Tyler Drumheller died recently at the age of 63 in Fairfax, Virginia from the complications of pancreatic cancer. He went to work for the CIA in 1979, retiring in 2005. He was serving as the chief of the CIA’s European Division when the planning for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was taking place in Washington. Mr. Drumheller is remembered for his role in questioning the assertion that Saddam Hussein’s regime had developed mobile biological weapons laboratories. The lab item was included in President George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations.
The primary source of the mobile biological laboratory information was an Iraqi chemical engineer who had defected to Germany in the late 1990s. German intelligence officials had warned their American counterparts that the defector was erratic, they thought he could be making a lot of things up. Since the defector’s story lacked credibility, Mr. Drumheller sent a warning to top CIA officials and tried to have the references to the mobile germ labs removed from a draft of Powell’s speech.
After the invasion, no mobile germ warfare labs were found. The Iraqi defector has since admitted he made up the tale to impress German intelligence officials. He probably thought it would help get his request for asylum quickly approved. As the furor over the use of faulty intelligence erupted in the wake of the invasion, CIA Director George Tenet said he never received the credibility warning. A 2005 report on intelligence failures states that officers in the European Division had expressed their serious concerns about the reliability of the information to senior officials. Those warnings had been disregarded.
Ahmed Chalabi hailed from a prominent Shia family that was part of Iraq’s wealthy upper class. When the Baathists took power, Chalabi’s family departed Iraq in 1956. In exile, he did extraordinarily well. He earned a doctorate from the University of Chicago and ran a bank in Jordan. Ahmed Chalabi was a cultured, financially successful Iraqi expatriate who was active in the political life of Europe and the United States. In Washington, he gained the confidence of the neoconservatives. As a result, Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, an organization dedicated to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, received millions in U.S. government funding.
Chalabi’s organization was the source of much of the weapons of mass destruction information that the Bush administration used in justifying the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Unfortunately, almost all of it ultimately proved to be false. The urbane Iraqi exile pushed the idea that the Iraqi people longed for democracy, Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda and that relations between Iraq’s Shias and Sunnis were good. Chalabi turned out to be a fabricator of the first order, his organization simply provided the information the neoconservatives wanted to hear. It has been said that he was acquainted with chemical engineer who defected to Germany.
After the invasion, Chalabi served in the interim government. He was in charge of the program removing Baathists from government positions. He did a good job, along with high officials, he also got rid of schoolteachers and low-level bureaucrats. These were mostly people who had technical skills, but were required to join the party in order to get a job. The wholesale removal helped sow the seeds of the Sunni-Shia split that the Americans desperately wanted to avoid. Although he is not a current member of the government, he has done quite well by becoming a defender of the Shiites.
Ahmed Chalabi had his own agenda when he set out to influence American policy makers. Perhaps he wanted to get his family’s land back or to cap his successful expatriate career by returning to Iraq as prime minister. Being a shrewd political operator, he was able to hoodwink the G.W. Bush administration’s top defense officials. One of the consequences of this convoluted affair is that Iraq verges on becoming a failed state.