White House used 'gossip' to build case for war

The disclosure, in The Los Angeles Times, came after a week of vitriolic debate on Iraq, amid growing demands for a speedy withdrawal of US troops and tirades from Bush spokesmen who all but branded as a traitor anyone who suggested that intelligence was deliberately skewed to make the case for war.

Yesterday Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, joined the fray, saying that talk of manipulation of intelligence "does great disservice to the country".

In Beijing, President George Bush said that a speedy pullout was "a recipe for disaster" - but the proportion of Americans wanting precisely that (52 per cent according to a new poll) is now higher than wanted similar action in 1970, at the height of the Vietnam war.

In an extraordinary detailed account, the Times charted the history of the source, codenamed Curveball, an Iraqi chemical engineer who arrived in Germany in 1999 seeking political asylum, and told the German intelligence service, the BND, how Saddam Hussein had developed mobile laboratories to produce biological weapons.

But by summer 2002, his claims had been thrown into grave doubt. Five senior BND officials told the newspaper they warned the CIA that Curveball never claimed to have been involved in germ weapons production, and never saw anyone else do so. His information was mostly vague, secondhand and impossible to confirm, they told the Americans - "watercooler gossip" according to one source.

Nonetheless the CIA would hear none of the doubts. President Bush referred to Curveball's tale in his January 2003 State of the Union address, and the alleged mobile labs were a central claim in the now notorious presentation to the United Nations by Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, in February 2003, making the case for war.

The senior BND officer who supervised Curveball's case said he was aghast when he watched Mr Powell overstate Curveball's case. "We were shocked," he said. "We had always told them it was not proven ... It was not hard intelligence."

The Iraqi, it now is clear, told his story to bolster his quest for a German residence visa. According to BND officials, he was psychologically unstable.

The debacle became complete when American investigators, sent after the invasion to find evidence of the WMDs, instead discovered Curveball's personnel file in Baghdad. It showed he had been a low-level trainee engineer, not a project chief or site manager, as the CIA had insisted. Moreover he had been dismissed in 1995 - just when he claimed to have begun work on bio-warfare trucks.

Curveball was also apparently jailed for a sex crime and then drove a Baghdad taxi.

The latest disclosures come at an especially delicate moment, as the Senate Intelligence Committee is about to resume a long-stalled inquiry into the administration's use of pre-war intelligence. Committee members said last week that the Curveball case would be a key part of their review. House Democrats are calling for a similar inquiry.

Washington is also still reverberating from the outburst of John Murtha, the veteran Democratic Congressman and defence hawk with close ties to the Pentagon, who last week urged an immediate "redeployment" of the 160,000 US troops in Iraq. Administration attempts to label him a defeatist have abjectly backfired. "I've never seen such an outpouring" of support, the decorated Marine Corps veteran, now 73, declared on NBC's Meet the Press programme yesterday. "It's not me, it's the public that's thirsting for answers."

No longer could President Bush "hide behind empty rhetoric". Mr Murtha said that his vote for war in October 2002 "was obviously a mistake. We were misled, they exaggerated the intelligence". He forecast that whatever the Bush administration said, "We'll be out of there by election day 2006" - a reference to next November's mid-term elections, when many Republicans fear that the Iraq debacle could drag the party down to defeat.

Intelligence red herrings

* Curveball: The Iraqi chemical engineer in his late twenties who defected to Germany in 1995, with tales of mobile germ weapons laboratories that were dubious before the invasion, and later shown to be false. The CIA brushed aside all doubts.

* Ahmed Chalabi: The exiled Iraqi leader won his way into the favour of the Pentagon. Defectors he brought to US attention proved to be false, as was his claim that US invaders would be met with bouquets.

* Iraq's quest to buy uranium from Niger: This claim was based on forged documents originating in Italy, but President Bush repeated it in his 2003 State of the Union speech.

* The aluminium tubes affair: Saddam was said to be seeking parts for a centrifuge for use in making a nuclear weapon. Analysts' doubts were disregarded.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness