'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Chalabi Code 

A blog I've never heard of before, Nothing Aside, has an amusing first-hand account of the return of the prodigal Chalabi. Ahmed did a song and dance for a room full of DC media bigshots at the American Enterprise Institute, and Kris Lofgren, the Nothing Aside blogger, was there.

The whole thing is worth reading but I wanted to highlight one somewhat cryptic passage. Lofgren describes a close encounter with Hitchens resulting in the following strange quote:

Hitchens then turned the subject back to Chalabi, his good friend. I asked him if he thought Chalabi had been passing American intelligence to the Iranians. "No," he insisted. "It's possible that with his training, you know, at [The University of] Chicago that with his own ability he was able to crack the codes. He is a mathematical genius. His expertise is cryptology. It is possible that he broke the codes himself." (This is a paraphrase since I was walking down M Street and crossing Connecticut Avenue all while being amazed that I was having an actual conversation with Christopher Hitchens at the time). Now, I don't believe this for one second. Why would Chalabi be trying to break American codes in his spare time anyway? Who does that if they are friendly to us? Suspicious, I say.

There seems to be a nugget comic gold in there; however, Lofgren has this matter a little bit confused, and because of the confusion I'm having a hard time recovering what Hitchens actually said or meant. But let's try...

Contrary to Lofgren's implication, Chalabi is not accused of passing American codes to Iran; rather, he is accused of telling Iran that America had cracked Iranian codes. If Hitchens discussed Chalabi cracking a code, therefore, one must imagine he was talking about Chalabi cracking an Iranian code, presumably, on behalf of the U.S. -- which is just a wonderful bit of speculation. The insinuation is, I guess, that our man in Baghdad is not only a mathematical genius but also a true blue US patriot. (Actually, it's a little known fact that Ahmed Chalabi and I have the same undergraduate degree, math from MIT -- I wonder if Hitchens thinks that I'm a genius?)

This nice little story, however, doesn't make any sense: why would Chalabi tell the Iranians about the code he broke, etc.? What about the drunken agent Chalabi fingered as the original leaker? (Who I always kind of figured was actually Christopher Hitchens. ... [rimshot] ...)

Hitchens tends to latch on to pet ideas -- a common malady among pundits -- bringing them up in piece after piece and at venue after venue. He's apparently slinging this Chalabi-the-codebreaker story to guys on street corners, hinting that the story might be part of a new Hitchens product line ... in which case we'll shortly hear more than we ever wanted to hear about it and I'm sure all questions will be answered.

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