Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Curveball

The last post, Iran 2 laid out the "indirect warfare" scenario against the Mullahs in Teheran in the light of Richard Perle's "lessons learned from Iraq". Mr. Perle expressed great disappointment in the quality of intelligence which guided US policy makers during OIF. "The third lesson is, by now, generally accepted: our intelligence is sometimes, dangerously inadequate." Just how inadequate was made clear by former DCI George Tenet's statement about a poisoned intelligence source codenamed Curveball, whose reports colored many of the perceptions about Saddam's arsenal. Before going to Tenet's statement, here's a background on the Curveball affair from CNN.

The CIA and members of Congress said they want to know how ... doubts were handled regarding a leading source on Saddam Hussein's alleged mobile biological weapons labs -- an Iraqi scientist who defected to Germany, codenamed "Curveball." ... Curveball was working with German intelligence, and U.S. intelligence had limited access to him. The report said Curveball met once with a defense official and seemed to have a hangover. The report said CIA officials contended that they tried to raise warnings about Curveball. One unnamed CIA division chief claims to have called Tenet at midnight the night before former Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his address to the United Nations, which provided the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq. The division chief recalled telling Tenet that foreign intelligence officials were concerned about Curveball's credibility.

But Tenet said he had heard nothing of it. In his statement, he expressed surprise and shock that he had never heard questions raised about the "Curveball" intelligence source before a Presidential Commission unearthed them. (Hat tip: MIG) Tenet said he had never been aware that Curveball's foreign agent handlers had described him as "crazy".

"The representative of the foreign service, it is now reported, responded to CIA’s division chief responsible for relations with the foreign service with words to the effect of “You do not want to see him (Curveball) because he’s crazy. Speaking to him would be “a waste of time.” The representative reportedly went on to say that his service was not sure whether Curveball was telling the truth; that he had serious doubts about Curveball’s mental stability and reliability; and that Curveball had had a nervous breakdown. Further the representative of the foreign service is said to have worried that Curveball was “a fabricator”. The representative reportedly cautioned the CIA division chief that the foreign service would publicly and officially deny these views if pressed, because they did not wish to be embarrassed. It is both stunning and deeply disturbing that this information, if true, was never brought forward to me by anyone in the course of the following events.

1. The coordination and publication of a classified National Intelligence Estimate
2. The declassification and publication of the NIE’s key judgments and findings
3. The production and publication of an unclassified White Paper on Iraq’s WMD capabilities
4. The preparation of testimonies both closed an open before the Senate Intelligence, Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees
5. The briefings provided to members of Congress in which Curveball’s information regarding Iraq’s mobile BW production capability was cited
6. The preparation of Secretary Powell’s speech to the United Nations
7. The White Paper CIA and DIA issued in May of 2003 regarding the trailer found in Iraq
8 CIA’s internal inquiry into Iraq WMD directed by the Deputy Director of Intelligence
9 My speech at Georgetown University in February of 2004 and subsequent appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session on March 4, 2004" (page 1 of Mr. Tenet's statement)

If Tenet's remarks reflect the truth, subordinate intelligence officers in the CIA and German intelligence sat back and watched the US Secretary of State and the DCI make jackasses of themselves time and again. Tenet's description of how he awaited "clearance" from the Germans before greenlighting Secretary Powell's speech is almost pitiful.

The responsible foreign government – the same government which allegedly said four months earlier that Curveball might be a fabricator -- formally cleared our use of the Curveball information. ... before Secretary Powell’s speech. From approximately 11pm until 2am, I was at my command post in my hotel in New York with a senior analyst from the DCI’s Counterterrorist Center reviewing the final text of Secretary Powell’s speech regarding Iraq and terrorism. We initiated numerous phone calls to CIA’s Operations Center in Langley Virginia seeking to contact Mr. Larry Wilkerson, Secretary Powell’s Chief of Staff, who was staying at another hotel in New York. We were seeking to get a final version of the terrorism section for final review.

I initiated a call to the CIA division chief in question in the late afternoon or early evening and well before Secretary Powell adjourned for the evening (around 8 pm) asking the division chief to have the senior representative of that foreign service in Washington call me immediately to provide the required clearance. The representative returned my call promptly with the necessary clearance. (pp 3-4 of Tenet's statement)

Command post at a hotel. Waiting for clearance to use a source that had never been directly seen. And nobody told me. Leaving aside the possibility that Mr. Tenet was set up by an allied intelligence service, nothing illustrates the poverty of the CIA's human intel than this reliance on a German controlled source to which the CIA did not have direct access yet used for one of its most critical assessments. The cupboard was bare. Given that level of failure, a certain amount of "indirect" confrontation with Iran is probably necessary to fill out an intelligence picture that is probably full of blanks before attempting anything further.

He who knows the enemy, knows self will never be at risk;
Does not know the enemy, knows self will win some and lose some;
Knows neither the enemy nor self will always be at risk.
-- Sun Tzu