Monday, April 04, 2005

Who threw the Curveball?

Everyone now seems to be talking about "Curveball," the code-name given to an Iraqi defector in German hands. His real name remains mysterious, although we know that he is related to an aide to Ahmed Chalabi. Curveball's yarns about biological weaponry hidden in mobile labs were unverified nonsense. Somehow, though, these fabrications became the cornerstone of Dubya's case for war.

We've discussed this business before. So far, however, we have paid insufficient attention to an important question: Just who threw us this "Curveball"?

One parapolitically-minded radio host blames Germany (scroll down to 502a and b, then click) -- after all, CB (if I may be allowed the familiarity) was in the hands of that country's intel service, known as the BND.

I'm doubtful of that theory. Germany did not support our invasion of Iraq. As the Los Angeles Times (which has done fine work on this story) and other media voices have reported, the Germans tried to warn American intelligence that CB was an alcoholic and unreliable. From an April 1, 2005 LAT story:

Before Powell's presentation, the CIA pressed for permission to speak directly with Curveball. The head of one of the agency's divisions arranged a lunch with a German intelligence official.

The German official discouraged the idea, saying, "You don't want to see him because he's crazy," according to the commission report. The German went on to suggest that Curveball had suffered a nervous breakdown, that speaking with him would be "a waste of time," and that he might be a "fabricator."
(Incidentally, John McLaughlin -- Tenet's number two at CIA, and briefly the head of the agency -- has disputed assertions that he was briefed on the problems with Curveball.)

We learn more from an infamous Feb. 4, 2003 email from a CIA expert on Iraq:

As I said last night, let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and the powers that be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about.
So far, the story is simple. The Germans somehow got hold of this fellow (who was originally linked to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress), and they relayed his info on to the Americans. As war loomed, the BND told the United States that the data was unreliable. But the Americans wanted a war, and embraced the defector's information, reliable or no.

Does the matter go deeper than that? Who first came up with the idea of foisting this man's lies upon the world? Do we blame the Germans -- or someone else?

As I've mulled over this matter, I've focused on the mystery of the cyptonym. Who came up with the code-name "Curveball" -- a name resonant with deception?

The L.A. Times has indicated that the Germans came up with that odd monicker. Although many Germans know English, they are not baseball fans, and are therefore unlikely to use slang terms arising from that game.

Justin Raimondo has parsed some of the reports coming out of the intelligence committees that looked into this strange affair. Although I don't agree with all of Raimondo's views, I do think he is correct in linking the Curveball imbroglio with Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans, a neo-con unit within the Department of Defense. The OSP had a bad habit (among its many other sins) of channeling "massaged" data through the American intelligence community and "stovepiping" said data directly into the White House. Moreover, the OSP worked so closely with Mossad that one cannot always easily distinguish between the two agencies.

Whoever gave Curveball the map to the BND's door was probably the one who came up with that ever-so-cute nickname.

We may thus work toward a provisional theory:

True, the OSP could feed lies directly into the Oval Office -- but they needed more. They needed to find a way to make the CIA bestow its imprimatur onto this silliness. Thus, the neocons somehow arranged for Curveball to be routed through German intelligence -- we don't yet know how it happened, but it happened. Why give this alky German minders? If the CIA had dealt with Curveball directly, they would have seen through his deceptions rather easily. But since the information came by way of the BND, the CIA tended to trust it. By the time the agency decided to take a closer look at the sourcing, war was already a done deal.

This little scheme offered a bonus: Since Tenet and McLaughlin had bought into the BND's information, when the shit finally hit the fan, responsibility could be laid to rest at the feet of the CIA. Not the OSP, not the INC, not the BND, not Mossad, not the neocon ideologues.

Once again, we see use of a bold tactic: The use of a foreign spy shop as a go-between, in order to legitimize and circulate bogus (but ideologically useful) data within the U.S. intelligence community. A similar history beset the yellowcake scandal and the infamous "sixteen words."

If there is a label for this technique within spy argot, I don't know it. But if the tactic does not yet have a name, I'd like to suggest one: "Curveballing."
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