SPIEGEL Interview with Iraq WMD Sleuth David Kay German Intelligence Was 'Dishonest, Unprofessional and Irresponsible'
David Kay was charged by the Bush administration with finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the invasion. Instead of finding weapons, though, he found what he told SPIEGEL was 'the biggest intelligence fiasco of my lifetime.'
The Iraq Survey Group didn't find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They did, though, find this trailer that was, at first, thought to be one of the alleged mobile biological weapons labs.
Kay: The real shock was that the CIA had never spoken to him directly. To this day, I still dont understand. How can you hang the most dramatic part of a case for war on an individual no American agent has ever directly debriefed? I realized right away, we needed to follow up in Baghdad on whatever leads we had concerning 'Curveball.'
SPIEGEL: Were you briefed by the BND, the German foreign intelligence agency, before you went to Iraq?
Kay: No way. This is part of how toxic and how horrible the relationship was between the BND and the CIA. The Germans never gave us 'Curveballs' real name which once lead to minor disaster in Germany.
SPIEGEL: What happened?
Kay: Members of the CIA based in Munich thought they had his name and went out and found someone in Germany with a very similar name. They found him -- a young Iraqi -- and knocked on his door without approval by the German authorities. But it was the wrong guy, and he ended up calling the police on the intruders.
SPIEGEL: The argument made by the Germans for not providing access to 'Curveball' was not totally illogical. He claimed to hate Americans. It would have been a breach of trust if they had turned him over to the CIA.
Kay: We know today, of course, that it was all nonsense. First of all, we have people who speak 100 percent fluent German or Arabic. After the war, armed with the name from the British, we sought out his family. His mother and brother were very cooperative. They told us that he spoke English -- the language of instruction at his university was English. They also said he had plans to emigrate to the United States. My men saw his room and there were posters on the wall of American pop stars.
SPIEGEL: It sounds as though you were the first one who really had the chance to cross-check what 'Curveball' said
Kay: which is simply unbelievable. He was a defector for Gods sake and the BND was convinced that his information was so valuable that they distributed over 100 reports on 'Curveball' to their allies. I stand by my criticism of the BND to this day: To not have checked up on the exile Iraqis in Germany who knew him, not to have made all the appropriate efforts to validate the source, is a level of irresponsibility that is awfully hard to imagine in a service like the BND. And then, the fact that they failed to provide direct access to him remains one of the most striking things. It was a blockade that made it impossible for any other service to validate his information. The German service did not live up to their responsibilities or to the level of integrity you would expect from such a service.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation as to why this happened?
Kay: I first thought it was because the two governments had anything but a congenial relationship with each other. I thought maybe the BND was under political pressure and couldnt cooperate for political reasons. If the Germans had just said to the CIA, We cant do this because of Schröder, I would have said, 'OK, I understand.' But to tell us this stuff which was demonstrably untrue, like he hates America and doesnt speak English -- that was dishonest, unprofessional and irresponsible.
SPIEGEL: Are you saying that German intelligence knowingly deceived the United States about 'Curveball?' Within the BND, at least, it seems that many actually believed him.
Kay: It was mysterious to me. Ive thought about it for a long time and I have an explanation. If there is an intelligence service which has had experience with defectors, then it is the BND. They had so many Soviet defectors. But exactly those people who specialize in defectors and how to deal with them -- the people from the clandestine or operative side -- had nothing to do with 'Curveball.' He was primarily run by people from the analytical and technology side of the BND who dont know that the first thing you do when someone walks through the door is you find out who he is, who knows him, who his real name is and what his real story is. But also there was a desire to believe. Fabricators work best when there is a desire to believe.
SPIEGEL: When you were in Iraq, your team found out that 'Curveballs' story had nothing to do with the truth. How did CIA leadership react to your findings?
Kay: With resistance and denial. It was an absolute refusal to face reality. I just kept on hearing, 'dont stop now. Keep working. You must be wrong. You will find it. Keep looking.'
SPIEGEL: But nothing was ever found
Kay: No and my e-mails became less and less friendly. There was a war going on in Baghdad, the members of my team were risking their lives every day, and the Germans kept on refusing us access to the source. When we finally got permission, it was even worse.
SPIEGEL: How so?
Kay: I sent two of my best people over to Germany -- they were gone for a total of two weeks. But they were not allowed to interrogate him. They were allowed to provide some initial questions and then watch it all on video from another room. But they were not allowed to submit follow up questions that could be immediately asked, which is the very essence of an interrogation. They were mad and I was mad. Yet what they watched on video was enough to convince them that 'Curveball' was a fabricator.
SPIEGEL: Would it really have made a difference if 'Curveball' had been exposed as a fraud before the war? The Bush administration wanted to go to war no matter what.
Kay: Sure, the administration had that position. But dont underestimate the importance that the link to al-Qaida, the weapons of mass destruction and, specifically, the biological weapons labs played in Congress. You can be pretty certain it would have changed the congressional vote, the authorization. Let me just say, I do not believe it would have been easy to take this nation to war if you had not had the intelligence.
SPIEGEL: What can we all learn from the 'Curveball' disaster?
Kay: I feel disillusioned. I think that 'Curveball' was the biggest and most consequential intelligence fiasco of my lifetime. It shows how important effective civilian control of the intelligence services is, because non-transparency is extraordinarily dangerous for democracy. In an intelligence service, people who dont make waves are rewarded. I am worried that the same mistakes could be repeated all over again.
Interview conducted by John Goetz and Marcel Rosenbach