Big, if True

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S1: In late December 2002, most of Washington was winding down for Christmas. Young White House staffers were hard at work writing thank you notes for the gifts that have been sent to the president. But Bush wasn’t ready to sign off for the holiday yet. He called a meeting and he asked the CIA to give him its best version of the case for war with Iraq.

S2: The call went out when they started developing the case for anybody who had anything they would like to contribute.

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S1: Bill McLaughlin had joined the CIA about six months earlier. He was part of a team from the agency presenting to the president.

S2: Because I had a U.N. inspection experience, I was to answer the president’s questions on U.N. inspections.

S1: Bush walked into the Oval Office meeting wearing his cowboy boots with the presidential seal on them. And for the next 20 minutes, CIA Director George Tenet’s deputy presented the case.

S2: Presentation of the case was done by John McLaughlin, who is very senior analyst.

S1: John’s not related to Bill McLaughlin, by the way,

S2: and John had the briefing on a laptop. We also had briefing charts and John McLaughlin went through the briefing.

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S1: Tenet’s deputy talked about the biological and chemical weapons Iraq had not accounted for since the Gulf War. And he wrapped up by playing radio intercepts that were supposedly from Iraqi agents talking about a weapons site.

S2: After the presentation, the president fired off a number of questions, made a number of comments unsolicited, our views on things.

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S1: Bush wasn’t asking the CIA to take a closer look at the intelligence he wanted was a more convincing pitch.

S2: He asked perhaps if a Madison Avenue type could look at it to see about the ordering of the arguments, if it could be examined by an attorney to look at the structure of the arguments that were made, everyone in that room, including me, strongly believes that Iraq did have WMD, was not a subject that came up for discussion. The discussion centered around whether we could make the presentation more effective.

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S1: George Tenet, the head of the CIA, was at that meeting. This is where he famously used the phrase slam dunk, which got a lot of press originally reporting suggested Tenet called the presence of WMD in Iraq a slam dunk. But according to Bill McLaughlin and Tenet himself, he was actually promising the president the CIA would tighten up the presentation to make it a slam dunk. He wasn’t talking about the facts. He was talking about the sale.

S2: As the meeting broke up, the president charged with improving the quality of the presentation. Among other things, he asked was, can you work in a stronger angle related to terrorism? And I think some of us weren’t all that happy to hear that since we didn’t believe the connection was that strong to begin with.

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S1: After the meeting, Vice President Cheney pulled Bush aside. Cheney told him that people in his office had been working on the terror links. He suggested they could help out with the presentation

S2: once the case was revised. After we got back to CIA, people worked on it again for another month and then it was sent down to the White House for their review. Eventually, while it was at the White House, they had added in a whole additional section on terrorism.

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S1: For months, the Bush administration tried to make the case for war to the public on TV and in press conferences. Now, to make the closing argument, Bush tapped Secretary of State Colin Powell. He wanted Powell to present the United States’s official case for war at the U.N. Security Council in February. Powell was the obvious choice for a closer, unlike some of his colleagues, he wasn’t seen as an ideologue. He was a military commander, but he was skeptical of overusing military might and as a black man had risen to the top of the army. He was a kind of American success story both Republicans and Democrats could admire. Here’s Robert Draper, the author of To Start a War.

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S3: Colin Powell was far and away the most popular person in the Bush administration. And there were a lot of people on Capitol Hill, a lot of Democrats who didn’t believe one thing that Cheney had to say, but believed everything that Colin Powell had to say. So Powell would achieve maximum credibility as the deliver of this case in a way that nobody else would.

S1: I will agreed to do it all along, he’d been telling the president they needed the United Nations backing them. When Powell looked at the intelligence summary he’d been handed by the White House, he wasn’t impressed, look shoddy and it included things like the discredited al-Qaida Iraq link

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S3: and Powell essentially through almost the entire document away. And they started from scratch. And when they started from scratch with only really a few days to go, I actually asked Condi Rice, can I get an extension on giving this speech? We’re going to need more time. Condi said, nope, the president has already booked you, has already said you’re going to be doing this on February 5th. Twenty three before the, um, then a kind of frantic effort ensued. They turned back to the CIA and George Tenet said, well, look, why don’t you just do this, make the basis of the speech are our National Intelligence Estimate, because this is, after all, the definitive consensus view of the intelligence community as to Saddam’s weapons program. What he failed to say to to Powell was and we did it in 19 days. So it’s a piece of crap.

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S1: Powell and his team spent three days vetting the report alongside CIA analysts who question them as to see evidence for a lot of people watching up close. This seemed like Colin Powell at his best, careful, rigorous, honorable. With Powell in charge, the administration felt confident the speech was going to be a huge success. Before the presentation, the speech was circulated through the CIA. They wanted to make sure it didn’t expose sources or methods of intelligence gathering. One person who looked it over was Margaret Henock. She handled Central Europe for the Directorate of Operations. That’s the spy part of the CIA. Henock was shocked by what she saw.

S4: And so I look at it all and I take a big, you know, magic marker and I scratch all the way through it and I write in the margins. You cannot use this. There is no way to verify this. It’s not even sort of leaky. It’s a gigantic sieve with a hole in it.

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S1: The night before the speech, Powell asked Tenet one last time if everything in this speech was solid, but told him there were no doubts. Powell asked Tenet to sit next to him at the UN to symbolize that the CIA was backing everything he said. The CIA director agreed.

S5: This is important day for us all as we review the situation, respect with respect to Iraq and its disarmament obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolution 14 41.

S1: February 5th, 2003, Colin Powell made his presentation to the UN, the Bush administration’s best case for war, he was staking his reputation on it.

S5: My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.

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S1: Powell wore a dark suit jacket with an American flag pin on it. His delivery was intense and he talked for well over an hour.

S5: One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents. Let me take you inside that intelligence file and share with you what we know from eyewitness accounts. We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails.

S1: Margaret Henock was watching the speech with her boss at the CIA when she heard the line about mobile weapons labs. She knew her warning never made it to power.

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S4: We’re just like, what the fuck did you guys see that you shouldn’t have used that

S1: Powell was relying on what the CIA had told him. But there is a lot the CIA hadn’t told him, including the fact that some of their information had come from a sketchy source, a man with the codename Curveball.

S4: Curveball was a slug, curveball was a slime, but Curveball didn’t make anybody believe something that they didn’t want to believe.

S1: This is a slow burn. I’m your host, Noreen Malone. Leading up to Powell’s U.N. speech, the Bush administration had told the American public that the country needed to invade Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was a threat, key pieces of intelligence recited over and over again as evidence to support the case for war. The repetition gave the illusion of credibility even when that intelligence was unproven. So who was Curveball? Why was the information he had so valuable? And how did unvetted intelligence make its way to Colin Powell’s case for war? This is Episode six, big if true. Throughout the 1990s, lots of Iraqis fled to Germany, the German government questioned them all to see if they might have useful information about Saddam’s Baath Party. Some did, like Saddam’s former driver and a janitor from the presidential palace. Most of them, though, were just ordinary people fleeing a brutal regime. Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi was a chemical engineer in his early 30s. He arrived in Germany in 1999, seeking political asylum. At first, Janabi said he’d embezzled money from the government and that’s why he feared for his life. But then he talked to German intelligence officials at the BND. That’s the equivalent of the CIA and I’m incapable of pronouncing the full name in German.

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S6: He told the BND that he had been hired directly out of university in 1994 to work on a secret program to install these sophisticated laboratory laboratory equipment on the back of trucks of trailer trucks.

S1: Bob Drogin, the former deputy Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, later wrote a book about Chalabi

S6: and the Iraqis he said would use this equipment to ferment germs and viruses and toxins for biological weapons. And since they could drive the trucks from place to place, these mobile production facilities would be able to evade detection by U.N. weapons inspectors who were then inside the country. His version of events was that the first truck began operating in 1997 and that similar vehicles were built or hidden in six other locations across Iraq.

S1: This May Janabi a lot more interesting. The BND gave him money and hit him from the Iraqi government. They interviewed him in Arabic over the course of two years. The officer who debriefed him officially described him as shrewd, personable, possibly a genius, but also possibly a manipulator. The information Janabi told his interrogators was highly technical. He gave specifics about project code numbers. He told them the names of who had worked on what and even where they’d sat in the office. He said the trucks only operated on Fridays, the Islamic day of worship, because U.N. weapons inspectors rarely popped in on those days. He drew sketches and he helped the Germans build a little model of what the mobile labs might have looked like in early 2000. The BND shared what they learned from Janabi with an American officer from the Defense Intelligence Agency. The Americans gave him the code named Curveball. Paul was a suffix they used for sources whose information involves weapons. It’s unclear why they picked curve.

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S6: When the Americans began looking at his files, they said this must be it. This is perfect. We have an eyewitness. He has seen all of these things. He’s worked directly on them.

S1: But the BND didn’t allow the Americans to talk directly to Curveball. They couldn’t even look at transcripts or videos of the interviews, just the reports written up by German intelligence. The Germans told them it was because Curveball didn’t speak English and hated Americans. That wasn’t true. The reality was an American and German intelligence agencies didn’t have a great relationship. And some of what Curveball was saying looked bad for Germany. Curveball told them Iraqis were using German manufactured materials for the bio weapons. So the Germans wanted to maintain control of Curveball testimony. Meanwhile, Curveball kept hitting his handlers up for more money. He disappeared for days or weeks at a time. The Germans got him food service jobs at Burger King and at a Chinese restaurant. He kept getting fired. He’d show up in the morning smelling like alcohol, looking like death by itself. This wasn’t all that unusual. Spy agencies want a clean living in their defectors and sources. They’d never learn anything outside of the drinking, though. There were other things about Curveball story that didn’t add up

S6: when he initially came out. He claimed he had personally directed one of these trucks, the construction of one of these trucks, and over time his role became less and less specific. Suddenly, he was no longer the director of that operation. He just worked on it. And maybe he only heard about these trucks. And there was some question about an accident where he said he had witnessed people who had died and then, well, he heard about it and his friend knew about it. And then his friend had only heard about it so suddenly as time went on. His story, in fact, got less specific.

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S1: The Germans were getting skeptical of Curveball. They’d interviewed him for 21 months and they still weren’t sure if he was lying or not. Finally, on September 8th, 2001, they closed his file and terminated him as a source.

S6: And then 9/11 happened. And the United States, these reports that he had given to the Germans, the information given to the Germans, were suddenly taken out of his safe, if you will, and dusted off. And they were rushed to the top of the food chain and they took out a life of their own.

S1: By the time Bill McGlocklin joined the CIA in 2002, the mobile weapons story was widely circulating within the agency. McGlocklin knew a lot about Iraq’s weapons from his time on the ground in the 90s, but he hadn’t heard about this Curveball guy.

S2: I asked a biological analyst, where is this reporting? And she gave me a stack more than an inch thick of of curveballs reporting. And I was absolutely astonished by it. Most of what we received on Iraq reporting was from exile sources or from opposition sources, and most of it was very vague. On the other hand, curveballs reporting was vastly different than anything else that we had seen specific as to people, locations, agents, production techniques. I remember thinking at the time, as I was reading it, human intelligence doesn’t get any better than this.

S1: There were so small inconsistencies that McGlocklin noticed, like Curveball was using an outdated name for one of the places he claimed he’d worked. But that was small and explanations for it were easy to imagine.

S2: We didn’t have any of the background of this guy. We didn’t know anything about his living conditions. U.S. analysts were not allowed to interview him directly until long after the war. We had a limited ability to check on the reporting. Meanwhile, the US military was providing all this reporting, so they had confidence in his reporting and we had no means to contradict that.

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S1: If you had a certain mindset, the inconsistencies in Curveball story could also be seen as proof. For instance, Curveball had very specific descriptions of the facility where the trucks were supposedly operating, but those descriptions didn’t quite match existing evidence.

S6: Bob Drogin and he said the trucks went in one entrance and they came out a back entrance and they that’s how they did their thing. And so they sent satellite pictures up. They sent satellites over the head and they analyzed satellite pictures. And they said, well, there’s a wall here. So obviously the trucks can’t do it. And rather than say, well, so his story, as far as they said to have a truck with this wall was put up to trick the satellites. And maybe there’s a secret door in the wall that moves at night on the satellites aren’t watching or that kind of thing. And ironically, in sort of just like medieval clerics looking for angels on the head of a pin, their inability to find the trucks became proof that they must exist. That showed how sinister and how diabolical Saddam Hussein was that he was hiding these things and they couldn’t find them.

S1: There were other human sources who appeared to corroborate parts of Curveball story, a civil engineer who defected in June 2001 and an Iraqi official who talked to the British in September 2002. Both said they’d heard about the trucks. And there was another defector who showed up in 2002 and claimed that Iraq had decided to create mobile labs in 1996. The CIA also had Curveball story vetted by technical analysts at its weapons group known as WINPAC. The deputy director of that office was Andy Lipmann.

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S7: I now have the best job in all of California, by the way. I drive the train at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Yeah, I get 15 bucks an hour, but only because they made me take the money.

S1: Liebman’s team determined that what Curveball was describing was possible. The trucks could make biological weapons or B.W.

S7: These are guys with PhDs in microbiology and epidemiology or whatever. And they came back and said, yeah, we think it’s viable. Obviously, they’re making no judgment on whether Curveball is a good human being or whether this is the best way to make B.W. or whether it was sensible. They were just saying it would work and that’s what they said.

S1: WINPAC had been given a copy of a cable from the Germans. It described Curveball as out of control and unable to be located. But again, intelligence sources weren’t always steady, clean living people, and the cable didn’t really come up for discussion. Besides, there was another reason WINPAC backed the curveball intel. It confirmed with the intelligence community, already believed

S7: things that agree with your current assessment. You weigh heavier than things that disagree with your assessment. So if Curveball had come in and said Iraq has no biological weapons, you guys are chasing a phantom and they actually gave it up that all of those inspectors were right, they’ve given up their program, we would have probably taken that with a grain of salt

S1: at that point. Lipmann says the CIA had been judging for more than a decade that Iraq had weapons capabilities to rethink that assessment on the brink of war would have been ludicrous, he told me.

S7: I would have fired myself if, based on the information we had at the time, we changed a decade’s worth of analysis.

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S1: Curveball story made it into the National Intelligence Estimate. That’s the document that the CIA prepared for Congress in just 19 days. And it wasn’t just a curveball, made it in his reporting was almost the entire basis for what that report said about Iraq’s bio weapons capabilities, that they were greater than they’d been in the Gulf War. The NIE authors came to that conclusion by guessing how much material could fit into the trucks Curveball described. Bob Drogin,

S6: they then multiplied that by the six other trucks that he said he had heard about but had never actually seen, and then they multiplied all that with the assumption that the trucks could run for six months round the clock nonstop. You know, why six months and not six weeks or six years? I don’t know. The point was, of course, that it was sheer nonsense. Nothing in Iraq ran non-stop for six months.

S1: Curveball seemed to vindicate all the worst fears of a resurgent Iraqi weapons program. In fact, for the American intelligence service, curveballs mobile labs confirmed far more than just the existence of biological weapons.

S6: The belief in Curveball story became so strong that people in the other programs that were looking at Saddam said, well, basically, if if he has these biological weapons, he must have these other things as well, even though the evidence hasn’t changed. And you could literally chart within their paperwork where their assessments changed from low probability and possibly and maybe and could have to high probability. And nothing had changed other than they that the Curveball material had come in and made them reassess what they believed they already had.

S1: But there were cracks in the consensus on Curveball. Other countries intelligence agencies had written to the Americans saying explicitly that Curveball showed signs of being a liar.

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S6: There were warnings that came in from the CIA station chief in Berlin and also from the British saying, you know, their real concerns here. We don’t think we’ve got this. Why are you so sure? And they just sort of ignored all of that and just kept pushing this story forward.

S4: I was born in Los Alamos, my daddy was a nuke. I know I don’t need a microwave. And from the inside out, the whole thing,

S1: that’s Margaret Hanak, the CIA officer who tried to flag the Curveball stuff in Colin Powell speech. If I just met her, I wouldn’t get her for a spy. She comes across like a character who might be played by Jane Fonda in a movie directed by Nancy Meyers.

S4: I’m sorry, you guys. Can I pause this so I can feed the animals? Yeah, of course. Excuse me one second, Charite.

S1: When the CIA recruited her, Hanak was working at a research institute in Menlo Park, she was trying to figure out what weapons the Soviet Union might be developing.

S4: And some guy walks up to me and he’s wearing a raincoat and he says to me, Are you Margaret? I said, I am. And he said, Are you bored? And I was like, great. I’m at a classified test location. And some pervert in a raincoat finds me is the story of my life. I was like, bored with what? And he said, your career. And I thought, well, I might be. So I said, well, I might be. And he handed me an envelope and he said, fill this out and mail it in goodbye. And he left. And it was an application for sort of something unclear. I get a call about two weeks later and they say, can you come to a building for an interview? And I thought, OK, this has to be CIA. Who else would do this?

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S1: I didn’t fit the typical CIA profile. She was outspoken, which could be polarizing. She didn’t love the people who dominated the place. She describes them as kind of Fredi white guys. But being a little different worked for her. Mostly she was in counterintelligence, which sounds exciting. But within the agency, it wasn’t all that prestigious.

S4: It was just it was boring. It was tedious. I mean, I happened to really like it because I thought it was puzzling. It was putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I had kind of a, you know, nothing special career. And then Curveball came along.

S1: In late September 2002, the agency started to kick the tires on some sources they’ve been using, like Curveball Kanaks boss asked her to look into whether the curveball intel made sense.

S4: I was too important to actually do any work, so I got two guys, one of my one of the guys who worked for me was an old German hand, and another one’s a young woman who is like, really good at technology so that if we needed to find documents, she would know what she was doing. As you guys know from this morning, having me do that would have been like a goat girl. So I got the two of them and I said, here are the words that I know we’re looking for. Here’s the general story, which is this guy’s given us a lot of information and we need to let him go, find me the stuff and come back.

S1: The first big red flag Haddock’s team found they didn’t have access to any biographical information about Curveball, which someone had level should have had no data on his background, his expertise, how he’d left Iraq. And once she got her hands on his file, there was no evidence that anyone on the American side had independently vetted Curveball biography.

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S4: I don’t know that anybody ever sat down with Curveball and said, where were you born? How many sisters do you have? How many brothers do you have? Where do your parents do you know what hospital where you born in? It was never in the records. And that’s part of where my problems with the case started.

S1: And the second big red flag, well, everything Curveball said Tanakh, it didn’t pass the common sense test.

S4: Let’s see, you were involved in a supersensitive weapons program, and yet they let you walk out of the country. That doesn’t happen in places like Iraq. You know, they kill you.

S1: For Hanak, the picture wasn’t adding up. She wrote a memo saying as much, it didn’t seem to make a dent. People within the agency continue to act like curveballs. Information was reliable. A couple months later, around Christmas time, Hanak joined a meeting about Curveball. She told the group in no uncertain terms, the curveball didn’t seem legit. The meeting got heated. There was an analyst there from WINPAC, the weapons research center. Margaret told me this analyst argued it was meaningful that Curveball knew just for the weapons that it was.

S4: And she says, well, that verifies that he’s been there. And I say, well, no, I mean, it may verify that he’s been there, but he may also be the guy who delivers Cokes because there’s a whole slew of people to include movie directors who go in and out of the CIA front lobby. But they’ve never worked there. They’re delivering soda. They’re delivering groceries. We even had a Dunkin Donuts. It doesn’t mean excuse me, you work there or have any idea what they do.

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S1: The analyst also told Henock the Curveball scenario was plausible.

S4: And I said, what do you mean plausible? And she said, well, we can find similar things on the Internet. So, you know, genius that I am, I said, well, how do you know that’s not where he found it?

S1: Tanach? It seemed obvious that curveballs information was bad.

S4: Saddam Hussein may have weapons of mass destruction, but this guy doesn’t know anything about them. If you’re going on his word, you’re going to be disappointed. I don’t know what he has, but neither does Curveball. You get to be wrong. But when somebody says, have you thought about this like that, he got it off the Internet, then you have to go. But if you’re talking about sending people to die, you have to go back and check.

S1: Henock sent an email to a large group. It begins, although no one asked. It is my assessment.

S4: That’s me. And you’re shocked by that.

S1: The opening, though, has a real tone to it. No one asked, but the email goes on to say it is my assessment that Curveball had some access to some of this information and was more forthcoming and cooperative when he needed resettlement assistance. Now that he does not need it, his less helpful, possibly because when he was being helpful, he was embellishing a bit. That email and the rest of his concerns made it into the official 2005 congressional postmortem on intelligence failures. I thought her email got through to people that maybe should stop the Curveball thing until she heard President Bush’s State of the Union address in January.

S8: We know that Iraq in the late 1990s had several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved from place to place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

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S1: This, as it turned out, was just a warm up for Colin Powell.

S5: It was quite a show on 10 by 10 video screens. Powell explained for the world how Iraq is allegedly producing biological weapons and up to seven different mobile labs. The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998.

S1: In late November 2002, a team of weapons inspectors from the United Nations entered Iraq. It was the first time they’d been there since Saddam Hussein kicked them out four years earlier. The inspectors searched a brewery, a dump hospital, an ice factory, nothing. They didn’t find any evidence of weapons, just grain silos and chicken coops. So many chicken coops that one weapons inspector made shirts for the whole group. They read Ballistic Chicken Farm Inspection Team. In February 2003, three days after Powell speech inspectors arrived at a site Curveball had described. Still no weapons. That didn’t stop the US after all. The logic went the Iraqis were liars. So why would a lack of weapons be evidence that there were no weapons? The US invaded Iraq on March 20th, 2003, at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in April, the deputy director of the CIA, John McLaughlin, was seated at the same table as Colin Powell. Powell and John McLaughlin were both guests of the L.A. Times were Bob Drogin worked. Drogon was also there that night,

S6: and John performed a wonderful card trick that involved bringing a twenty dollar bill or hundred dollar bill out of nowhere, whatever it was. And Colin Powell was watching and very tersely says now find the weapons of mass destruction. I was clear he was felt set up about it.

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S1: And was he laughing when he said that are just totally serious?

S6: No, no, he was totally serious. I think he was very angry. He was my memory is he was his lips were person. His his face was not it was not a joke. And McGlocklin said, oh, we will, we will.

S1: We will by early May to Iraqi trucks turned up. They seemed like they could have been the trailers Curveball was talking about. They didn’t have bio weapons on them, but there were traces of ammonia and look like maybe the Iraqis had tried to clean them up in a hurry. And back in Germany, Curveball corroborated the discovery. George W. Bush announced that the WMD had been found.

S8: We discovered biological, mobile, biological laboratories, the very same laboratories that Colin Powell talked about at the United Nations, the very same laboratories that were banned by the resolutions of the United Nations.

S1: Bush’s announcement was premature. Other experts were brought in for a second opinion. These were not mobile biological weapons trucks. They weren’t technically capable of making bio weapons at all. These trucks were meant to produce hydrogen, which is exactly what the Iraqis had told inspectors they were for. And the trace ammonia that had been found. It wasn’t the remains of a cleaning agent. It was urine. Someone just took a leak in the trucks. The mobile labs Kerbal described never showed up, no WMD were ever found, all three of the other Iraqi sources who had backed Curveball story either recanted or straight up lying.

S5: President Bush acknowledged today a new report proves Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, the man who led the search for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction made it official. When the war started, Saddam Hussein had no chemical or biological weapons and no secret programs to build them.

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S1: Curveball was a full on liar, but how do you figure out what to say to convince his interrogators that he knew what he was talking about? Well, for one thing, by the late 90s, the intel reports from the U.N. weapons inspectors were available on the Internet. Plus, the BND gave Curveball a chemical engineering handbook to help him communicate details better across the language barrier. They asked him leading questions and he was a trained engineer, so he knew how to answer them, especially with the help of a book.

S6: Curveball entire story was a hoax. It was a con. It was a fraud. He just wanted a visa. He wanted a Mercedes. He wanted a new life. He wanted to, you know, live in Germany, wanted to get out of Iraq. He was, you know, it turned out a shlub, a nobody, a refugee who told a few lies to get asylum and instead wound up helping to start a war.

S1: Curveball later admitted that he’d made it all up in his telling. He claimed he wanted more than a visa. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime, he told The Guardian in 2011. I and my sons are proud of that, and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy. So was Curveball really an anti Saddam freedom fighter? It’s not clear. He had an estranged brother who worked for Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress. But there’s never been any proof that Curveball was working with the agency. The mobile labs weren’t the only WMD evidence that turned out to be dead wrong in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. He claimed that Iraq had purchased a substance called yellowcake to make nuclear weapons.

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S8: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

S1: That was based on discredited Italian intelligence, a bad forgery of papers showing the sale, George Tenet had warned Bush off from that intelligence before regardless. The president chose to use the information but attribute the sourcing to British intelligence. Colin Powell had already refused to use the yellowcake stuff in his speech, but he did talk about aluminum tubes that could be used in centrifuges as proof that Iraq was restarting its nuclear program.

S5: Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries even after inspections resumed. These tubes are controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group precisely because they can be used as centrifuges for enriching uranium.

S1: The CIA back to that assessment of the tubes, but analysts at the Energy and State Departments didn’t think they were the right size for enriching uranium. Those analysts turned out to be right. For her part, Henock still gets mad that no one listened when she raised doubts about Curveball.

S4: There were too many shortcuts. There were too many people who weren’t versed in the craft. There were too many people who were too eager to make their bosses happy. It was a goat grop.

S1: Tenet and his deputy both deny they were warned about Curveball in advance of Powell speech. The American intelligence community screwed up badly in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. It’s easy to blame the war on that. And that’s what a lot of people who supported it now do. But the CIA was responding to clear pressure from the administration to support a preordained conclusion. Bill McGuckin,

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S2: at the time, it didn’t seem strange to me, but my views have changed entirely. What we were doing was putting together a presentation based on intelligence reporting. Certainly that’s our function to do that for for the national leadership. But the real intention of the thing was to sell a policy. I’ve since become very skeptical about intelligence officials being involved in various decisions to sell policy.

S1: A few years back after she decided to retire, Hanak run into Tenet in the parking lot of the CIA headquarters at Langley.

S4: And he said, What do you want to do? And I said, I think I want to go on to the Hill. I’m thinking I said, I’m thinking about the Hill. And he said, don’t do it, you’ll hate it and they’ll hate you. I was like, whoa. And I’m sure he was right on both counts, but really the latter. And he said, you know what? You really have to do whatever you decide to do, you have to follow your heart. And I said, you know, I think I pretty much do that. And he said, I wish I had.

S1: Next time and Sobhan, The New York Times, Judith Miller and the blame game,

S7: Judy, is a force of nature. Intense, intense, intense. I kept asking the

S3: editors what’s going on with my stories and it always act like they didn’t know.

S6: I had one reporter describe it to me as you know, that the horror film trope, the phone call is coming from within the house.

S1: Slow Burn is a production of Sleepless Nights membership program. Slate plus members get bonus episodes of summer and every week where we’ll go behind the scenes into making the show and air clips and interviews that we couldn’t fit in here. On this week’s bonus episode, you’ll be hearing from Carl Ford, who is the assistant secretary at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, otherwise known as INR, the State Department. Carl Small team was one of the few to challenge the administration on key pieces of intelligence in the run up to the war. Head over to Slate dotcoms, a slow burn to sign up and listen. Now it’s only a dollar for your first month. We couldn’t make slow burn without the support of Slate plus. So please sign up if you can head over to CENTCOM, says Lovren. Sobhan is produced by me. Jason de Leon and Sophie agreed with Editorial Direction by Josh Levine and Gabriel Roth. Our mix engineer is married. Jacob Brendan Angelides composed our theme song. The artwork for Slow Burn is by Jim Cuck. Special thanks to Jared Holt, June Thomas, Megan Karlstrom, Rachel Ström, Seth Brown, Chao to Asher Solutia and Katie Raiford. Thanks for listening.