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The WMD Curveball

Don't let's get too carried away with headlines like these. It may be that codename Curveball's stories about biological weapons in Iraq were drummed up to bolster his case for asylum, and you can be sure no small number of … Read More

By / November 2, 2007

Don't let's get too carried away with headlines like these. It may be that codename Curveball's stories about biological weapons in Iraq were drummed up to bolster his case for asylum, and you can be sure no small number of web surfers will glance across their Yahoo front page and shake their head in knowing disapproval of the fascistic, hegemonic Amerikkka. But is that fair when the entire subtext of the story is that living under the regime was so terrible that an Iraqi citizen would fabricate stories about their involvement in WMD production to the dual ends of provoking an overthrow of the regime and getting the hell out?

Curveball has been repeatedly discredited by investigations of the United States' faulty prewar intelligence and became an embarrassment to U.S. spy agencies. A presidential intelligence commission found that Curveball, who mostly told his stories to German intelligence officials who passed them on to the U.S., was a fabricator and an alcoholic.

"60 Minutes" reports that Alwan arrived at a German refugee center in 1999 and began spinning his tales of a facility making mobile biological weapons in an effort to gain asylum. The ploy apparently achieved his goal, and Alwan is assumed to be living in Germany today under an assumed name.

Good for him. I hope he's enjoying a hefty stein of Bräu-Hell somewhere (it's surprising a lifetime under Saddam didn't drive more folks to the bottle, and to lie to intelligence agencies in order to escape). You could almost go so far as to say this strengthens the case for regime change…

The article goes on to discuss the administration's use of his testimony:

Although German intelligence officials warned the CIA that Curveball's claims of mobile bioweapons labs were unreliable, and U.N. inspectors determined before the war began in 2003 that parts of his story were false, the Bush administration continued to promote the existence of such mobile labs for months after the invasion, until it was widely accepted that they could not be found.

But nobody needed to hear horror stories from Curveball. It's now widely known that Hussein convinced even most of his top military officers of the existence of WMD stockpiles. This bluff (which we now know to be a bluff only because we had a look for ourselves) was as integral to maintaining the Iraqi military's confidence in its own capabilities as it was to threatening neighboring states. It's a pity more people aren't thankful we no longer have to speculate on this matter, or take the word of desperate Iraqis who will do anything for a chance to booze it up in peace. It's easy enough to say this while saying that the war itself has failed on many other counts, and while holding our leaders accountable for those failures.

It would be wonderful if military intelligence were a matter of sheer empirical evidence, if it was all testable and falsifiable, tangible and one hundred percent precise. It isn't. Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's illuminating book Cobra II relates an instance from the hours before the war against the regime when a very difficult bombing mission was carried out in the hopes of decapitating the dictatorship first thing. It was a risky move, one that could have potentially endangered both a complex set of attack plans and the soldiers carrying them out. The mission was unsuccessful because the intelligence turned out to be faulty. Nothing shady, no conspiracy, just bad intel.

The point of this isn't to apologize for the Bush administration, who should have skipped the WMD issue entirely when making their case for regime change and skipped directly to the desperate Iraqis part. The point is that the focus should be on sympathy for why a fellow like Curveball might have done what he did. Once that's sufficiently in place, the headlines have a different ring.

 

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