WASHINGTON – Two former CIA chiefs on Friday disputed claims cited by a presidential commission that agency officials warned them that the government's leading source on Iraq's biological weapons was making things up.
In a scathing report released Thursday, President Bush's intelligence commission found that the CIA "failed to convey to policy-makers new information casting serious doubt on the reliability of a human intelligence source known as 'Curveball."' The commission found that several agency officers said they had doubts about the source and raised those doubts with senior leadership, including then-CIA Director George Tenet (search).
In separate statements Friday, Tenet and former acting CIA Director John McLaughlin (search) denied the accounts.
"It is deeply troubling to me that there was information apparently available within CIA (search) as of late September or October of 2002 indicating that Curveball may have been a fabricator," Tenet said in a detailed seven-page rebuttal. "There is nothing more serious or galvanizing in the intelligence business than associating the word fabricator with a human source."
McLaughlin said "unequivocally" that he wouldn't have allowed Curveball's information to be used "if someone had made these doubts clear."
Despite the apparent concerns, the commission found that information from Curveball remained a centerpiece of former Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations about the need to attack Iraq, as well as in an authoritative intelligence estimate prepared for policy-makers in the run-up to the Iraq war.
Curveball was an Iraqi defector living in Europe who became a source for German intelligence officials, who then passed the information to Americans. He provided detailed accounts of Iraq's purported mobile weapons labs and other aspects of the fallen regime's biological weapons programs that turned out to be false.
The report said interviews with Curveball's childhood friends revealed he had a reputation as a "liar" and a "con artist," according to one CIA analyst.
"Worse than having no human sources is being seduced by a human source who is telling lies," the commission said.