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November 09, 2005



Thanks for posting this. You should cross-post to some of the more heavily trafficked blogs to get this summary out to a wider audience.


On "Orion Strategies":

"Scheunemann runs a Washington lobbying firm called Orion Strategies, which shares the same address as that of the Iraqi National Congress' Washington spokesman and the now-defunct Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.

Orion's clients include Romania, which signed a nine-month, $175,000 deal earlier this year. Among other things, the contract calls for Orion to promote Romania's "interests in the reconstruction of Iraq."

Scheunemann has also traveled to Latvia, which is a former Orion client, and met with a business group to discuss prospects in Iraq."


Jonathan Ryshpan

Chalabi has a PhD from the Univ. of Chicago in Math, so he is a very good mathematician; but his thesis is in knot theory, which is not much like code thory. It's possible that he is also interested in codes, but I doubt it.

A reference, from magazine.uchicago.edu/0306/alumni/lines.shtml

"Chalabi, who did his mathematics thesis at Chicago on the theory of knots"

Daniel Biss

Not that it's the main point, but let me offer, as a member of Chicago's math faculty, as someone who's heard the phrase "mathematical genius" tossed around as though it means something about a thousand times too many, and, most of all, as someone who knows precisely how tenuous is the relationship between the area of mathematics in which Chalabi could (nominally) have been called an expert (30 years ago) and cryptology:
Hitchens's claim that Chalabi might have broken the codes himself is just completely insane.

Cheez Whiz

Chalabi cracking US codes? Jesus, the NSA is up in arms about the PGP encryption anyone can use for their email these days, it causes them that much trouble. If the NSA's research into large number factorization, supercomputers and quantum computers has trouble with off the shelf encryption, does anyone honestly think that Chalabi could have descrypted a single bit of the US codes. Hitchens doesn't have a clue.


Excellent post - first person blogging like this is very cool!

Daniel Biss

Funny that more people than just I are interested in Chalabi's mathematics :)

Jonathan: Chalabi's publication record suggests that the Chicago magazine you cite is a bit off. Actually, his work was in group theory (to be more exact, somewhere between group theory and homological algebra). This actually positions him somewhat better vis-a-vis cryptography than knot theory would, but it's still not so close.

More to the point, advances in computers totally changed the world of coding theory in the 80's and 90's, so unless he was working AWFULLY hard on mathematics (on the side) at the same time that he was rising in the world of creepy international playerism, it's inconceivable that he was positioned to break any codes in the 3rd millenium.


I've heard that the majority of the Ba'ath Party was Shia from somewhere else. I'm pretty sure it was from a liberal source, too. So if Chalabi and a liberal source are saying the same thing, I'm guessing it's true...

I think it's interesting that Chalabi is back in the USA. I wonder what he is doing here. Are the Americans spying on him? Is he going to be interrogated by the FBI? Is he going to take part in a new Senate investigation? Here to... buddy up with people?

He's got to be here for a reason...


Why does anybody listen to this notorious boozer (talking Hitchens here) anymore?

Greg Priddy

Speaking of Chalabi, I just posted on my blog this evening on signs that Chalabi may be colluding with Iran against other Shi'ite politicians and Ayatollah Sistani.


So is Hitchens saying that Nixon decided to forgo a protest of the 1960 presidential vote in Illinois? It's become a popular myth that Nixon told Kennedy he was not contesting the election outcome "for the good of the country". In fact, Nixon's people were all over Illinois and Texas, hoping to find a way to flip those states into the GOP column. That wouldn't have been enough, though, to deliver the presidency to Nixon, so they gave up.

Big Green

When Chalabi says most of the Baath party was Shia he's likely referencing the fact that the Syrian Baath party is Shia.

Tom T

I am a mathematician who works in an area quite close to cryptology. There is *no way* Chalabi would have been able to crack the codes himself. He would have about as much chance of doing that as of buliding his own nuclear bombs.

Also, his specialty is not cryptology.

punaise / berkeley

Nice post, thanks for sharing.

Chalabi should be subpoenaed.
I'm irretrievably late to the Hitchens-appreciation party: I think he's a blithering insufferable idiot.


Why would anyone of clear mind want to invite that born-again increasingly right winger Hitchens to anywhere? Time to grow up and get over being star struck. Reminds me a bit of those students in 1983 at Michigan who signed up to speak to Alexander Haig privately, so they could get both sides of the story.


Chalabi broke the US codes? In his spare time?

wait for it...

wait for it...


(I hear he was also suspected of "feeding sensitive information" to Andrew Wiles.)

Victor Freeh

You folks are giving Hitchens far too much credit on this.

Suppose that Chalabi were a mathematical genius of top caliber and his expertise was in crytography. How many people fitting that description are wandering around? 500? 1000? And Hitchens thinks that these people can just sit down and crack the US government's codes? And that the US government would continue to use codes that hundreds of people all over the world could just crack at will?

This statement is incredibly, breathtakingly stupid on the face of it.

Aunt Deb

I believe that membership in the Baath party was necessary, if you wanted to work or have some part of the social structure. It's quite possible that the majority of the Baath in Iraq was Shia, but those who wielded the power were certainly Sunni. At any rate, the point Chalabi is seeking to make seems unclear, unless he was defending albeit obliquely his initial ousting of all Baath party members from the new government and military. It's undoubtedly true that Chalabi's enemies in Iraq are drawn from all sects and parties, so any measure that immunizes him from the greatest possible number had to look attractive to him.

I read your friend's blog on the Chalabi meeting with interest -- he seems quite pro-Chalabi. In his opinion, the highlight of the meeting was a question raised by a Syrian regarding the possibility of democracy in Syria. I was left wondering just who that Syrian might be and what codes he'd broken to be included in the AEI audience.


Goodwin Procter is a corporate law firm.

Sheldon Rampton

With regard to Hitchens' theory (which I agree is ridiculous), it should be noted that Chalabi is not accused of cracking U.S. codes, but rather of TELLING IRAN that the U.S. had cracked Iran's encryption codes. Here's an excerpt from a Washington Post story from June 2004:

"In a closed-door damage assessment on Capitol Hill, National Security Agency officials said the disclosure cut off a significant stream of information about Iran at a time when the United States is worried about the country's nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorist groups and its efforts to exert greater influence over Iraq. ... An investigation by the FBI was launched several weeks ago, officials said, after the United States intercepted a secret message from an Iranian intelligence agent in Baghdad who told his superiors in Tehran that Chalabi had revealed that Americans had cracked Iran's encryption code. The communication said a drunken American official gave Chalabi the information."


Of course, we can only speculate about the identity of the drunken American. Has Bush managed to stay off the bottle? Maybe someone should chat up Hitchens again and see if he has any special insights into who's boozing it up in Washington.

Yuri Guri

I hate to agree with Chalabi, but it is, in fact, quite true that most Iraqi Ba'ath members were Shi'a. Actually, the majority of the individuals whose faces appeared on the famous "deck of cards" of wanted men from Saddam's regime were Shi'a as well.

If I'm not mistaken Husayn's prime minister at the time of the first gulf war was a Shi'ite (Mohammed al Zubeidi), and he actually helped engineer the hecatomb in the south. This is why there have been a number of shady Islamist groups going around assassinating former Shi'a Ba'athists. There was definitely a significant component of the Shi'a that collaborated with Saddam and they are being culled as we speak.

Adam Ierymenko

You know, the comment about how he could have cracked the crypto himself is just priceless.

Yeah, he factored some *gigantic* RSA key in his spare time, and then he fished through all the random padding and found the actual message, and then he cracked the shared symmetric key, and finally he decyphered the protocol and was able to read the message which was probably full of numeric euphamisms and impenetrable jargon.

Give me a !@$! break.

This is priceless because it gives you an insight into the Tom Clancy fantasy world that these Neocons inhabit. They are postmodern quack intellectuals of the most reprehensible variety.



Thanks for your post. It put a very human perspective on a briefly-mentioned news item.

Here's some more pictures taken from outside the AEI building...


Rahul Mahajan

Chalabi's comments about Shi'a in the Ba'ath are not exactly wrong. Until 1963 or so, it was a roughly equal partnership between Shi'i and Sunni (see e.g. Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, p. 1080).

If you look at the members of the Ba'ath Command from 1952-November 1963, it's about equal between Shi'a and Sunni; then, if you look November 1963-1970, the Shi'a drop to about 10%.

One reason is the split in the Ba'ath after the failure of the brief period of rule in 1963. The Shi'a mostly followed the faction that ended up losing and being drummed out.

But Batatu claims a bigger reason is the discriminatory practice of the mostly Sunni-dominated police of the Aref regimes. They were much harsher with Shi'a Ba'athists than with Sunnis, who were often of the same tribe or town as the police officers.


Why are people attempting to refute the claim that Chalabi cracked US codes, when the claim (by Hitchens) was that he may have cracked the Iranian code? After all, this story isn't about American codes at all, but (presumably) American decryption of Iranian codes. That said, unless the Iranian govt. is so suspicious of academic types as to shut out competent mathematicians from its spy services, it's unlikely their code was broken at all. It's just undergraduate level mathematics to write an (effectively) unbreakable code.

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