Feb 182011

Apparently there is a face that has been finally attached to the source that Colin Powell mentioned in his war-promoting speech to the UN on February 5th, 2003. Powell described Curveball, the source, as “an eye-witness, an Iraqi engineer who supervised one of these facilities.” The facilities in reference are of course the notorious Iraqi biological agent production trucks, or the labs-on-wheels as they were dubbed. Needless to say, they were fictional and now we know the man who’s imagination produced them. Meet Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, or Curveball, the handle used by the German and US intelligence agencies.

At the UN, Colin Powell holds a model vial of ...

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Guardian had an article Curveball’s confession: another dent in the Iraq conspiracy theory. A dent it certainly is. The confessions of al-Janabi certainly undermines the theory that evidence and reasons to invade Iraq were made up, that the war itself served to profit a few powerful elite.

A very interesting side-effect to all this is the heat CIA is getting. Apparently, the then-head of the European office of CIA, Tyler Drumheller, and the then-current CIA director, George J. Tenet, have contradictory memoirs. Drumheller insists that “we didn’t know if it was true. We knew there were real problems with it and there were inconsistencies.” According an article by the Guardian, Drumheller claims to have “warned the head of the US intelligence agency before the 2003 invasion of Iraq that Curveball might be a liar”.

Tenet, on the other hand, denies any warning or a hint of it whatsoever. On his website, Tenet reproduces a piece of his memoir where he wrote:

Drumheller had dozens of opportunities before and after the Powell speech to raise the alarm with me, yet he failed to do so. A search of my calendar between February 5, 2003, the date of the Powell speech, and July 11, 2004, the date of my stepping down as DCI, shows that Drumheller was in my office twenty-two times. And yet he seems never to have thought that it might be worth telling the boss that he had reason to believe a central pillar in the case against Saddam might have been a mirage.

It’s really hard to say who’s who in this mess. It seems that it’s fair to say that very important people dropped the ball. To me the most shocking piece of information in this story is not that they believed curveball or that they didn’t double-check his claims or the lack of any of the standard operating procedures you’d expect intelligent services to have in place. None of that is too shocking, as grave as they all are. The shocking fact is that they didn’t even have a second source or any other independent intelligence on an equal footing as what curveball provided them. For the largest economies of the world to go to war one would expect a bit more reason than the stories of a single, odd, defector-in-exile as primary evidence and reason.

The body-counts and estimates of casualties in Iraq seem to converge on a minimum of 100,000 deaths. This says nothing of the wounded which is almost certainly in the millions, although no good data exists. In addition, millions of citizens became refugees and homeless. 100s of Billions were spent by the coalition forces and the number is still in the rise as expenses for the war casualties are paid out, compensations given and law-suites settled. And all this doesn’t say a word about the destroyed and damaged infrastructure in Iraq and the lasting psychological consequences on the affected.

Perhaps it’s all worth it, considering the biggest gain: getting rid of a brutal dictator. That’s at least the Machiavellian interpretations of things. Perhaps. But if that’s all we care about, then I guess Curveball is irrelevant and Powell needn’t such intelligence to make a case for war. It should’ve been sufficient to make the purpose getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Since this wasn’t the case, I’m bound to believe that Machiavellian reasoning is not good enough to wage war and one needs to demonstrate that these horrendous costs do indeed justify the ends.

If Drumheller is to be believed, he hit the nail right on the head:

The week before the speech, I talked to the Deputy McLaughlin, and someone says to him, ‘Tyler’s worried that Curveball might be a fabricator.’ And McLaughlin said, ‘Oh, I hope not, because this is really all we have.’ And I said, and I’ve got to be honest with you, I said: ‘You’ve got to be kidding? This is all we have!’

But seriously, is curveball all they had?!

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