A memo written by a top Washington lobbyist for the controversial Iraqi National Congress raises new questions about the role Vice President Dick Cheney's office played in the run-up to the war in Iraq. The memo, obtained by NEWSWEEK, suggests that the INC last year was directly feeding intelligence reports about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and purported ties to terrorism to one of Cheney's top foreign- policy aides. Cheney staffers later pushed INC info--including defectors' claims about WMD and terror ties--to bolster the case that Saddam's government posed a direct threat to America. But the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have strongly questioned the reliability of defectors supplied by the INC.
For months, Cheney's office has denied that the veep bypassed U.S. intelligence agencies to get intel reports from the INC. But a June 2002 memo written by INC lobbyist Entifadh Qunbar to a U.S. Senate committee lists John Hannah, a senior national-security aide on Cheney's staff, as one of two "U.S. governmental recipients" for reports generated by an intelligence program being run by the INC and which was then being funded by the State Department. Under the program, "defectors, reports and raw intelligence are cultivated and analyzed"; the info was then reported to, among others, "appropriate governmental, non-governmental and international agencies." The memo not only describes Cheney aide Hannah as a "principal point of contact" for the program, it even provides his direct White House telephone number. The only other U.S. official named as directly receiving the INC intel is William Luti, a former military adviser to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who, after working on Cheney's staff early in the Bush administration, shifted to the Pentagon, where he oversaw a secretive Iraq war-planning unit called the Office of Special Plans.
Hannah did not respond to a request for comment. But another Cheney aide insisted that the memo was misleading, and flatly denied that the vice president received "raw" intelligence from the INC. Hannah discussed only Iraqi political issues with INC representatives, not intelligence, the aide said. Francis Brooke, another D.C. lobbyist for the INC, said he often orally discussed Iraqi issues--including claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's terrorist connections--with Hannah, Luti and Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby. But he insisted he talked with them only about INC intelligence matters that had already been reported in the media. A Pentagon official also denied Luti directly got INC intel reports, suggesting the author of the memo was just "dropping names" to drum up support for the INC on Capitol Hill.