Evidence undermines WSJ's rush to defend Chalabi using new intel reportApril 4, 2005 3:21 PM EDT ››› GABE WILDAU
An April 1 Wall Street Journal editorial claimed that the recently released Robb-Silberman report on intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) vindicates Ahmed Chalabi, the well-connected former Iraqi exile who strongly advocated the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, in the face of widespread suspicion that he fed U.S. intelligence false information about Iraq's WMD (see the Associated Press, The New York Times, and The New Yorker). In fact, the report reveals that at best, Chalabi sought unsuccessfully to influence U.S. intelligence assessments of Iraq with bogus information from exile informers. But the report also leaves open the possibility that Chalabi and his exile group, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), did substantively mislead U.S. intelligence through "Curveball," a relative of a top Chalabi aide who became U.S. intelligence's most influential source on Iraq's biological weapons program.
The Journal editorial referred to "Mr. Chalabi's vindication." In fact, the report noted that "[t]he October 2002 NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] relied on reporting from two INC sources [other than Curveball], both of whom were later deemed to be fabricators" and that "[t]he CIA concluded" that one of these two INC sources "was being 'directed' by the INC to provide information" to U.S. intelligence.
The Journal also claimed that the report "blows apart the myth that intelligence provided by Iraqi politician and former exile Ahmed Chalabi suckered the U.S. into going to war" and cited the report's findings about the INC's potential influence on Curveball:
"Post-war [CIA] investigations concluded that Curveball's reporting was not influenced by, controlled by, or connected to, the INC," says the Robb-Silberman report. ... And: "Over all, CIA's post-war investigations revealed that INC-related sources had a minimal impact on pre-war assessments."
But the report also found that "[v]irtually all of the Intelligence Community's information on Iraq's alleged mobile biological weapons facilities was supplied by a source, codenamed 'Curveball,' who was a fabricator." And it's well-known that Curveball "was introduced to German intelligence [which later passed his claims on to U.S. intelligence] by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress," as The New York Times reported in July 2004. (Newsweek has also reported Chalabi's role in providing Curveball to the Germans.) And significantly, the report does not definitively state that the INC was not "directing Curveball to feed misleading information," only that because "the CIA's post-war investigations were unable to uncover any evidence" that the INC was doing so, the CIA concluded "that Curveball's reporting was not influenced by ... the INC," as quoted by the Journal. But given that the 618-page report is largely devoted to excoriating the CIA for its myriad failures, and given that the CIA did determine that the INC was in fact "directing" another informant found to be a fabricator, it's far from clear that the Robb-Silberman report's authors have full confidence in the CIA's own assessment about the INC's involvement with Curveball, or, if they do have confidence in it, why this should be so. Indeed, the footnotes accompanying the report's description of this CIA assessment (notes 403 and 404) indicate that the report's description of the CIA's conclusion is based only on the panel's interviews with various CIA personnel, not on the panel's examination of any formal written assessment of the INC's involvement with Curveball that the CIA may (or may not) have conducted.
Finally, it's unclear how definitive evidence of the INC's "direction" to Curveball could ever emerge. For obvious reasons, the INC is unlikely to admit to "directing" Curveball if it indeed did so, and, as the report notes, Curveball himself is a serial liar.
Here's the full passage from chapter 1 of the report, from which the Journal chose two sentences:
Despite speculation that Curveball was encouraged to lie by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the CIA's post-war investigations were unable to uncover any evidence that the INC or any other organization was directing Curveball to feed misleading information to the Intelligence Community. Instead, the post-war investigations concluded that Curveball's reporting was not influenced by, controlled by, or connected to, the INC.
In fact, over all, CIA's post-war investigations revealed that INC-related sources had a minimal impact on pre-war assessments. The October 2002 NIE relied on reporting from two INC sources, both of whom were later deemed to be fabricators. One source -- the INC source -- provided fabricated reporting on the existence of mobile BW [biological weapons] facilities in Iraq. The other source, whose information was provided in a text box in the NIE and sourced to a "defector," reported on the possible construction of a new nuclear facility in Iraq. The CIA concluded that this source was being "directed" by the INC to provide information to the U.S. Intelligence Community. Reporting from these two INC sources had a "negligible" impact on the overall assessments, however.