Hard News by Russell Brown

Stranger still ...

Hey, what say America was duped into invading Iraq as part of an intelligence scam by another nation? No, not Israel - Iran. That's the theory being canvassed by The Guardian, based on interviews with disgruntled US intelligence officials.

The theory rests on the unusual role of Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon favourite who provided a stream of what now appears to have been bogus information about Iraqi weapons programmes. Chalabi's fall from grace was completed with last week's raid on his house in Baghdad, but his connections with Iran have been the topic of muttering for some time - especially as he has tried to reinvent himself as a Shia leader:

Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbour, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq.

According to a US intelligence official, the CIA has hard evidence that Mr Chalabi and his intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib, passed US secrets to Tehran, and that Mr Habib has been a paid Iranian agent for several years, involved in passing intelligence in both directions.

The CIA has asked the FBI to investigate Mr Chalabi's contacts in the Pentagon to discover how the INC acquired sensitive information that ended up in Iranian hands.

The implications are far-reaching. Mr Chalabi and Mr Habib were the channels for much of the intelligence on Iraqi weapons on which Washington built its case for war.

"It's pretty clear that Iranians had us for breakfast, lunch and dinner," said an intelligence source in Washington yesterday. "Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the US for several years through Chalabi."

Who knows? But anyone who thought this war couldn't possibly get any weirder was wrong. Newsweek has another look at the Chalabi saga, and in the New York Review of Books Peter W. Galbraith's How to Get Out of Iraq takes an unflinching look at the background to Iraq (he believes that a multinational force should have moved on Saddam back when he was committing genocide and major Western governments were trying to play it down), the stark failure to plan for the post-invasion period (which almost immediately started to go "catastrophically wrong") and the troubling mess now unfolding. Long but very lucid.

Meanwhile, Abu Ghraib comes to New York - on iPod billposters. Yikes.

I got quoted by Phil Goff in Parliament yesterday, along with Lindsay Perigo, in response to a series of almost comically loaded questions from Tony Ryall - or, rather, somewhat brutally paraphrased. Am I unduly sensitive about having words put in my mouth?

I've had a couple of thoughtful emails on elements of the Crimes Amendment (No 2) Bill from Deborah Russell and Gordon King (who, as the father of a daughter, has some reasonable concerns about the gender equity in the new law) but I still think that in the context of the bill the age-gap defence was simply prudent. Sensible enough, indeed, to have sat there for six months without alarm, until the Star Times "shock" story.

While recognising their concerns - perhaps it's me who's not being practical - I still despair of the coverage of this issue. The Herald published a remarkably butt-headed editorial yesterday, which in several hundred words of fuming and farting advanced only one argument: that establishing the age-gap provision would send an unhealthy moral message. And yet none of those rallying behind the present criminal law actually want to see it enforced. Or perhaps they want police prosectors to do quietly out of sight what they can't bring themselves to do in law.

One Herald journalist has been in touch to express support, but the paper itself has carried on the issue by polling teenagers on whether they support a more "permissive" law on sex between 12 and 16 year-olds, which - surprise! - they don't. But I don't think the establishment of the defence would have been "permissive", any more than a defence of insanity is "permissive" of murder (let alone "legalising" it) - it simply means that it is not appropriate to enter a criminal conviction. (Credit to lapsed lawyer Damian Christie for that example - and profuse apologies for probably nicking the best line from his next post.) Anyway, I'm over it now, save to quote Eric Schlosser: "fewer laws, more rigorously enforced."

Finally, Richard Easther recently brought me the disarming news that the girl-on-a-motorbike-in-the-Chernobyl-zone website was a hoax - well, mostly. I kind of don't mind being scammed so beautifully, but as Richard points out, most of the alarm amongst the Slashdot crowd seems to centre around the fact that motorcycle girl has a husband

PS: I've got Budget previews with John Pagani (12.20pm) and Roger Kerr (1pm) on my 95bFM Wire show today if you're interested ...