The articles made numerous assertions that so far haven't been substantiated 11 months after Baghdad fell, including charges that:
-Saddam collaborated for years with bin Laden and was complicit in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Intelligence officials said there is no evidence of operational ties between Iraq and al-Qaida, and no evidence of an Iraqi hand in the attacks.
-Iraq trained Islamic extremists in the same hijacking techniques used in the Sept. 11 strikes and prepared them for operations against Iraq's neighbors and possibly the United States. Two senior U.S. officials said that so far no evidence has been found to substantiate the charge.
-Iraq had mobile biological warfare facilities disguised as yogurt and milk trucks and hid banned weapons production and storage facilities beneath a hospital, fake lead-lined wells and Saddam's palaces. No such facilities or vehicles have been found so far.
-Iraq held 80 Kuwaitis captured in the 1991 Gulf War in a secret underground prison in 2000. No Kuwaiti prisoners have been found so far.
-Iraq could launch toxin-armed Scud missiles at Israel that could kill 100,000 people and was aggressively developing nuclear weapons. No Iraq Scud missiles have been found yet.
-Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher, missing since the 1991 Gulf war, was seen alive in Baghdad in 1998. The case remains unresolved, but the Navy last week said there was no evidence that Speicher was ever held in captivity.
According to the letter, publications in which the articles appeared included The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly, The Times of London, The Sunday Times of London, The Sunday Age of Melbourne, Australia, and two Knight Ridder newspapers, The Kansas City Star and The Philadelphia Daily News. The Associated Press and others also wrote stories based on INC-provided materials.
Other U.S. and international news media picked up some of the articles. By mid-January 2002, polls showed that a solid majority of Americans favored military force to oust Saddam.
Many of the stories noted that the information they contained couldn't be independently verified.
In at least one case, the INC made a defector available to a journalist before his information