Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Chalabi intelligence scandal, again

Bruce Schneier has an interesting account of the alleged Chalabi scandal in his Crypto-Gram Newsletter. The whole thing starts to sound like a John Le Carré novel:

"So now the NSA's secret is out. The Iranians have undoubtedly changed their encryption machines, and the NSA has lost its source of Iranian secrets. But little else is known. Who told Chalabi? Only a few people would know this important U.S. secret, and the snitch is certainly guilty of treason. Maybe Chalabi never knew, and never told the Iranians. Maybe the Iranians figured it out some other way, and they are pretending that Chalabi told them in order to protect some other intelligence source of theirs."


"If the Iranians knew that the U.S. knew, why didn't they pretend not to know and feed the U.S. false information? Or maybe they've been doing that for years, and the U.S. finally figured out that the Iranians knew. Maybe the U.S. knew that the Iranians knew, and are using the fact to discredit Chalabi.

The really weird twist to this story is that the U.S. has already been accused of doing that to Iran. In 1992, Iran arrested Hans Buehler, a Crypto AG employee, on suspicion that Crypto AG had installed back doors in the encryption machines it sold to Iran - at the request of the NSA. He proclaimed his innocence through repeated interrogations, and was finally released nine months later in 1993 when Crypto AG paid a million dollars for his freedom - then promptly fired him and billed him for the release money. At this point Buehler started asking inconvenient questions about the relationship between Crypto AG and the NSA.

So maybe Chalabi's information is from 1992, and the Iranians changed their encryption machines a decade ago.

Or maybe the NSA never broke the Iranian intelligence code, and this is all one huge bluff.

In this shadowy world of cat-and-mouse, it's hard to be sure of anything."

The whole world of intelligence is such a morass of horseshit folded upon horseshit that it is probably wise that the rest of us ignore the whole thing. Note the rather pointed comments - I may even detect a little sarcasm - in Cryptome (scroll down) on the suspicious way this story came to be reported:

"The [New York] Times claims it was asked by the USG to withhold information about the crack (allegedly revealed to the Iranians by Chalabi) but that DoD lifted the stay due to stories 'beginning to appear in the news.' Pointers appreciated to those news reports appearing before today."

We know from the recent Judith Miller debacle that the New York Times is just a fancy method of disseminating U. S. Government press releases. The reason given for lifting the stay on the story is more horseshit. In fact, the intellectual underpinnings of the whole story appear to be horseshit, with experts on cryptology doubting whether any modern system of encryption can be said to be 'broken'. The Chalabi scandal is somebody's intelligence play, but we'll never know if the target is Chalabi, the neocons, the Iranians, some other American intelligence agency or a faction thereof, or all of the above.