The baseball analogy is irresistible. While the 60 minutes story last night on “Curve Ball” – the Iraqi source of misleading intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs - added detail, it missed the causes of this intelligence failure.
“Curve Ball” was the intelligence designator of the Iraqi defector – or émigré – who was the source of misleading reports on Iraqi mobile bioweapons laboratories (which CBS kept calling mobile bioweapons). These reports were used to justify the war against Iraq. 60 minutes added details including:
• The name (Rafid Ahmed Alwan) and questionable background of this source.
• The fact that German Intelligence wrote CIA Director of Central Intelligence warning him that information from Curveball was unverified.
• Repeated efforts by CIA Group Chief Margaret Henoch to discredit the Curve Ball reports. Henoch eventually compared the to the game “Whack a Mole.”
Beginning intelligence analysts and interrogators are taught that émigré’s and defectors are likely to provide information that will help them obtain a new life in their new country. Analysts and interrogators approach their task with a learned skepticism. From my former insider’s point of view, it appears that many of them were properly skeptical and warned top intelligence leaders of their doubts.
In order to throw a strike, 60 minutes should have asked why the Bush administration’s top level officials, particularly Tenet and DoD’s Office of special Plans ignored or overruled these warnings. At this point it appears that there are three possible explanations;
• A mindset fed by Saddam’s evil actions and previous pattern of deception led to a confirmation bias. Curve Ball’s information fit an expected pattern.
• A strong desire to protect the United States against another 9/11 led to intelntional self deception and confirmation bias.
• They knew the information was unreliable but lied because it supported their public case.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve seen this story before:
• April 27, 2007 George Tenet and the Generalized Iceberg Theorem
• February 8, 2006 Politicized Intelligence Analysis
• November 11, 2005 Did Bush Lie or Was the Intelligence Analysis Flawed
• November 10, 2005 The Emporer's New Threat Assessment
• June 16, 2005 The Powers that Be Were the CIA’s Top Three
• April 19, 2005 Could Judge Silberman Retroactively Resign from the WMD Comission?
• April 15, 2005 Intelligence Failures: Senate Investigation Continues
• April 9, 2005 Can't These People Read?
• April 6, 2005 Judge Silberman Can't Hit Curve Ball
• December 14, 2004 The Missing Weapons: Asking the Right Questions
• August 23, 2004 Right Question - 4 Years Too Late
• July 13, 2004 CIA Officials Curious Use of the Upper Case
Please don’t take all of this as meaning that I am joining the anti-war protestors. I’m not – but I do think that political leaders have a moral obligation to do their jobs properly before they send someone else’s sons and daughters into combat. There was a just cause for the war, even though the Bush administration failed to make the case. Had the intelligence been properly analyzed and the case made honestly, the war might have been fought differently – or not at all.
This is partly because the Bush administration failed to apply some of the lessons learned from Vietnam.
IMHO Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) with his Constitutional War Powers Resolution has the right approach to a solution. See George Will for details.
None of this addresses the question of what we should do in Iraq now. For that I suggest following Col. Pat Lang's blog.
If you are wondering how such an unreliable source came to be code named "curve ball", I can guess that his was part of a series all given baseball names. It would be interesting to know if there were sources code name fast ball, screw ball, etc.
Note: this post linked to Beltway Traffic Jam for 11/05/07