BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Bob Drogin, author of ”Curveball,” in March of 2004 is when you first published this story in The L.A. Times about Curveball. Who was he?
BOB DROGIN, AUTHOR, ”CURVEBALL”: Well, we didn’t know very much about him at that point. All we knew was that he was the chief source of the faulty intelligence on Iraq’s mobile biological weapons units, and that he had played a key role in the run-up to the war giving the Bush administration a major part, really the core of their argument against Saddam Hussein as we were going to war. And we discovered the case was really about a fraud.
LAMB: You say ”we.”
DROGIN: I was with a colleague at the time, The Los Angeles Times’ Greg Miller, great reporter, good friend.
LAMB: So how a big a deal was it when this was published, and had anybody ever heard the name Curveball before?
DROGIN: We broke the story, that had not yet come out in public. It had been classified. It was a big deal. It was picked up by numerous other news organizations and led to numerous interviews.
Greg and I did several follow-up stories through that summer. The Senate Intelligence Committee investigated the case, issued a report that summer. They had been investigating the entire pre-war intelligence fiasco.
That led to more details about the Curveball case. The following year -- and we were doing some initiative on our own. The following year there were the Robb-Silberman Commission, which was appointed by the president to look at the pre-war intelligence, issued further details.
And that led to a series of follow-up stories and sparked an investigation that I did with another colleague, John Goetz, a reporter based in Germany. And our story ran in November of 2005 and really laid out the disaster from start to finish in 7,000 or 8,000 words, quite a lot of detail for a newspaper, you know, three inside pages.
And that investigation led directly to this book, and I spent a year writing the book.
LAMB: Where do you live?
DROGIN: I live in Silver Spring, Maryland.
LAMB: How long have you been in this area?
DROGIN: Since 1998.
LAMB: And how long have you been with The Los Angeles Times?
DROGIN: Since 1983, an old-timer.
LAMB: What is your beat?
DROGIN: I have been -- since I came to Washington, I have been covering intelligence and national security. At the moment I’m doing investigative work.
LAMB: A couple of weeks ago, Sunday night, ”60 Minutes” trumpeted a two-year investigation. And they said, for the first time we can reveal the name of who Curveball is. And they showed us some video of him dancing at some event.
You start off your book by saying -- and you call him Ahmed Hassan Mohammed.
DROGIN: The name I use in the book is an alias that he was using at the time. What ”60 Minutes” did is they went with the name, they said it his real name. I had a version of that name when I was researching the book.
I couldn’t confirm it. And I was concerned this is a man who is living in a witness protection program -- a defector protection program. He has been paranoid. He has been afraid of assassinations.
Unless I was absolutely certain, unless I could reach the man, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to put his name out there like that. ”60 Minutes” obviously felt they had better confirmation and they went with it.
LAMB: They said he is Rafid Ahmed Alwan?
DROGIN: Alwan, yes, that is correct.
LAMB: Did you know that when they were -- when that Sunday night piece ran?
DROGIN: I had, as I said, a slightly different version of it. I had Rafid Alwadi (ph), and we were unable to find him. And you know, ”60 Minutes” was unable to find him. They showed a video of him dancing from 1993.
I have a picture of him that they used in their piece as well. You know, I saw the piece. I thought as a journalist, as an author, they clearly had tracked the story as I had laid it out, certainly in the pages of The Los Angeles Times and in my book.
I know they went to some of the same sources that I used. They had a few facts I didn’t have. I have many facts they don’t have. So the stories were, you know, consistent.
LAMB: Where is Curveball today?
DROGIN: Well, no one has yet found him. I believe -- in fact, I’m quite certain at this point, that he is living in southern Germany. He is married, has a young son, and he is part of the defector protection program under the protection of the German intelligence services.
LAMB: How did he get to Germany?
DROGIN: He went out to -- left Iraq in 1999, went through Libya, Egypt, Morocco. He was -- came out through Jordan. And he pitched up in Munich in November of 1999. And he applied for political asylum.
And like any other Iraqi -- anyone else applying for asylum at the time, they were sent to a camp in southern Germany known as -- just outside of Nuremberg called Zirndorf. And I went to visit Zirndorf.
And Zirndorf was originally built by the Nazis, actually, and had survived the war. But it is this massive citadel kind of place with stone walls, you know, five feet thick or something. And it looks like a prison. And it holds hundreds of refugees.
Germany is the hub of Western Europe, really, for asylum seekers who come in from the Balkans, who come in front Iraq and where else. And when he got to this facility, he had not previously said, you know, I’m here to talk about weapons of mass destruction.
But when it came, his time to be interviewed by the German intelligence service, for the very first time he began to allude to a program that he had worked on. And it began a -- it pulled him out of that facility.
He was basically jumping the line to get his asylum really is what he was trying to do. They pulled him out of that facility and began a series of interrogations and interviews that last nearly two years.
LAMB: Why would the Germans fool with him at all?
DROGIN: Well, Iraq’s -- Saddam’s Iraq, as we remember, in 1999 was still an area of intense interest. The U.N. inspectors had been kicked out, had been withdrawn in 1998 when a bombing campaign -- the Clinton administration began bombing Iraq.
And then Saddam refused to let them back in. It was a denied territory. If you remember, there were still these bombing areas in the north -- or overflight areas in the north and the south of Iraq that U.S. and British aircraft were patrolling.
There was a legitimate -- there was certainly a great fear that without the inspectors present in Iraq that Saddam would start to rebuild his weapons programs once that had been basically dismantled by the U.N. inspectors.
And that is where Curveball fit in, because that was the story he said. He said, when you guys weren’t looking, that is what Saddam has been doing. And I am a witness to it.
LAMB: Who gave him the name Curveball?
DROGIN: It came from an American unit based in Munich. It was a Defense Intelligence Agency -- there is a subset there known as the Defense HUMINT Service -- Defense Human Intelligence group.
And they worked in an old beautiful -- again, I went to visit, it is a beautiful old mansion that had been seized after the war, the Nazis had taken it from a Jewish family and the U.S. Army had taken it from -- after the war. And it had been used as an intelligence base ever since.
And there was a unit there that was the most closely aligned as the liaison with the German intelligence service, the BND, which then was based quite close by in a town called Pullach.
And that operation there, because they were dealing directly with the Germans on this case, they went back to -- I mean, it is a wonderful name, Curveball, and it is so prescient and it seemed so perfectly apt for this figure.
In fact, the story, as best I was able to determine it, during the Cold War, when Soviet defectors came out through Germany, and there were many, they used cryptonyms to devise code names.
And the cryptonym -- the crypt for a Soviet defector with a weapons -- related to a weapons program was just the word ”ball.” And there had been a ”Matchball” and a ”Slowball” and whatnot.
And in this case, they just sort of dusted off the old file and, you know, issued him the next one on the list, Curveball. You know, it just as easily could have been ”Coffee Cup,” or, you know, ”Book Jacket” or something. But in this case it was Curveball.
And obviously, you know, we are grateful that it was.
LAMB: How important is he to this story, the story of the Iraq War?
DROGIN: You know, I think of the Curveball story as a -- I call him a con man who caused the war. It is a provocative cover -- a provocative subtitle because obviously the president of the United States is the man who makes the decision to go to war. He is our commander-in-chief in this case.
What I try and explain in the book is that Curveball, when you deconstruct the pre-war intelligence, it is increasingly clear that he formed a crucial part, a really critical part of the information that was coming out of the CIA, going to the White House, going to the Congress, going to the United Nations, going to the public.
He was -- without Curveball, they really had no case to claim that Saddam was building biological weapons. He was the chief source of that. There was other materials said to be corroborating, but none of it would stand alone as his did or what seemed to do.
In the chemical weapons case, the post-war investigations concluded that the chemical weapons, analysts saw the evidence from satellites and procurement records and other materials, and decided it was quite ambiguous.
They really couldn’t decide what it was and they were a bit skeptical of it. But then they saw how absolutely convinced the biological weapons analysts were because of Curveball’s information. And as a result they ramped up, they increased the level of their confidence in chemical weapons.
So you have that sort of secondary spin-off, if you will, to his story. And the nuclear program, which was the third leg, has nothing to do with him except that by the time we went to war in March of 2003, that case really was already crumbling, as you recall.
We -- I mean, even Colin Powell was saying -- admitting at the U.N. there is a debate about the aluminum tubes and -- you know, and he acknowledged that there was a problem with that.
And Mohamed ElBaradei at the -- stood up at the United Nations, the head of the Atomic -- International Atomic Energy Agency, stood up at the U.N. on March 7th of that year and said, you know, we have been to all of the places that -- where this program might be happening.
We have talked to all of the scientists. We have looked at all of the intelligence that the United States and other agents -- other governments have given us, and there is nothing. We can’t find anything, it is nothing there.
And, by the way, the documents that were provided to us about uranium from an African country, Niger, these were, quote, ”not authentic,” meaning, forged. So the nuclear program had largely -- you know, we had come a long way from the vice president saying, you know, we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
I think he said it. I know Condi Rice said it as well. You know, to -- basically having the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency say, we have been to all of the places, there is nothing there, and the evidence you have given us is forged.
LAMB: If we were to put a bunch of people in a room and ask them, who is the happiest that this book came out, and who is the least happy, in order to figure out some way the impact of something like this, who would you put in that room?
DROGIN: Boy, I’m the happiest this came out. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be finished with this. You know, I think this case is an embarrassment to lots of people. There is a lot of blame that gets spread around.
There is not one person -- I know there are people who think, you know, this was a tiny cabal who hoodwinked all of us. But in this case you have -- the Robb-Silberman Commission largely blames the Defense HUMINT organization.
LAMB: You are talking about Chuck Robb and Larry Silberman.
LAMB: … appointed by the president.
DROGIN: Appointed by the president after the war to look at the intelligence that -- the pre-war intelligence, what went wrong. And in the case of Curveball, that commission largely blames the Defense Intelligence Agency, part of the Pentagon, and particularly the Defense HUMINT group that was sort of the front line dealing with the Germans, saying they were utterly negligent. They didn’t do any of the job they were supposed to do to vet this source or to confirm this information.
The CIA blames the German authorities for refusing to let them interview Curveball all of those years. Within the CIA, the Directorate of Operations, that is, the clandestine service, blames a group called WINPAC, which is the Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation Center, or the analysts’ side who were their direct opposites inside.
The German -- the British intelligence service, or the parliamentary investigation there quotes the head of the MI-6 as blaming the Germans for providing false information in their reporting on this…
LAMB: What is MI-6?
DROGIN: MI-6 is the chief British foreign intelligence service. The Germans -- German authorities at the BND, and I won’t try and pronounce it, my German is not that good, blamed the CIA for saying they, quote, ”sexed up” the intelligence here, that is, that they relied on information that was -- that they had particularly and repeatedly warned the head of the CIA and other people in the chain of command that Curveball was an -- his information was unconfirmed, his background was unvetted, and they could not and would not confirm his information.
So they blamed the Americans. So there is sort of a finger-pointing in all directions on this. My argument -- or my take on this as I tried to weave through these various versions of events and these various outlooks on the truth as it was coming out, because really the book is sort of a search for the truth in this case, is that different people were seeing things at different times and were understanding.
And that Curveball was a con man, he told lies, there is no question about that. But that what he said in the end becomes less important than what people thought he said on interpreted what he said or misstated what he said, or exaggerated what they said.
Because there is -- I’m able to trace in there really a cascade of misstatements, mistranslations, misjudgments, you know, misinterpretations and mistakes. I left (ph) a lot of them in there, that in the end -- so that in the end suddenly the president of the United States is citing Curveball’s information in the State of the Union speech.
And suddenly Curveball’s information is the absolute core to a National Intelligence Estimate which is a document that is the gold standard of U.S. intelligence products that comes out.
LAMB: Did Curveball have any idea what he was talking about?
DROGIN: Well, if you -- did he have -- Curveball was an engineer -- he was a chemical engineer. He provided -- he told them a story about where he had worked and what they did there.
LAMB: Where did he say he had worked?
DROGIN: He said he had worked at the chemical engineering design center. And then he said he went to work -- he was assigned to a program that was to improve seeds. A standard agricultural seed improvement.
They were going to use -- produce biological pesticides, chemical fertilizers, various things. And they were going to improve seeds. And to do that he was going to work at a warehouse complex called Jirf al-Madaf (ph), just south of Baghdad. But there he said, in fact, what he was inside these buildings is he began to work on mobile biological production facilities.
Trucks, one that Colin Powell sort of showed us, trucks that would carry fermenters and spray dryers and various pieces of equipment that could -- in his version of events, would be part of going to a docking station like an RV vehicle, recreational vehicle.
And they would attach hoses and pipes and water and steam and whatnot. And it would be used there to produce quantity of anthrax or botulinum toxin various other -- there were five in all that he named. And they would then be able to store these very dangerous weapons or put them directly into munitions.
So that was his story. How much he actually knew about it is, he clearly knew things like that they could check, and that is what made it so clever is that like any good liar, he based his lies on a very strong kernel of truth.
So he described this site, and you know, they checked the satellite pictures, said, oh yes, it really looks the way he said it is. And then he told them what happened inside. And well, you know, satellites can only see so far, you know, beyond what is happening inside of buildings, heat signatures and things. But they can’t really see everything.
So the material that they couldn’t check is the material that was the lie, and that was the part that was the most critical. And because of the distrust of Saddam on the part of the intelligence community, the failure to find any corroborating evidence was simply checked off to Saddam’s attempts to deceive them.
So for example, one of the things that Curveball said was that he drove these trucks and the trucks came in through a certain pattern and because of the way the buildings were structured. And the main warehouse was sort of L-shaped. And they came in this way and they went out that way and whatnot.
Well, in 1997, satellite pictures clearly showed that a wall was built that blocked the way he said it did that. So when the satellite analysts took that to the biological analysts and said, hey, you have got a wall here, there is a problem with what you are saying, they said, well, Saddam must have built that wall to trick the satellite guys, or there must be a hole in the wall, or they take the wall down at night, you know, when we are not watching to let the trucks through and go out.
And that happened time and again. And I compared in the book, it is almost like medieval clerics searching for witchcraft. They found the evidence everywhere they looked. And the failure to find real evidence was chalked up to the efforts deceive them and was seen as further proof of what they were looking for.
These trucks never existed, they just -- they are not real, you know? It was just fairy dust. They were never part of Saddam’s programs.
LAMB: When Colin Powell went to the U.N. and gave his speech on February the 5th, 2004, which was how…
LAMB: I’m sorry, 2003, it was how soon after that the war started?
DROGIN: March 16th, six weeks before.
LAMB: Six weeks before. And what was the purpose of that U.N. speech?
DROGIN: At that time, the Bush administration was already -- and the British government were already well on their way to putting troops, weapons in theater, building bases, pushing supplies up the pipeline. That had been going on since the previous summer.
The president had said he wanted to get approval from the United Nations. Colin Powell was dispatched as the man who was most credible, I think, on the international stage, from the Bush administration.
Remember, even this was a year after -- even after 2001 attacks, the Bush administration was not very popular overseas for their attitudes on international treaties. And so Colin Powell was dispatched to present the best case possible to try and rally international support at the U.N. Security Council.
LAMB: If Colin Powell had read your book -- and your article had not come out yet, had it?
DROGIN: No, of course not.
LAMB: It came out in March, what day?
DROGIN: March -- a year later, 2004.
LAMB: A year later, 2004.
LAMB: Had he had this book in hand before he gave that speech, what would have changed?
DROGIN: Well, I’m sure he wouldn’t have given the speech, basically. Because what happened was before Powell went up to the U.N., the president of the United States had -- in his State of the Union speech, had cited information from Curveball.
And it was just around that time that he said -- brought Powell in and said, I want you to make this case at the U.N. Powell goes up to the CIA and his staff, for the most part, they spent four days there.
Originally the White House had given them -- the vice president’s office had given them what I think was a 48-page document that they said they wanted him to read. And they spent a full day going through it -- they had not submitted it previously to the CIA. They spent a full day going through it and it kept coming up that this is unconfirmed, this is bogus, we don’t know where this comes from, there is no supporting evidence, whatever.
And in the end they literally threw it in the trash, out of the…
LAMB: Who had written that for the vice president?
DROGIN: Well, it came out of his office. I mean, it was from Scooter Libby’s team and I don’t know the specific author of it. The document itself has never been -- to my knowledge, has never come out in public.
But I interviewed Powell for this book, at that point George Tenet said -- told them, let’s go back to the NIE, the National Intelligence Estimate. In October of the previous year, when the drumbeat of war was really beginning here in Washington, Senate Democrats for the most part asked to see the latest estimate on Iraq.
And it turned out there had been no strategic estimate on Iraq’s WMD program. And the country was going to war. This is very unusual. In normal times the CIA spends anywhere from six months to 10 months to produce an NIE.
It is not just the CIA, it is the result of a deliberative, collaborative effort of all of the major national intelligence services. They gather -- there is an agency based at the CIA called the National Intelligence Council, the NIC.
The NIC gets together in a room. They work this out. They send drafts out to people. It is this very elaborate process. Usually it takes, as I say, 10 months, sometimes even longer.
They did the Iraq NIE in 19 days. And the Curveball section, that is, the biological weapons, is the largest, is the biggest and it is the most important in the sense that it is absolutely the most assertive and the most frightening because it says, without any question, Saddam has these weapons.
They are -- the program is larger, more robust, more sophisticated than even it had been before the Persian Gulf War, back in 1991, when Saddam had a biological -- a hidden biological weapons program, but none of these trucks. They said, it is much bigger now because that they have these trucks. And they proceeded to lay out a fair bit of information that came directly from Curveball.
So when Colin Powell goes to the CIA in early February of 2003, Mr. Tenet says, let’s -- we are going to use the NIE because it has been vetted, we know what it is and this is our best stuff. This is the gold standard. This is the result of the entire U.S. intelligence community.
LAMB: George Tenet runs the CIA at that point.
DROGIN: He was the DCI, the director of central intelligence. And so they did so. They used that as the template, which is one of the things that I find after the war, when people would say, oh, the NIE was wrong, the CIA’s response was saying, well, it doesn’t matter because nobody in Congress read it, you know, only six people -- six members of Congress probably read it.
That wasn’t the import of it. The import was it was the template for Colin Powell’s speech. Powell asked them, what is your best stuff? And they told him, according to him, our best stuff is the mobile weapons labs.
And so when you watch the speech from Colin Powell, he says first, biologic weapons. And he then talks about an eyewitness, a chemical engineer, said the information wasn’t clear until he showed up starting in 2000.
In fact Curveball had gone out the Germany in November of 1999 and the debriefings had begun in early 2000. And he proceeds to lay out the story that directly comes from Curveball.
He says, we have three other sources for this. Well, all three of those other sources, when deconstruct it, again, none of them really corroborated what Curveball said, one of them was already known -- literally in the files at the CIA, known to be a fabricator, stamped on the file.
The two others later either were shown to -- one failed a polygraph and the other -- and they had never talked to him, he was a British source, and the other one recanted his story. And so the whole thing was just built on a tissue of lies.
Colin Powell didn’t know that. He was the secretary of state. He is going to the CIA and said, give me you best stuff. He said he and his assistant told me, they repeatedly asked, you know, is this stuff real? Is this stuff -- are you certain about this?
And that the CIA authorities, starting with Mr. Tenet, said, absolutely. This is our best. It is incontrovertible. You know, you can go to the bank on this. And as you remember, Mr. Tenet sat directly behind Secretary Powell at the speech that day at the United Nations.
LAMB: Also sitting behind -- we are going to show a clip of this in moment. Also sitting behind Colin Powell is John Negroponte.
DROGIN: Right, right.
LAMB: At the time, what role was he playing, do you remember?
DROGIN: He was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the time.
LAMB: So you had him behind him and George Tenet was there to -- did Colin Powell -- I don’t know what the word is, ask George Tenet or force him to sit behind him?
DROGIN: I believe asked is too gentle a word. He all but ordered him to do so. And in his book, Mr. Tenet says it was the last place he wanted to be.
LAMB: So what role did this speech, again, play worldwide in what -- how many people were paying attention to it?
DROGIN: Well, it was hugely watched around the world. I mean, it was the most dramatic. It was -- I was there that day. I was in the audience. I was in the press gallery watching. And it was remarkable on several levels.
For one thing, the United States had never -- we think of Adlai Stevenson showing very grainy pictures of ship ostensibly carrying missiles to Cuba during the brief for the Cuban Missile Crisis that led up to that.
In fact, if you go back and look at that, it really wasn’t clear what they were, and it wasn’t until the Soviets, you know, pulled back and admitted that that is what they were that we really knew what it was.
The CIA had never allowed this degree of information to come out. If you remember, Colin Powell was playing tape recordings. These were NSA intercepts, from the National Security Agency. He was showing satellite pictures. He was quoting informants. He was quoting defectors.
I mean, he really sort of pulled the curtain back briefly on how intelligence works and how U.S. intelligence operates. Ironically, in retrospect, it gave us a really clear view of just how awful that system can be, how utterly inept, because virtually everything he said -- or that they gave him was wrong.
LAMB: So as -- this is a four-minute clip. And as we show this and he is talking about the chemical engineer, that is Curveball?
DROGIN: That is definitely Curveball.
LAMB: And Curveball at that time in 2003 would be sitting where?
DROGIN: He was -- well, he was in Germany. The remarkable thing that Colin Powell did not know that day is that as he is citing this eyewitness and quoting him, U.S. authorities had never interviewed him at that point. They didn’t even know his name.
He totally under the control of the German intelligence authorities, who repeatedly had issued warnings to the CIA and said, we have not confirmed this information. We have not verified it.
And that includes a letter that I quote in the book directly written from the head of the German intelligence service, August Hanning, a ”dear George” letter to George Tenet saying this information is unconfirmed, it is untested. He is one man.
LAMB: Go back to the way the information would have traveled from ’99 up to 2003, from the Germans physically giving the information to the HUMINT group?
DROGIN: Yes. Well, it is -- physically it is done -- one of the things is I have this lovely bit in there where I was just trying to -- I’m fascinated by the tradecraft, you know, sort of how the intelligence world works and the secrecy and how it sometimes really backfires.
And the code word that the Germans used for that particular group was Hortensia 2, and it is a flower. They had flowers and shrubs for all of the American intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
So their reports were -- came in under the Hortensia 2 title and went to Munich house -- to this Defense HUMINT operation at Munich house. They translated that information. It came in in a format of a summary analysis.
It was not a Q&A. It was not a transcript of their actual interviews.
LAMB: Came in in German?
DROGIN: Came in in German. They interviewed him on average once a week for two years. Usually on Saturdays. They brought him in. They would sit him down, the Germans this is. And they would file this report.
The Defense HUMINT team would simply take that report. They would reformat it into a Defense -- excuse me, intelligence agency document known as an IR, an information report -- IIR, intelligence information report.
And then they would send that out through their channels through Vaihingen (ph), which is the European command headquarters, which is the DIA base for Western Europe. And then that would get transmitted out through other channels into -- back to Washington to the DIA headquarters at the Pentagon, at Bolling Air Force Base, at Clarendon, and then also at CIA. So it would come out from there and then would go out into channels. And that is how it got out
LAMB: Did DIA work directly for Don Rumsfeld?
LAMB: Did they not have to answer to George Tenet?
DROGIN: Well, DIA is one of these oddball agencies where, as you may know, the U.S. intelligence budget, which is somewhere on the order of $45 billion to $50 billion a year, 80 percent of that money is actually -- comes under the Pentagon because -- mostly for the hardware for satellites that the NRO, the National Reconnaissance Organization; the NSA, the National Security Agency, which does eavesdropping and code-breaking, whatnot; the CIA is a relatively smaller chunk of change.
The DIA and all of those agencies are both -- they are double headed, they are both intelligence agencies and they are combat support agencies. So they report both up the intelligence headquarter and to the Pentagon.
LAMB: I wondered if the information that came from the Germans went simultaneously to the DIA and the CIA because along the way, people who really wanted us to get involved in the Iraq War could push the information. That what I was getting at.
LAMB: Did somebody push it or did everybody believe it?
DROGIN: Well, I guess the best way to answer that is that in -- as it was coming in in 2000 and 2001, it wasn’t making much of a splash at the time. There were efforts to go interview Curveball. He looked interesting. But Iraq was not a big front-page story back then. It was not a big headline.
It barely came up -- it didn’t come up at all in the debates, if you recall, between George Bush, you know, and his election that year. It really wasn’t a front-page story for anybody.
What happened was after 9/11, after the September 11th attacks of 2001, someone literally pulled them out of a safe at CIA at WINPAC. And the climate, we remember, really was a climate of fear at that point in this country, certainly in Washington.
WINPAC, sorry, was the CIA weapons agency.
LAMB: Now a name -- there is a thread of a name throughout all of this, and you quote him extensively and ”60 Minutes” did, and they had him on and you have seen him other places and he has got a book, Tyler Drumheller.
Where was Tyler Drumheller? He is a large man. We have seen him talk a lot in the last couple of years. Where was he in this mix? And it appears that he was totally against Curveball?
DROGIN: No, Tyler Drumheller was at that point the head of European operations in the clandestine service of the CIA. So he was a fairly senior man in the clandestine service. He was control of all of the clandestine and covert operations in Western Europe and Canada and Turkey -- is what that area covered.
And in the fall of 2002, he was asked by his superior officer, the head of the clandestine service, Jim Pavitt, to go -- to ask the head of the German intelligence here in Washington about Curveball.
There had been some questions coming up about this information. And he went over and had lunch with the head of this local resident agent, who I have spoken to. And during that lunch this man told Drumheller there is a real problem with this guy.
He may be crazy. We think he is crazy. He may be a fabricator, i.e., a liar. We don’t know what to make of it. I’m just giving you this warning, you know, head’s up, we are friends, we are having lunch.
Drumheller came back and started investigating. And one of his chief officers who is now out of the CIA, and so I refer to her as ”Margaret” in the book, because when I met -- when I was writing the book, she was still inside, but now she is out and Margaret Henoch is her name, was basically put in charge of trying to find out what was going on in this case.
They felt vague responsible, Germany was part of their territory. Tyler had been a former CIA station chief in Germany. Margaret had worked in Germany. They all -- this was a big part of their territory.
And they could see this case was sort of bubbling up. There was a big issue happening and a battle to try and get access to this source about someone that for -- of whom they knew very little.
And over the next several months, he and Margaret and a few other people who worked for him repeatedly raised questions about whether Curveball’s information should be considered valid. Because he had never been vetted and there was no confirmation for it.
The only confirmation people would provide was, well, yes, we can confirm it because there is -- you know, it matches what we can see in the Internet. And they would say, well, he can read the Internet too, or, hey, it is on the satellite pictures, and they would say, what does that tell you? Or you know, here is a picture of him in a Hazmat suit, and they said, it could be -- you know my grandmother in a Hazmat suit.
It doesn’t -- none of that meant proof. None of that was ironclad proof. So it wasn’t so much whether he believed Curveball, because Curveball wasn’t his case, it was rather he was repeatedly waving a red flag, ringing the alarm and saying, wait a second, you can’t base this kind of certainty on a guy we have never met and we have no -- absolutely no confirmation that his information is true.
And the Germans and the CIA station chief back in Berlin are warning us, wait a second, this stuff is unconfirmed.
LAMB: By the way, CIA eventually met with him -- or the DIA.
DROGIN: CIA did in March of 2004, a year after the invasion. They finally met with him. One of Tyler Drumheller’s guys sat down with him with a man from the British intelligence and sat with him for several days, at the end of it, wrote a 30-page report and said, he is lying and here is 20 places where he is lying.
And in May of that year, May of 2004, they, the CIA, did something that is very unusual if not unheard of, but it is rare and it is a big pain in the neck, they issued a burn notice. They not only declared him a fabricator, but it meant they had to reel back in all of the reports that -- classified reports that had ever been based on his information.
So that is all of these reports that went to Congress and threat assessments and the National Intelligence Estimate and all of these dozens and dozens of reports inside U.S. intelligence that had been based on this idea that there were these weapons labs.
LAMB: Did you interview George Tenet?
DROGIN: No, he was working on his book when I was working on mine. And then when he came out with his book, I put in a request and didn’t get it. His way of dealing with this, in his book, I found sort of astonishing, was -- I have to go back and look, it is six or eight pages in which he talks about it.
And all -- he doesn’t acknowledge that there was the incompetence or the cover up or you know that ambition played a role or there was an attempt to please the White House or any of that.
All he does is he trashes Tyler Drumheller. He says, I met with Tyler, whatever it was, 22 times, you know, between February or March of 2003 and a year later. Well, of course, most of these are after the war. And he didn’t tell me anything about it, which may well be true, it is also beside the point.
The fact is it is undisputed that Tyler and his staff -- I mean, the documentary evidence is clear, did repeatedly raise these questions directly -- if not directly to Tenet, certainly to his number two and other people around there repeatedly in the fall of 2002 and up until the night before Colin Powell went to the U.N.
So it is classic disinformation. They blamed the only guy in the CIA who got it right because they were all wrong.
LAMB: And Tyler Drumheller is out of the CIA?
DROGIN: Yes. Yes, he retired in, I believe, 2005.
LAMB: And then wrote his own book.
DROGIN: And wrote his own book.
LAMB: Did he talk about this?
DROGIN: A little bit. Not to the degree I did.
DROGIN: He is restricted by -- as a former CIA officer, he is restricted -- he has to put his book in through classification review and whatnot. And he wrote more of a book about his life and his views on policy.
I have very little about policy in here. I wrote this book as a spy thriller -- or tried to. It is a non-fiction book. But I wanted to tell this book from more human terms, not the policy and not the politics. This is like a Western. You know, a guy comes to town and all hell breaks loose.
LAMB: But where did -- I mean, I assume you got your -- the description -- the phone call from George Tenet to Colin Powell -- from Colin Powell. You said you talked to him and the way he felt when George Tenet said Curveball is a liar.
LAMB: What did he tell you when you were in person with him, Colin Powell? How strongly did he feel about this?
DROGIN: He was furious. He was pissed. He was -- he felt this whole thing was -- because other parts of the pre-war intelligence have been crumbling before. And by then this is 2004. We are a year after the war. It is clear there are no weapons in Iraq. You know, the Iraq Survey Group has come out with reports and suddenly he is being told not only were we wrong, but it was based on a hoax and this -- and you know, he felt he was -- he was angry. He said he was furious.
LAMB: I want to run this clip so people can see it. But if you look through it, I mean, as you listen to it, what should people be listening for?
DROGIN: It has been a while since I heard it. He repeatedly cites the eyewitness. He talks about that 12 people were killed in a biological weapons accident. And I want to come back to that.
And he says that they only did it on a Thursday night to Friday midday. We want to come back to that a bit.
LAMB: But every time he refers to…
DROGIN: And he shows these pictures. He shows these, what Colin Powell called -- told me were cartoons. That is the way he described them. These are the CIA -- the way in understood it, the way he told me and others, that these were these drawings that we all saw were what he called they are CIA conjectures, artists’ conjectures based on Arabic to German to English reports of summaries of analysis based on interviews of a, if not a psychotic, certainly a mentally disturbed man who the Americans had never been able to talk to.
And that was -- those were the trucks, those were the pictures, those were the things that were really in the headlines the next day, those were on the front pages. Those were the headlines that said ”Winnebagos of Death” and ”Germ Caravans” and ”Trailers of Doom” and all of that.
LAMB: And you suggest the media covered it positively.
DROGIN: I think the media -- media is a big term, some were more skeptical than others. But you know, Mary McGrory, a liberal columnist for -- the late, she has passed away, but a very liberal columnist, someone who no one would ever think was a patsy for the Bush administration, I remember she wrote a column the next day and said, Colin Powell is a man with integrity, I’m convinced.
LAMB: And sitting right behind him is George Tenet. And they had -- had they been all together the night before rehearsing?
DROGIN: Yes. Yes, they had. They had set up a -- they were at the U.S. mission, which is right across the street. And they had set up a room with a U-shaped table that looked just like the U.N. Security Council room and they practiced and they had gone through it.
And Powell was quite determined. I mean, he told me and his staff told me and other people in that room when he was practicing, he only wanted to give the absolute best stuff. They wanted him, for example, to show -- hold up one of those aluminum tubes. And he refused.
He said, you know, why should I hold up something that we know people are going to question? I want to only give the best stuff. The White House really wanted him to make more of a connection between Saddam and 9/11 or Saddam and Osama bin Laden.
And if you remember the speech, it really comes in just at the very tail end, because the CIA was telling him, we don’t have that evidence, we are not saying -- we just can’t make that case the way that White House wants us to make that case.
And Powell listened to the CIA. I think he did the job he was required to do, that he was ordered to do, which is to make the case to the United Nations. He is not an intelligence collector, he is the secretary of state. He went to the CIA, said, give me your best stuff. And that is what they did.
LAMB: Everything we are hearing then was a result of one man, Curveball.
DROGIN: Yes. But he also…
DROGIN: Yes, well, I don’t know what you have got. But he also -- he will say, there we have three other sources, and those three others also proved to be liars, one of whom was known to be a liar.
LAMB: Let’s watch this and then -- and we will listen for what he says and then I will ask you some more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents.
Let me take you inside that intelligence file and share with you what we know from eyewitness accounts. We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails.
The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War.
Although Iraq’s mobile production program began in the mid-1990s, U.N. inspectors at the time only had vague hints of such programs. Confirmation came later, in the year 2000. The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer who supervised one of these facilities.
He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.
He reported that when UNSCOM was in-country and inspecting, the biological weapons agent production always began on Thursdays at midnight because Iraq thought UNSCOM would not inspect on the Muslim Holy Day, Thursday night through Friday.
He added that this was important because the units could not be broken down in the middle of a production run, which had to be completed by Friday evening before the inspectors might arrive again.
This defector is currently hiding in another country with the certain knowledge that Saddam Hussein will kill him if he finds him. His eyewitness account of these mobile production facilities has been corroborated by other sources.
A second source, an Iraqi civil engineer in a position to know the details of the program, confirmed the existence of transportable facilities moving on trailers. A third source, also in a position to know, reported in summer 2002 that Iraq had manufactured mobile production systems mounted on road trailer units and on rail cars.
Finally, a fourth source, an Iraqi major, who defected, confirmed that Iraq has mobile biological research laboratories, in addition to the production facilities I mentioned earlier.
We have diagrammed what our sources reported about these mobile facilities. Here you see both truck- and rail car-mounted mobile factories. The description our sources gave us of the technical features required by such facilities are highly detailed and extremely accurate.
As these drawings based on their description show, we know what the fermenters look like, we know what the tanks, pumps, compressors and other parts look like. We know how they fit together. We know how they work. And we know a great deal about the platforms on which they are mounted.
As shown in this diagram, these factories can be concealed easily, either by moving ordinary-looking trucks and rail cars along Iraq’s thousands of miles of highway or track, or by parking them in a garage or a warehouse or somewhere in Iraq’s extensive system of underground tunnels and bunkers.
We know that Iraq has at lest seven of these mobile biological agent factories. The truck-mounted ones have at least two or three trucks each. That means that the mobile production facilities are very few, perhaps 18 trucks that we know of, there may be more. But perhaps 18 that we know of. Just imagine trying to find 18 trucks among the thousands and thousands of trucks that travel the roads of Iraq every single day.
It took the inspectors four years to find out that Iraq was making biological agents. How long do you think it will take the inspectors to find even one of these 18 trucks without Iraq coming forward, as they are supposed to, with the information about these kinds of capabilities?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: What are you thinking?
DROGIN: I wish he knew, you know? I wish we all knew back then what we know now. Shocking, the misinformation that we were being given at the time.
LAMB: From your information, was anybody passing this on for reasons that were dishonest through the whole system?
DROGIN: I don’t believe that -- all of the post-war investigations looked at the question of whether -- in the United States, looked at the question of whether there was deliberate fabrication of information.
And I’m only looking at the WMD issue, not the al Qaeda connection or whatever, because that sort of is a separate topic. They couldn’t find it, and the best I can explain it, because I -- in fact, I was speaking this morning to someone who was involved in this, and she was just saying there was an atmosphere that everyone -- that was twofold.
One is, they -- everyone believed Saddam had weapons of some kind. And there is a long line, an array between having nothing and having a nuclear weapon. There is intentions and capabilities and infrastructure and staffing and production facilities and production and arsenals and stockpiles and delivery systems, et cetera, et cetera.
And there is a long, long line. And everyone that I know of in the intelligence community, not only in this country, but elsewhere, believed he was somewhere on that line, that he wasn’t at zero, even if they didn’t believe he was at whatever the top rank is, the nuclear weapon, presumably.
And so they were assuming the worst at this time. And the debate at the U.N., even that day, was not really whether Saddam had weapons, because the only person claiming that -- that he didn’t have that, was Saddam.
The other governments believed he did. The question was, what do you do about it? Do we go to war? Which the administration obviously believed. Do we increase sanctions? Do we get better inspectors in there? How best do we handle this?
So you have that and then you have this climate of, we are going to war, you know, this is going to happen. It is our job. We don’t want to get caught again. Remember, this is only a year after 9/11. And I’m not defending this or the decision to go to war, I opposed it then, I think it only looks worse now, obviously.
But I’m trying to understand it, the thinking that went on at the time and trying to -- as I have talked to people, trying to recall for people, it is not just the simple -- it wasn’t like three guys in a backroom trying to, you know, gin all of this up.
But nonetheless, when I watch Secretary Powell, he says a couple of things there that are just egregiously silly if not -- wrong if not silly. OK, one, he shows these pictures of those trucks with canvas sides.
Well, the United States and the Soviet Union both had made these kinds of trucks in the earlier stages of the Cold War, but with very intense bio-containment systems, right? You are dealing with anthrax, you are dealing with very deadly germs.
Think of what happened in the Capitol here when we had just letters with, you know, a couple of micrograms of anthrax, how it shut down the whole Capitol. The idea that you would have these canvas-backed trucks roaming around on gravel roads and potholes in a Third World country, you know, what happens if they tip over, get into an accident. I mean it just sort of made no sense.
Then this question that he emphasized that -- well, they started up late on Thursday night and they had to finish Friday because the inspectors would never come around. One, most of the U.N. inspections back in the 1990s were heavily infiltrated by U.S. intelligence and British intelligence. That is no longer in any dispute whatsoever.
So if he had to blame, that would have been part of the blame. But secondly, as the record is clear, in fact, they did do a lot of inspections on Fridays -- but most importantly, they couldn’t brew anthrax in 24 hours.
I mean, you couldn’t do production run that quickly. It takes days. It is a very established process. It is not something you just sort pour salt into a shaker. It is not a martini or something, you know, it is something that has to -- it is a fermenter. It takes time to do all of that.
So that whole side of it, the science of it made no sense. And people were complaining even immediately afterwards. The idea that they -- he said, you know, the eyewitness had taken part in these production runs, he had seen them and that he had seen 12 people being killed in an accident.
What the German intelligence authorities told me was he never claimed to have seen these things, even though that is what Powell was told. What he said -- what he told them was, he had heard about such a thing. There had been rumor.
And there -- in any case, there had been no proof of this when Powell said it. There had been no evidence. There had been no forensic. There was nothing. There was just this version of a story.
And secondly, this question of whether or not he had participated in it. One of the odd things that I discovered when I was talking to the German authorities and getting access to some of the documents here is that defectors as a rule -- intelligence defectors, tend to lie in the sense that -- and they tend to lie more as time goes on.
Because they are coming out of a -- whether it is the old Soviet Union or Saddam’s Iraq or whatever, and they are trying to get access to something. They want money, they want a passport, they want to get out. They are looking for a ticket out of tyranny.
Their information is -- they are only as good as their information is in terms of bartering something. So in the case of Iraq’s defectors, traditionally they came out and they were, you know, the best friend of Saddam. And you know, and they had access to the inner workings of all of his weapons programs.
What made Curveball very odd for these guys was, when he came out, his story steadily grew, which is typical for defectors, but then after he got his asylum, suddenly he began to reel it back in.
And whereas initially he had said, yes, I was running the program, suddenly he was saying, I was just the trainee engineer. And whereas originally he had said, it was anthrax or smallpox or this or that, suddenly he was saying, I don’t really know what it was, they just talked about agent A and agent B and agent C.
And whereas traditionally he said he had worked on these things, he simply said, no, actually, I just heard about them. Maybe it wasn’t real at all, maybe they were doing something else.
And in this topsy-turvy world where defectors are assumed to lie all of the time, to exaggerate their information, this idea that this guy was trying to under -- to play it back made him more credible in their eyes.
LAMB: When did everybody find out that his brother -- Curveball’s brother, worked for Ahmed Chalabi?
DROGIN: Well, Chalabi actually still denies it, because he is just -- the other day, after the ”60 Minutes” piece, he issued a denial. But the story is as follows -- and this is documented by the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation that issued a report last year and in the Robb-Silberman Commission, the president’s commission that looked at the post-war intelligence.
The story is as follows, he had a brother who went, who left Iraq in 1992. Very soon after that, joined Chalabi’s organization as a low-level guy. They were estranged. And in 2001 there was a phone call that -- between the brother and Curveball in which they said, Dr. Chalabi would like this information. If you have any information about Saddam’s WMD, Dr. Chalabi would like this information because, you know, we would like to give it to the Americans.
This information only came out in 2003 after the war when the CIA was investigating the Curveball case in Iraq as part of something known as the Iraq Survey Group, which was set up to find the weapons of mass destruction and at a certain point, to find the truth as to why there were no weapons of mass destruction.
What they did is they tracked down Curveball’s mother in an apartment, and she told them about the brother, who was then in Baghdad, had come back to Baghdad and was working in Chalabi’s headquarters at the Hunting -- what was known as the ”Hunting Club” -- the ”Baghdad Hunting Club.”
They interviewed him there. He told them about the phone call. They confirmed the phone call occurred. And I don’t know whether that is because of an intercept or they went back and looked at phone records or whatnot. And they decided that this was a problem.
Where it sort of runs aground is that in the view of the CIA, in the view of the Senate Intelligence Committee, this was a coincidence as opposed to one that they could not prove that this was one of -- as you may know, Chalabi sent out -- or his organization helped furnish a number of defectors who provided false and misleading information, at least six and up to 20 depending how you count it, but at least six clearly identified defectors.
And the fear was that he had done that with Curveball. It appears to be this connection with the brother and whatnot was a coincidence, party because it did not match the pattern that Chalabi used where he used to furnish them to the press and he would bring them directly to the CIA or to an embassy.
Here is a guy who shows up in Germany and he doesn’t speak German and he is a chemical engineer and he is talking about biological weapons. And they refuse to let him talk to the Americans anyway. And it was a very sort of convoluted process if it was real.
So if they -- their decision was -- their conclusion was it was a coincidence.
LAMB: Where did you learn that it cost the Germans as much as a million dollars a year to maintain Curveball?
DROGIN: You know, the German authorities were fairly helpful to me on this case. Some of their information is -- I’m not as certain about as I might have been. But by and large, the German authorities, when I first went to them, when I was still reporting this for The Los Angeles Times, they were quite annoyed because they felt that the CIA had fingered them as the problem in this case, the fall guy.
And I knew, had some information that they did not have about this case. And when I approached them -- I went to Germany, and when I approached them, they arranged for me to meet with a number of important people, some of whom I continue in contact with as I was reporting this book, and some of whom I’m still very much in contact with.
They felt they did not want to be played to be the fall guy for this. That it was the CIA -- they had warned the CIA repeatedly this was a problem case.
LAMB: Before we run out of time. You were born where?
DROGIN: Jersey City, New Jersey, raised in Bayonne, New Jersey, went to Oberlin College in Ohio, Columbia University Gradual School of Journalism.
LAMB: And why did you want to get into journalism?
DROGIN: You know, it was just more fun than anything else I could think of. I started it when I was in college and I worked for a local paper as a police reporter and -- when I was in Ohio, and I was out covering -- I mean, awful things that happened in the local community as a police reporter, a cop shop reporter, murders and whatnot, and then go back to my college and it looked pretty boring in comparison. And I just thought this was much more fun than anything else I knew how to do. And it only got better over time.
I worked overseas for many years and been in Washington now for seven or eight years.
LAMB: The name of the book is ”Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused the War.”
Bob Drogin, almost 25 years with The Los Angeles Times, thank you very much for joining us.
DROGIN: Thank you.