Curveball: I Lied to Get Rid of Saddam

Almost eight years after he helped start a war, the Iraqi behind the US claim that Iraq had mobile weapons labs admitted in an interview with the Guardian that he lied. (h/t Hissypit)

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

The article as a whole provides fascinating details of how the German intelligence, BND, service basically fed Curveball the details he’d need to fabricate his lies.

But I’m particularly interested in two new details he reveals. First, BND and British intelligence met with Curveball’s boss in mid-2000; the boss debunked Curveball’s claims.

Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the BND travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.

The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif’s son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.

That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi’s claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.

The German officials returned to confront him with Latif’s version. “He says, ‘There are no trucks,’ and I say, ‘OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],'” Janabi recalled.

So this is yet another well-placed Iraqi who warned western intelligence that the WMD evidence that would eventually lead to war was baseless (one George Tenet and others haven’t admitted in the past).

And Curveball describes how BND returned to his claims in 2002, then dropped it, then returned to it just before Colin Powell’s Feruary 5, 2003 speech at the UN.

We’ve known the outlines of these details before. But it sure adds to the picture of the US dialing up the intelligence it needed — however flimsy — to start a war.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. PeasantParty says:

    So all those calls from Bush and Cheney to Blair were just as suspected. British Intelligence helped get the story too. No wonder Blair keeps lying. He is afraid he will be disappeared!

  2. radiofreewill says:

    It’s almost beginning to look like a cabal of the Bush Diaspora – US, GB, and GDR – got together and decided to make a power-play for Oil in the Middle East.

    From their point of view, world hegemony depended on controlling the limited sources of petroleum. Rising economies like India and China could triple demand within a few years. Therefore, he whose hand was on the Oil throttle, would be the de-facto King of the Industrializing World.

    So, if the cabal’s cold-blooded assessment of global energy realities determined that controlling the second-largest known Oil reserves – Iraq – was essential to ensuring the continued hegemony of Western Civilization, then a guy like “Curveball” – ‘I lied to get rid of Saddam’ – would likely be very useful…

  3. BoxTurtle says:

    I still think we got punk’d by an Iranian intelligence operation.

    Boxturtle (But if not curveball, we’d CLEARLY have found some other reason)

    • Margaret says:

      But he’s “looking forward, not back”™, to “win the future”™ and besides, the MIC is “too bog to fail”™, and any real investigation would shake them to their foundations. So it’s time to “not let the perfect be the enemy of the good”™, realize that it’s “the art of the compromise”™ go get drug tested and realize that “we (Democrats) suck less”™ and “bein’ prezznit’s hard werk”™. Wait… wasn’t that last one from Bush? I get them so confused these days.

    • NMvoiceofreason says:

      Great post EW – but it was worse than that.
      The lie factory
      They set up an “Office of Special Plans” – the special plan was about how to go to Iraq. The filtered intelligence to the president, substituting “Feith” intelligence of dubious credibility and stripping it of its indicia of reliability. It was the beginning of a systematic campaign to politicize the government, and destroy the independence of intelligence gathering and analysis.
      GAO investigation
      Wikipedia version

      So as you can see, BillyP, the investigation has already been done. What we need now are indictments.

  4. perris says:

    So this is yet another well-placed Iraqi who warned western intelligence that the WMD evidence that would eventually lead to war was baseless (one George Tenet and others haven’t admitted in the past).

    the important point of this is that we knew it was baseless

    you know this is sort of revisionist, it gives them almost a pass;

    “well, we were informed there were wmd and couldn’t take a chance there was not”

    when instead it was they who insisted there was wmd and made certain they would have some justification even though they were making it up

  5. msiddique says:

    What is most disappointing is that a country & people that boasts of being based on law refuse to submit to an international war crimes court for prosecution those who are clearly responsible for 40,000 dead and over 30,000 injured Americans, over 100,000 dead and innumerable injured Iraqis in an illegal war. It is even more discouraging that Americans vote for Bush the Lesser and enabled him and his neo-fascist thug cronies to commit these atrocities. There is a reason why the rest of the world considers Americans to be a nation of hypocrites: it has a long history of directly committing heinous crimes against other nations or supporting dictators who do America’s dirt jobs against their own people in exchange for the might dollar.

    • NMvoiceofreason says:

      again, msiddique, it is worse than that. The Bush administration withdrew from the International Criminal Court treaty, to prevent the Senate from ratifying it. They have denied international warrants for CIA agents involved in extraordinary rendition (snatch n’ grab) – which is a war crime. They have also obstructed justice, interfering with the Spanish torture investigation – and yes, it is still ongoing.

  6. tanbark says:

    I like the Brit Intel agency’s way of putting it:

    “The facts are being fixed around the policy.”

    I think that was it, in a nutshell.

    And, a few hundred thousand dead human beings, and nearly a trillion dollars, later, presto! Here we are mired in one, giant, shitmire in Iraq.

    Hell, Rumsfelt could have saved lots of space in his new book, and just had, on one page’ in capital letters:

    “Fuck you, world! We pulled it off!”

  7. blueskybigstar says:

    If he lied about the reasons to go to war, then why is he not in jail and why would he be given asylum unless the Bush Administra­tion was in on it?

        • eCAHNomics says:

          I suppose in a way they do work at it.

          They have a conclusion, and a policy, and nothing will get in the way of ‘executing’ it. Since U.S. foreign policy is almost always wrong-headed (and now you can add domestic policy to the list), they have to ‘work at it’ to find shreds of evidence to support what they want to do anyway.

          On edit: Which is why I, without people to talk to pre-Iraq invasion, was able to figure it out. Every shred of ‘evidence’ (aka propaganda) fell apart the minute you touched it, including Curveball.

          • Margaret says:

            Exactly. This is the kind of thing when one starts with a desired result and then tries to fix a policy around it, coupled with an arrogance that means they don’t even try to come up with a believable fiction. Throw in a gullible or apathetic populace and viola! You get something that’s bound to fail at some point.

            • BillyP says:

              Having near total control of the media is a big help in making the fiction believable. Having the ability to discredit (or worse) those who challenge the fiction keeps the fiction perpetuated.

              • Margaret says:

                Having near total control of the media is a big help in making the fiction believable.

                Only for the gullible and apathetic. I, for one saw through this bullshit when Powell made his big UN speech. I’m not special or brighter than anybody else. I dropped out of school in the tenth grade. If I could see through it so easily, that makes me believe that the only people who were “fooled” were people who wanted to be fooled. (Judith Miller for example)

                • eCAHNomics says:

                  Did you see my comment yesterday about where I was was when I watched Powell’s speech?

                  I’ll repeat it & try to shorten it. I was at a job interview at a hedge fund in Stamford, CT. Arrived from the train station in the middle of it, so we finished watching it together. Came in around the Curveball part, with the slide of the sat-pics of 4 rectangles which he claimed were the mobile labs. I was rolling my eyes & the hedge fund guys were ooohhing & aaahhing about all the evidence.

                  I couldn’t believe their gullibility.

                  Didn’t go to work for them. Of course, didn’t get an offer either.

                  • Margaret says:

                    I saw that comment and replied to it. I also watched it with some co-workers and then got unanimously ridiculed for saying “bullshit” to the television.

                    • eCAHNomics says:

                      I’m sorry. I don’t remember seeing your response. I think it was pretty late in the thread & I may have moved upstairs.

                      Colin Powell is someone like Donald Trump. No matter how many & how egregious their failures, they & their reputation always gets salvaged.

                      Wish I knew how they do it.

                    • eCAHNomics says:

                      No, that wouldn’t have helped either.

                      We had a genuine sit down interview after Powell was done. What they expected from me was completely unrealistic (figure out some macroeconomic trends in advance that could be translated into sure shots in the stock market). I was much too old to even try to play that game. Esp since they thought all their micro pics were flawless, i.e. without actually knowing their record, it was pretty clear they would excuse all their mistakes but be intolerant of any I might make.

                    • PeasantParty says:

                      oops! Sorry to step on your turf. I thought you had left the thread for good.

                      Glad you came back to clear that up. Anyway, war is a racket not just for those owners of the MIC, but the investors as well.

                    • BillyP says:

                      Sounds like there was some bias at play. Did you detect any?

                      Best job bias story I heard was from a female chemist who interviewed for a position in San Diego. The hiring manager liked her, but the chemists from the ME were not keen about working with a woman. While at dinner with the group, her handbag mysteriously disappeared. Needless to say, she didn’t accept the offer.

                    • eCAHNomics says:

                      I don’t think gender bias played much of a role. It’s always there in a subtle & subconscious way, and hedge funds are overwhelmingly guys. But my view at the time was no deeper than the one I already stated: disproportionate expectations.

                      There were other considerations for me. I didn’t want to commute & the resources (i.e., assistant, computerized economics data banks) that they were willing to pay for were too small.

                      It was really a no-go from the start on both sides. The interview happened only bc my friend there thought highly of me.

                    • BillyP says:

                      Job interviews are always exciting experiences. Consider yourself lucky you survived without having your handbag snatched.

                    • eCAHNomics says:

                      I did learn from them about a new type of smaller more efficient jet plane with a longer flight capacity. It was supposed to change the airline hub & spoke model, favorably for passengers, in the sense that there would be more direct flights on less traveled routes. I’m not sure it has actually worked out that way, but it was interesting to hear about it.

                • BillyP says:

                  Only for the gullible and apathetic

                  Unfortunately, that accounts for a substantial demographic. There are many who prefer not to be confused by facts. If it’s not explained to them on Fox News, it didn’t happen.

                  • thirdpartyplease says:

                    I think i remember hearing or reading somewhere that the reason the theocrats in old europe didnt like “liberalism” is literally because they thought free thought would destroy the country. This still permeates the right wing a great deal and sadly is becoming more and more the norm in this country. Some people literally like to be told what to think so i guess they dont have to worry when things happen.

                  • earlofhuntingdon says:

                    And the “slitting” didn’t do much damage; as is true of most slit wrists, s/he failed to slice deeply enough. The rate of blood loss was inadequate to kill him. The risk of that is well known in medical circles, and would have been known to someone with his academic background. That would also have been true for anyone experienced enough to have acquired a “OO” designation at work, which means whoever did it was pretty cocky or was rushed into doing poor work.

                    • earlofhuntingdon says:

                      On the tellie in the States, Spooks is called MI-5. Hollywood must think Yanks might think spooks are ghosts, goblins or people of color [sic], whereas most have seen a James Bond film and at least know that MI-6 is somehow related to spies, so MI-5 must mean something spy-ee too.

                      The show suffers from the dramatic need to keep the number of characters to a minimum and to keep ’em barely young enough to vote. Analysts abound in real life, I imagine, but on the tellie, the characters’ reluctance to commit ruthless acts strains credulity. As Bond told Vesper when she asked about how he could be so cold, have no reaction to what he does, “I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I did, now would I?”

                      As you know, MI-5, military intelligence, section five’s responsibilities include domestic counter-spy work, something it was inconsistently good at when Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt were at work. It’s budget has grown since the days when Harry Palmer “worked” for it. MI-6, the secret intelligence service, has responsibilities that include foreign intelligence gathering. It only launches speed boats from its Thames side offices in order to help Cubby Broccoli’s old franchise.

                    • earlofhuntingdon says:

                      For moody spy thrillers, I prefer Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, then Smiley’s People. The pace is slower, bureaucracy heavy and convoluted, closer to John le Carree’s experience; the threat of violence is pervasive but unseen, making it scarier. The film cutting is much less fast-paced than today and the technology is all in Smiley’s head, not in his computer, his wrist watch or his weapon. Substitute modern bad guys and there you have it.

                      MI-5, though, is more up-to-date and trendy; it gives the viewer a decent flavor of ruthless bureaucratic competition and a range of potential threats to decent society, which can sometimes include one’s own government. The scariest thing, though it may be somewhat exaggerated, is the extent to which thousands of CCTV cameras can be harnessed to keep someone in view for so long and in such minute detail.

                    • john in sacramento says:

                      Somehow I’ve missed it on American tv, and only recently found it as Spooks online

                      One impression that’s stood out for me, is they seem to have Americanized it with all the guns, I don’t know if that many people over there have access to guns (good guys and bad guys) but it makes it seem as though everyone has one. And I’ve only seen the first few seasons … er, series ;-) … yet where Harry, Tom, and later, to a lesser extent Adam, have a reticence in abusing people’s rights

                      And as I’m sure you know, the funny thing about the CCTV cameras is, they don’t stop, and rarely solve crimes

                    • earlofhuntingdon says:

                      CCTV’s, like copying all internet and telecoms traffic, generate too much data to be useful. If you have an identified target, or want to evaluate a scene after a crime, it’s another matter. Several years ago, it was estimated that a London tourist would be caught on camera roughly 3,000 times in a two-week period. I imagine that number is higher today.

                      Guns are much more prevalent in the UK now than formerly, even though about ten years ago civilians were banned from using pistols. Shotguns can be licensed by the great or good, especially up north or out west; rifles are harder to get a license for, unless you live on the moors or highlands.

                      Gone are the days when constables were armed only with their uniform, a radio, and a sense of humor. Police “armed response units” seem to be drawn to many more crimes than before. I imagine the intelligence services have always had access to them. Professional criminals and hardened terrorists never seem to lack for weapons either.

      • thirdpartyplease says:

        Because the cabal that runs america knows that the populace is too lazy and stupid to care. Theyve been openly committing crimes for the past 5 years. Meaning they dont even try to hide things anymore. And the people do absolutely nothing. Actually they keep reelecting them and keeping them in power. So why would they try to “suicide” him.

        • eCAHNomics says:

          OTOH, why take chances?

          I’m thinking of W’s recent canceled trip to Switzerland. There are always some nasty gnats around, and USG is so lawless, I am always surprised when they don’t just kill them.

          • thirdpartyplease says:

            Maybe they are just incompotent. Youre actually reasoning through this. Which its blatantly obvious the american government and many local governments dont do at all. Theyre too deep in ideology and having their heads stuck each others buttocks to actually think about things.

    • tanbark says:

      The LA TIMES has, almost certainly, done the best job of keeping track of all the bloody-handed bullshit about Iraq, of any major newspaper.

      As contrasted with the koolaid pimping by the NY Times and the WAPO.

      • TEHelms says:

        Hmm..maybe it had to do with the distance between LA and the hub of deceit, Washington? I’m no “beltway” hater but there is something to be said for looking at a mess from a distance and calling it a mess. Yes, the LA Times did a great job and was dismissed as being from the left coast, was it not?

  8. maadcet says:

    According to the former Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neal’s book, the decision was made for a regime change in Iraq (Cheney’s Energy Task force, maps of Oil Field…..blah blah…..). The next step was implementation. Curve Ball, Judith Miller, Friedman (domino effect in the Middle East on democracy, one of my favorite), Washington Post, NYTimes, and Don’t forget FAUX NEWS… were just components of the execution. After 8 years we are feeling elated to discuss who lied and how? Majority voices against the war in Iraq were ignored. The question is how it could be avoided in the future?

    • eCAHNomics says:

      The question is how it could be avoided in the future?

      Can’t be IMO.

      They’re doing the same thing with economics policy, if you hadn’t noticed.

    • PeasantParty says:

      That reminds me of the task force! thanks for that.

      When are we going to be able to see those documents? He has hidden that stuff for far too long now.

      Also, when there were thousands of people at the mall protesting against the wars, they had the people sprayed with something that made them all nauseous. I remember Cindy Sheehan and her group really had a hard time with being chemically sprayed.

  9. waynec says:

    BillyP said,

    “Having near total control of the media is a big help in making the fiction believable. Having the ability to discredit (or worse) those who challenge the fiction keeps the fiction perpetuated.”

    Specially the white house press corps.

    If they want to keep their jobs there, they will tow the party line or they will not be chosen to ask questions. If you are not asking Q”s, you might as well be somewhere else.

  10. felicity says:

    Ho hum, old news. The Iraq caper wasn’t a war, it was a carefully choreographed production – after all, it was launched in March because you don’t launch a new product in August – to boost Bush’s falling numbers and divert attention from binLaden who was apparently not to be caught. Besides, who in his right mind would bank a war on the testimony of someone called Curveball.

  11. mattcarmody says:

    The 800 pound gorilla that lurks everywhere is the fact that congress no longer has the power to end a war. Nor was its explicit constitutionally granted power exercised to get us involved in these illegal wars except through a pro forma AUMF which should have been reined in while the Democrats controlled both houses of congress… another missed opportunity for the ineffective Democratic party.

    It seems that since the passage of the War Powers Act back in the 70s we’ve allowed the executive branch to continually usurp congress’s role in committing American troops to combat whether it’s through secret agreements with dictator-controlled governments to allow us to establish bases in their countries or through presidential extensions of power under Status of Forces Agreements which are used to bypass the senate’s advise and consent role.

  12. behindthefall says:

    Hard to imagine that this does NOT link up with the death of Dr. David Kelly, the British biological warfare expert who was presented as having committed suicide.

  13. TEHelms says:

    US intelligence never directly talked to al-Janabi (Curveball) and that was a result of the egos in the BND who would not allow it and the lack of persistence on the part of our agencies. We forgot a basic principle of investigation and that was to look for motive. Sad, sad…”when the truth is shown to be lies…”

  14. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Driveby – will have to catch up on comments later.

    But I was just at the, and it looks like Powell (and Wilkerson) are now saying that this needs further examination.

    I doubt we’ll get it, but when it turns out that there was ONE source for WMD, and that source had been effectively shown to be a liar, and DIA didn’t alert Powell, and CIA didn’t alert Powell, and Tenet is now selling Drumheller down the river…. Well, I hope this turns into one hell of a knife fight. And I sincerely hope Powell wins it in the longer term of showing how he was set up.

    So what this says about: Hadley, Bolton, Condi Rice, Tenet, and DoD (presumably DIA is within DoD, and how much did Wolfowitz and Feith run that show?)… well…

    Time for me to go spend a few minutes at EW’s Ghorbanifar Timeline.

  15. lsls says:

    So, now that we know this, when are we (Americans) going to go a little bit further back and investigate 9/11 in a rational way?

    • fatster says:

      Here’s a nudge in that direction, but since it involves Tenet it’ll probably lead to not much:

      Curveball doubts were shared with CIA, says ex-German foreign minister
      Joschka Fischer accuses former CIA chief George Tenet over his knowledge of Iraqi defector’s sketchy background