John Goetz has been working on the Curveball story for a long time now. Ii is published today in the LA Times. I am proud to say that I did what I could to help him and his partner Bob Drogin with this.
This story is a massive piece of the jigsaw puzzle that only now is beginning to be solved for the benefit of the understanding of the American people as to why they are now at war in Iraq.
The war in Afghanistan is easy to understand. That Kiplingesque, far away, tribal land was made into a haven and breeding ground for enemies determined to harm us. Only the truly pacifist have many doubts about the necessity that caused US intervention there.
Iraq is a different matter. In the case of Iraq, the US went to war because the American people became convinced that Iraq was a direct threat to the American homeland. They were convinced of that through an artfully orchestrated campaign of half-truths which used evidence from dubious sources to make the case for Iraq as a threat to the US. Paul Wolfowitz admitted as much in public when he said (paraphrasing) that WMD was sold to the American people as a threat because it COULD be sold and that nothing else would serve to take us to war.
CURVEBALL, the Iraqi source of the German intelligence (BND) became an essential element in the campaign of distorted and manipulated information. CURVEBALL was a fraud. The Germans said they did not believe him. DIA said they did not believe him, but the Bush Administration evidently did believe him. Why? They believed because they wanted to believe.
Goetz and Drogin’s story in the Los Angeles Times lays out the sad story of incompetence and deception which centers, at least in part, around this man.
Some samples from the article:
"The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein’s suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq. Five senior officials from Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so."
"Curveball’s German handlers for the last six years said his information was often vague, mostly secondhand and impossible to confirm. "This was not substantial evidence," said a senior German intelligence official. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said." The German authorities, speaking about the case for the first time, also said that their informant suffered from emotional and mental problems. "He is not a stable, psychologically stable guy," said a BND official who supervised the case. "He is not a completely normal person," agreed a BND analyst."
"The senior BND officer who supervised Curveball’s case said he was aghast when he watched Powell misstate Curveball’s claims as a justification for war. "We were shocked," the official said. "Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven…. It was not hard intelligence." In a telephone interview, Powell said that George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, and his top deputies personally assured him before his U.N. speech that U.S. intelligence on the mobile labs was "solid." Since then, Powell said, the case "has totally blown up in our faces.""
"CIA officials now concede that the Iraqi fused fact, research he gleaned on the Internet and what his former co-workers called "water cooler gossip" into a nightmarish fantasy that played on U.S. fears after the Sept. 11 attacks. Curveball’s motive, CIA officials said, was not to start a war. He simply was seeking a German visa."
""The Iraqis were adept at feeding us what we wanted to hear," said a former official of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency who helped debrief about 50 Iraqi emigres in Germany before the war. "Most of it was garbage.” "
"On Feb. 5, 2003, Powell told the packed U.N. chamber that his account was based on "solid sources" and "facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence." "We thought maybe they had the smoking gun," recalled the BND supervisor, who watched Powell on TV. "My gut feeling was the Americans must have so much from reconnaissance planes and satellites, from infiltrated spotter teams from Special Forces, and other systems. We thought they must have tons of stuff." Instead, Powell emphasized Curveball’s "eyewitness" account, calling it "one of the most worrisome things that emerge from the thick intelligence file.""
""Powell’s speech failed to sway many diplomats, but it had an immediate impact in Baghdad. "The Iraqis scoured the country for trailers," said a former CIA official who helped interrogate Iraqi officials and scientists in U.S. custody after the war. "They were in real panic mode. They were terrified that this was real, and they couldn’t explain it." An explanation was available within days, but U.S. officials ignored it. On Feb. 8, three days after Powell’s speech, the U.N.’s Team Bravo conducted the first search of Curveball’s former work site. The raid by the American-led biological weapons experts lasted 3 1/2 hours. It was long enough to prove Curveball had lied."
"U.N. teams also raided the other sites Curveball had named. They interrogated managers, seized documents and used ground-penetrating radar, according to U.N. reports. The U.N. inspectors "could find nothing to corroborate Curveball’s reporting," the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group reported last year. On March 7, 2003, Hans Blix, the chief U.N. inspector, told the Security Council that a series of searches had found "no evidence" of mobile biological production facilities in Iraq. It drew little notice at the time."
"One CIA-led unit investigated Curveball himself. The leader was "Jerry," a veteran CIA bio-weapons analyst who had championed Curveball’s case at the CIA weapons center. They found Curveball’s personnel file in an Iraqi government storeroom. It was devastating. Curveball was last in his engineering class, not first, as he had claimed. He was a low-level trainee engineer, not a project chief or site manager, as the CIA had insisted. Most important, records showed Curveball had been fired in 1995, at the very time he said he had begun working on bio-warfare trucks. A former CIA official said Curveball also apparently was jailed for a sex crime and then drove a Baghdad taxi. Jerry and his team interviewed 60 of Curveball’s family, friends and co-workers. They all denied working on germ weapons trucks. Curveball’s former bosses at the engineering center said the CIA had fallen for "water cooler gossip" and "corridor conversations." "The Iraqis were all laughing," recalled a former member of the survey group. "They were saying, ‘This guy? You’ve got to be kidding.’ "Jerry tracked down Curveball’s Sunni Muslim parents in a middle-class Baghdad neighborhood. "Our guy was very polite," Kay recalled. "He said, ‘We understand your son doesn’t like Americans.’ His mother looked shocked. She said, ‘No, no! He loves Americans.’ And she took him into [her son’s] bedroom and it was filled with posters of American rock stars. It was like any other teenage room. She said one of his goals was to go to America."The deeper Jerry probed, the worse Curveball looked."
We were made fools of. By whom? Is it not obvious?
The Iraqi government was frightened and surprised by Powell’s assertions at the UN about mobile bio-weapons production facilities. They searched the country looking for whatever it was we were talking about. they seem to have been afraid that there was something going on that they did not know about.
We should all be ashamed in this country. We should be ashamed that we are so childish and easily manipulated that CURVEBALL’s supposed story and that of all the other shoddy sources and rumor mongers were so easily "sold" to us by a band of political extremists. Our gullibility raises the issue of our collective worthiness to be the sovereigns of the commonweal of whom Jefferson wrote.