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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Spied for Hussein, U.S. Says

WASHINGTON -- Iraqi documents captured by U.S. forces in 2003 say Russian intelligence had sources inside the American military that enabled it to feed information about U.S. troop movements and battle plans to Saddam Hussein, according to a Pentagon report.

The unclassified report released Friday does not assess the value or accuracy of the information Hussein got or offer details on Russia's information pipeline. It cites captured Iraqi documents that say the Russians had "sources inside the American Central Command" and that intelligence was passed to Hussein through the Russian ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Titorenko.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia's UN mission in New York, said the allegations were false. "To my mind, from my understanding, it's absolutely nonsense and it's ridiculous," she said, adding that the U.S. government had not shown Russia the evidence cited in the report. "Somebody wants to say something, and did -- and there is no evidence to prove it."

The Foreign Intelligence Service denied the report as "baseless" on Saturday.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that the U.S. administration would ask Russia about the report.

"Any implication that there were those from a foreign government who may have been passing information to the Iraqis prior to the invasion would be, of course, very worrying," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition."

"I would think the Russians would want to take that very seriously as well," she said.

Rice declined to speculate on whether Russia's actions resulted in casualties among U.S. troops or about what President Vladimir Putin knew about any possible Russian involvement.

The Iraqi documents leave unclear who may have been the sources at Central Command's war-fighting headquarters, which is at Camp As Saliyah just outside Doha, the capital of Qatar. No Russians were authorized to be at the closely guarded base.

A classified version of the report, titled "Iraqi Perspectives Project," is not being made public. It was assembled by U.S. Joint Forces Command, which reviewed a vast array of captured Iraqi documents and interviewed Iraqi political and military leaders, not including Hussein.

The report does not address the possibility that the U.S. military deliberately fed false information to the Russians, expecting them to pass it to Hussein. It does say that "such external sources of information were only one of the fog-generators obscuring the minds of Iraq's senior leadership."

Among the information the Iraqis said they received from the Russians, some of which proved inaccurate, was:

• That the movement of U.S. troops into southern Iraq from Kuwait was a diversion. In fact, it was the main avenue of attack, supported by special forces entering from Jordan and paratroopers flying into northern Iraq.

• That the ground assault on Baghdad would not begin until the Army's 4th Infantry Division was in place, around April 15. In fact, the 4th Infantry, whose originally planned invasion route from Turkey was blocked by the Turkish government, was not yet on Iraqi territory when the Baghdad ground assault began April 7. Thus, by design or chance, the information from the Russians actually reinforced a U.S. military deception effort.

• That the main focus of U.S. ground forces moving toward Baghdad from the southwest was the area around the city of Karbala. This was true. After crossing a bridge over the Euphrates River outside of Karbala, the 3rd Infantry Division had a clear path to the Iraqi capital, and Hussein's chances of stopping the assault had ended.

• That U.S. troops moving through southern Iraq would not attempt to occupy cities but instead bypass them. This was true and was a central feature of an invasion plan that stressed speed and tactical surprise.

The lead author of the Pentagon report, Kevin Woods, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that he was surprised to learn the Russians had passed intelligence to Hussein, and he said he had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the Iraqi documents.

"But I don't have any other knowledge of that topic," Woods added, referring to the Russian link.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable, referred inquiries seeking comment to Central Command. At Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, officials did not immediately respond to a request.

It is standard procedure for Russia and other countries not part of a U.S. coalition to try to gain inside information on U.S. military plans. It is certainly not surprising in the case of Iraq, a country that had long-standing economic and military ties to Moscow. But until now, the Pentagon had not indicated that the Russians might have succeeded.

The information about a Russian intelligence link to Baghdad was a small part of a much broader report by Joint Forces Command that attempts to explain the forces and motivations behind Iraqi military decision-making in the months leading to the invasion and in the first several weeks after Baghdad fell in April.

Titorenko, the Russian ambassador, made headlines when he fled in a diplomatic convey to Syria in early April. The convey came under fire outside Baghdad, and Titorenko accused American troops of deliberately firing.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a newspaper believed at the time to have well-placed contacts in the military and intelligence spheres, reported on April 9, 2003, that the convey might have been carrying secret Iraqi files that U.S. intelligence officers wanted to seize.

The Foreign Intelligence Service quickly denied the newspaper report as "sheer nonsense."

Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported in March 2003 that Russian intelligence agents were holding daily meetings with Iraqi officials.

The Pentagon report, which appeared on the heels of Putin's trip last week to China, reflects growing U.S. unease over the strengthening Moscow-Beijing axis -- one of the recent developments that has caused Washington to recognize "that it had lost whatever leverage it had over Russia," said Yevgenia Albats, a Moscow-based journalist who specializes in intelligence matters.

"It wasn't just another visit to China, it was a statement addressed to the United States," she said. "There is concern in Washington that China plus Russia, combined, will present a real problem for the United States."

Gazeta.ru speculated that the Pentagon report was intentionally released during the tough UN Security Council discussions on Iran, with Russia and China facing off with the United States. "The leak about Russian spies in Doha can be interpreted as pressure on Moscow, which has taken a tough, principled position on the Iranian nuclear question," it said.

Gazeta.ru said two retired Russian generals had visited Baghdad less than 10 days before the U.S.-led offensive, and speculated that they were advising the Iraqi military. The report showed photographs of them receiving medals from Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed.