Washington A bitter feud erupted Friday over claims by a presidential commission that top CIA officials apparently ignored warnings in late 2002 and early 2003 that a person nicknamed "Curveball" -- the chief source of prewar U.S. intelligence about Iraqi germ weapons -- was unreliable.
Former CIA Director George J. Tenet and his chief deputy, John E. McLaughlin, furiously denied they had been told not to trust Curveball, an Iraqi refugee in Germany who ultimately was proved a fraud.
But the CIA's former operations chief and one of his top lieutenants insisted Friday that debates had raged inside the CIA about Curveball's credibility, even as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell vouched for the defector's claims in a crucial address to the U.N. Security Council on the eve of war.
"The fact is there was yelling and screaming about this guy," said James L. Pavitt, deputy director of operations and head of the clandestine service until he retired last summer.
"My people were saying: 'We think he's a stinker,'" Pavitt said. But CIA bioweapons analysts, he said, "were saying: 'We still think he's worthwhile.'" Pavitt said he didn't convey his own doubts to Tenet because he didn't know until after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq that Curveball was "of such import" in prewar CIA assessments provided to the president, Congress and the public.
Tyler Drumheller, former chief of the CIA European Division, said he and other senior officials in his office -- the unit in the clandestine service that oversees spying in Europe -- had issued repeated warnings about Curveball's accounts.
Drumheller scoffed at claims by Tenet and McLauglin that they were unaware of concerns about Curveball's credibility.