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Context of 'October 2-4, 2002: CIA Analyst Works on Declassified Version of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq'

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Tyler Drumheller, CIA chief in Europe.Tyler Drumheller, CIA chief in Europe. [Source: PBS]Tyler Drumheller, the head of CIA spying in Europe, calls the German Intelligence (BND) station chief at the German embassy in Washington hoping to obtain permission to interview Curveball. Over lunch at a restaurant in Georgetown, the two discuss the case and the German officer tells Drumheller that Curveball is “crazy” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] and that the BND questions “whether Curveball [is] actually telling the truth.” [Washington Post, 5/21/2005]
Germans Confirm Curveball a Likely Fabricator - Author Craig Unger will write: “Curveball was a proprietory source of the BND, which passed its information from him to the Pentagon’s Defense HUMINT Service. In other words, even though the United States had no direct access to Curveball, [CIA Director George] Tenet was so anxious to please the White House (see September 2002) that he had given the Senate the explosive, but unsubstantiated revelation (see September 24, 2002). But now, with the crucial Senate vote over the war imminent (see October 10, 2002), Tenet had to make sure Curveball was for real. Not long after the meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Tenet asked [top CIA official] Tyler Drumheller to get direct access to Curveball.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 247] In 2009, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will recall: “I was astonished that the Americans used Curveball, really astonished. This was our stuff. But they presented it not in the way we knew it. They presented it as a fact, and not as the way an intelligence assessment is—could be, but could also be a big lie. We don’t know.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009] The Germans respond that Curveball is “probably a fabricator.” They also inform Drumheller that the BND will not give in to CIA requests to gain access to Curveball.
Violent Opposition to Characterization among CIA Officials - After the meeting, Drumheller and several aides get into bitter arguments with CIA analysts working on the Curveball case. “The fact is, there was a lot of yelling and screaming about this guy,” James Pavitt, chief of clandestine services, will later tell the Los Angeles Times. “My people were saying, ‘We think he’s a stinker.’” But CIA analysts remain supportive of Curveball’s account. In one meeting, the chief CIA analyst argues that material she found on the Internet corroborates Curveball’s account, to which the operations group chief for Germany retorts, “That’s where he got it too.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Drumheller will later recall his astonishment at the violence of the reaction among CIA officials. “People were cursing,” he will recall. “These guys were absolutely, violently committed to it [relying on Curveball as a primary source of intelligence].” Drumheller is unaware that a draft National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) has already been written, and that it relies heavily on Curveball’s intelligence. When Drumheller tells Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin that Curveball may be a fabricator, McLaughlin replies, “Man, I really hope not, because this is really the only substantive part of the NIE.” Drumheller now realizes what has escaped him before—Curveball is the only source the US has for its explosive claims about Iraq’s bioweapons labs, claims being used to justify a war. He tells his group chief that he had assumed the CIA had other sources to validate Curveball’s data. “No,” she says. “This is why they’re fighting so ferociously to validate this source.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 247-248]
Politicization of Intelligence - Paul Pillar, the CIA’s former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, will later tell a PBS reporter: “Politicization, real politicization, rarely [takes the form of] blatant, crude arm twisting.… It’s always more subtle.… Intelligence assessments that conform with what is known to be the policy [have] an easier time making it through.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 249]

Entity Tags: Joschka Fischer, Tyler Drumheller, George J. Tenet, James Pavitt, ’Curveball’, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Central Intelligence Agency, Paul R. Pillar

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Paul Pillar.Paul Pillar. [Source: PBS]Deputy Director of the CIA John McLaughlin asks veteran CIA analyst Paul Pillar to prepare a declassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. A public version of the document was requested by senators Bob Graham and Carl Levin (see October 2, 2002) who want the dissenting opinions expressed in the document to be aired in public. Pillar is told to use a white paper that had been commissioned by the White House in May as his starting point, and then update it with material from the NIE. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 138-139]

Entity Tags: Paul R. Pillar, John E. McLaughlin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The New York Times reports on the recent issuance of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq by the US intelligence community. It is the first NIE to be issued since before the invasion (see October 1, 2002). The report was leaked to the Times by unnamed government officials.
Civil War a Strong Possibility - The NIE’s findings are grim. Civil war is a strong possibility, the NIE finds. Even the best-case scenario is an Iraq whose political, economic, and national security stability is tenuous and fragile. One government official says of the report, “There’s a significant amount of pessimism.” This NIE was initiated by the National Intelligence Council under the aegis of then-CIA Director George Tenet, who has since resigned. Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin approved the final report. The NIE stands in contrast to recent pronouncements by White House officials, who have insisted that the situation in Iraq is improving daily.
Critics 'Pessimists and Hand-Wringers' - The day before the NIE was released, White House press secretary Scott McClellan called critics of the occupation “pessimists and hand-wringers” who are being “proven… wrong.” [New York Times, 9/16/2004]
White House Ignores NIE - The NIE was prepared in July 2004 and not circulated until August, indicating that the White House had little use for the document. “It was finished in July, and not circulated by the intelligence community until the end of August,” one senior administration official says. “That’s not exactly what you do with an urgent document.” [New York Times, 9/28/2004]
This NIE Closer to CIA's Own Assessments than Earlier Report - Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar will later say that the agency’s own prewar assessments “foretold a long, difficult, and turbulent transition,” assessments more in line with the current NIE than with the 2002 estimate (see January 2003 and September 28, 2004). “It projected that a Marshall Plan-type effort would be required to restore the Iraqi economy, despite Iraq’s abundant oil resources. It forecast that in a deeply divided Iraqi society, with Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and Shi’ites seeking power commensurate with their majority status, there was a significant chance that the groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it. And it anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks—including by guerrilla warfare—unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam” Hussein. The NIE, and the White House’s blase response to it (see September 21-23, 2004), will deepen the tension and distrust between the White House and the CIA. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 153, 244]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), National Intelligence Council, New York Times, Paul R. Pillar, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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