Just when you thought the WMD debacle couldn’t get worse, here comes veteran Los Angeles Times national-security correspondent Drogin’s look at just who got the stories going in the first place.
“Clandestine operatives are trained to spread falsehoods as part of their tradecraft,” Drogin admits at the outset. The falsehoods that came from an asylum seeker in Germany may have been deliberate, schooled and carefully scripted. More likely they were the inventions of an alcoholic desperate to be believed long enough not to be deported to a land still run by Saddam Hussein. “Curveball” was recruited out of Baghdad University in 1994 to keep tabs on Hussein’s chemical-weapons program; by 1996, the CIA’s files were full of notes averring that he was developing mobile germ-weaponry labs and other biochemical nasties. Curveball fled Iraq for Germany in 1999, seeking asylum. He apparently passed the tough scrutiny of the German spies, though British intelligence warned that he was untrustworthy. Meanwhile, other informers on the weapons program were feeding back information that had come from American intelligence, eager to supply what they imagined their American handlers wanted. Said weapons inspector Scott Ritter, “most of it just regurgitated what we’d given them. It was crap. Total crap.” So it was, as Drogin demonstrates. Even though some within American intelligence eventually came to doubt Curveball, the higher-ups had too much invested in him—“the CIA analysts seemed so cocksure about the Iraqi, a defector they had never met, that the president was citing him.” The president also used Curveball’s reports to take the country to war, depending on a single source that had never been vetted or substantiated. Curveball, Drogin suggests, may in the end be blameless; he told pleasing stories that comforted the president, while George Tenet and his CIA colleagues “held on to the lies” long after they were shown to be worthless.
Simultaneously sobering and infuriating—essential reading for those who follow the headlines.