Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Iraqi Official, Paid by C.I.A., Gave Account of Weapons

The New York Times
Iraqi Official, Paid by C.I.A., Gave Account of Weapons

WASHINGTON, March 21 — Saddam Hussein's foreign minister was paid for information he supplied to the Central Intelligence Agency, through the French intelligence agency, that raised questions about the scale of Iraq's weapons programs, former intelligence officials said Tuesday.

The role of Naji Sabri, Iraq's foreign minister from 2001 until the America-led invasion began in 2003, was first described publicly in a 2004 speech by George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, but Mr. Tenet did not give the Iraqi's name.

NBC News reported on Monday night that Mr. Sabri had been the man Mr. Tenet described as "a source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle," and two former intelligence officials confirmed the identification.

Mr. Sabri did not meet directly with C.I.A. officers, but spoke with intermediaries in meetings arranged by the French intelligence agency, which passed the information on, the officials said.

One official said Mr. Sabri may not have known for certain that his information was going to the United States government or that the money he received — reported by NBC as more than $100,000 — came from the C.I.A.

The officials were granted anonymity because of the importance of the secret intelligence relationship they had described. Mr. Sabri, who is teaching at a university in the Middle East outside Iraq, declined to discuss the report, NBC reported. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment Tuesday.

According to Mr. Tenet's account, which is generally in accord with that of NBC and the former intelligence officials, the source now identified as Mr. Sabri gave a mixed account of Iraq's weapons programs when he spoke with French intelligence officers in the fall of 2002.

Mr. Tenet said in his speech, at Georgetown University in February 2004, that a source who had direct access to Mr. Hussein had said that Iraq had no nuclear weapons but was "aggressively and covertly" seeking to develop them. Mr. Tenet said the source had also reported that the Hussein government was "dabbling" with biological weapons but had no "real weapons program."

By comparison, an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, representing the views of American intelligence agencies, said Iraq had "reconstituted its nuclear weapons program" and it had an active biological weapons program that had produced some germ weapons.

On chemical arms, Mr. Sabri's information seems to be closer to the American estimate, which had said Iraq was producing and stockpiling chemical weapons. Mr. Sabri told French intelligence officers that Iraq had stockpiled chemical weapons and might use them against invading troops or Israel, according to Mr. Tenet.

Extensive searches by American troops and weapons specialists after the fall of Mr. Hussein found no unconventional weapons of any kind.

A worldly diplomat and former editor of an English-language Iraqi newspaper, Mr. Sabri was recalled from the Iraqi Embassy in London in 1980 after his two brothers were arrested by Mr. Hussein's agents and jailed on conspiracy charges. They were tortured, and one died in prison, while the other was freed after six years, according to a biography of Mr. Sabri compiled by the BBC.

Mr. Sabri lived quietly as an editor and literary translator for a decade before being given a new government post at the time of the Persian Gulf war in 1991. He worked at the Ministry of Information, as an adviser to Mr. Hussein and as ambassador to Austria before becoming foreign minister in April 2001.

In September 2002, in a speech to the United Nations, Mr. Sabri declared that "Iraq is free of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons."

The Bush administration has been accused by some former officials and members of Congress of deliberately skewing prewar intelligence to make the case for war.

Last month, Paul R. Pillar, a former C.I.A. official who oversaw intelligence assessments on the Middle East before the war, charged in an article in Foreign Affairs that "intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions that had already been made."