Powell's "Four Sourcemen" Hobbled By Senate Intelligence Report

When I was a kid, I loved logic problems. You'd get a few statements about a situation and a grid. By matching up the information in statements, you could eventually develop a complete picture of the situation.

So when I started reading the Senate Intelligence Committee report - which I quoted below - I was excited to find a small logic problem buried inside the report. The report is minutely concerned with the several major products of American intelligence that sold us on the Iraq war, one being Secretary Colin Powell's February 5, 2003 speech to the United Nation.

According to the Senate report, Secretary Powell went in with guns blazing against "single source" intelligence - intelligence based on the word of a single person. One particular "single source" is singled out for immense contempt by the Senate report - a source codenamed CURVEBALL (CB). This source was never in US custody and met with a US intelligence agent only once before Operation Iraqi Freedom, yet he became the backbone of one particularly damning claim in Powell's speech: that Iraq had produced several mobile biological weapons laboratories. Why? Because this source was backed up by three other intelligence sources. Powell gives us the details in his UN speech:

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.
You will note that CB isn't mentioned by name in this quote, nor are any of the other three sources that Powell uses. That's as it should be. I don't care to know any actual names.

But by comparing this section of Powell's speech to pages 152 - 161 of the Senate report, we find an astonishing theory: the Senate report may have singled out this particular part of the Powell speech and repudiated every source that Powell relied upon. It did it under the guise of repudiating an important portion of an earlier National Intelligence Estimate released in October 2002, but the information given by the Senate report is enough to reasonably conclude that Powell's four sources were quite impeachable, and should have been.

First, let's do a short list of Powell's four.
  • an Iraqi chemical engineer with very detailed information
  • an Iraqi civil engineer who spoke of mobile BW production labs in trailers
  • a completely anonymous source from the summer of 2002 who spoke of mobile BW production labs in trailers and on railcars
  • an Iraqi major who confirmed mobile BW research labs (not the same as production)
Now look at the table of contents of this section of the Senate report:

A Background 143
B. Baghdad Has Transportable Facilities for Producing Bacterial and Toxin BW Agents 148

1. Other Sources 150
3. [censored] 157
4. INC Source 160
5. [censored] 161
6. Intelligence Community Mind Set Concerning Mobile BW Programs 161
In section 2-5, the Senate report discusses four human intelligence sources.
  • CURVEBALL (CB) who gave detailed information
  • An anonymous source who seems to have flunked a polygraph
  • An Iraqi National Congress(INC) source who spoke of mobile BW research labs
  • a June 2001 informer
CB is the easiest to place; he must be Powell's "Iraqi chemical engineer." He's the only one Powell cites at length, and CB was one of the most prolific of intelligence sources. Here's how the Senate report talks about CB:
A large part of the NIE's discussion of the alleged mobile BW production units was based on information provided by a source described in the NIE as "a credible source" and "an Iraqi defector deemed credible by the IC." The source was an Iraqi defector who had been the subject of debriefings [censored] since 2000. He was believed by the IC to have been a project engineer involved in the design and production of [censored] biological production facilities in Iraq. [Entire sentence censored.] The source is hereafter referred to by the codename he was given [phrase censored] "CURVE BALL".
Like Powell's engineer, CB sprung onto the scene in the year 2000.

Also, the only US intelligence officer who had direct access to CB emailed this statement after reading a late draft of Powell's UN speech: "I believe I am still the only [United States Government] USG person to have had direct access to him. There are a few issues associated with that contact that warrant further explanation, in my opinion, before using him as the backbone for the Iraqi mobile program." He went on to list his concerns about CB - his only interview with CB occurred while CB had a hangover, that the people protecting CB were having handling issues with him, and had not yet determined that CB was who he said he was! He concluded, "These issues, in my opinion, warrant further inquiry, before we use the information as the backbone of one of our major findings of the existence of a continuing Iraqi BW program!"

Only one of Powell's sources could be considered the backbone of this assertion about mobile BW labs: the first one. The others are only cited for details. He, then, is CURVEBALL, the "single source to whom the Intelligence Community did not have direct access."

CB is Powell's first source. Are there any more direct matches?

One must. According to the Senate report, their third HUMINT source, the Iraqi National Congress (INC) source, is one of Powell's four sources (page 161). In logic problems, that's a major find. We know for certain that the INC source is one of the remaining three. Which one?

The INC source could only be Powell's fourth source (the Iraqi major), because both spoke only about mobile BW research labs. Both Powell's civil engineer and anonymous summer 2002 source speak to production labs. The INC source gave his info in March 2002, which further rules against him being Powell's anonymous source.

So Powell's Iraqi major is the Senate report's INC source.

Powell's other two sources are harder to reconcile with the Senate's remaining two sources. But they do fit together pretty well.

Let's look at the Senate's June 2001 informer. This source couldn't be Powell's anonymous summer 2002 source because of the dates. If the Senate's fourth source is present on Powell's list, then that source can only be Powell's second, the civil engineer. No information separates them, and both sources did talk about production labs in trailers. Also, the same agent who had the one interview with CB shared his reservations about this informer as well when he emailed about Powell's UN speech in January 2003. It's only logical that this informer was included as one of Powell's sources, and thus could only be the civil engineer.

This leaves Powell's anonymous source in the summer of 2002 as a possible match for the Senate's completely redacted source who evidently failed a polygraph. Is it arguing from silence to note Powell's reluctance to identify a single fact about his source in the same sentence as the Senate's reluctance to say anything at all about their second source? Probably so, but since we are 2 for 2 on Powell's sources, and most probably 3 for 3, this fourth match is plausible.

So we have two direct matches, one most probable match, and a plausible match. Barring further revelations, I think it's safe to conclude that the Senate report specifically examined the four sources used in the Powell UN speech and found them wanting.

Only once was a US intelligence agent granted direct access to CURVEBALL, and he found the source troubling enough to fire off an email in January 2003 (after reading Powell's speech) to share his deep concerns.

The "INC source" was found to be coached into embellishments of his data. His information was "accessed as unreliable and, in some cases, pure fabrication."

The anonymous source evidently failed a polygraph.

The June 2001 informer had never been vetted, according to the same agent who raised questions about CB:
The detailee also expressed concern about this source in his e-mail concerning Secretary Powell's UN speech. He noted that the source was "[phrase censored], but one whose reliability nor reporting has been evaluated," and said the reporting had inconsistencies that needed further checking. The detailee added, "we sure didn't give much credence to this report when it came out. Why now?"
The Senate's point is that each of these four sources were impeachable. There was a corruption of the analytical processes of the American IC, one that overwhelmed even Colin Powell's vendetta against "single source" information. Why were these four sources considered reliable at all, even when specific information existed to impeach them all?

It couldn't have anything to do with this, could it?