It appears that the press, the politicians, the Pentagon, and the intelligence community are all seeking to blame faulty intelligence (and each other) for Bush's decision to invade Iraq and their own complicity in leading the nation to war. The scathing report recently issued by Bush's intelligence commission set off the latest round of blame games featuring "Curveball".
Perhaps all the clamor about the Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball" is actually genuine. Maybe nobody in Washington is aware that the recent "revelations" about the mysterious "Curveball" were reported a year ago.
However, it seems that the press is pretending that the "Curveball" story is new, Senators are pretending that faulty intelligence led Congress to give Bush a blank check for a unnecessary war, and the intelligence community is pretending they didn't know that "Curveball" was a crazy alcoholic liar.
The headline of an Associated Press report dated April 7, 2005 sums up the charade nicely: Officials Ask Why Iraq Details Surface Now. A more accurate headline might be: Officials Ask Why Iraq Details Surface Again. The report is filled with quotes from disingenuous politicians and spooks who act as if they had never heard of "Curveball".
Here is what the Associated Press reported:
The CIA and members of Congress said they want to know how a presidential commission unearthed details on intelligence failures about Iraq's prewar weapons programs that previous investigations missed.
Of particular interest is information that emerged in last week's report about how doubts were handled regarding a leading source on Saddam Hussein's alleged mobile biological weapons labs - an Iraqi scientist who defected to Germany, code named "Curveball."
Porter Goss, who became CIA director last September, has instructed officials to determine what happened and why the details did not come to light earlier, said his spokeswoman, Jennifer Millerwise.
"It was an unhappy surprise to the director that his first understanding of this issue was when he first read" the commission's report, Millerwise said Wednesday.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., also acknowledged President Bush's intelligence commission had details that did not emerge during his committee's yearlong investigation into the Iraq assessments, released last July.
If Bush's intelligence commission learned "something obvious," Roberts said, "we want to make sure the intelligence community does fill in those gaps so we have a clear picture."
Other lawmakers are angrier. "As far as I am concerned, the CIA threw us a curve ball," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., also a member of the Intelligence Committee.
The White House, Congress and U.S. intelligence agencies have launched a number of investigations into the faulty prewar intelligence on the Iraq threat. The most definitive to date came last week from Bush's intelligence commission.
According to the report, CIA officials tried to tell the agency's top officials that Curveball was a suspected fabricator and may have been mentally unstable. The new information includes an alleged warning in a late-night phone call to the agency's former director, George Tenet.
When asked how the new investigation got more detail, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and a commission member, said that the panel conducted numerous long interviews. "We did not come up with that information early," McCain said of the information on Curveball.
The report said CIA officials contended that they tried to raise warnings about Curveball. One unnamed CIA division chief claims to have called Tenet at midnight the night before former Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his address to the United Nations, which provided the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq. The division chief recalled telling Tenet that foreign intelligence officials were concerned about Curveball's credibility.
In an unusual seven-page statement last week, Tenet said his "strong recollection" is that he did not speak with the division chief around midnight.
Tenet also said it was "stunning and deeply disturbing that this information, if true, was never brought forward to me by anyone" when the Iraq intelligence was scrutinized.
This Associated Press story seems to indicate that Porter Goss, Pat Roberts, Carl Levin, John McCain and George Tenet had never heard of "Curveball" before. They talk as if this was the first time the "Curveball" issue has come up, but is hard to believe that these officials have no memory of "Curveball".
Having access to information tools that the press is apparently unaware of, I actually found the "Curveball" stories published last year. Using a top secret web-based tool codenamed "Google", I was able to uncover a story from March 28, 2004 published by the Independent (UK) headlined Iraqi Defector Behind WMD Claims Exposed As Fraud.
The "Google" search also revealed another piece published on March 28, 2004 in The Age (Australia) that featured the diagrams used by Colin Powell at the UN to demonstrate the deadly threat that Saddam posed to the world. This piece had the headline: Phantom Trucks of Death.
The Guardian (UK) published an article on April 2, 2004 headlined Germans Accuse US Over Iraq Weapons Claim that reported how Germany warned America that "Curveball" was unreliable and the warning was ignored.
The only American who met a now-discredited Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball" repeatedly warned the CIA before the war that the Baghdad engineer appeared to be an alcoholic and that his dramatic claims that Saddam Hussein had built a secret fleet of mobile germ weapons factories were not reliable.
In response, the deputy director of the CIA's Iraqi weapons of mass destruction task force - part of the agency's counter-proliferation unit - suggested in a Feb. 4, 2003, e-mail that such doubts were not welcome at the intelligence agency.
The New York Times published a story, Doubts on Informant Deleted in Senate Text, on July 13, 2004 that revealed the existence of yet another unreliable source codenamed "Red River". The details of "Red River" still remain top secret.
The articles published last year indicate that those who sold the Iraq war used unreliable information and that the Senate Intelligence Committee knew this last year. At least some of those who provided the unreliable intelligence knew it was unreliable when they provided it.
The Guardian article of April 2, 2004 reported:
An Iraqi defector nicknamed Curveball who wrongly claimed that Saddam Hussein had mobile chemical weapons factories was last night at the center of a bitter row between the CIA and Germany's intelligence agency. German officials said that they had warned American colleagues well before the Iraq war that Curveball's information was not credible - but the warning was ignored. It was the Iraqi defector's testimony that led the Bush administration to claim that Saddam had built a fleet of trucks and railway wagons to produce anthrax and other deadly germs.
In his presentation to the UN security council in February last year, the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, explicitly used Curveball's now discredited claims as justification for war. The Iraqis were assembling "mobile production facilities for biological agents", Mr Powell said, adding that his information came from "a solid source". These "killer caravans" allowed Saddam to produce anthrax "on demand", it was claimed. US officials never had direct access to the defector, and have subsequently claimed that the Germans misled them.
Powell also displayed diagrams of the aforementioned Phantom Trucks of Death or "killer caravans". But, according to the Los Angeles Times article of July 11, 2004:
By 2002, the CIA had spy satellite photos of buildings on farms that the defector had said were used to hide the germ production trucks. A CIA analyst told the Senate committee that the high-altitude pictures of buildings were considered corroboration, even though "we couldn't find any evidence of the [mobile bio-production] plants being there."
It is understandable why those in the War Party wish the "Curveball" story would just go away. But, does Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts really expect the public to believe he has no knowledge of "Curveball"? The Senate Intelligence Committee looked into this matter and presumably Roberts was aware of this. The Los Angeles Times story of July 11, 2004 reported:
The American official later told Senate staffers that he had "had many discussions" with CIA analysts prior to 2003 "about my concerns with Curveball as this whole thing was building up and taking on a life of its own. I was becoming frustrated, and when [I was] asked to go over Colin Powell's speech... and I went through the speech, and I thought: 'My gosh, we have got - I have got to go on record and make my concerns known.' "
To help determine who was right, the Senate Intelligence Committee staff last fall asked U.S. intelligence officials for an assessment of Curveball and his reliability. The results were not reassuring.
Now, a year after the "Curveball" story was first reported, the press, the politicians, and the spooks are pretending that the "Curveball" debacle is a big surprise. These are the same people who want us to believe that the Iraq war was not about weapons of mass destruction but rather about liberating the Iraqi people. These are the same people who told us that nobody ever claimed that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat.
An alcoholic cousin of an aide to Ahmed Chalabi has emerged as the key source in the US rationale for going to war in Iraq.
According to a US presidential commission looking into pre-war intelligence failures, the basis for pivotal intelligence on Iraq's alleged biological weapons programmes and fleet of mobile labs was a spy described as 'crazy' by his intelligence handlers and a 'congenital liar' by his friends.
The defector, given the code-name Curveball by the CIA, has emerged as the central figure in the corruption of US intelligence estimates on Iraq. Despite considerable doubts over Curveball's credibility, his claims were included in the administration's case for war without caveat.
According to the report, the failure of US spy agencies to scrutinise his claims are the 'primary reason' that they 'fundamentally misjudged the status of Iraq's [biological weapons] programs'.
The catalogue of failures and the gullibility of US intelligence make for darkly comic reading, even by the standards of failure detailed in previous investigations. Of all the disproven pre-war weapons claims, from aluminium centrifuge tubes to yellow cake uranium from Niger, none points to greater levels of incompetence than those found within the misadventures of Curveball.
The Americans never had direct access to Curveball - he was controlled by the German intelligence services who passed his reports on to the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's spy agency.
Between January 2000 and September 2001, Curveball offered 100 reports, among them the claims of mobile biological weapons labs that were central in the US evidence of an illicit weapons programme, but subsequently turned out to be trucks equipped with machinery to make helium for weather balloons.
The commission concluded that Curveball's information was worse than none at all. 'Worse than having no human sources,' it said, 'is being seduced by a human source who is telling lies.'
Although the defector has never been formally identified, it appears he was an Iraqi chemical engineer who defected after UN inspectors left the country in 1998.
In the aftermath of the US-led invasion, Iraqis whom Curveball claimed were co-workers in Saddam's alleged biological weapons programme did not know who he was. He claimed he'd witnessed a deadly biological weapons accident when he was not even in Iraq when it was meant to have happened. After September 2001, his claims were given greater credibility despite the fact that he was not in Iraq at the time he claimed to have taken part in illicit weapons work. His information was central to an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iraq 'has' biological weapons, and was widely used by President Bush and Dick Cheney to make their case for war.
It now appears there were problems with Curveball from the start, but the intelligence community was willing to believe him 'because the tales he told were consistent with what they already believed.'
In May 2000 doubts about his credibility surfaced when he was examined for signs that he had been exposed to biological agents. While the results were inconclusive, a US official was surprised to find Curveball had a hangover and said he 'might be an alcoholic.' By early 2001, the Germans were having doubts of their own, telling the CIA their spy was 'out of control'.
But warnings were dismissed. Intelligence analysts who voiced concern were 'forced to leave' the unit mainly responsible for analysing his claims, the commission found. At every turn analysts were blocked by spy chiefs and their warning never passed on to policy-makers.
The commission's report is unlikely to renew confidence in America's intelligence network as it attempts to uncover evidence of WMDs in Iran and elsewhere. The report concludes that US intelligence agencies remain poorly coordinated, have resisted reform and produce 'irrelevant' work.
So, there we have it. The policy-makers aren't to blame for anything. All the bad intelligence was the fault of spy chiefs and Bush has already replaced spy chief Tenet with spy chief Goss. Since the Iraq war wasn't really about weapons of mass destruction, there is no need to hold anyone accountable for being misled by a crazy alcoholic liar - that sort of thing happens in Washington all the time.
I suppose things would be different if the invasion of Iraq had been about the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction instead of spreading democracy. But, as we all know, nobody in the War Party ever suggested there was an imminent threat.
This article contributed by Tom Blanton of Richmond, Virginia.