Obama Pins Fate of Nuclear Pact on Documents From an Iranian “Curveball”

President Barack Obama leaves his podium after addressing the nation on an agreement reached with Iran that would temporarily freeze Tehran’s nuclear program and lay the foundation for a more sweeping accord, at the White House in Washington, November 23, 2013. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)President Barack Obama leaves his podium after addressing the nation on an agreement reached with Iran that would temporarily freeze Tehran’s nuclear program and lay the foundation for a more sweeping accord, at the White House in Washington, November 23, 2013. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

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Obama administration officials insist “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program must be resolved to the satisfaction of the IAEA to complete a nuclear agreement. But the term refers to discredited intelligence from suspect sources.

One of the issues Obama administration officials are insisting must be resolved to the satisfaction of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before any nuclear agreement may be concluded involves “possible military dimensions.” That term refers to documents long discredited by German intelligence but which the United States and the IAEA have maintained came from a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.

A former senior German official has now revealed that the biggest collection of documents cited as evidence of such a covert Iran program actually came from a member of the Iranian terrorist organization Mujihedin-E-Khalq (MEK) and that German intelligence sought to warn the George W. Bush administration that the source of the documents was not trustworthy.

The use of those documents to make a case for action against Iran closely parallels the Bush administration’s use of the testimony of the now-discredited Iraqi exile called “Curveball” to convince the US public to support war against Iraq. The parallel between the two episodes was recognized explicitly by the German intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), according to Karsten Voigt, who was the German Foreign Office’s coordinator of North American-German relations.

Voigt provided details of the story behind the appearance of the mysterious Iran nuclear documents in an interview with this writer last March for a book on the false narrative surrounding Iran’s nuclear program that is newly published, Manufactured Crisis. 

Voigt recalled that the purported Iranian documents were acquired by BND in 2004 from a member of the Iranian anti-regime terrorist organization MEK and that the BND was concerned that the Bush administration was about to use intelligence from that dubious source to make a case for war only two years after it had relied on testimony of the notorious “Curveball” to make the case for war in Iraq.

The BND officials were concerned that Bush administration appeared to be making the case that Iran was working on nuclear weapons on the basis of the information that was now in question, according to Voigt.

Voigt told me he learned about the Iranian nuclear documents after remarks to reporters by Secretary of State Colin Powell in mid-November 2004 had caused consternation among senior officials of the BND. Powell had referred to “information” that Iran was “working hard” at combining a missile with a “weapon,” clearly implying that it was a nuclear weapon. Voigt said senior BND officials contacted him immediately after the story of Powell’s remarks had been reported by news media.

The BND officials told Voigt that they were familiar with the “information” to which Powell had referred, which they described as a set of drawings of different ways to redesign the reentry vehicle of the Iranian Shahab-3 missile. They told Voigt that the drawings were part of a large collection of papers that had been turned over to the BND by an Iranian who had been an occasional intelligence source for the agency, though not an actual BND intelligence agent. But the BND officials explained to Voigt that the source was not someone inside the Iranian defense establishment, as Bush administration officials would leak to selected journalists, but a member of the MEK. The officials made it clear to Voight that they did not have confidence in the source. “They believed the source was doubtful,” Voigt recalled.

The BND officials were concerned that Bush administration appeared to be making the case that Iran was working on nuclear weapons on the basis of the information that was now in question, according to Voigt. “They didn’t like the way it was being used by the United States,” he told this writer.

The BND officials were alarmed by Powell’s comment on the information from the documents, because they still had vivid memories of the “Curveball” episode  involving a German intelligence informant two years earlier. “We had such a situation in the Iraq war,” recalled Voigt.

In a series of interviews with BND officers beginning in 2000, “Curveball” had provided a series of vivid accounts of mobile biological weapons laboratories developed by Saddam Hussein’s government. The BND had passed on reports of those accounts to the CIA, apparently without assessment of the source, as the usual practice by intelligence services sharing information with counterparts in other nations’ services.

Now they were afraid of the same drama being replayed, with the Bush administration using information from an Iranian “Curveball” to make a case for a military confrontation with Iran.

As BND officials continued to interrogate Curveball, however, they had begun to find inconsistencies in his account and to doubt the story. By the time CIA Director George Tenet asked the BND directly, in December 2002, whether the White House could use Curveball’s information for public statements, the BND officials had lost confidence in the source and were convinced that the Bush administration was planning to cite the Iraqi defector’s claims to justify war in Iraq, according to the account in investigative journalist Bob Drogin’s book Curveball.

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