WASHINGTON, July 31 - The Central Intelligence Agency was told by an informant
in the spring of 2001 that Iraq had abandoned a major element of its nuclear weapons
program, but the agency did not share the information with other agencies or with
senior policy makers, a former C.I.A. officer has charged.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court here in December, the former C.I.A. officer,
whose name remains secret, said that the informant told him that Iraq's uranium
enrichment program had ended years earlier and that centrifuge components from
the scuttled program were available for examination and even purchase.
The officer, an employee at the agency for more than 20 years, including several
years in a clandestine unit assigned to gather intelligence related to illicit
weapons, was fired in 2004.
In his lawsuit, he says his dismissal was punishment for his reports questioning
the agency's assumptions on a series of weapons-related matters. Among other
things, he charged that he had been the target of retaliation for his refusal
to go along with the agency's intelligence conclusions.
Michelle Neff, a C.I.A. spokeswoman, said the agency would not comment on the
It was not possible to verify independently the former officer's allegations
concerning his reporting on illicit weapons.
His information on the Iraqi nuclear program, described as coming from a significant
source, would have arrived at a time when the C.I.A. was starting to reconsider
whether Iraq had revived its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The agency's
conclusion that this was happening, eventually made public by the Bush administration
in 2002 as part of its rationale for war, has since been found to be incorrect.
While the existence of the lawsuit has previously been reported, details of
the case have not been made public because the documents in his suit have been
heavily censored by the government and the substance of the claims are classified.
The officer's name remains secret, in part because disclosing it might jeopardize
the agency's sources or operations.
Several people with detailed knowledge of the case provided information to
The New York Times about his allegations, but insisted on anonymity because
the matter is classified.
The former officer's lawyer, Roy W. Krieger, said he could not discuss his
client's claims. He likened his client's situation to that of Valerie Wilson,
also known as Valerie Plame, the clandestine C.I.A. officer whose role was leaked
to the press after her husband publicly challenged some administration conclusions
about Iraq's nuclear ambitions. (The former officer and Ms. Wilson worked in
the same unit of the agency.)
"In both cases, officials brought unwelcome information on W.M.D. in the
period prior to the Iraq invasion, and retribution followed," said Mr.
Krieger, referring to weapons of mass destruction.
In court documents, the former officer says that he learned in 2003 that he
was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation and accused of having
sex with a female contact, a charge he denies. Eight months after learning of
the investigation, he said in the court documents, the agency's inspector general's
office informed him that he was under investigation for diverting to his own
use money earmarked for payments to informants. He denies that, too.
The former officer's claims concerning his reporting on the Iraqi nuclear weapons
program were not addressed in a report issued in March by the presidential commission
that examined intelligence regarding such weapons in Iraq. He did not testify
before the commission, Mr. Krieger said.
A former senior staff member of the commission said the panel was not aware
of the officer's allegations. The claims were also not included in the 2004
report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on prewar intelligence.
He and his lawyer met with staff members of that Senate committee in a closed-door
session last December, months after the report was issued.
In his lawsuit, the former officer said that in the spring of 2001, he met
with a valuable informant who had examined and purchased parts of Iraqi centrifuges.
Centrifuges are used to turn uranium into fuel for nuclear weapons. The informant
reported that the Iraqi government had long since canceled its uranium enrichment
program and that the C.I.A. could buy centrifuge components if it wanted to.
The officer filed his reports with the Counter Proliferation Division in the
agency's clandestine espionage arm. The reports were never disseminated to other
American intelligence agencies or to policy makers, as is typically done, he
According to his suit, he was told that the agency already had detailed information
about continuing Iraqi nuclear weapons efforts, and that his informant should
focus on other countries.
He said his reports about Iraq came just as the agency was fundamentally shifting
its view of Iraq's nuclear ambitions.
Throughout much of the 1990's, the C.I.A. and other United States intelligence
agencies believed that Iraq had largely abandoned its nuclear weapons program.
In December 2000, the intelligence agencies issued a classified assessment stating
that Iraq did not appear to have taken significant steps toward the reconstitution
of the program, according to the presidential commission report concerning illicit
But that assessment changed in early 2001 - a critical period in the intelligence
community's handling of the Iraqi nuclear issue, the commission concluded. In
March 2001, intelligence indicating that Iraq was seeking high-strength aluminum
tubes from China greatly influenced the agency's thinking. Analysts soon came
to believe that the only possible explanation for Iraq's purchase of the tubes
was to develop high-tech centrifuges for a new uranium enrichment program.
By the following year, the agency's view had hardened, despite differing interpretations
of the tubes' purposes by other intelligence experts. In October 2002, the National
Intelligence Estimate, produced by the intelligence community under pressure
from Congress, stated that most of the nation's intelligence agencies believed
that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, based in large part on the
The commission concluded that intelligence failures on the Iraqi nuclear issue
were as serious and damaging as any other during the prelude to the Iraqi war.
The nation's intelligence community was wrong "on what many would view
as the single most important judgment it made" before the Iraq invasion
in March 2003, the commission report said.
Mr. Krieger said he had asked the court handling the case to declassify his
client's suit, but the C.I.A. had moved to classify most of his motion seeking
declassification. He added that he recently sent a letter to the director of
the F.B.I. requesting an investigation of his client's complaints, but that
the C.I.A. had classified that letter, as well.
Most of the details of the case, he said, "were classified by the C.I.A.,
not to protect national security but to conceal politically embarrassing facts
from public scrutiny."