Single Source

I have a lazy summer Sunday afternoon in which to do nothing but look for interesting angles on public documents. Wouldn't you know that I might find one?

I started reading the US Senate Intelligence Commitee report on the handling of Iraqi WMD information. I didn't get very far before I ran across the phrase "single source to whom the Intelligence Community did not have access." That's one heck of a phrase to find, don't you think? And since Josh Marshall was kind enough to give a link to a searchable pdf file of the report, I searched for the phrase "single source" in that document to see if the report referred to this single source again.

There are ten hits. Here they are:

Page 23 (pdf 33): Similarly, the IC based its judgment that "all key aspects - research & development (R&D), production, and weaponization - of Iraq's offensive biological weapons (BW) program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War" primarily on its assessment that Iraq had mobile biological production vans. While this assessment was based on direct intelligence that indicated Iraq had mobile biological production units, the reporting was largely from a single source to whom the Intelligence Community did not have direct access. The Committee believes that the IC's expectation that Iraq would move to mobile biological weapons production, focused their attention on reporting that supported that contention and led them to disregard information that contradicted it. This exemplifies Dr. Kay's concerns that the IC made large new conclusions based on only a few pieces of new evidence that were joined to previous conclusions and that pieces that did not fulfill its expectations tended to be thrown aside.

Page 67 (pdf 77): According to the CIA's former ADDI for Intelligence for Strategic Programs, who was the point person for coordinating the [Powell UN] speech, the CIA removed some of the information that the White House had added to the speech, gathered from finished and raw intelligence, because the information was single source and uncorroborated.

Page 144 (pdf 154): Quoting the December 2000 ICA on Iraqi WMD - We cannot confirm whether Iraq has produced ... biological agents, although in the case of biological weapons, credible reporting from a single source suggests it has done so on a large scale and had developed a clandestine production capability.

Page 145 (pdf 155): Quoting the December 2000 ICA on Iraqi WMD - According to [censored - as above, was this word "credible"?] reporting from a single source, Iraq has constructed seven transportable - via trucks and rail cars - plants, some of which have produced BW agents. Although the information is unconfirmed, it tracks with UNSCOM evidence acquired in the mid-1990's that Iraq was considering such a program.

Page 156 (pdf 166): Because of Committee staffs concerns about the IC's reliance on a single source and questions about CURVE BALL'S reporting, the Committee requested an IC assessment of CURVE BALL and his reliability. The DHS provided the Committee with an information paper on December 17, 2003 that stated ". . . the Iraqi design engineer [CURVE BALL] is not a biological weapons expert nor is he a life science expert. Source simply designed [censored] production facilities. He never claimed that the project he was involved in was used to produce biological agents." The DHS assessment also noted that "the source's reporting demonstrates a knowledge of and access to personalities, organizations, procurement, and technology related to Iraq's BW program." Concerned that the assessment had said the primary source behind the IC's assessments of the Iraqi mobile BW production program had "never claimed that the project he was involved in was used to produce biological agents," Committee staff asked DHS to clarify what appeared to be a serious discrepancy. The DHS was unable to respond to the request for several weeks, noting to Committee staff that the matter was being handled by the DCI's staff. The DHS then issued a correction to the Committee on January 15, 2003 that stated the information in the December 17, 2003 paper contained several errors and [about two lines censored here - the ellipses and quotation mark following is part of the report] . . . ." The DHS correction also stated that "by virtue of his position, and as reflected in the published Intelligence Information Reports, the source demonstrated extensive knowledge of Iraq's BW program. As the project manager, he had intimate details of the mobile BW program." The author of the December 2003 DHS paper which stated that CURVE BALL "never claimed that the project he was involved in was used to produce biological agents" was the DHS intelligence officer who had primary responsibility [censored] for collecting and reporting the intelligence from CURVE BALL'S debriefings. In an interview with Committee staff, the DHS officer stated that in his haste to provide an assessment of the source to the Committee, he had misread some of the intelligence reports from the source.

Page 241 (pdf 251): According to a State Department foreign affairs officer in the Bureau of Nonproliferation and the NIO, the general operating principle set by Secretary Powell in preparing his presentation was that any intelligence that was included had to be corroborated. The foreign affairs officer told Committee staff that "single source information did not go in the speech." CIA analysts who participated in these meetings told Committee staff that the Secretary only wanted to use solid intelligence in the speech and wanted the language carefully reviewed by the analysts. One CIA analyst and one official told the Committee they were not aware of any guidance that single source information should not be used in the speech. The NIO for Science and Technology, who also worked on Secretary Powell's speech, told Committee staff that DCI Tenet specifically told him to check the speech for classification issues and to "back [] up the material and mak[e] sure we had good solid stuff to support everything."

...CIA analysts told Committee staff that during the coordination meetings on the speech, information was removed in some instances because Secretary Powell was not comfortable with it and because some information was based on single source raw reporting which the CIA could not corroborate.

Page 366 (pdf 376): According to State Department officials, the general operating principle set by Secretary Powell in preparing his presentation was that any intelligence that was included had to be corroborated. The official told Committee staff that, "single source information did not go in the speech." The CTC analyst interviewed by Committee staff indicated that in the final weeks leading up to the February 5 presentation, the CIA analysts responsible for preparing the terrorism portion were heavily engaged with Secretary Powell on "... everything from substance to style to Secretary Powell's personal 'I don't like that' . . . ."

Page 450 (pdf 460): When United Nations inspectors departed from Iraq in 1998, the Intelligence Community lost a major source of information on the ground and failed to take remedial actions to replace it with a human intelligence collection program essential for understanding the clandestine nature of proliferation activities and Saddam Hussein's intentions. As a result, the intelligence collected in the intervening period was primarily through overhead imagery and signals intercepts of limited value and from Iraqi defectors, often single sources of unknown credibility that were provided by the now suspect Iraqi National Congress, a group promoting the use of U.S. military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
The report itself is pretty harsh on the IC, and they certainly share any blame for the sorry state of intelligence about Iraqi WMD. But there's a trail here to follow, and this search gave me a method of focusing on it. Still working on that post, but it will be out soon. In the meantime, chew on those quotes.

Things to remember while chewing:
  • Powell went gunning for single source information when prepping for the UN speech.
  • Several "single sources" of unverifiable info came from the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi's group.
  • One crucial single source, the source codenamed CURVEBALL, was only interrogated by an American intelligence agent once. All other information from this most prolific sources was obtained at secondhand by US intelligence.

I'll be back later...