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Source of the Iraqi WMD Claims Comes Clean

Posted By Guest Author On February 16, 2011 @ 8:30 am In Think Tank,War/Defense | Comments Disabled

Washington’s Blog [1] strives to provide real-time, well-researched and actionable information.  George – the head writer at Washington’s Blog [1] – is a busy professional and a former adjunct professor.

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Source of the Iraqi WMD Claims Comes Clean … And Shows that the American and British Governments Willfully Manipulated the Evidence

As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, everyone knew [2] that Iraq didn’t have WMDs.

The Guardian just interviewed [3] the the infamous “Curveball” who provided false evidence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Curveball admitted that he knowingly lied about WMDs, in order to topple Saddam Hussein. The Guardian has a series notes in a series of articles out today on the issue which reinforce the conclusion that the American and British governments deliberately manipulated the evidence to justify the Iraqi invasion.

In one article, the Guardian notes [4] :

The former head of the CIA in Europe … Tyler Drumheller, who says he warned the head of the US intelligence agency before the 2003 invasion of Iraq that Curveball might be a liar ….

***

“My impression was always that his reporting was done in January and February,” said Drumheller, adding that he had been warned well before 2003 by his counterparts in the German secret service (BND) that Curveball might not be reliable. “We didn’t know if it was true. We knew there were real problems with it and there were inconsistencies.”

He passed on this information to the head of the CIA, George Tenet, he said, and yet Curveball’s testimony still made it into Colin Powell’s famous February 2003 speech justifying an invasion. “Right up to the night of Powell’s speech, I said, don’t use that German reporting because there’s a problem with that,” said Drumheller.

***

He recalled a conversation he had with John McLaughlin, then the CIA’s deputy director. “The week before the speech, I talked to the Deputy McLaughlin, and someone says to him, ‘Tyler’s worried that Curveball might be a fabricator.

“And McLaughlin said, ‘Oh, I hope not, because this is really all we have.’ And I said, and I’ve got to be honest with you, I said: ‘You’ve got to be kidding? his is all we have!’”

In a second article, the Guardian reports [5]:

A senior aide to Colin Powell at the time of his pivotal speech to the United Nations said on Tuesday that Curveball’s admission raised questions about the CIA’s role.

Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to the then US secretary of state Powell in the build-up to the invasion, said the lies of Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, also known by the codename Curveball, raised questions about how the CIA had briefed Powell ahead of his crucial speech to the UN security council presenting the case for war.

In particular, why did the CIA’s then director George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin believe the claim by Curveball, “and convey that to Powell even though the CIA’s own European chief Tyler Drumheller had already raised serious doubts.

“And why did Tenet and McLaughlin portray the presence of mobile biological labs in Iraq to the secretary of state with a degree of conviction bordering on passionate, soul-felt certainty?”

***

“This is very damning testimony and an indictment of the work the US put into the pre-war intelligence. The decision to go to war, to spend billions on sending hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the region, was in large part taken on the basis of an admitted liar,” said Ashwin Madia, head of an organisation of progressive US military veterans, VoteVets.

***

Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst on Iraq now at the National Defence University in Washington, said … “There were people at the time who doubted what Curveball was saying, but if the administration doesn’t want to believe it, it doesn’t make much difference.”

In a third piece, Carne Ross – Britain’s former Iraq expert at the UN security council, and the person responsible for liaison with the weapons inspectors – writes [6]:

Again, we will be confronted with the “not my fault!” excuse from those who manufactured the case for an avoidable war.

But once again, they are trying to mislead. Here’s why.

As I learned in my work on Iraq’s WMD in the late 90s and early 2000s, when I was Britain’s Iraq expert at the UN security council and responsible for liaison with the weapons inspectors, intelligence on WMD is a confusing and complicated issue. There was a great deal of data, much of it contradictory, from an array of different sources – intercepts of communications, aerial and satellite imagery and “humint” from defectors or agents inside Iraq. Our task in the government was to try to make sense of all this, and interpret from the data a reasonably plausible and coherent picture of what was actually going on.

***

Given the complexity of the data, no single source could ever be taken as authoritative. And the least convincing sources – by their very nature – were defectors. We knew full well that, for very understandable reasons, defectors had a powerful incentive to exaggerate the nature of Iraq’s development of WMD. They hated Saddam and wanted him gone. Long before Curveball, there were other defectors who made sometimes wild claims about Iraq’s weapons programmes. I remember one report that suggested Iraq had armed its Scud missiles (none of which, in fact, existed, it later emerged) with nuclear warheads, ready to be launched at Israel and other targets. Defector intelligence was, therefore, lowest in the hierarchy of evidence; photographic or signals intercepts were, for obvious reasons, treated as more plausible.

***

All evidence had to be tested by the simple method of seeking corroboration from other sources. This method was used across Whitehall, and in the Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet Office in particular, and was the basis for the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments of the WMD threat, several of which I contributed to. In the years I worked on the subject (1997-2002), the picture produced by this method was very clear: there was no credible evidence of substantial stocks of WMD in Iraq.

And it was this method – clearly – that was abandoned in advance of the war. Instead of a careful cross-checking of evidence, reports that suited the story of an imminent Iraqi threat were picked out, polished and formed the basis of public claims like Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN security council, or the No 10 dossier. This was exactly how a false case for war was constructed: not by the deliberate creation of a falsehood, but by willfully and secretly manipulating the evidence to exaggerate the importance of reports like Curveball’s, and to ignore contradictory evidence.

***

Others of my former colleagues in the MOD and Foreign Office have freely admitted to me that this is precisely what took place. Yet, for all its subtlety and secrecy, we should name this process for what it was: the manufacture of a lie.

And in a fourth report, Guardian reporters Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd – who interviewed Curveball and have been reporting for years on the run up to the Iraq war – provide [7] additional details in a question and answer format:

Is this one of those rare occasions when we should have shot the messenger?

Answer: At the very least he should have been treated with far more skepticism. He told us that all the technical discussion he had with the German spooks could have been managed by any first year chemical engineering student. He even had with him a chemical engineering dictionary that he said was given him by a scientist to help ‘him. Coaching, or assisting. A very fine line …

Did the BND or CIA attempt to corroborate his intelligence? Why was he believable as an intelligence source? I’d tell you David Cameron is from outer space if you offered me a chocolate bar – but me saying it doesn’t make it true though does it? Was there any attempt to verify his information or did the BND and CIA swallow the lie because it was convenient to them? Did he give them any evidence of his claims?
Answer.

He gave them names, dates, locations and the basics of a story that seemed plausible. Trouble is, it was checked out – before the war – and did not stack up. The key location of the supposed bioweapons factory, was meant to have a fake wall that allowed mobile weapons trucks to drive-in, reload, and leave to loaded up with biotoxins. The site was visited in 2002. The wall didn’t exist. His boss was visited late that year. He told the BND and British intelligence officers that Curvevall was a fabulist. The CIA did not speak with him until well after the invasion. [The Iraq war started on March 20, 2003]

***

If the Source was effectively discredited prior to his intelligence being used as a pretext for Iraq, do you think this will have any bearing on the investigation in the Iraq war inquiry?

If it was clear to intelligence agencies that the information provided by Curveball was at best unreliable, then presumably this would have been communicated to Tony Blair and others responsible for pedaling it to a public skeptical about going war.

If the unreliability of the intelligence wasn’t communicated to Tony Blair / George Bush, then those in the intelligence community responsible for not doing so surly need to be prosecuted.

If that was passed on, then Blair / Bush etc should be prosecuted.

Answer
What British intel knew, and when they knew it is something that still eludes me after two years of looking at this story. Tyler Drumheller, the CIA’s former main man in Europe says the Brits were more skeptical about Curveball than the BND. We believe at least two British spooks were at a meeting with Curveball’s boss in Dubai in 2002, at which he refuted his underlink’s key claim about bioweapons. However, as my colleague Peter Beaumont points out, the late-Dr David Kelly was tasked with trying to find these mysterious weapons trucks. He said the trucks that had been found were to launch weather balloons (which is correct). However, the news was not received well in Downing St.

***

Anyone who read Bob Drogin’s ‘Curveball’ which came out in 2007 would already have been aware of all this and the fact he was a paranoid alcoholic and there was a huge battle in US intelligence services as to whether to take his info seriously or not- with those naysayers being severely ostracised.

Answer

This is true.

***

Is [Curveball] saying that he told BND that his earlier allegations were not accurate when he was questioned about the information given to them by his boss in 2002? …

[Answer] He says that after he told them about the mobile trucks they sought out his boss, Dr Latif, who was then in Dubai. The BND went to see him there, along with two British intelligence officers. When they returned to Germany they told Curveball that Dr Latif had said he was a liar. He says he told them to believe his boss, instead of him. He claims he thought the game was up at that point.

***

It should be re-emphaised that there were many people in the intelligence communities in the US and Germany who were hugely sceptical about his evidence but were simply not listened too as it did not fit the required narrative- which is as a big a scandal in its own right.

[Answer] Agreed. Tyler Drumheller speaks convincingly about this. As does Poweel’s former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson who now describes the UN speech as the lowest point of his career.

***

[Answer] Curveball says he was as surprised as you that the BND came back for more at the end of 2002 and in 2003 in the run-up to the invasion. I can only assume that the BND were under a lot of pressure from the CIA to give them more “evidence” to back the case for war. Tyler Drumheller says the Germans always put a safety warning on their Curveball reporting – they never said “this guy is lying”, but they said “we cannot corroborate this”. He says he passed that up to Tenet.


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URL to article: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/02/source-of-the-iraqi-wmd-claims-comes-clean/

URLs in this post:

[1] Washington’s Blog: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/

[2] everyone knew: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2009/11/everyone-knew-that-iraq-didnt-have-wmds.html

[3] interviewed: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/15/defector-admits-wmd-lies-iraq-war

[4] notes: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/15/curveball-cia-europe-chief-vindicate

[5] reports: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/16/curveball-questions-cia

[6] writes: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/15/curveball-wmd-carne-ross

[7] provide: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/feb/15/curveball-wmd0-lies-iraq-germany

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