Cooking the books

Even though intelligence experts knew claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction came from a known liar, the Bush administration ignored the warnings and told the American public and the world the claims were true.

Writes Joby Warrick in today’s Washington Post:

In late January 2003, as Secretary of State Colin Powell prepared to argue the Bush administration’s case against Iraq at the United Nations, veteran CIA officer Tyler Drumheller sat down with a classified draft of Powell’s speech to look for errors. He found a whopper: a claim about mobile biological labs built by Iraq for germ warfare.

Drumheller instantly recognized the source, an Iraqi defector suspected of being mentally unstable and a liar. The CIA officer took his pen, he recounted in an interview, and crossed out the whole paragraph.

A few days later, the lines were back in the speech. Powell stood before the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 and said: "We have first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails."

The sentence took Drumheller completely by surprise.

"We thought we had taken care of the problem," said the man who was the CIA’s European operations chief before retiring last year, "but I turn on the television and there it was, again."

While the administration has repeatedly acknowledged intelligence failures over Iraqi weapons claims that led to war, new accounts by former insiders such as Drumheller shed light on one of the most spectacular failures of all: How U.S. intelligence agencies were eagerly drawn in by reports about a troubled defector’s claims of secret germ factories in the Iraqi desert. The mobile labs were never found.