Well, well, well

We’ve already heard about this in a general way, but now we get specifics: the man the neocons relied upon for much of their pre-war intel — indeed, the man they once hoped to install as the chosen Presidential Puppet Leader of Iraq — turns out to have most likely been a double agent, passing information along to Iran.

Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi leader and former ally of the Bush administration, disclosed to an Iranian official that the United States had broken the secret communications code of Iran’s intelligence service, betraying one of Washington’s most valuable sources of information about Iran, according to United States intelligence officials.

The general charge that Mr. Chalabi provided Iran with critical American intelligence secrets was widely reported last month after the Bush administration cut off financial aid to Mr. Chalabi’s organization, the Iraqi National Congress, and American and Iraqi security forces raided his Baghdad headquarters.

The Bush administration, citing national security concerns, asked The New York Times and other news organizations not to publish details of the case. The Times agreed to hold off publication of some specific information that top intelligence officials said would compromise a vital, continuing intelligence operation. The administration withdrew its request on Tuesday, saying information about the code-breaking was starting to appear in news accounts.

You gotta love the reason Chalabi got caught double-dipping:

According to American officials, the Iranian official in Baghdad, possibly not believing Mr. Chalabi’s account, sent a cable to Tehran detailing his conversation with Mr. Chalabi, using the broken code. That encrypted cable, intercepted and read by the United States, tipped off American officials to the fact that Mr. Chalabi had betrayed the code-breaking operation, the American officials said.

Whooops! Boy is somebody’s face red. But here’s the really important part:

The F.B.I. has opened an espionage investigation seeking to determine exactly what information Mr. Chalabi turned over to the Iranians as well as who told Mr. Chalabi that the Iranian code had been broken, government officials said. The inquiry, still in an early phase, is focused on a very small number of people who were close to Mr. Chalabi and also had access to the highly restricted information about the Iran code.

Somebody’s sweating it out today.

To summarize: the neocon fanatics driving foreign policy turn out to have been as naive as midwestern tourists convinced they can win at three-card monte. They were taken for a ride by a self-serving con man who was apparently passing classified information on to the Iranians.

In short, we went to war on the word of a spy. And that’s the best possible face that can be put on this.

No wonder George Bush suddenly can’t quite remember ever actually meeting Mr. Chalabi.