Sunday, November 20, 2005
One of the most important arguments in the run-up to the Iraq war made by Colin Powell in his United Nations speech and President Bush in his State of the Union address was that Iraq had an active biological weapons program and possessed mobile biological weapons labs. According to an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the main source for this information was an Iraqi defector codenamed Curveball who was a source for the German central intelligence agency BND.
Several German intelligence officials responsible for Curveball have now told the LA Times that the Bush administration and the CIA have repeatedly exaggerated his claims and ignored warnings of the BND that the source was unreliable. Recounting his reaction after seeing Powell’s United Nations speech one German intelligence officer said: “We were shocked. Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven…. It was not hard intelligence.” This corroborates reporting by the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit from 2003 and 2004 based on statements of unnamed senior German intelligence officials.
Nine months earlier, in May 2002, a fabricator warning was posted in Curveball’s file in U.S. intelligence databases. Powell was never warned that his United Nations speech contained material that both the DIA and CIA had determined was false, even though several people present at Powell’s CIA meetings were fully aware of this.
At this time German intelligence officers would not let the CIA meet directly with Curveball, but allowed a CIA doctor to draw blood samples. Questioning the validity of Curveball’s information in front of his CIA supervisor, the doctor was advised to “Keep in mind that this war is going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn’t say and the Powers That Be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he’s talking about.”
Shortly after Powell’s UN speech and several days before the invasion, United Nations weapons inspectors attempted to directly verify several key claims made by Curveball, but concluded that they were unsustainable. The White House insisted on its WMD claims based on Curveball’s information.
Even after the invasion, when more and more of Curveball’s accounts were shown to be pure fabrication, the CIA and the Bush administration relied on Curveball’s information. When U.S. forces discovered trucks with lab equipment and Curveball claimed that these were identical to the ones he has been reporting about, the CIA rushed to publish a White Paper claiming that these trucks were part of Saddam Hussein’s secret biological weapons program and Bush claimed publicly that “We found the weapons of mass destruction.” Several days later, twelve of the thirteen WMD experts who analyzed the trucks agreed that the equipment was not suited for biological weapons production, with the only dissenting voice coming from the author of the original White Paper.
The White Paper remains posted on the CIA website to this date, and President Bush has not yet retracted his statement that Iraq produced “germ warfare agents” made in his State of the Union address or his postwar assertions that “we found the weapons of mass destruction.”