The Last to Know
The Anchoress says a recent CBS report has confirmed that Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush were fed bad information on Iraqi WMDs by the same source: codenamed Curveball. It also happens that both Clinton and Bush had the same DCIA.
Curve Ball is an Iraqi defector named Rafid Ahmed Alwan, who arrived at a German refugee center in 1999. To bolster his asylum case and increase his importance, he told officials he was a star chemical engineer who had been in charge of a facility at Djerf al Nadaf that was making mobile biological weapons. ...
More than a hundred summaries of his debriefings were sent to the CIA, which then became a pillar - along with the now-disproved Iraqi quest for uranium for nuclear weapons - for the U.S. decision to bomb and then invade Iraq. The CIA-director George Tenet gave Alwan’s information to Secretary of State Colin Powell to use at the U.N. in his speech justifying military action against Iraq.
The past's past. But what other junk is rattling around the intelligence cupboard. And how would we know?
There are costs to maintaining secrecy. One of them is a guaranteed violation of Linus' Law. Linus Torwald, the originator of Linux is said to have remarked:
that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow". More formally: "Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone."
This situation rarely obtains in the world of secret information, where a review by "enough eyeballs" is a security risk. In that world, many staring eyes are a bug, not a feature. It would be interesting to discover whether intelligence analysis is ever subjected to a rigorous probabalistic risk assessment, which is a fairly common engineering practice. The essential goal of a probabilistic risk assessment is to determine dependencies. To find out what holds things up and from that knowledge determine what can go wrong.
Probabilistic Risk Assessment usually answers three basic questions:
1. What can go wrong with the studied technological entity, or what are the initiators or initiating events (undesirable starting events) that lead to adverse consequence(s)?
2. What and how severe are the potential detriments, or the adverse consequences that the technological entity may be eventually subjected to as a result of the occurrence of the initiator?
3. How likely to occur are these undesirable consequences, or what are their probabilities or frequencies?
If Curveball was the linchpin on which OIF was largely premised, the question to ask is not whether CIA was willing to bet the farm on Curveball -- because sometimes you have to do that -- but whether they knew they were betting the farm on Curveball, which is another question altogether.