Thrown for a curve? Russert falsely claimed "no evidence that Mr. Chalabi was associated with Curveball"
Research ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER
On the April 10 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert falsely claimed that "there's no evidence" that Ahmed Chalabi, former Iraqi exile and head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), "was associated with Curveball," a relative of a top Chalabi aide who became the most influential source for U.S. intelligence on Iraq's biological weapons program. In fact, the recently released Robb-Silberman report on intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and independent news reporting indicate a clear connection between Chalabi and Curveball: U.S. intelligence first encountered Curveball's fabricated claims about Iraq's biological weapons via German intelligence, and it was Chalabi's INC that originally provided Curveball to the Germans.
As the Robb-Silberman report noted in Chapter One: "Curveball ... came to the attention of the Intelligence Community through a foreign liaison service. That liaison service debriefed Curveball and then shared the debriefing results with the United States." As a July 13, 2004, report in The New York Times indicated, this "foreign liaison service" was in fact German intelligence, and the INC introduced Curveball to the Germans. The Times reported that U.S. intelligence erroneously judged that Iraq maintained a network of biological weapons (BW) laboratories due to its "reliance on one central source, known as Curveball, who was introduced to German intelligence by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress." (Newsweek has also reported Chalabi's role in providing Curveball to the Germans.)
The Robb-Silberman report documented that Curveball, who it deemed a "fabricator," led the U.S. to dramatically overstate the threat posed by Iraq's biological weapons in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE):
Shortly after Curveball started reporting, in the spring of 2000, his information was provided to senior policymakers. It was also incorporated into an update to a 1999 NIE on Worldwide BW Programs. The update reported that "new intelligence acquired in 2000 ... causes [the Intelligence Community] to adjust our assessment upward of the BW threat posed by Iraq ... The new information suggests that Baghdad has expanded its offensive BW program by establishing a large-scale, redundant, and concealed BW agent production capability." [Brackets in original document.]
Further, the report noted that while the U.S. intelligence community previously believed only that Iraq "could" possess biological weapons, Curveball led U.S. intelligence officials to express "high confidence" in 2002 that Iraq currently possessed such weapons:
Previous [Intelligence] Community estimates had assessed that Iraq could have biological weapons; the October 2002 estimate, in contrast, assessed with "high confidence" that Iraq "has" biological weapons. This shift in view, which began in 2000 and culminated in the October 2002 NIE, was based largely on information from a single source -- Curveball -- who indicated that Iraq had mobile facilities for producing BW agents.
In response to Russert, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) challenged the notion that Chalabi and Curveball were not "associated," pointing out that "where you have, as Curveball was called, a fabricator, you're likely to find somewhere Chalabi's footprint." Russert responded that the Robb-Silberman report indicates that Chalabi had "no direct involvement with Curveball." But he did not cite the report itself. Instead, he pointed to an April 1 Wall Street Journal editorial noting the report's finding that "[p]ost-war investigations concluded that Curveball's reporting was not influenced by, controlled by, or connected to, the INC." But as Media Matters for America noted in response to the Journal, the report does not definitively state that the INC was not "directing Curveball to feed misleading information," only that CIA's post-war investigations concluded the INC wasn't influencing Curveball's reports because they were "unable to uncover any evidence" that the INC was doing so. But there are significant reasons to question the CIA's conclusions.