Tuesday, July 3, 2007

"Curveball" Part 3 of 3

(Continuing from Part 2 to quote the article cited in Part 1)

Phantom labs

Soon after U.S. troops entered Baghdad, the discovery of two trucks loaded with lab equipment in northern Iraq brought cheers to the CIA weapons center.

Curveball examined photos relayed to Germany and said that while he hadn't worked on the two trucks, equipment in the pictures looked like components he had installed at Djerf al Nadaf.

Days later, the CIA and DIA rushed to publish a White Paper declaring the trucks part of Hussein's biological warfare program. The report dismissed Iraq's explanation that the equipment generated hydrogen as a "cover story." A day later, Bush told a Polish TV reporter: "We found the weapons of mass destruction."

But bio-weapons experts in the intelligence community were sharply critical. A former senior official of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research called the unclassified report an unprecedented "rush to judgment."

The DIA then ordered a classified review of the evidence. One of 15 analysts held to the initial finding that the trucks were built for germ warfare. The sole believer was the CIA analyst who helped draft the original White Paper.

Hamish Killip, a former British army officer and biological weapons expert, flew to Baghdad in July 2003 as part of the Iraq Survey Group, the CIA-led Iraqi weapons hunt. He inspected the truck trailers and was immediately skeptical.

"The equipment was singularly inappropriate" for biological weapons, he said. "We were in hysterics over this. You'd have better luck putting a couple of dust bins on the back of the truck and brewing it in there."

The trucks were built to generate hydrogen, not germs, he said. But the CIA refused to back down. In March 2004, Killip quit, protesting that the CIA was covering up the truth.

Rod Barton, an Australian intelligence officer and another bio-weapons expert, also quit over what he said was the CIA's refusal to admit error. "Of course the trailers had nothing to do with Curveball," Barton wrote in a recent e-mail.

The Iraq Survey Group ultimately agreed. An "exhaustive investigation" showed the trailers could not "be part of any BW program," it reported in October 2004.

The now-discredited CIA White Paper remains on the agency's website. A CIA spokesman said the report was posted because it was part of the historical record.

After U.S troops failed to find illicit Iraqi weapons in the days and weeks after the invasion, the CIA created the Iraq Survey Group to conduct a methodical search in June 2003.

Tenet appointed Kay to head it. The pugnacious Texan was convinced that Baghdad had hidden mobile germ factories. Kay's teams returned to Djerf al Nadaf and other sites identified by Curveball.

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.

Childhood friends called him a "great liar" and a "con artist." Another called him "a real operator." The team reported that "people kept saying what a rat Curveball was."

Jerry and another CIA analyst abruptly broke off the investigation and took a military flight back to Washington. Kay said Jerry appeared to be nearing a nervous breakdown.

"They had been true believers in Curveball," Kay said. "They absolutely believed in him. They knew every detail in his file. But it was total hokum. There was no truth in it. They said they had to go home to explain how all this was all so wrong. They wanted to fight the battle at the CIA."

Back home, senior CIA officials resisted. Jerry was "read the riot act" and accused of "making waves" by his office director, according to the presidential commission. He and his colleague ultimately were transferred out of the weapons center.

The CIA was "very, very vindictive," Kay said.

Soon after, Jerry got in touch with Michael Scheuer, a CIA analyst who felt he had been sidelined for criticizing CIA counterterrorism tactics. Scheuer would quit within a year.

"Jerry had become kind of a nonperson," Scheuer recalled of their meeting. "There was a tremendous amount of pressure on him not to say anything. Just to sit there and shut up."

A CIA spokeswoman confirmed the account, but declined to comment further. Jerry still works at the CIA and could not be contacted for this report. His former supervisor, reached at home, said she could not speak to the media. "What was done to them was wrong," said a former Pentagon official who investigated the case for the presidential commission. "But we didn't see it so much as a cover-up as an expression of how profoundly resistant to recognizing mistakes the CIA culture was."

Kay's findings

In December 2003, Kay flew back to CIA headquarters. He said he told Tenet that Curveball was a liar and he was convinced Iraq had no mobile labs or other illicit weapons. CIA officials confirm their exchange.

Kay said he was assigned to a windowless office without a working telephone.

On Jan. 20, 2004, Bush lauded Kay and the Iraq Survey Group in his State of the Union Speech for finding "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities…. Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction program would continue to this day."

Kay quit three days later and went public with his concerns.

In Germany, the BND finally agreed to let the CIA interview Curveball. The CIA sent one of its best officers, fluent in German and gifted at working reluctant sources.

They met at BND headquarters in Pullach, a suburb of Munich, in mid-March 2004 — one year after the Iraq invasion.

Alone with Curveball at last, the CIA officer steadily reviewed details and picked at contradictions like a prosecutor working a hostile witness. He showed spy satellite images and other evidence from the sites Curveball had identified.

Each night, he would file an encrypted report to CIA headquarters on his computer, and then call Drumheller.

"After the first couple of days, he said, 'This doesn't sound good,'" Drumheller recalled. "After the first week, he said, 'This guy is lying. He's lying about a bunch of stuff.'"

But Curveball refused to admit deceit. When challenged, he would mumble, say he didn't know and suggest the questioner was wrong or the photo was doctored. As the evidence piled up, he simply stopped talking.

"He never said, 'You got me,'" Drumheller said. "He just shrugged, and didn't say anything. It was all over. We told our guy, 'You might as well wrap it up and come home.'"

It took more than a month to track and recall every U.S. intelligence report — at least 100 in all — based on Curveball's misinformation. In a blandly worded notice to its stations around the world, the CIA said in May 2004:

"Discrepancies surfaced regarding the information provided by … Curveball in this stream of reporting, which indicate that he lost his claimed access in 1995. Our assessment, therefore, is that Curveball appears to be fabricating in this stream of reporting."

The CIA had advised Bush in the fall of 2003 of "problems with the sourcing" on biological weapons, an official familiar with the briefing said. But the president has never withdrawn the statement in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq produced "germ warfare agents" or his postwar assertions that "we found the weapons of mass destruction."

U.S., British and German intelligence officials still debate what Curveball really saw, and what he really did. One possible answer was buried in records the Iraq Survey Group recovered at the engineering and design center in Baghdad.

They show that Iraqi officials considered installing seed handling gear on trucks in 1995, but instead put the machinery in warehouses, like those at Djerf al Nadaf. Perhaps Curveball heard about the modified trucks and spun them into a bio-weapons system for gullible intelligence agencies.

"You're left at the end with uncertainty," said the former CIA official who helped supervise the Curveball case and the postwar investigation. "We know what he said. We know we don't believe him. But was he making it all up? Was he coached? Did he hear something and then embellish it? These things are still unresolved."

Not for Curveball. "He is convinced his story is true," said the BND analyst. "He has no doubts to this day."

In this context, it is worth recalling Cheney's multiple visits to CIA Headquarters.

From Cheney's CIA visits pressured us: analysts June 6 2003:

Multiple visits to the CIA by the United States Vice-President, Dick Cheney, created an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments on Iraq fit with Bush Administration policy objectives, intelligence officials said.

They said Mr Cheney and his chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, questioned analysts studying Iraq's weapons programs and alleged links to al-Qaeda.

Mr Cheney took the lead in the Administration last August in advocating military action against Iraq by claiming it had weapons of mass destruction.

The visits "sent signals, intended or otherwise, that a certain output was desired from here", one agency official said.

And from Some Iraq Analysts Felt Pressure From Cheney Visits by Walter Pincus and Dana Priest, Washington Post Staff Writers, Thursday, June 5, 2003:

In a signal of administration concern over the controversy, two senior Pentagon officials yesterday held a news conference to challenge allegations that they pressured the CIA or other agencies to slant intelligence for political reasons. "I know of no pressure," said Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary for policy. "I know of nobody who pressured anybody."

Feith said a special Pentagon office to analyze intelligence in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks did not necessarily focus on Iraq but came up with "some interesting observations about the linkages between Iraq and al Qaeda."

(And I have a great deal of faith in Feith!)

Officials in the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill, however, have described the office as an alternative source of intelligence analysis that helped the administration make its case that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat.

Government sources said CIA analysts were not the only ones who felt pressure from their superiors to support public statements by Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and others about the threat posed by Hussein.

Former and current intelligence officials said they felt a continual drumbeat, not only from Cheney and Libby, but also from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, Feith, and less so from CIA Director George J. Tenet, to find information or write reports in a way that would help the administration make the case that going into Iraq was urgent.

"They were the browbeaters," said a former defense intelligence official who attended some of the meetings in which Wolfowitz and others pressed for a different approach to the assessments they were receiving. "In interagency meetings," he said, "Wolfowitz treated the analysts' work with contempt."

Do an Internet search on Cheney's visits to CIA Headquarters and see what you come up with.

Bush, Cheney & Co. wanted a war in Iraq. In the wake of 9/11, with an ambiguous, open-ended authorization from Congress to wage this "War on Terror", they had the authority to start one. They just needed some intelligence to justify it.

So, Cheney, a very "hands-on" Vice President, personally goes to CIA Headquarters and twists some arms, looking for the information he needs. Under those circumstances, someone was probably more than happy to throw him this "Curveball".

And this "Curveball" was just another piece of evidence, flimsy though it was, that could be sewn together with other distortions, half-truths, and outright lies to create an excuse to invade Iraq.

We know our military isn't benefitting from the ongoing occupation of Iraq. They are being bled white and drawn off the real enemy, which is Al Qaeda.

Who does benefit from the ongoing occupation of Iraq?

Wasn't it convenient that the terrorists' plans to attack us on 9/11 weren't thwarted, despite so many FBI and other federal agents who were "on" to them?

Wasn't it convenient that the terrorists' plan didn't just succeed, but was successful beyond imagination? ...That a jetliner brought down a skyscraper built to resist the impact of jetliners... not just once, but twice in the same day?

Wasn't it a convenient set of circumstances that got us into this war in Iraq?

You don't suppose someone has been throwing us a few curveballs of their own, do you?

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