A July 13 article about an Iraqi defector who said Iraq had mobile facilities for making biological weapons said the man was questioned by an employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The employee, who at the time was detailed to the CIA, worked for the Defense Department but not for the Defense Intelligence Agency. (Published 7/16/04)
A Defense Intelligence Agency official warned the CIA about the questionable reliability of an Iraqi defector who was the chief source of allegations that Saddam Hussein had mobile facilities for making biological weapons, but his information was included in the official prewar intelligence estimate anyway, according to the report released last week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
The defector, who was initially debriefed by the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in 2000, was described in early U.S. intelligence reports as a project engineer involved in designing and helping construct biological facilities in Iraq. Before the war, the Bush administration cited the allegation that Iraq possessed the mobile weapons facilities as a vivid reflection of the threat posed by Hussein. No evidence that the labs existed has been found since the invasion.
The Iraqi defector was listed as a "credible source" for the information on Iraq's bioweapons fleet in the CIA's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, even though only one U.S. intelligence analyst had ever interviewed him.
That interview took place in May 2000, when a DIA employee met with the man -- later given the code name "Curve Ball" -- to arrange for his helping the United States, according to the Senate report.
At that morning meeting, the defector was "having a terrible hangover," which raised questions about his reliability, according to the Senate report, which detailed deep flaws and exaggerations in the CIA's prewar intelligence reporting on Iraq.
In late 2002, the report said, the DIA official pressed a Western European intelligence agency -- identified by officials as the German BND -- for direct access again to the defector, but was told by his European counterparts that they now had misgivings about him. The DIA official was told that an interview "was not possible" because the Germans "were having major handling issues with him and were attempting to determine if, in fact, Curve Ball was who he said he was." German officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said recently that they are still reviewing the defector's credentials.
The DIA employee conveyed his skepticism of the defector's information and the German government's misgivings before the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the Senate report said. But his assessment did not seem to have much impact. A Defense HUMINT (human intelligence) Service officer who was responsible for collecting and reporting information from the Germans on the defector's statements "did not recall" a separate evaluation by DIA analysts that said Curve Ball's reports suffered from inconsistencies, the Senate report said.
U.S. intelligence officials finally interviewed the defector in recent months and "are continuing to question his reliability, although he has been convincing that he did have access to different levels" of Iraq's biological weapons program, a senior administration official said yesterday.
One analyst pointed out to the committee staff that translations of what the Iraqi told his German interrogators may have "led to some misunderstandings." The defector spoke English and Arabic, which was translated into German and then back into English.
The DIA employee who had interviewed the defector in 2000 expressed frustration that his concerns were not taken more seriously, the Senate report indicates.
Just days before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's Feb. 5, 2003, address to the U.N. Security Council, the DIA employee saw a draft of Powell's speech, which, as delivered, cited "firsthand descriptions" of a mobile bioweapons fleet from an Iraqi engineer who had defected.
The DIA employee, who was assigned to CIA headquarters, told his CIA superior that he questioned the "validity of the information" and that it warranted "further inquiry before we use the information as the backbone of one of our major findings for the existence of a continuing Iraqi BW [bioweapons] program!"
He also e-mailed the deputy chief of the CIA's Iraq task force. Both officials said they were already aware of his concerns, the Senate report said.
The deputy chief e-mailed him back: "Let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn't say, and that the Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curve Ball knows what he's talking about. However, in the interest of Truth, we owe somebody a sentence or two of warning, if you honestly have reservations."
The deputy chief later told the Senate committee staff that the DIA employee was a personal friend and that "what I was probably trying to do was to calm him down a bit. . . . The war is not going to hinge on what [he] thinks about Curve Ball."