Iraq Inside Baseball

Posted February 16th, 2011 at 3:34 pm (UTC+0)
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At the CIA, they have the best little gift shop at which you cannot shop. It sells all kinds of trinkets with the agency logo like pens, t-shirts, glassware. (I love the sign that says that “if you are in covert status do not use a credit card” – although why anybody who was in secret mode would want to use a traceable credit card to buy a sweatshirt emblazoned a logo and the words “CIA” on it is a bit puzzling.) Sorry, mail or online orders not accepted.
So, sitting on my desk is a baseball, procured during a recent visit there for an interview, with the logo and words “CIA” on it. You could even use it to throw that good screwy, winding baseball pitch known as a curveball. But that particular pitch has a sour connotation in the offices and cubicles of the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA.
The reason for that is simple: An agency source codenamed “Curveball” has now publicly recanted the information he gave to the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the German intelligence service, the BND, about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“Curveball” – an Iraqi defector named Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janab – has admitted to the British newspaper, the Guardian, that he fabricated claims that Iraq had mobile biological weapons labs and clandestine factories. His recantation comes just after the eighth anniversary of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations essentially making the case for the subsequent invasion of Iraq. The speech relied heavily on Curveball’s claims. Curveball now says he had to fabricate something to topple the Saddam Hussein regime.
Not everybody bought into Curveball’s claims at the time. Chief among them was Tyler Drumheller, the then-chief of CIA European operations. In that job he was liaison to the BND, and he heard firsthand that German intelligence was dubious about Curveball’s claims, and Drumheller tried to pass on those doubts up the line.
“What we were saying was, before you use this, before you consider this, it needs to be thoroughly vetted and we need to answer a lot of questions,” he told me after Curveball’s recantation became public.
Even so, Curveball’s claims were used and made it into Secretary Powell’s pivotal speech, despite warnings Drumheller says he gave CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. McLaughlin has said he recalls no such warning.
Drumheller says he does feel somewhat vindicated by Curveball’s admission. He calls the whole Curveball episode “sad” in light of the bloody war that ensused.
“You have to have certain standards for intelligence reporting and you have to maintain those standards,” he says. “But policymakers can’t pick and choose what they use because they happen to hear something that fits what their preconception is on an issue. And that’s always dangerous because that’s what happened in this case.”
The process Drumheller describes is called “cherry picking” and Bush administration officials have repeatedly denied using it in planning for the war in Iraq.
In baseball, the whole purpose of a curveball is to fool the batter into taking a swing and missing. Could that be what happened with Iraq intelligence gathering and analysis?

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About this blog

Gary Thomas

Gary Thomas is VOA senior correspondent and news analyst. He has spent more than 30 years covering a wide range of stories on political developments, war, and civil unrest. From 1990 to 1994 he was VOA’s bureau chief in Islamabad, and has made numerous trips back to the region since then. He was also Southeast Asia bureau chief in Bangkok from 1996-2001. He is now based in Washington, providing background and analysis on issues of intelligence, security, and terrorism for VOA’s worldwide audience.


February 2011
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