Sunday, April 03, 2005

Curveball the Goofball

NY Times
April 3, 2005

Curveball the Goofball


I had an editor once whose wife was in the Audubon Society. There were a lot of articles about birds in that newspaper.

I had an editor once who loved fishing. There were a lot of articles about fish in that newspaper.

Organizations organically respond to please the boss. Bosses naturally surround themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear.

When King Lear's favorite daughter spoke frankly to him, and refused to fawn like her sisters, she was instantly banished. Insincerity pays.

It is absurd to have yet another investigation into the chuckleheaded assessments on Saddam's phantom W.M.D. that intentionally skirts how the $40 billion-a-year intelligence was molded and manufactured to fit the ideological schemes of those running the White House and Pentagon.

As the commission's co-chairman, Laurence Silberman, put it: "Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policy makers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry."

Huh? That's like an investigation into steroids in baseball that looks only at the drug companies, not the players who muscled up.

We don't need a 14-month inquiry producing 601 pages at a cost of $10 million to tell us the data on arms in Iraq was flawed. We know that. When we got over there, we didn't find any.

This is the fourth exhaustive investigation that has not answered the basic question: How did the White House and Pentagon spin the information and why has no one gotten in trouble for it? If your kid lied and hid stuff from you to do something he thought would be great, then wouldn't admit it and blamed someone else, he'd be punished - even if his adventure worked out all right for him.

When the "values" president and his aides do it, they're rewarded. Condoleezza Rice was promoted to secretary of state. Stephen Hadley, Condi's old deputy, was promoted to national security adviser. Bob Joseph, a national security aide who helped shovel the uranium hooey into the State of the Union address, is becoming an under secretary of state. Paul Wolfowitz, who painted the takeover of Iraq as such a cakewalk that our troops went in without the proper armor or backup, will run the World Bank. George Tenet, who ran the C.I.A. when Al Qaeda attacked and when Saddam's mushroom cloud gained credibility, got the Medal of Freedom.

Then the president appoints a compliant Democrat and a complicit conservative judge to head an inquiry set up to let the president off the hook.

Please, no more pantomime investigations. We all know what happened. Dick Cheney and the neocons had a fever to sack Saddam. Mr. Cheney and Rummy persuaded W., "the Man," that it was the manly thing to do. Everybody feigned a 9/11 connection. Ahmad Chalabi conned his neocon pals, thinking he could run Iraq if he gave the Bush administration the smoking gun it needed to sell the war.

Suddenly Curveball appeared, the relative of an aide to Mr. Chalabi, to become the lone C.I.A. source with the news that Iraq was cooking up biological agents in mobile facilities hidden from arms inspectors and Western spies. Curveball's obviously sketchy assertions ended up in Mr. Tenet's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate and Colin Powell's U.N. speech in February 2003, laying the groundwork for an invasion of Iraq.

Curveball's information was used to justify the war even though it was clear Curveball was a goofball. As the commission report notes, a Defense Department employee at the C.I.A. met with him and "was concerned by Curveball's apparent 'hangover' during their meeting" and suspicious that Curveball spoke excellent English, even though the Foreign Service had told U.S. intelligence officials that Curveball did not speak English.

By early 2001, the C.I.A. was receiving messages from our Foreign Service, reporting that Curveball was "out of control" and off the radar. A foreign intelligence service also warned the C.I.A. in April 2002 that it had "doubts about Curveball's reliability" and that elements of the tippling tipster's behavior "strike us as typical of individuals we would normally assess as fabricators."

But Curveball's crazy assertions had traction because they were what the White House wanted to hear.

The report warns the president to watch out for the "headstrong" intelligence agencies. If only the commission had concerned itself with headstrong officials at a higher level. Then its 601 pages would be worth reading.