The Truth About 'Curveball' and Bush's Case for War

11-22-05, 9:23 am

The Bush administration's case for war continues to fall apart. It has taken far too long and at such a great expense in lives and resources, but more revelations in the Los Angeles Times show that the administration manipulated intelligence in order to strong arm Congress and confuse the public into supporting its war.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that some information used to support the cause for war was nothing more than 'watercooler gossip.'

According to this account, an Iraqi engineer who left Iraq and sought asylum in Germany, code named 'Curveball,' never was connected to any WMD production in Iraq. Apparently, in order to gain legal residency in Germany, Curveball had told German intelligence agents that Saddam had developed mobile laboratories for manufacturing WMD.

In his widely watched testimony to the UN Security Council in February 2003, former Secretary of State Colin Powell used artist rendered images of these 'mobile laboratories' to gain support for war and to stave off strong opposition. President Bush also used Curveball's information in many of his public speeches in the run up to the war.

What Bush (or Colin Powell) did not tell the American people was that the German intelligence service had discredited this information. In fact, they alerted the CIA that they couldn't prove what Curveball had said.

Turns out, Curveball was never actually involved in making mobile laboratories, he never saw them, and never helped make WMD. His information, furthermore, was vague and could never be confirmed – unless one is willing to accept the work of the UN weapons inspectors who never found such a thing as negative confirmation.

No such mobile laboratories were found in Iraq by US military weapons hunters either.

Even more damaging was the discovery of Curveball's personnel file in Iraqi government offices. Curveball was a nobody whose beef with the Iraqi government probably stemmed from his dismissal from his job and subsequent arrest on sex crime charges. In fact, German intelligence agents told the Los Angeles Times that they had informed the CIA that Curveball was 'not a … psychologically stable guy.'

By now most thinking Americans understand that the claims Bush made in his 2003 State of the Union address about Iraq’s attempt to purchase nuclear materials from Niger were false. We also know that at the time the claim was made, the Bush administration probably knew that this particular information lacked credibility and should not have been used to make a case for war with Iraq.

The explosive CIA leak scandal that has reached into the White House and may put more top administration advisers and policy makers into legal jeopardy has also had the side-effect of publicizing the fact that the administration leaked classified information about a CIA operative in order to smear a critic of the war.

That critic, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, revealed that information about the Niger deal with Iraq was wrong. Subsequent revelations in early March 2003 (before the war!) showed that in fact the documents used by the administration to prove that Saddam had tried to buy nuclear materials from Niger had been forged.

Still the administration silenced its critics and pressed on with its war plans.

By May of 2005 just days before the British elections, the London Times published what came to be known as the Downing Street Memo which showed that top British government officials in the spring of 2002 (well before Bush made a public case for war to the American people) felt that the administration was intent on war and planned to use fixed intelligence to support its goal. (Read these memos at )

Subsequently, a handful of additional leaked memos and reports by British advisers indicated that the Bush administration was formulating a far-reaching public relations campaign despite faulty intelligence to convince the public and Congress to support its war aims.

During the war itself, the intelligence community leaked snippets of information to the US media that much of its advice to the administration had been ignored or de-emphasized in order to advance scenarios that supported the war agenda. Some insiders called this 'stove-piping,' or making sure that only information that supported the war was used.

Other serious problems with the administration's case for war included bad information provided by Iraqi defectors (access to whom earned Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi defector with strong ties to the administration, about $39 million taxpayer dollars). Much of the information provided by Chalabi’s defectors was known to be wrong, inaccurate, or simply made up at the time.

One prisoner, an Al-Qaeda trainer captured in Afghanistan named Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, told intelligence operatives that Saddam had trained Al-Qaeda members to make bombs. The Pentagon’s own intelligence agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, had discredited this person as 'intentionally misleading the debriefers' in order to gain favors in February 2002.

Again, Bush used this discredited information a full year later in a speech to build support for war.

The administration also pointed to what they believed was an attempt by Saddam to purchase aluminum tubes for nuclear weapons production. The claim got wide publicity and was even featured in a major New York Times story written by now retired reporter Judith Miller.

Neither the administration nor the Times addressed the much more reasonable explanation offered by experts at the time the story broke that the tubes were for civilian uses. Again, the administration insisted all of this proved Saddam was trying to build nuclear weapons. No such program was ever confirmed by UN weapons inspectors or unearthed by US military WMD hunters after the war began.

These revelations have led the majority of Americans, according to recent public opinion surveys, to believe that the administration deliberately lied or manipulated information to mislead the public and Congress into supporting war.

Bush's approval rating has fallen to the low 30s, and growing distrust of the Republicans has more Americans believing the Democrats might be able to better handle foreign policy issues. At least one survey shows that a majority of Americans favor impeachment for Bush if it is shown that he did indeed mislead us into war.

As expected the Republicans in Congress have blocked or stalled all efforts to investigate the use of pre-war intelligence. The administration has even accused members of Congress and the majority of the American people who want an investigation as aiding 'the enemy.'

For his part, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explained away the administration’s misuse of intelligence known to lack credibility as the fault of the intelligence community itself. He told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday that every bit of intelligence has opposing interpretations, but he wouldn’t admit that it was a bad idea to endanger the lives of US troops and Iraqi civilians by starting a war based on intelligence that he knew to have been discredited.

The faulty case for war and the administration’s subsequent failure to bring the occupation to a speedy end has ruined the potential for US leadership in a global campaign against terrorism. It has discredited the Bush administration and has heightened global mistrust of the US no matter how shrill and nasty the rhetoric from the Vice President gets.

It has strengthened the hand of the extremists who have increased their followings and with it global violence. Multilateral efforts have been fractured. Close to 2,100 US soldiers have died and more than 15,000 have been wounded. Dozens of Iraqis are being killed and injured daily in the violence. The cause of peace and democracy has been setback decades because of the administration’s misleadership and manipulations.

Staying in Iraq is not a solution to the problems created by the administration’s lies. As writer Rahul Mahajan recently pointed out on his blog , 'the United States has proved itself incapable of playing even a marginally positive role in anything to do with Iraq.'

If terrorist attacks, political fragmentation, and regional instability are what the Bush administration fears upon withdrawal, how do they describe what is happening there now?

A complete reversal of the administration’s agenda and endless war is the first step toward rebuilding a viable foreign policy that aims at ending terrorism and stabilizing the Middle East.

--Joel Wendland can be reached at