False intelligence information provided by an Iraqi informant that Iraq possessed mobile biological warfare laboratories was believed in part because the source had passed a polygraph “test.” The bogus information was used by the Bush Administration in making the case for war, and was cited by Secretary of State Colin Powell in a pre-war speech before the United Nations.
In an article titled, “Intelligence officials warned that Iraq WMD information was iffy,” Jonathan S. Landay of the Knight Ritter Washington Bureau reports that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had doubts about the defector and had speculated that he may have been taught to beat the polygraph. These doubts were, however, ignored:
WASHINGTON – Dubious intelligence about Iraq’s biological weapons programs found its way into the Bush administration’s case for a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq despite the fact that officials warned in May 2002 that some of the information might be unreliable or fabricated.
The charge that Iraq had mobile biological warfare research laboratories came solely from a defector provided to U.S. intelligence officials by Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, said senior U.S. officials, revealing the oversight for the first time on Thursday. The officials, some of whom are critics of Chalabi, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the intelligence remains classified.
Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, is a favorite of pro-war civilian officials in the Pentagon but is deeply distrusted by many rank-and-file professionals in the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department, who worried that some of the defectors they produced might be Iraqi double agents.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, which debriefed the defector, flagged the information he provided as questionable in 2002. Top DIA officials helped draft an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, on Iraq’s weapons programs and reviewed Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 2003 speech to the U.N. Security Council but never raised their own agency’s doubts about the source, said two senior officials.
“It was never made clear to us that” the information was dubious, said a senior State Department official.
A DIA spokesman didn’t return a telephone call for comment.
The snafu, said another senior official, also a critic of Chalabi, raises the possibility that Chalabi and others, possibly including Saddam Hussein’s own intelligence service, may have tried to deceive the United States about the state of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.
The Iraqis, the official said, may have tried to deter a U.S.-led attack by making it appear that they were ready to use chemical and biological weapons. Meanwhile, Chalabi and others may have tried to encourage a U.S.-led attack by making it appear that Iraq was an imminent threat to American interests.
Francis Brooke, a spokesman for Chalabi in Washington, said he was unable to comment because he was unaware of the specific defectors.
Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet referred directly to the issue in his Georgetown University speech on Thursday.
“We recently discovered that relevant analysts in the (intelligence) community missed a notice that identified a source we had cited as providing information that, in some cases was unreliable, and in other cases, was fabricated,” he said without elaborating.
A CIA spokesman declined further comment.
The senior U.S. officials said questions arose in mid-2002 about the veracity of the defector who provided the information about alleged mobile biological research laboratories.
They didn’t identify the individual, but Powell told the U.N. Security Council that he was an Iraqi major.
The DIA had the man undergo a polygraph examination, which he passed, according to the senior officials.
Even so, the DIA sent the “fabrication notice” to other intelligence agencies, warning that the defector might have been trained to dupe a polygraph and that his information should be considered unreliable.
“There were still questions about whether he was being honest or truthful,” said one official. “A notice went out that maybe he was fabricating.”
The matter was among a number of problems uncovered by an internal CIA review of Iraq intelligence led by Richard Kerr, a former deputy agency director, that was ordered by Tenet.
Reporting on issues raised in CIA Director George Tenet’s 5 Feb. 2004 speech at Georgetown University in an article titled, “Tenet: Bush Not Warned Saddam Posed ‘Imminent Threat,'” Los Angeles Times correspondents Bob Drogin and Greg Miller report:
The most damaging disclosure was Tenet’s admission for the first time that the CIA had allowed “fabricated” information from an “unreliable” Iraqi defector about suspected mobile germ weapons labs to appear in two of the key prewar assessments: Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s dramatic presentation to the U.N. Security Council one year ago Friday, and the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate provided to members of Congress shortly before they voted to approve America’s use of force in Iraq. The administration insisted at the time that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and was seeking more weapons of mass destruction.
An intelligence official said later that the Iraqi National Congress, then an opposition group headed by exile Ahmed Chalabi, had delivered the defector to the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency for debriefing. Although the DIA initially circulated the informant’s claims about mobile labs, the Pentagon agency later backtracked and warned the intelligence community that “this individual was possibly fabricating or embellishing his information.”
But for reasons still unclear, analysts “didn’t notice” the warnings, the official said, and failed to prevent the bogus claims from becoming part of Powell’s presentation and the official weapons estimate for Congress.
The CIA long had suspicions of Chalabi’s group for feeding exaggerated claims from unreliable informants to bolster their case for ousting Saddam. In the mid-1990s, the CIA and the State Department had severed their connections with Chalabi, but he retained close ties to influential Pentagon officials. In this case, the official said, the CIA accepted the defector because he had passed a polygraph test and his information appeared consistent with other intelligence.