What Name do you give to a War?
The First World War is called the Great War after not being the War to End all Wars. World War Two is called The Great Patriotic War by the Russians. Gulf War One was Saddam Hussein‘s invasion of Kuwait while the Second Gulf War could easily be called the Taxi Driver’s War.
Helen of Troy’s beauty was said to be “the face that launched a thousand ships” and the ten-year Trojan War. Curveball is the cover name given to Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi an Iraqi taxi-driver who has been fired from previous jobs, has debts, is a compulsive liar and applies for political asylum in Germany November 1999.
All he really wants is to get his family out of Iraq, have a nice house in the West and of course, a big Mercedes. Might as well make the best of it so two months later as his application is being processed, he mentions he has information about Iraq’s biological weapons.
At first the information is considered priceless but begins to tarnish through lack of verification. Additionally Curveball’s Arabic is mangled in translation into German then English by people who do not have degrees in biology or weapon manufacture. Putting biological weapons in an explosive warhead is easier said than done, as the energy and heat from the explosion destroys the nasty stuff inside. And as one disillusioned WMD-believer American said, the only way one these weapons would kill you was if it landed on your head! The whole fiasco is only publicly admitted to be fabrication in May 2004 – long after the invasion. Before then, people who questioned the perceived wisdom that Saddam must have had WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) are harshly treated – shooting the messenger. Curveball’s influence is a classic case of being in the right place at the right time and people hearing what they wanted to hear.
Curveball likes internet cafés and most of his information is gleaned from the UN website aided by careless questioning by the Germans which show him what he needs to bone up on. When standard background checks are finally done by the Americans in Iraq with his family, school friends and former colleagues, nothing stands up.
Fundamental to the whole scenario is deep mistrust by the Americans of the BND the German Intelligence Service. While the West may have won the Cold War, one might think that the Russians won the espionage one. With many agents in Germany, they brought about the resignation of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt after his close aide Gunther Guillaume, was exposed as a KGB agent. Imagine someone like Alastair Campbell or Peter Mandleson being unmasked as a Russian spy while serving with Tony Blair?
The legacy of distrust prevents the Americans from seeing much of the intelligence which is only shared when it suits. The Americans never show anything to the Germans, so why should the Germans be helpful? Interestingly, MI6 get on better with the German BND and voice suspicions earlier than their American cousins. Interesting account of the turf war at the CIA between the analysts and the field people who run agents – is Curveball genuine or not? Plus a new insult for my phrasebook in one heated meeting “You can kiss my a*** in Macy’s window” said by one lady to another!
By the time middle-ranking CIA officials are really worried, the billion dollar war machine is on the road with people’s reputations, budgets and pensions on the line. Comic moments include the discovery of traces of ammonia in two battered mobile germ factories first hailed as proof of WMDs. For once, the Saddam’s regime tells the truth – the containers are for producing hydrogen – not germs. Checking with friendly Iraqis previously involved with WMDs yields a simple explanation for the ammonia smell – urine! and if you will pardon the awful joke, they were not taking the ……..
And Colin Powell’s famous speech to the UN in February 2003 turns out to be fiction.
It’s Not Cricket
Finally and for the uninitiated perhaps, the cricket equivalent of a curveball (from baseball) is a googly And let’s not forget the cost – 4,488 American soldiers dead plus the financial cost US$ 1 trillion and counting.