Friday, May 05, 2006

judy miller, curveball and mobile weapons labs

Given my new-found interest with the mobile labs (recent posts here and here), I thought I'd put together a time-line. I'm particularly interested in how the idea of the mobile weapons lab entered the intel stream, when, how & why the US decided to make them, and whether, how & why labs were found in iraq.

The timeline is incomplete - but my loose working hypothesis is that some 'faction' decided to take the rumours that saddam had once considered mobile weapons labs and run with it. The hypothesis is that Chalabi, financed by Rumsfeld, decided to leverage that original story by planting a source (Curveball) who claimed that he was involved in the manufacture of these labs. Contemporaneously, Rumsfeld et al organized the manufacture of more than one of these labs - utilizing the expertise of Stephen Hatfill. I also posit that one of these labs-on-wheels was supposed to be planted in iraq as 'proof' of saddam's WMD capabilities and intentions.

For one reason or other, this endeavour failed. I'm not sure if it's because David Kelly decided not to play along, or if Brewster Jennings discovered the plot, or if something else happened. What is apparent, though, is that the administration decided to desperately stick to the original script regardless of the facts on the ground - with Bush demanding that he had found Weapons of Mass Destruction.

here's the timeline.

According to Judy
After Iraq lost the 1991 Persian Gulf war and agreed to destroy its unconventional arms, Iraqi officials told United Nations inspectors that Baghdad had once considered making mobile germ plants.
This appears to suggest that the plan was to use Mobile Weapons Labs (MWLs) before even 1991

Judy again:
In the fall of 1997, Dr. Hatfill, a medical doctor, entered the world of germ defense by taking a job at Fort Detrick, where he studied protections against deadly viruses like Ebola. In late 1998, he began working at Science Applications, a company based in San Diego that has offices in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. Among other things, it helps the government develop defenses against germ weapons.
According to the LATimes, in 1998 Curveball turns up in a German refugee camp. He is a chemical engineer from Baghdad, and is the brother of one of Chalabi's top aides. Was he at the refugee camp legitimately? I don't know. (emptywheel has argued that refugee camps are spooked up - but I think she particularly refers to those in war zones)

"The LA Times reported that Curveball was actually the brother of one of Ahmed Chalabi's top aides. This raised additional questions about his reliability, as Chalabi was asked if he knew anything about mobile weapons labs a short time before Curveball emerged.."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other senior American officials have said that in late 1999 a defecting Iraqi chemical engineer told American officials he had supervised operations at a mobile germ unit, and that Baghdad was making a fleet of them.
By early 2000, (Curveball) was working with Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, known as the BND, in exchange for an immigration card.

The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, which handled Iraqi refugees in Germany, furnished the engineer with the Curveball code-name. He soon began providing technical drawings and detailed information indicating that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein secretly had built lethal germ factories on trains and trucks.

But the DIA never sought to check his background or information. Instead, the commission found, the DIA saw itself as a conduit for German intelligence, and funneled nearly 100 Curveball reports to the CIA between January 2000 and September 2001.
In May 2000, there was a brief meeting between Curveball and a DIA medical technician, after which 'the DIA medical technician questioned the validity of Curveball's information.' This was the only time the US was 'given access' by the Germans to Curveball until March 2004, for some reason.

In July 2003, Judy wrote:
Three years ago, the United States began a secret project to train Special Operations units to detect and disarm mobile germ factories of the sort that Iraq and some other countries were suspected of building, according to administration officials and experts in germ weaponry.

The heart of the effort, these officials said, was a covert plan to construct a mobile germ plant, real in all its parts but never actually "plugged in" to make weapons.
In 2000, Dr. Hatfill began gathering parts for the mobile unit, an expert said. Another quoted Dr. Hatfill as saying he had bought parts for the Delta trailer long before its construction and stored them in a warehouse.
The trainer's construction began in September 2001, one expert said.

The first set of anthrax letters had a Trenton, New Jersey postmark dated September 18, 2001, exactly one week after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Five letters are believed to have been mailed at this time, to ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and the New York Post, all in New York City; and the National Enquirer at American Media, Inc. (AMI) in Boca Raton, Florida.[1] AMI also publishes a tabloid called Sun where Robert Stevens, the first person who died from the mailings, worked. Only the New York Post and NBC News letters were actually found; the existence of the other three letters is inferred from the pattern of infection.
Two additional anthrax letters, bearing the same Trenton postmark, were dated October 9, three weeks after the first mailing.
Science Applications fired (Hatfill) in March 2002. The secret Delta trailer, a person close to Dr. Hatfill said, was then half built.
Another warning came in April 2002, when a foreign spy service told the CIA it had "doubts about Curveball's reliability," the commission reported.
In the summer of 2002, when (the MWL) was ready for delivery to Fort Bragg, N.C., the FBI demanded to search the mock mobile laboratory for evidence that it could have been used to prepare the anthrax used in the mailings.
With skepticism rising about Curveball, Drumheller said he arranged a lunch meeting with a German counterpart at Pavitt's behest in late September or early October 2002 to ask for an American meeting with Curveball.

By then, Drumheller said, German intelligence officials were increasingly wary of Curveball. But he said they didn't want to acknowledge their doubts in public and risk embarrassment.

Drumheller said the German intelligence officer used the lunch to convey a stark warning: "Don't even ask to see him because he's a fabricator and he's crazy."

Drumheller said he passed that warning up to Pavitt's office. He said he also informed another senior official in the European division and sent a notice to WINPAC, where the chief bioweapons analyst was considered the Curveball expert.
In the months before the war against Iraq, American commandos trained on this factory (MWL).
(note: some of the following entries are from Booman's timeline - i've marked them with an asterisk)

April 19, 2003: a trailer found near Mosul in northern Iraq

May 9, 2003*: The US Army's 101st Airborne Division finds a second trailer at al-Kindi, a former missile research facility in Iraq.

Judy, May 10:
A team of experts searching for evidence of biological and chemical weapons in Iraq has concluded that a trailer found near Mosul in northern Iraq in April is a mobile biological weapons laboratory, the three team members said today.

Describing their four-day examination of the lab for the first time and on the condition of anonymity, the members of the Chemical Biological Intelligence Support Team-Charlie, or Team Charlie, said they had based their conclusion on a thorough examination of the gray-green trailer, with the help of British experts and a few American soldiers.

The members acknowledged that some experts were still uncertain whether the trailer was intended to produce biological agents. But they said they were persuaded that it was a mobile lab for biological production.
Other American experts say they believe that teams hunting for biological and chemical weapons may now have located parts of three mobile labs, military and civilian officials said today.

Those experts said that in addition to the Mosul trailer and another one found recently in northern Iraq, a smaller trailer was discovered last week by American forces near Baghdad. They said the smaller trailer, like the one near Mosul, had been taken to Baghdad International Airport for further examination.

The experts also said they believed that based on intelligence information, there might be as many as eight mobile labs in Iraq, adding that the locations of the other five have not yet been determined.
The team's chemical expert, a 34-year-old former marine, said the team had found identification plates on equipment inside the trailer that "had dates from 2000 to 2002."
The lab was mobile, the team concluded, despite the fact that there were no shock absorbers between the tires' rubber and the lab floor.

The team said the configuration of the trailer and the equipment inside it was similar in many respects to the lab described in detail by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in his speech to the United Nations in February.
(FTR - I'm including Judy's reporting in the timeline because she is part of the story, not cos it's fact - and because the bollox is extraordinary. Read the originals for more bamboozlement - it's difficult to know what to leave in, and what to exclude)

emptywheel: "from May 15 to June (1), I'm guessing, there was virtually no weapons inspection team (it has been announced that the weapons search will switch over to ISG). And it's not until late June that Kay arrives in Iraq. So for virtually this whole period, there is no weapons team in Iraq"

May 19: David Kelly tried to go to Iraq 'to carry out a reconnaissance' via Kuwait. He incorrectly assumed that the MoD (Permanent Joint War Headquarters) had organised his visa for Kuwait. He was allowed to board the plane in London, but was refused entry in Kuwait. He was physically searched, physically restrained, kept overnight in a hotel, his phone was taken from him and sent home the following day.
"he was angry and frustrated... (and) a little embarrassed that his attempts to support and provide support to the Iraqi Survey Group had been thwarted."

Judy May 21:
two mysterious trailers found in Iraq were mobile units to produce germs for weapons, but they have found neither biological agents nor evidence that the equipment was used to make such arms
Face plates on the vessels show that they were made in 2002 and 2003.
May 22, 2003*: David Kelly meets BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan in central London's Charing Cross Hotel.

May 28, 2003*: The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] issue a 6-page white paper titled, "Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants," concluding that the two trailers discovered in northern Iraq were designed to produce biological weapons. (note: judy mentions this paper in her May 21 article)

May 29, 2003*: Bush says: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them."

'Early June': Miller unexpectedly returned to Baghdad via Kuwait in the middle of the night in early June, "to try to report... why there were doubts about the mobile labs." (emptywheel notes that the 'doubters' weren't in Iraq though). Miller "was denied permission to rejoin the weapons-hunting teams and was put on the next plane out." (Her June 7 article notes that "The reporting for this article was carried out by Judith Miller in Iraq and Kuwait")

June 3, 2003*: Condoleezza Rice asserts having information from "multiple sources" which confirm the existence of weapons-producing units "exactly like" the discovered trailers. "We know that these trailers look exactly like what was described to us by multiple sources as the capabilities for building or for making biological agents.

June 5: Kelly leaves the UK on his way to Iraq, again. Arrives Qatar (ISG HQ)

June 6: Kelly spends the night in Qatar again

June 7: Kelly goes to Kuwait (I think it was on the 7th) and spends at least one night there)

Judy, June 7:
" American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs."
June 8, 2003*: Condoleezza Rice appears on Meet the Press: "Already, we've discovered, uh, uh, trailers, uh, that look remarkably similar to what Colin Powell described in his February 5th speech," biological weapons production facilities.

June 8: Kelly appears to arrive in Iraq on the 8th June. He visits the Baghdad International Airport which was then the forward operating area for the Iraqi Survey Group. which was just forming. He was briefed on the MWLs, viewed & photographed them. "He was very much impounded within a presidential palace". Apparently he had wanted to get back to Iraq earlier, but there were 'constant changes of date' beyond the Kuwait/visa problem.

June 11: Kelly leaves Iraq

June 15: British press quotes Kelly (anonymously): "'They are not mobile germ warfare laboratories. You could not use them for making biological weapons. They do not even look like them."

June 30, 2003*: Kelly writes a letter to his line manager Bryan Wells at the Ministry of Defence to say he had unauthorized contact with Gilligan.

July 2: Judy outs the Hatfill program where he was designing a MWL in secret. Her article doesn't mention MWL's in Iraq.

July 3: WaPo writes about the Hatfill program - and outs a separate secret MWL. I suspect that Judy may have been trying to pre-empt the WaPo article.

July 8, 2003*: A meeting is held at No. 10, which Tebbit said was chaired by Blair, where it is agreed Kelly's name will be confirmed to any journalist who puts it to the MoD.

July 16: Kelly gives evidence before the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
NYT's Judith Miller sends e-mail to David Kelly: "David, I heard from another member of your fan club that things went well for you today. Hope it's true, J."

July 17: Kelly responds to Miller's e-mail: "Judy, I will wait until the end of the week before judging--many dark actors playing games. Thanks for your support. I appreciate your friendship at this time. Best, David."

July 17: Tony Blair makes a 'surprise' (escape-hatch) visit to the US.

July 17, 2003*: Dr Kelly leaves his house in Abingdon in Oxfordshire, telling his wife he is going for a walk. Is found dead soon after. Murdered or suicided.

April 12, 2006, we learned :

On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true."


Is that any clearer? As I mentioned at the top of the post, it's still just a working hypothesis at this point - but something weird is going on.

Thanks to mamyaga in the comments for her great input/questions - and to emptywheel and simon - particularly in the comments to this post - and thanks for bring david kelly into the story. it's really quite remakable that plame and kelly were both wmd experts, were both outed in the same week - and one ended up dead and the other was apparently just some guy's wife.

oh - and judy was deeply involved with both stories. oh - and she happens to be a spooked-up wmd junkie as well.

there are some other weird similarities between the plame/kelly stories that i wont get into at the mo.

and for some conspiracy icing-on-the-top

1) someone at EW's left this comment
In Libys letter to Judy, he mentioned 'SUICIDE "BOMBERS, AND STORIES TO "COVER" could the suicude be a reference to David Kelly?
2) read xymphora's take - here's a snippet (but not really a taste):
One of the mysteries of the case of David Kelly is how he thought he was going to get away with revealing the sordid things about the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Blair's government that he apparently told Andrew Gilligan. Another of the mysteries is why he waited until after the war was over to express his thoughts on the misleading nature of Blair's dossier, when he could have stopped or delayed the attack had he spoken out sooner.


mamayaga said...

Great timeline, Lukery. I do think it's worth noting that Kelly may have been in someone's sights long before he spoke to Gilligan: He made that cryptic remark in February 2003 about being found "dead in the woods" if Iraq were invaded, and as you note, he encountered some astonishing barriers to getting into Iraq after the war, not once but twice. This despite his working for British MoD and having been to Iraq as a weapons inspector dozens of times before. We know that intelligence was being fixed around policy for a substantial while before the invasion -- one wonders if Kelly had signaled an unwillingness to cooperate in that effort during the run up in the year or two before.

lukery said...

mamayaga - it was your questions about the kuwait visa thing that triggered me to write this - so thank YOU :-)

yeah - theres a lot that i left out - but i was trying to just keep it contained to the labs.

emptywheel said...

Great job, Lukery.

You might want to add Judy's mystery trip to Iraq in early June. I'm curious whether it coincides with Kelly's.

Also I should probably caveat my comment about the weapons inspection teams. Mid May reporting describes the 75th XTF as doing nothing but training the ISG people coming in, and also notes their disbelief anything will be found. BUt that's just beginning at that point; I don't think they got off the ground for a few weeks.

Task Force 20, though, I have no idea about. They may well have still been active and might be a more likely team to try to game the trailers.

emptywheel said...

Another data point. From a Fall Jehl/Judy article, relating back to Judy's leak of the White Paper in May:

The details of Mr. Kay's findings have been closely held within the administration as part of a strategy that officials said was intended both to prevent unauthorized leaks and to minimize internal disputes about any emerging findings. Issues related to the Iraqi weapons program have been contentious inside the administration as well as outside, with the State Department's intelligence branch and some officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency taking issue with a report made public in May by the C.I.A. that said mysterious trailers discovered in Iraq were used to manufacture biological weapons.

Suggests it was INR and DIA that refused to let them spin the trailers.

lukery said...

thnx EW - I'd forgotten about that trip.

i've added: "'Early June': Miller unexpectedly returned to Baghdad via Kuwait in the middle of the night in early June, "to try to report... why there were doubts about the mobile labs." (emptywheel notes that the 'doubters' weren't in Iraq though). Miller "was denied permission to rejoin the weapons-hunting teams and was put on the next plane out." (Her June 7 article notes that "The reporting for this article was carried out by Judith Miller in Iraq and Kuwait")"

can we tighten that timing up any? that's the most specific i could find. i suspect that the june7 article was written stateside - but i'm not sure (ew has said that judy had returned by the 7th). note that the NYT says she actually did some reporting in Kuwait, so it apparently wasnt just a stop-over.

also note the contradiction: VF: "she returned briefly to Iraq, she later said, "to try to report on why the W.M.D. had not been found." She concentrated on one crucial aspect: why there were doubts about the mobile labs. "I wanted to find out how the intelligence services had gotten this so wrong," she said"

yet she "was denied permission to rejoin the weapons-hunting teams" - which suggests that her interest was in something more/other than learning why the MWL story was broken

lukery said...

re judy/kelly overlap - it's difficult to tell. kelly was in qatar for dinner on the 6th and presumably spent the night there. it's not exactly clear when he goes to kuwait - presumably the 7th and spends at least one night there. (i've corrected that bit of the timeline)

again, note that the NYT says that judy 'reported from kuwait' - and i'm not sure when she left there. i also suspect that she went thru kuwait after baghdad as well.