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Context of 'January 27, 2003: CIA Headquarters Warned That Allegations Based on ‘Curveball’ Should Not Be Used in Bush’s Speech'

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The CIA’s Berlin station chief warns CIA headquarters that information on the alleged mobile biological units supplied by Iraqi defector “Curveball” should be used with extreme caution. The station chief explains that the German intelligence service does not consider Curveball a reliable source and that it has been unable to confirm the defector’s statements. “[T]o use information from another liaison service’s source whose information cannot be verified on such an important, key topic should take the most serious consideration,” the station chief writes. [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005; Washington Post, 5/21/2005] This information is forwarded by Tyler Drumheller to CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. But WINPAC analysts assure McLaughlin that the reporting is solid enough to be in Powell’s upcoming speech to the UN. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 182-183; Washington Post, 6/25/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 268-269]

Entity Tags: Tyler Drumheller, Central Intelligence Agency, ’Curveball’, Bundesnachrichtendienst, John E. McLaughlin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin.Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin. [Source: CIA]President Bush gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, making several false allegations about Iraq. [US President, 2/3/2003] An empty seat is left open to symbolize the lives lost during the 9/11 attacks. Author Craig Unger will later characterize Bush’s delivery as somber and effective. He will be interrupted some 70 times by thunderous applause from the assembled lawmakers in the House chambers. One of his biggest applause lines is his statement about the US’s war on “international terrorism:” “The war goes on, and we are winning.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 269-270]
African Uranium - He says: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities.… He clearly has much to hide.” [US President, 2/3/2003; White House, 4/18/2003; Independent, 6/5/2003] The British allegation cited by Bush concerns a SISMI (Italy’s military intelligence) report (see Mid-October 2001) based on a set of forged documents. Months after the speech, with evidence mounting that the statement was completely false, the administration will retract this claim (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003).
Aluminum Tubes - Bush alleges that a shipment of aluminum tubes imported by Iraq was intended to be used in the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program. “Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.” [US President, 2/3/2003]
Biological Agents - Bush lists a parade of agents: “anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola, and plague,” many of which Iraq has never been accused of possessing, and warns against “outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and builogical weapons… blackmail, terror, and mass murder.” He then moves from the general to the specific, accusing Iraq of having enough material “to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people… more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin—enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure… as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.” [US President, 2/3/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]
False Testimony from Iraqi Scientists - Bush alleges: “Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say.” [US President, 2/3/2003] But Hans Blix, the chief UNMOVIC weapons inspector, tells the New York Times in an interview that he knows of no evidence supporting this claim. [New York Times, 1/31/2003]
Defector Allegations - Bush, citing intelligence provided by “three Iraqi defectors,” says, “We know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile weapons labs… designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors.” One of the defectors referred to by Bush is ‘Curveball,’ whom the CIA station chief in Germany warned was not reliable the day before (see January 27, 2003). German intelligence officials watching Bush’s speech are “shocked.” One official later recalls: “Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven.… It was not hard intelligence.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Another source for the claim was Mohammad Harith, whom the Defense Intelligence Agency had labeled a “fabricator” the previous May (see May 2002).
Torture, Murder, and 9/11 - Bush accuses Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein of routinely torturing his own people, using such techniques as “electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape.” He then connects Hussein, the torturer, murderer, and terrorist supporter, to the 9/11 attacks, saying: “[I]magine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans—this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.” He invites “all free nations” to join him in ensuring no such attack ever happens, but notes that “the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.” After another long burst of applause, Bush continues, “Whatever action is required, whatever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]
'Direct Personal Threat' - Bush states what former ambassador Joseph Wilson later writes can only be interpreted by Hussein “as a direct personal threat,” saying: “Tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.” Wilson will later write: “Not simply promising the disarmament of Iraq as he had in his recent speeches, the president now stated outright his intention to rout Saddam from power, and to kill or capture him. It was an unwise thing to say. It made whatever strategy we adopted for Iraq that much more dangerous because it so blatantly telegraphed our next move and our ultimate goal.” [US President, 2/3/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 315]
Defending America - To America’s soldiers, he says: “Many of you are assembling in or near the Middle East, and some crucial hours lay ahead. In these hours, the success of our cause will depend on you. Your training has prepared you. Your honor will guide you. You believe in America, and America believes in you.” In 2007, Unger will write: “A few years earlier, Bush had confided that he thought to be a great president meant being a great commander in chief. Now George W. Bush was leading his nation into war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]

Entity Tags: Hans Blix, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, ’Curveball’, Saddam Hussein, Craig Unger, Mohammad Harith

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Tyler Drumheller, head of CIA spying in Europe, reviews a classified draft of the speech Secretary of State Colin Powell will be delivering to the UN Security Council on February 5. He is surprised to see the allegation that according to an unnamed “chemical engineer,” Iraq has mobile biological weapons factories. Drumheller recognizes the description of the source as that of Curveball, an Iraqi defector living in Germany who is suspected of being a fabricator. Only a few days before, CIA’s Berlin station chief warned CIA headquarters that Curveball’s statements could not be verified (see January 27, 2003). Drumheller takes his pen and crosses out the entire paragraph referring to Curveball, and then calls CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin who meets with him immediately. McLaughlin, concerned, admits that Curveball is the CIA’s “only tangible source” for the story. “This is the heart of the case,” he says to the surprise of Drumheller. [Risen, 2006; Washington Post, 6/25/2006] Drumheller recalls, “And John said, ‘Oh my, I hope not. You know this is all we have,’ and I said, ‘This can’t be all we have.’ I said, ‘There must be another, there must be something else.’ And he said, ‘No, this is really the only tangible thing we have.’” [ABC News, 3/13/2007] According to Drumheller, McLaughlin says he will take care of the issue. McLaughlin later says he does not recall the meeting, but the final report of the Silberman-Robb commission cites e-mails and interviews with other CIA officials who back Drumheller’s account. [Risen, 2006; Washington Post, 6/25/2006] Despite the warning, the claim remains in Powell’s speech (see February 5, 2003).

Entity Tags: Tyler Drumheller, John E. McLaughlin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Larry Wilkerson.Larry Wilkerson. [Source: CBS News]Secretary of State Colin Powell, preparing for his critically important presentation to the United Nations that will assert the reality of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (see February 5, 2003), sends his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, to the CIA to prepare for the presentation. CIA Director George Tenet and his experts regale Wilkerson with the information about mobile bioweapons labs provided by the Iraqi defector Curveball (see November 1999). In 2007, Wilkerson will recall, “They presented it in a very dynamic, dramatic, ‘we know this is accurate,’ way.” Curveball’s assertion that he is a firsthand witness is very important, Wilkerson will say. “This was a man who had actually been in the belly of the beast. He had been in the lab. He had been there when an accident occurred. He’d seen people killed. And the implication was, strong implication, that they weren’t killed because of the accident in the explosion, they were killed because they were contaminated. Yes, the source was very credible. As it was presented by the CIA.” Wilkerson later says that both he and Powell accept the claims because they depend on the intelligence community for good information: “And you depend on the director of central intelligence to assimilate all the intelligence community’s input and give it to you.” Wilkerson feels the section on mobile bioweapons is the strongest part of the presentation, as does Powell. Others at the CIA are not so convinced of Curveball’s truthfulness (see September 2002, January 27, 2003, and December 2002). [CBS News, 11/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, ’Curveball’, United Nations, George J. Tenet, Lawrence Wilkerson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

On February 1, Secretary of State Colin Powell begins rehearsing for his February 5 presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003). Powell is assisted by members of his staff, including his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see January 30-February 4, 2003). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9; Gentlemen's Quarterly, 4/29/2004]
Discredited Items Keep Reappearing - One item that keeps reoccurring is the discredited claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi officials in Prague (see September 14, 2001 and September 18, 2001). Cheney’s people keep attempting to insert it into the presentation. It takes Powell’s personal intervention to have the claim removed from the presentation. “He was trying to get rid of everything that didn’t have a credible intelligence community-based source,” Wilkerson will later recall. But even after Powell’s decision, Cheney loyalist Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, tries to have it reinserted. “They were just relentless,” Wilkerson will recall. “You would take it out and they would stick it back in. That was their favorite bureaucratic technique—ruthless relentlessness.” An official (probably Wilkerson) later adds: “We cut it and somehow it got back in. And the secretary said, ‘I thought I cut this?’ And Steve Hadley looked around and said, ‘My fault, Mr. Secretary, I put it back in.’ ‘Well, cut it, permanently!’ yelled Powell. It was all cartoon. The specious connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, much of which I subsequently found came probably from the INC and from their sources, defectors and so forth, [regarding the] training in Iraq for terrorists.… No question in my mind that some of the sources that we were using were probably Israeli intelligence. That was one thing that was rarely revealed to us—if it was a foreign source.” Powell becomes so angry at the machinations that he throws the dossier into the air and snaps: “This is bullsh_t. I’m not doing this.” But he continues working on the presentation. [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 278-279] The same official will add that every time Powell balks at using a particular item, he is “fought by the vice president’s office in the person of Scooter Libby, by the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice] herself, by her deputy [Stephen Hadley], and sometimes by the intelligence people—George [Tenet] and [Deputy CIA Director] John [McLaughlin].” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 370]
Mobile Bioweapons Claim Survives Editing Process - One of the allegations Powell rehearses is the claim that Iraq has developed mobile biological weapons laboratories, a claim based on sources that US intelligence knows are of questionable reliability (see Late January, 2003 and February 4, 2003). Referring to one of the sources, an Iraqi major, Powell later tells the Los Angeles Times, “What really made me not pleased was they had put out a burn [fabricator] notice on this guy, and people who were even present at my briefings knew it.” Nor does anyone inform Powell that another source, an Iraqi defector known as Curveball, is also a suspected fabricator (see January 27, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] In fact, the CIA issued an official “burn notice” formally retracting more than 100 intelligence reports based on Curveball’s information. [ABC News, 3/13/2007]
Powell 'Angry, Disappointed' in Poor Sourcing of Claim - In March 2007, Powell will claim he is “angry and disappointed” that he was never told the CIA had doubts about the reliability of the source. “I spent four days at CIA headquarters, and they told me they had this nailed.” But former CIA chief of European operations Tyler Drumheller will later claim in a book that he tried and failed to keep the Curveball information out of the Powell speech (see February 4-5, 2003). “People died because of this,” he will say. “All off this one little guy who all he wanted to do was stay in Germany.” Drumheller will say he personally redacted all references to Curveball material in an advance draft of the Powell speech. “We said, ‘This is from Curveball. Don’t use this.’” But Powell later says neither he nor his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, were ever told of any doubts about Curveball. “In fact, it was the exact opposite,” Wilkerson will assert. “Never from anyone did we even hear the word ‘Curveball,’ let alone any expression of doubt in what Secretary Powell was presenting with regard to the biological labs.” [ABC News, 3/13/2007]

Entity Tags: White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lawrence Wilkerson, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, Stephen J. Hadley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The case officer at the German intelligence agency BND who supervises the Iraqi defector “Curveball” (see September 2002 and January 27, 2003) is aghast at Secretary of State Colin Powell’s UN presentation (see February 5, 2003), particularly Powell’s reliance on data supplied by Curveball as if it were verified fact. “Mein Gott!” he will later exclaim. “We had always told them it was not proven.… It was not hard intelligence.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 287]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, ’Curveball’, Bundesnachrichtendienst

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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