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IRAQ INTELLIGENCE: Defector lied to U.S. about weapons
by JONATHAN S. LANDAY FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF
Detroit Free Press
May 18, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration helped rally public and congressional support for an Iraq invasion by publicizing the claims of an Iraqi defector, although a lie-detector test indicated he was lying and U.S. intelligence agencies had rejected him as unreliable months earlier.

The defector, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al Haideri, claimed he had worked at illegal chemical, biological and nuclear facilities around Baghdad. But when members of the CIA-operated Iraq Survey Group, charged with tracing any illegal weapons held by ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, took Saeed back to Iraq earlier this year, he pointed out facilities known to be associated with the conventional Iraqi military. He couldn't identify a single site associated with illegal weapons, U.S. officials said.

"The overall impression was that he was trying to pass information far beyond his area of expertise," a senior U.S. official said. He and another U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity because some details of the defector's case remain classified.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that other defectors fed him and the CIA misleading information about mobile biological weapons facilities before the war.

"It turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and, in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that I am disappointed, and I regret it," Powell said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

While no evidence has surfaced that administration officials knowingly fed dubious information to Congress, the public or the news media, Saeed's case suggests that officials either were unaware that he had done poorly on the CIA-administered polygraph exam or overlooked that fact when they publicized his claims.

In making its case for war, the administration also publicized claims about mobile biological weapons labs from a defector whom the Defense Intelligence Agency had labeled a fabricator and a charge that Hussein had tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons in Africa, even though the CIA had said it couldn't verify the charge.

The White House gave Saeed's claims prominent billing in a September 2002 background paper -- nine months after officials with the CIA and DIA had dismissed him as unreliable. The paper was released in conjunction with a speech President George W. Bush delivered at the UN General Assembly and is still available on the White House and State Department Web sites.

A footnote in one version attributes Saeed's claims to a Dec. 20, 2001, front-page article in the New York Times that was based on an interview with the defector in Bangkok, Thailand. In the article, Saeed described himself as a civil engineer who worked on renovating secret biological, chemical and nuclear weapons facilities in fake lead-lined water wells, private villas and beneath Baghdad's main hospital.

"Mr. Saeed's account gives new clues about the types and possible locations of illegal laboratories, facilities and storage sites that American officials and international inspectors have long suspected Iraq of trying to hide," the newspaper said.

The article, cited by news media around the world, appeared three days after CIA and DIA experts dismissed Saeed as unreliable after the polygraph test detected lies, the U.S. officials said.

Like two other Iraqi defectors Powell cited Sunday, Saeed was supplied by the Iraqi National Congress, a former exile group that lobbied the United States to oust Hussein. The group's leader, Ahmad Chalabi, is on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

INC spokesman Entifadh Qanbar and other INC officials denied that the group knowingly provided defectors of dubious credibility.

The paper, "A Decade of Deception and Defiance," can be found on the White House Web site at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/09/iraqdecade.pdf .

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