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Presidential commission admits intelligence on Iraq was chaotic and incompetent

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1449845,00.html?gusrc=rss US intelligence on Iraq chaotic and incompetent, says Bush commission Julian Borger in
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2005
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      http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1449845,00.html?gusrc=rss

      US intelligence on Iraq chaotic and incompetent, says
      Bush commission

      Julian Borger in Washington
      Friday April 1, 2005
      The Guardian

      A presidential commission investigating the
      intelligence debacle that preceded the Iraq invasion
      reported yesterday that the damage done to US
      credibility would "take years to undo".

      American intelligence was described by the report as
      being in chaos, often paralysed by the rivalry of 15
      different spy agencies and affected by unchallenged
      assumptions about Baghdad's supposed weapons of mass
      destruction.

      The incompetence described in the report occasionally
      descends into farce, particularly over an Iraqi
      defector codenamed Curveball, whose fabricated tales
      about mobile biological laboratories and their
      influence on US decision-makers were reminiscent of
      Graham Greene's accidental spy in Our Man in Havana.
      Despite warnings that he was "crazy", "a waste of
      time", and that he had not even been in Iraq at the
      time of an event he supposedly saw, his claims became
      the subject of almost 100 Defence Intelligence Agency
      reports and a focus of the National Intelligence
      Estimate in October 2002.

      Most critically, Curveball's description of mobile
      laboratories provided one of the highlights of Colin
      Powell's address to the UN security council on
      February 5 2003, in which the then US secretary of
      state laid out the justification for the invasion.

      Curveball's story has already been told in part, but
      yesterday's account is the most comprehensive. He was
      an Iraqi chemical engineer who was first debriefed in
      2000 by a foreign liaison service - not named in
      yesterday's report but elsewhere reported as being
      German intelligence.

      Before the war, the Germans refused to let US
      interrogators question Curveball directly, saying that
      he "would refuse to speak to Americans"; they just
      passed on his claims, according to the Commission on
      the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States
      Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.

      Warning signs emerged in May 2000 when a military
      intelligence officer was allowed to visit Curveball.
      He reported: "I do have a concern with the validity of
      the information, based on Curveball having a terrible
      hangover the morning of [the meeting]."

      The warning fell on deaf ears, but by autumn 2002 the
      CIA was growing increasingly nervous, knowing it had
      not met an important source. So a meeting was arranged
      between the local CIA division chief and German
      intelligence officers. When the division chief asked
      whether US agents could question the defector, "the
      foreign intelligence service responded with words to
      the effect of 'You don't want to see him because he's
      crazy' - furthermore, the [German] representative said
      that he worried that Curveball was 'a fabricator'."

      The division chief passed on this alarming news to his
      superiors, but George Tenet, then CIA chief, and his
      deputy, John McLaughlin, both denied having been told
      of it.

      On the eve of Mr Powell's UN speech, Mr Tenet and
      senior intelligence officers were cloistered with the
      secretary of state in New York, going over the
      administration's claims. At midnight Mr Tenet called
      the division chief at home, but the two men have
      different recollections of the conversation.

      "Although he did not remember his exact words, the
      division chief says that he told Mr Tenet something to
      the effect of 'You know that the [foreign service]
      reporting has problems'. According to the division
      chief, Mr Tenet replied with words to the effect of
      'Yeah, yeah' and that he was 'exhausted'," the report
      says.

      It continues: "The division chief said that when he
      listened to the speech... he was surprised the
      information from Curveball had been included."

      Questioned by the commission, however, Mr Tenet denied
      that the subject of Curveball had ever been raised.

      Curveball is reportedly related to a senior member of
      the Iraqi national congress (INC), then an exile
      group. However, the commission found that the INC had
      not brought him forward.

      The report is another nail in the coffin of Mr Tenet's
      reputation and clears the White House and Pentagon of
      trying to shape intelligence to justify war. It
      concludes: "The commission found no evidence of
      political pressure to influence the intelligence
      community's prewar assessments of Iraq's weapons
      programmes."

      It warns only of the dangers of intelligence leaders
      becoming too close to the president and risking the
      loss of objectivity. In other words, the commission
      found that Mr Tenet had been too eager to please.
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