Saturday, September 02, 2006

Iraq's Biowar Labs: Mystery Solved?

* We have more from Milton Leitenberg on Curveball and the Mobile Weapons Labs.

Here's DefenseTech (in full):
Iraq's Biowar Labs: Mystery Solved?

Okay, just when you thought that the whole Curveball-Iraqi biological weapons story couldn't get any weirder, it does. Milton Leitenberg of the Center for International Security Studies has provided me with the exclusive third (and last) part of the story behind the story of the alleged Iraqi mobile biological warfare labs. In Part 1, he revealed that in 2001 the U.S. government had fabricated a "mobile BW lab" for the purposes of training SOCOM operatives on how to identify and exploit an adversary's BW production facility. In Part 2, Leitenberg discusses how a U.S. contractor developed the now infamous graphics of an Iraqi mobile BW lab - not based on any existing mobile BW lab or any hard intel from Curveball, but rather based on "the processes he [Curveball] described," which were "assessed by an independent laboratory as workable engineering designs."

In Part 3, Leitenberg completes the full riddle inside the enigma within a mystery. It may be that we can trace back the idea of a mobile BW laboratory to Scott Ritter during his tour of duty in Iraq in 1998 with UNSCOM. Ritter was trying to obtain information from the Iraqi National Congress, specifically on Iraq's intelligence agencies and WMD program. In 1998, he talked to Ahmed Chalabi about his suspicion that Saddam may have had mobile chemical or biological weapons labs, which would explain the UNSCOM's lack of success in finding any evidence. In late 1999-2000, Curveball - the brother of a top lieutenant to Ahmed Chalabi - starts talking to the German intelligence about mobile Iraqi BW labs, who forwards this information to the CIA. At the same time, Chalabi is talking to Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith about the danger of Iraq's "WMD program."

So here we have a rumor started by a former U.S. marine supporting a UN inspection team, where he passes the idea to Chalabi, who passes it to German intel and U.S. defense officials, both of whom pass the story to the CIA. The agency develops graphics drawn by a U.S. contractor based on Curveball's story and might have known of the mock-up BW lab built for SOCOM, both of which "confirms" the concept that Iraqi mobile BW labs exist, which leads to SecState Powell's speech at the UN in February 2003 and the media's echo chamber agreeing with the president that there's enough evidence to go to war against Iraq.

And as a bonus at the end of this short paper, Leitenberg reveals that Scott Ritter was pulled into a British intelligence op called "Operation Mass Appeal" run by MI6 in 1997. The purpose of "Operation Mass Appeal" was to leak weak and not "actionable" data about Iraq's WMD program to the media, who would fall upon it like hungry wolves and keep alive the public impression that Saddam had an active WMD program, despite the lack of official government endorsement. Leitenberg notes that the disinformation operation functioned similar to the DOD Office of Special Plans, but didn't involve disinformation regarding the Iraqi mobile BW production vehicles.

Call George Clooney. I've got his next movie plot all ready.
In Milton's own words:
"As indicated in Part I (June 29), Curveball's information was provided to the German intelligence services from late-1999 through 2001, and much of it had reached US intelligence agencies during 2000. (The Silberman-Robb report states that "Curveball began reporting in January 2000;" this, however, is apparently when the first reports reached US intelligence services.)

However, the most likely route by which suggestive information about putative Iraqi mobile BW production platforms could have reached Ahmad Chalabi, which he could then have utilized in feeding informants back to US intelligence agencies, has been overlooked. By his own account, Scott Ritter, the UNSCOM inspector who later became a disputed public figure, met with Chalabi in London in January and July 1998 and discussed such putative vehicles. In his 2004 book, Ritter wrote "I have met repeatedly with Achmed Chalabi."1 Ritter was seeking information from informants inside Iraq working with the INC that might help UNSCOM to resolve its intractable problems. Ritter's prime responsibility almost from the inception of his work with UNSCOM was attempting to track, intercept and overcome Iraq's mobile concealment and inspection evasion organization based in the Iraqi intelligence agencies. In speaking with Chalabi, Ritter mentioned that he suspected that Iraq might have mobile BW and CW production facilities. Interviewed for a long New Yorker profile of Chalabi, Ritter said that
He outlined most of the U.N. inspector's capabilities and theories, telling Chalabi how they had searched for underground bunkers with ground-penetrating radar. He also told Chalabi of his suspicion that Saddam may have had mobile chemical- or biological-weapon laboratories, which would explain why investigators hadn't been able to find them. "We made that up!" Ritter said. "We told Chalabi, and, lo and behold, he's fabricated a source for the mobile labs." 2
Scott Ritter’s new book titled Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein (2006, IB Tauris, UK) contains the following paragraph corroborating what this memo suggests:

“In the intelligence world, one never gives away the complete picture of what you know and what you don't know; this too easily allows you to be manipulated by sources which miraculously "confirm" data you already have while filling in the gaps in the intelligence picture. However, I was under pressure from Charles Duelfer to make this new relationship work, and I proceeded to brief Chalabi on UNSCOM's understanding about what Iraq might be hiding. This included speculation about the possible existence of mobile biological laboratories and agent production facilities. … When, several years after leaving UNSCOM, I was to read through the intelligence provided by Chalabi’s “source” (“Curveball”), which formed the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s case for war, I was struck by just how similar the data was to some of the speculative “intelligence gaps” I had provided to Ahmed Chalabi back in 1998.”

Ritter was voicing his own concerns, and not those of UNSCOM's BW team. UNSCOM's senior BW inspectors had been the recipients of General al-Sa'adi's original information in 1996 in which he stated that prior to 1990 he had offered the suggestion of mobile BW production. Nevertheless they did not consider the possible existence of such vehicles to be likely, nor did they see the subject as one of their major priorities in 1998 and 1999."
How bout that?

1 comment:

starroute said...

This stuff is probably best understood in the context of more general events of 1996-98, as detailed at a Cooperative Research page on Chalabi and in that New Yorker article from 2004 by Jane Mayer which was referred to in the original post.

In early 1996, the CIA stopped supporting Chalabi. This was followed a few months later by the catastrophic failure of a CIA-sponsored coup attempt by Iyad Alawi -- Chalabi's warnings that the plans had been compromised having been dismissed as sour grapes. By August, Saddam had crushed Chalabi's allies in Kurdistan, and Chalabi set up shop in Washington with Francis Brooke of the Rendon Group and started trying to appeal directly to Congress.

By June of 1997, Chalabi had forged an alliance with JINSA and the Neocons -- particularly Wolfowitz, Perle, and Feith and Zell, as well as Cheney. That November, David Wurmser had an editorial in the Wall Street Journal saying the US should support the INC.

In January 1998, Chalabi met in London with Scott Ritter and -- according to that New Yorker piece -- Ritter made the mistake of telling Chalabi exactly what the inspectors were looking for, and Chalabi obligingly fabricated the evidence. (This is the same meeting referred to in the original post as the point where the mobile labs idea was introduced.)

The PNAC and Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf letters calling for regime change in Iraq came out that January and February. That summer, the Downing Plan was being circulated, claiming Iraqi insurgents could topple Saddam with only minimal support from US air power and special ops. By October, Congress had passed the Iraq Liberation Act, endorsing regime change giving $97 million to the INC.

So what it seems to amount to is that the Chalabi/Neocon alliance was pushing very heavily between November 1997 and October 1998, pulling out every propaganda tool and going over the head of the Clinton administration to Congress. (It may not be coincidental that this involves the same period of time and much of the same cast of characters as Sibel's charges. It also may not be coincidental that this was the same period as the Clinton impeachment movement, with the impeachment motion itself being passed in December 1998. But figuring out how it all fits together is something else again.)