I’m a little behind on but really enjoying Noreen Malone’s Slow Burn series on the Alice-in-Wonderland runup to the Iraq War. I’m especially looking forward to the most recent episode, which is about Colin Powell’s disgraceful yet highly-praised-by-contemporaneous-media UN speech:
Margaret Henoch was watching the speech with her boss at the CIA. When she heard the line about mobile weapons labs, she knew her warning never made it to Powell.
“We’re just like, what the fuck?” she said. “I called upstairs and said, ‘Did you guys see that you shouldn’t have used that?’
owell was relying on what the CIA had told him. (He declined to talk to us, by the way.) But there was a lot the CIA hadn’t told him—including the fact that some of their information had come from a sketchy source: a man with the codename Curveball.
Leading up to Powell’s UN speech, the Bush administration had told the American public that the country needed to invade Iraq. That Saddam Hussein was a threat.
Key pieces of intelligence were cited over and over again as evidence to support the case for war. The repetition gave the illusion of credibility—even when that intelligence was unproven.
So who was Curveball? Why was the information he had so valuable? And how did unvetted intelligence make its way into Colin Powell’s case for war?
Henoch described the source this way:
“Curveball was a slug. Curveball was a slime. But Curveball didn’t make anybody believe something that they didn’t want to believe.”
And of course Powell knew that enough of what the CIA was feeding him was bullshit that he should have walked away, but instead he invested his enormous bipartisan credibility in one of the most disastrous foreign policy blunders in known human history. Posterity should judge him accordingly.