My Sources Are Better Than Yours

The historical rivalry between the CIA and the Pentagon's military spy agencies has erupted into bureaucratic guerrilla warfare over intelligence purportedly linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda. The latest dispute: what to make of Parisoula Lampsos, a Greek woman who claims to have been one of Saddam's mistresses for nearly 30 years. Last week ABC News broadcast an interview with Lampsos in which she alleged that Saddam's son Uday told her of two meetings between Saddam and Osama bin Laden in the mid-1990s during which Saddam gave bin Laden money. ABC said it was put into contact with Lampsos by the Iraqi National Congress, a controversial London-based exile group which is close to Pentagon hard-liners. Before broadcasting the interview, ABC producers checked out Lampsos's story with spooks in Europe and also with Pentagon analysts. The Defense Intelligence Agency is being pressed by Pentagon leaders to follow up on the TV story by arranging for U.S. officials to interview Lampsos.

Officials familiar with the CIA's views say the agency is "skeptical" of Lampsos's tale. As far as the CIA knows, most, if not all, of Saddam's known mistresses have been Arabs, not Europeans. CIA analysts also think that Lampsos could have put together much of what she told ABC by reading old newspaper stories. And the CIA has no information to confirm Saddam ever met bin Laden in Baghdad. (An ABC official said the network "thoroughly investigated" Lampsos's claims with intelligence officials before airing the story.)

Richard Perle, chairman of a Pentagon advisory board and a leading hawk on Iraq, said the CIA's evident rejection of Lampsos's story is "the latest example of the CIA's unfailing inability to spot intelligence when they see it." So angry are Pentagon hard-liners at what they believe is the CIA's reluctance to go after stories and witnesses linking Saddam to terrorism that they have established their own back channels to the Iraqi exile movement. Recently, Pentagon sources say, some hard-liners have pressed intelligence agencies to get in contact with emigres who claim to have photographs proving that 9-11 hijack leader Mohammed Atta met in April 2001 in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence agent. Both the CIA and FBI have concluded that evidence of such a meeting is tenuous and that it probably did not occur. Nonetheless, some conservative activists, as well as Vice President Cheney, still brandish reports about the meeting as possible evidence of Saddam's perfidy. Cheney is said to be frustrated by the failure of "those who should know better" to connect the dots to make a stronger case against Saddam. Asked whether the CIA had refused hard-liners' demands to go after pictures of the alleged Prague meeting, an official familiar with the agency's views said: "We do not shy away from evidence. But we also don't make it up."