Just Above Sunset
April 3, 2005 - Newsmen Don't Throw Curveballs













Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes





Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, who often comments in the pages, says he thinks somebody should find some way to connect in print this week’s spy report, that showed Bush was getting "lies" and exciting "headlines" in his daily briefings on Iraq, and his statements at the time that the reason he doesn't read newspapers or watch television news because he'd rather get his news from the "objective" folks who put together his daily briefings.

 

Well, we do have a mess. The presidential commission investigating the intelligence fiasco that preceded the Iraq invasion reported this week that the damage done to US credibility would "take years to undo.” The general idea in the report was that American intelligence was in chaos, often paralyzed by the rivalry of fifteen different agencies and affected by unchallenged assumptions about Baghdad's supposed weapons of mass destruction.

In fact, the 601-page document is a comprehensive assessment of our intelligence failures and identifies breakdowns in dozens of cases involving multiple countries and terrorist organizations.

The conclusion?  "The commission found no evidence of political pressure to influence the intelligence community's prewar assessments of Iraq's weapons programs."

George is off the hook. But it does mention that there are the dangers of intelligence leaders becoming too close to the president and risking the loss of objectivity.

Any news there?  No.

Was this a whitewash?  Some see it that way.

To anyone who says it was a whitewash there is this sarcastic comment here -

 

I'm shocked, shocked to think that anyone would interpret Dick Cheney's visits to the CIA, W's immediate assignment of blame to Iraq after 9/11 and Don Rumsfeld's, Colin Powell's and Condi Rice's flagrant disregard for facts, evidence and integrity in the run up to war as somehow proving much of the blame lies with senior cabinet members. Next you'll be asserting that the man who preaches personal responsibility and honesty should take a "buck stops here" approach and accept accountability for a war that never should have been fought. Oh and I'm sure you'll want to dredge up the ever changing "101 Best Reasons We Went to War" aided by the MSM [mainstream media] and how facts were interpreted at the White House in the worst possible light in order to justify an unjustifiable attack. Well if you're going to be a spoilsport, we'll just have to empanel another commission--this one to prove there never was a second Iraq war and that this has all been misinformation fed to us by that liberal media. That'll show you.

 

Whatever.

But who does the president trust for knowing what’s up? Here’s Michael Kinsley from October 16, 2003 explaining it all -

 

To President Bush, the news is like a cigarette. You can get it filtered or unfiltered. And which way does he prefer it? Well, that depends on the circumstances. When he is trying to send a message to the public, Bush prefers to have it go out unfiltered. He feels, for example, that the "good news about Iraq" is getting filtered out by the national media. "Somehow you just got to go over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the American people," he said the other day. So, lately he has been talking to local and regional media, whom he trusts to filter less.

But when he is on the receiving end, Bush prefers his news heavily filtered. "I glance at the headlines, just to get kind of a flavor," he told Brit Hume of Fox News last month. But, "I rarely read the stories" because "a lot of times there's opinions mixed in with news." Instead, "I get briefed by [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card and Condi [Rice, the national security adviser] in the morning."

The president concluded, "The best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."

 

Drat, it SO hard to find good servants these days!

But think about this -

 

… And where does the Rice-Card News Service obtain its uncontaminated information? Bush conceded his shocking suspicion that Rice and Card "probably read the news themselves." They do? Whatever is next? The president apparently is willing to tolerate the reading of newspapers by his staff members in the privacy of their own homes, as long as they don't flaunt this unseemly habit by bringing the wretched things into the White House or referring to them at staff meetings.

The president noted, though, that Rice and Card also get "news directly from participants on the world stage." ("Hi, Achmed—it's Condi. What's going on there in Baghdad? What's the weather like? And how's traffic? Thanks, I'll go tell the president and call you again in 15 minutes.") The notion that these world-stagers are sources of objective opinion while newspaper reporters are burdened by insuppressible opinions and hidden agendas is another odd one.

 

Well, you have to assume a functioning, inquisitive press, digging into things – they call it investigating – to go with Kinsley here.  Does our press still do that?

But assume they had done that – looking into things and asking probing questions and challenging the official word of the administration. Of course that is hard to imagine, given everyone what deathly afraid of being seen as unpatriotic and on “the other side” with the bad guys - but try.

Ah, Bush would still have dismissed whatever was uncovered – as he’d rather listen to the "actual participants on the world stage."

A fat lot of good that did him.

All these participant on the world stage were listening to Curveball.

Who?

 

That would be a fellow who claimed to be an Iraqi chemical engineer who defected to the side of the good guys.  That would be us.  Unfortunately he was a liar and a drunk.  The local paper here, the Los Angeles Times, broke the story on him in March of 2004 – but he’s key now.

The Times follows up on that on, appropriately enough, April Fools Day.

Intelligence Analysts Whiffed on a 'Curveball'
Greg Miller and Bob Drogin, Friday, April 01, 2005

Cute headline, isn’t it?

Anyway, the details are depressing.

Like this -

 

Prewar claims by the United States that Iraq was producing biological weapons were based almost entirely on accounts from a defector who was described as "crazy" by his intelligence handlers and a "congenital liar" by his friends.

The defector, code-named "Curveball," spoke with alarming specificity about Iraq's alleged biological weapons programs and fleet of mobile labs. But postwar investigations showed that he wasn't even in the country at times when he claimed to have taken part in illicit weapons work.

Despite persistent doubts about his credibility, Curveball's claims were included in the Bush administration's case for war without so much as a caveat. And when CIA analysts argued after the war that the agency needed to admit it had been duped, they were forced out of their jobs.

The disclosures about Curveball and the extensive role he played in corrupting U.S. intelligence estimates on Iraq were included in a devastating report released Thursday by a commission established by President Bush to evaluate U.S. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.

… U.S. intelligence agencies' reliance on Curveball and their failure to scrutinize his claims are described in the report as the "primary reason" that the CIA and other spy agencies "fundamentally misjudged the status of Iraq's [biological weapons] programs." No other episode is explored in as much detail, or recounted with as much evident dismay.

"Worse than having no human sources," the commission said, "is being seduced by a human source who is telling lies."

 

Well, at least Curveball wasn’t an investigative newspaper reporter.

The Times also notes that the CIA never even had access to Curveball. He was controlled by Germany's intelligence service, and they passed along the information they collected to our guys through the Defense Intelligence Agency - and that’s the Pentagon agency that at the time handled information from Iraqi defectors. So, false information, and secondhand too. And it seems the Defense Intelligence Agency used his stuff in a hundred reports or so. And according to the report, the Defense Intelligence Agency "did not even attempt to determine Curveball's veracity."

Oops.  Really should have checked.

Oh yeah, that October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate claiming Iraq "has" biological weapons was "based almost exclusively on information obtained" from Curveball.

Not good.  That’s what Colin Powell took to the UN.

But this is just classic -

 

… there were problems with Curveball's claims at an early stage. Some CIA officials noted that Curveball's memory showed significant "improvement" as he pursued a European immigration deal and deteriorated when it was granted.

In May 2000, a Defense Department official assigned to the CIA was allowed to meet with Curveball, apparently to examine the source physically to see whether he bore signs of having survived a biological weapons accident or had been vaccinated for exposure to such agents.

The evaluation was "inconclusive," according to the commission. But the official expressed concern that Curveball had a "hangover" during their meeting and "might be an alcoholic." Further, the official was surprised that Curveball spoke excellent English because the Germans had said he didn't speak the language.

By early 2001, the CIA was getting messages from German intelligence that Curveball was "out of control" and could not be located. Some of Curveball's information was contradicted by other intelligence. His description of a depot for the weapons labs didn't match surveillance images, which showed a wall where Curveball said vehicles were entering and exiting.

As war approached, new problems surfaced. Before Powell's presentation, the CIA pressed for permission to speak directly with Curveball. The head of one of the agency's divisions arranged a lunch with a German intelligence official.

The German official discouraged the idea, saying, "You don't want to see him because he's crazy," according to the commission report. The German went on to suggest that Curveball had suffered a nervous breakdown, that speaking with him would be "a waste of time," and that he might be a "fabricator."

 

Well, at least Curveball wasn’t a reporter.

Other stuff?

 

The commission report revealed details about problems with other prominent prewar claims. The CIA asserted that Iraq was importing aluminum tubes to be used as centrifuges in a nuclear weapons program, although authorities have since concluded they were for conventional rockets.

An allegation that Iraq was seeking to acquire uranium from Niger was based on "transparently forged documents" purporting to show a contract between the countries, the commission concluded. There were "flaws in the letterhead, forged signatures, misspelled words, incorrect titles for individuals and government entities," the report said.

The contract document also referred to an alleged meeting "that took place on 'Wednesday, July 7, 2000,' even though July 7, 2000, was a Friday," the report said.

 

Oh well, we wanted that stuff to be true.

Well, how to explain this all?  Bush tried in a news conference this week (transcript here) that was pretty bizarre, as he had to speak of the death of that woman in Florida too.

What he said?

 

… the work intelligence men and women do is, by nature, secret, which is why the American people never hear about many of their successes. I'm proud of the efforts of our intelligence workers. I am proud of their commitment to the security of our country. And the American people should be proud too.

And that's why this report is important. It'll enable these fine men and women to do their jobs in better fashion, to be able to more likely accomplish their mission, which is to protect the American people. And that's why I'm grateful to the commission for this hard work.

 

Again, whatever.

But Juan Cole, that University of Michigan professor – the expert in the Middle East – was having no part of it, as he says here -

 

Bush's bizarre press conference on Thursday was according to the Washington Post "on Terri Schiavo and Weapons of Mass Destruction." That US newspapers report this bewildering juxtaposition without so much as a "Huh?" tells you to what estate political discourse in this country has fallen.

It should be obvious that Bush was cynically using the Schiavo tragedy to draw attention away from his massive intelligence failures with regard to alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Just as the Right employed the deaths of innocent Americans on 9/11 as a cover to pursue an unrelated war in Iraq, so Bush is using the death of an innocent woman to direct attention away from a supremely embarrassing report on US intelligence. Back when people used to put gold fillings in their teeth, it gave burglars an incentive occasionally to rob graves. This news conference was a sort of Public Relations grave robbery, and among the blackest moments in the history of the presidency.

 

Oh my!

 

But Bush did say nice things about our intelligence folks, didn’t he?

That only made Cole angrier -

 

That is supposed to make it all right that we sent a high-tech army into a poor, weak country and turned it into a failed state, killing 40,000 innocent Iraqis and suffering over 1500 coalition troops dead and over 10,000 US troops wounded, many maimed for life, and spending $300 billion on it? For no reason? When the poor weak state did not in fact have the weapons of mass destruction that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz insisted it had? When they bullied anyone who questioned their evidence for all this, and got their billionaire buddies who own the media to have their anchors and editorialists also bully any dissidents?

Because intelligence work is hard and secret?

How does Bush square all the violence he has unleashed in the world with his praise of "life?" What is the link between war-mongering and being "pro-life?"

 

Well, yeah, if your read the transcript you’ll find Bush talking about protecting life, as in the Florida pull-the-plug controversy, and alluding to opposing abortion as also protecting life, and to the intelligence report.

 

Are these connected?

Cole thinks so -

 

It turns out that anti-abortionism is not about life at all. It is about social control. It helps establish a hierarchical society in which men are at the pinnacle and women kept barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Likewise, the Schiavo case was in part about the religious Right dictating to Michael Schiavo how he must lead his private life.

This campaign is not really about life at all, as the examples of the raped woman or the woman whose pregnancy puts her life in danger demonstrate. It is about control, and the imposition of a minority's values on others.

And that is why the Iraq war is the perfect symbol for the anti-abortionists. Colonial conquest is always a kind of rape, but now the conquered country must bear the fetus of Bush-imposed "liberty" to term. The hierarchy is thus established. Washington is superior to Baghdad, and Iraq is feminized and deprived of certain kinds of choices.

And that is also how the Schiavo case makes sense in the end, because the religious Right feminized Michael Schiavo, made him into the pregnant woman seeking an "abortion," and wished to therefore deprive him of choice in the matter. If hierarchy is gendered, then the persons over which control is sought are always in some sense imagined as powerless women. Powerful non-fundamentalist men and uppity Third World countries that won't do as they are told are ultimately no different from feminist women seeking an abortion. All must be subdued, in the view of the Christian Right.

It is about hierarchy, power and control. It is not about life.

 

Perhaps you should read the whole Cole item at the link.  You’ll see his point.

But Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, only wanted someone to point out that the man who doesn’t trust those whose job it is to dig up what comes the closest to the truth in any matter would rather trust the secondhand news from Curveball that his staffers tell him about.

Well, there more to it.  It’s a matter of hierarchy, power and control.  The news guys are too uppity and they must be ridiculed and ignored.  Heck, they’re kind of girly-men.































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
_______________________________________________
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....























Visitors:

________