White House used 'gossip' to build case for war
By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
Independent" -- -- The controversy in America over
pre-war intelligence has intensified, with revelations that the Bush
administration exaggerated the claims of a key source on Iraq's
alleged weapons of mass destruction, despite repeated warnings
before the invasion that his information was at best dubious, if not
The disclosure, in The Los Angeles Times, came after a week of
vitriolic debate on Iraq, amid growing demands for a speedy
withdrawal of US troops and tirades from Bush spokesmen who all but
branded as a traitor anyone who suggested that intelligence was
deliberately skewed to make the case for war.
Yesterday Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, joined the fray,
saying that talk of manipulation of intelligence "does great
disservice to the country".
In Beijing, President George Bush said that a speedy pullout was "a
recipe for disaster" - but the proportion of Americans wanting
precisely that (52 per cent according to a new poll) is now higher
than wanted similar action in 1970, at the height of the Vietnam
In an extraordinary detailed account, the Times charted the history
of the source, codenamed Curveball, an Iraqi chemical engineer who
arrived in Germany in 1999 seeking political asylum, and told the
German intelligence service, the BND, how Saddam Hussein had
developed mobile laboratories to produce biological weapons.
But by summer 2002, his claims had been thrown into grave doubt.
Five senior BND officials told the newspaper they warned the CIA
that Curveball never claimed to have been involved in germ weapons
production, and never saw anyone else do so. His information was
mostly vague, secondhand and impossible to confirm, they told the
Americans - "watercooler gossip" according to one source.
Nonetheless the CIA would hear none of the doubts. President Bush
referred to Curveball's tale in his January 2003 State of the Union
address, and the alleged mobile labs were a central claim in the now
notorious presentation to the United Nations by Colin Powell, then
Secretary of State, in February 2003, making the case for war.
The senior BND officer who supervised Curveball's case said he was
aghast when he watched Mr Powell overstate Curveball's case. "We
were shocked," he said. "We had always told them it was not proven
... It was not hard intelligence."
The Iraqi, it now is clear, told his story to bolster his quest for
a German residence visa. According to BND officials, he was
The debacle became complete when American investigators, sent after
the invasion to find evidence of the WMDs, instead discovered
Curveball's personnel file in Baghdad. It showed he had been a
low-level trainee engineer, not a project chief or site manager, as
the CIA had insisted. Moreover he had been dismissed in 1995 - just
when he claimed to have begun work on bio-warfare trucks.
Curveball was also apparently jailed for a sex crime and then drove
a Baghdad taxi.
The latest disclosures come at an especially delicate moment, as the
Senate Intelligence Committee is about to resume a long-stalled
inquiry into the administration's use of pre-war intelligence.
Committee members said last week that the Curveball case would be a
key part of their review. House Democrats are calling for a similar
Washington is also still reverberating from the outburst of John
Murtha, the veteran Democratic Congressman and defence hawk with
close ties to the Pentagon, who last week urged an immediate
"redeployment" of the 160,000 US troops in Iraq. Administration
attempts to label him a defeatist have abjectly backfired. "I've
never seen such an outpouring" of support, the decorated Marine
Corps veteran, now 73, declared on NBC's Meet the Press programme
yesterday. "It's not me, it's the public that's thirsting for
No longer could President Bush "hide behind empty rhetoric". Mr
Murtha said that his vote for war in October 2002 "was obviously a
mistake. We were misled, they exaggerated the intelligence". He
forecast that whatever the Bush administration said, "We'll be out
of there by election day 2006" - a reference to next November's
mid-term elections, when many Republicans fear that the Iraq debacle
could drag the party down to defeat.
Intelligence red herrings
* Curveball: The Iraqi chemical engineer in his late twenties who
defected to Germany in 1995, with tales of mobile germ weapons
laboratories that were dubious before the invasion, and later shown
to be false. The CIA brushed aside all doubts.
* Ahmed Chalabi: The exiled Iraqi leader won his way into the favour
of the Pentagon. Defectors he brought to US attention proved to be
false, as was his claim that US invaders would be met with bouquets.
* Iraq's quest to buy uranium from Niger: This claim was based on
forged documents originating in Italy, but President Bush repeated
it in his 2003 State of the Union speech.
* The aluminium tubes affair: Saddam was said to be seeking parts
for a centrifuge for use in making a nuclear weapon. Analysts'
doubts were disregarded.
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.
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