Further Information Regarding US Government Attribution of a Mobile Biological Production Capacity by Iraq

by Milton Leitenberg

On June 29, 2006, Secrecy News carried an eleven-page analysis titled "Unresolved Questions Regarding US Government Attribution of a Mobile Biological Production Capacity by Iraq" (pdf).

The "unresolved questions" were raised by two crucial lines in two separate sources. The first was a single line in the Silberman-Robb Commission report on page 98 referring to the putative Iraqi mobile BW production platforms. The sentence read: "Confirmation/replication of the described design by U.S. contractors (it works)." The message was written on December 20, 2002, by the Executive Assistant [EA/DDCI] to John E. McLaughlin, then the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet's deputy. The second sentence was more measured and was written by McLaughlin himself on April 1, 2005 directly following the release of the Silberman-Robb report. Although given to two journalists by McLaughlin on that date, it was however only made publicly available by McLaughlin on June 25, 2006. It read "...the processes he [Curveball] described had been assessed by an independent laboratory as workable engineering designs."

The resulting unresolved questions were:

In the intervening weeks since June 29, 2006, these questions have apparently been resolved. The illustration of the set of three vehicles that purportedly portrayed Iraq's mobile BW production vehicles and which first appeared in US Secretary of State Powell's address to the United Nations in February 20031 and then in the CIA/DIA-released report on May 28, 2003,2 were produced by graphic artists working at Battelle under a CIA contract.

Contrary to the prevalent assumptions, the illustrations apparently were not made following any detailed descriptions provided by the Iraqi informant codenamed "Curveball," but rather on the basis of specifications made by CIA staff and its contractor as to the equipment that such a vehicle or set of vehicles would require. It does not appear that the original purpose of the CIA contracted drawings was for use in Sec. Powell's UN presentation, but that they later were used for that purpose as well. Once prepared, they were given to President Bush in one of the "President's Daily Briefs" (PDBs). The same information was later included in the CIA/DIA report on May 28, 2003. Apparently the drawings were all that was ever prepared. No mock-up containing the pieces of equipment shown in the drawings appears to have been produced, and no biological agent or simulant was produced. The drawings therefore appear to be what DDCI McLaughlin referred to as "the processes he [Curveball] described had been assessed by an independent laboratory as workable engineering designs." Unless subsequent information demonstrates this to be mistaken, and although "laboratories" may be on the premises of the particular Battelle facility where the drawings were made, no "laboratory" appears to have been involved. It is probably more accurate to say -- rather than that "the processes" had been validated -- that an illustration had been made of the configuration of equipment that the CIA and its Battelle contractor deemed necessary for the task of producing biological weapons agents on truck platforms.

As for the words written by the EA/DDCI which ended with "it works," it seems that this can best be explained by the over-enthusiastic and/or careless language of senior CIA officials among themselves (recall Central Intelligence Director George Tenet's "slam dunk" expression to President Bush), and that it refers to the same Battelle-produced graphics, and not to anything else.

In summary, these self-conceived and self-imagined illustrations were all the "evidence" that the United States government had to give to Secretary of State Powell to place before the United Nations and the world to support the claim that Iraq had mobile biological weapon production platforms which had been hidden from UNSCOM and UNMOVIC, in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687. This was one of the prime justifications for the US and the UK to invade Iraq. Whether the responsibility for this deception belongs to Vice President Cheney's office or to the CIA alone still remains to be determined. One day after the US Defense Intelligence Agency had in its hands a draft report from a mission that it had dispatched to Iraq which definitively reported that the Iraqi vehicles were for hydrogen production, the CIA and DIA released their May 28, 2003 report which stated the contrary and repeated Secretary Powell's UN testimony regarding the alleged vehicles.3 One should also remember that nine months after the two vehicles recovered in Iraq in 2003 were independently determined by US and by British teams as absolutely not being for BW production, George Tenet still portrayed the issue as an open question in a speech at Georgetown University in February 2004.

The earlier analysis also discussed a BW production mock-up truck platform being constructed under a CIA contract to SAIC Corporation and being carried out in Frederick, Maryland, beginning in September 2001 by Dr. Steven Hatfill. This vehicle almost certainly had another purpose, to be used for training US Special Forces personnel who might encounter and capture such vehicles, presumably in Iraq if not elsewhere. Nevertheless, it cannot be excluded that CIA officials also used knowledge of this construction to reassure themselves about the relevance of the drawings made at Battelle to their false preconception of the existence of mobile BW production vehicles in Iraq.