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Context of 'December 2002: CIA Torn Over Curveball’s Reliability'

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Curveball, as a college student.Curveball, as a college student. [Source: CBS News]The Iraqi engineering student later known to the US and German intelligence communities as “Curveball” graduates last in his class from engineering school at Baghdad University and is hired to work at the Chemical Engineering and Design Center. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Curveball, identified thirteen years later as Rafid Ahmed Alwan (see November 4, 2007), will tell German intelligence officials that he graduated first in his class and went on to oversee a secret Iraqi bioweapons laboratory. His claims are entirely fictional (see June 2003-Late 2003), but will become a linchpin of the US’s case for the necessity of invading Iraq (see February 5, 2003).

Entity Tags: ’Curveball’

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Iraqi defector “Curveball.”Iraqi defector “Curveball.” [Source: ABC News]“Curveball,” an Iraqi in his late 20s later identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan (see November 4, 2007), travels to Germany on a tourist visa and applies for political asylum, telling German immigration officials that he embezzled money from the Iraqi government and fears prison or worse if he returns home. The Germans send him to Zirndorf, a refugee center near Nuremberg, where other Iraqi exiles seeking German visas are being held. There, he changes his story, telling German intelligence (BND) officers that he was a chemical engineer (see 1994) who had been promoted to direct a secret mobile biological weapons plant at Djerf al Nadaf, just outside of Baghdad. The plant masqueraded as a “seed purification plant,” he claims. Curveball tells the Germans that in Iraq, he designed laboratory equipment to convert trucks into biological weapons laboratories. He offers the names of six sites where Iraq might be hiding them, three of which, he says, are already in operation. He also says that a farm program to boost crop yields is a front for Hussein’s new biological weapons production program. He tells the Germans of a warehouse at the plant that housed trucks; the trucks had been equipped to create and transport biological weapons. His story dovetails with the long-held fears by Western intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein was cooking up biological and chemical weapons; the Germans stash him away, nickname him “Curveball,” and interrogate him every few days for the next eighteen months (see January 2000-September 2001). Curveball refuses to meet with Americans; therefore, only summaries of his debriefings will be sent to Washington. CIA analysts will be mesmerized by Alwan’s information. Former senior CIA official Tyler Drumheller recalls in late 2007, “Curveball was the one piece of evidence where they could say, ‘Look at this. If they have this capability, where they can transport biological weapons, anthrax, all these horrible weapons, they can attack our troops with them. They can give them to terrorist groups.’” Most arresting is Curveball’s story that in 1998 he saw an accidental release of a biological weapon that killed 12 people. His story is almost entirely false. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005; CBS News, 11/4/2007] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will tell the New Yorker in 2004 that the CIA believes that Aras Habib, the INC intelligence chief later accused of providing US intelligence to Iran, played a part in Curveball’s going to Germany. “The CIA is positive of it,” he says. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
bullet Bob Drogin, author of the 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will write that Curveball gives the Germans detailed diagrams of germ-making equipment, fermenters, mixing vats, controllers, and other items, which appear “plausible,” even though they can’t be reverse-engineered to “brew anthrax” or “build a bio-lab in a garage.” Instead, he will write, Curveball’s inconsistent information will be “interpreted, summarized, reformatted and analyzed at every stage,” but will never be verified. Drogin will call the entire affair “the dark side of intelligence,” and will write that, to the CIA’s top officials, the risk of going so far on uncorroborated evidence would take care of itself once US forces found the fabled Iraqi WMDs. Once the weapons were in hand, Drogin will write, they will figure “no one would remember a bogus defector.” As a CIA supervisor will later e-mail to a frustrated agency whistleblower, “Let’s keep in mind the fact that this war’s going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn’t say, and that the Powers That Be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he’s talking about.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Tyler Drumheller, Bob Drogin, Vincent Cannistraro, Iraqi National Congress, Central Intelligence Agency, Aras Habib, Bundesnachrichtendienst, ’Curveball’

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Despite the claims by the Iraqi National Congress, and many Republicans, that the defector commonly known as Curveball (see November 4, 2007) has no connections with the INC (see November 4, 2007), at least some evidence exists to the contrary. Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin, author of the 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will note both in his book and in an interview that Curveball has an older brother who fled Iraq in 1992, and who joined the INC shortly thereafter. For years, Curveball and his brother had little contact. But in 2001 the brother calls Curveball and tells him that Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the INC, heard that Curveball is in Germany, and that Chalabi wants any information on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that the INC might steer towards US intelligence. Drogin will say that Curveball, who he will describe as “semi-psychotic” by this time, is “sent over the edge” by the phone call. He is convinced that he had been tracked down by the Iraqis who, he feels, want to assassinate him, so at that point he stops cooperating with German intelligence. After the invasion of Iraq, CIA agents will track down Curveball’s mother in Baghdad, where she will tell them about the brother. The agents locate the brother, who is still working for the INC out of a Baghdad location called the Hunting Club. The brother will confirm the phone call. However, Drogin will say, “No one was able to prove—and Chalabi repeatedly, angrily denied—that he had sent Curveball out as a deliberate plant. And the reason that this is credible in this case is that Chalabi did send out numerous people—I think 20 is the number who have been identified—who came out through the Iraqi National Congress, and in almost every case proved to be providing false information of one kind or another. But in every one of those cases, they were handed off directly to the Americans. When the CIA found out about the brother, they totally freaked out because they thought, ‘Oh my God, we’ve been set up, Chalabi really pulled the wool over us on this one.’ But in the end it was determined that it was just another fluke in this case, but one that sent them all going crazy for quite a while.” [Salon, 10/16/2007] House member John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, will note in a November 8, 2005 letter to Chalabi, “[W]e have learned that ‘Curveball’ is, in fact, the brother of one of your top lieutenants within the Iraqi National Congress.” He will request that Chalabi “make yourself available to us to explain the details and reasons for your involvement in the manipulation of intelligence as the Bush Administration pushed for war. It is vital to the integrity of both our democracies that the truth behind these terribly destructive events be known.” It is not clear if, and how, Chalabi will respond to Conyers’s request. [Huffington Post, 11/8/2005] And in 2006, a PBS documentary will quote former CIA official Vincent Cannistraro as saying, “Curveball was a relative of a senior official of the INC, the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmed Chalabi.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] The extent of Curveball’s contact with the INC, and whether or not he was “aimed” at the US to deliberately spread disinformation, is not known.

Entity Tags: John Conyers, Bush administration (43), Bob Drogin, Ahmed Chalabi, Central Intelligence Agency, Iraqi National Congress, Vincent Cannistraro, ’Curveball’

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Satellite photo of the Djerf al Nadaf site.Satellite photo of the Djerf al Nadaf site. [Source: CBS News]US and German intelligence experts meet in Munich to discuss the information provided by the Iraqi defector code-named “Curveball” (see November 1999). Using satellite imagery, they examine photos of the Djerf al Nadaf site, where Curveball claimed to have been a senior project director for a secret mobile biological weapons laboratory. The photos match with Curveball’s description, except for one detail. According to former CIA official Tyler Drumheller, “If you look at the photos, all the way back to 1998, there was a wall that was built there. Like a cinderblock wall that was built there, that nothing could go through.” The wall stood exactly where Curveball claimed the trucks would go into the warehouse. But CIA analysts convinced of Curveball’s veracity has an explanation: “There was an idea that it could have been a fake wall,” Drumheller recalls. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]

Entity Tags: ’Curveball’, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Central Intelligence Agency, Tyler Drumheller

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Dr. Basil al-Sa’ati.Dr. Basil al-Sa’ati. [Source: CBS News]The Iraqi defector known as Curveball (see November 4, 2007), who is providing German and US intelligence analysts with fascinating but fallacious stories of his involvement with what he claims is a secret Iraqi mobile biological weapons laboratory (see November 1999), provides the names of real Iraqis with whom he claims to have worked, further convincing the analysts of his veracity. One name he cites is that of nuclear scientist Dr. Basil al-Sa’ati, whom he claims was one of the mobile bioweapons program’s senior officials. In late 2007, long after Curveball has been proven to be a complete fabricator, a reporter asks al-Sa’ati, “[Curveball] told German intelligence that you personally were fully involved in the project to use [a laboratory site at] Djerf al Nadaf for mobile biological weapons.” Al-Sa’ati’s reply: “Big lie.” Had anything of that nature gone on there, he will say, he would “definitely” have known about it. “It was… really seed purification” and not a bioweapons facility, al-Sa’ati will say. Al-Sa’ati is equally dismissive with the Germans. If Curveball were involved in something so secret, al-Sa’ati asks the Germans, why did Saddam Hussein let him emigrate in 1999? Curveball had not known of al-Sa’ati’s emigration and subsequent availability to Western intelligence agencies, and becomes less cooperative and more reticent. Doubts about Curveball’s veracity began to grow among the Germans. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Basil al-Sa’ati, Central Intelligence Agency, ’Curveball’, Bundesnachrichtendienst

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Tyler Drumheller, CIA chief in Europe.Tyler Drumheller, CIA chief in Europe. [Source: PBS]Tyler Drumheller, the head of CIA spying in Europe, calls the German Intelligence (BND) station chief at the German embassy in Washington hoping to obtain permission to interview Curveball. Over lunch at a restaurant in Georgetown, the two discuss the case and the German officer tells Drumheller that Curveball is “crazy” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] and that the BND questions “whether Curveball [is] actually telling the truth.” [Washington Post, 5/21/2005]
Germans Confirm Curveball a Likely Fabricator - Author Craig Unger will write: “Curveball was a proprietory source of the BND, which passed its information from him to the Pentagon’s Defense HUMINT Service. In other words, even though the United States had no direct access to Curveball, [CIA Director George] Tenet was so anxious to please the White House (see September 2002) that he had given the Senate the explosive, but unsubstantiated revelation (see September 24, 2002). But now, with the crucial Senate vote over the war imminent (see October 10, 2002), Tenet had to make sure Curveball was for real. Not long after the meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Tenet asked [top CIA official] Tyler Drumheller to get direct access to Curveball.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 247] In 2009, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will recall: “I was astonished that the Americans used Curveball, really astonished. This was our stuff. But they presented it not in the way we knew it. They presented it as a fact, and not as the way an intelligence assessment is—could be, but could also be a big lie. We don’t know.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009] The Germans respond that Curveball is “probably a fabricator.” They also inform Drumheller that the BND will not give in to CIA requests to gain access to Curveball.
Violent Opposition to Characterization among CIA Officials - After the meeting, Drumheller and several aides get into bitter arguments with CIA analysts working on the Curveball case. “The fact is, there was a lot of yelling and screaming about this guy,” James Pavitt, chief of clandestine services, will later tell the Los Angeles Times. “My people were saying, ‘We think he’s a stinker.’” But CIA analysts remain supportive of Curveball’s account. In one meeting, the chief CIA analyst argues that material she found on the Internet corroborates Curveball’s account, to which the operations group chief for Germany retorts, “That’s where he got it too.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Drumheller will later recall his astonishment at the violence of the reaction among CIA officials. “People were cursing,” he will recall. “These guys were absolutely, violently committed to it [relying on Curveball as a primary source of intelligence].” Drumheller is unaware that a draft National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) has already been written, and that it relies heavily on Curveball’s intelligence. When Drumheller tells Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin that Curveball may be a fabricator, McLaughlin replies, “Man, I really hope not, because this is really the only substantive part of the NIE.” Drumheller now realizes what has escaped him before—Curveball is the only source the US has for its explosive claims about Iraq’s bioweapons labs, claims being used to justify a war. He tells his group chief that he had assumed the CIA had other sources to validate Curveball’s data. “No,” she says. “This is why they’re fighting so ferociously to validate this source.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 247-248]
Politicization of Intelligence - Paul Pillar, the CIA’s former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, will later tell a PBS reporter: “Politicization, real politicization, rarely [takes the form of] blatant, crude arm twisting.… It’s always more subtle.… Intelligence assessments that conform with what is known to be the policy [have] an easier time making it through.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 249]

Entity Tags: Joschka Fischer, Tyler Drumheller, George J. Tenet, James Pavitt, ’Curveball’, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Central Intelligence Agency, Paul R. Pillar

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

CIA official Margaret Henoch.CIA official Margaret Henoch. [Source: CBS News]Doubts as to the veracity and reliability of the information provided about Iraq’s secret bioweapons program by the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball” are growing among German intelligence analysts (see February 2001), and among some CIA analysts and officials as well, who are receiving summations of Curveball’s assertions from their German counterparts. Central group chief Margaret Henoch is one of those who questions Curveball’s reliability. Henoch later recalls in a CBS report revealing Curveball’s true identity (see November 4, 2007), “I said, ‘You know, I don’t know who this guy is. There’s no proof that he is who he is. There’s no proof that any of this ever happened. And, from my perspective, I just don’t think we should trust this.’” When the top CIA analyst working with Curveball’s information tries to prove his identity by showing Henoch a picture of a man in a hazmat (hazardous materials) suit, she recalls responding, “‘How do you know that was him if he’s completely covered? ‘Cause it could be me.’ And, as God as my witness, she looked at me like a pig looking at a wristwatch. And I thought it was over. And, when I went back, I sort of said to my boss, ‘Well, I’m such a genius.’” Henoch is mistaken in believing that Curveball’s reliability had been holed. She later recalls, “[I]t was whack-a-mole. I mean, he just popped right back up.” Her superiors want Curveball to be credible, and are prepared to overlook the inconsistencies and unverifiable claims he is making. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]

Entity Tags: CBS News, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Margaret Henoch, Central Intelligence Agency, ’Curveball’

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Dr. August Hanning.Dr. August Hanning. [Source: Der Spiegel]CIA Director George Tenet makes an urgent request to the chief of German intelligence, Dr. August Hanning. Tenet is scheduled to meet with President Bush in three days to discuss the case for invading Iraq. Tenet wants to cement his case by allowing the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball” to appear on television and tell his story; failing that, Tenet wants the Germans to allow an American expert to debrief Curveball (later revealed as a fabricator named Rafid Ahmed Alwan—see November 4, 2007) and then himself appear on television with his findings. Two days later, Hanning rejects Tenet’s requests. Hanning calls Curveball’s information “plausible and believable,” but adds that “attempts to verify the information have been unsuccessful.” Therefore, all of Curveball’s reports “must be considered unconfirmed.” However, Hanning would allow Curveball’s information to be used, if Tenet still desired to use that unconfirmed information, if the source is protected. In November 2007, Tenet denies ever seeing Hanning’s letter. The CIA’s former European division chief, Tyler Drumheller, believes Tenet is lying. “He needs to talk to his special assistants if he didn’t see it. And the fact is, he had very good special assistants. I’m sure they showed it to him. And I’m sure it was just, it wasn’t what they wanted to see,” Drumheller says. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]

Entity Tags: ’Curveball’, George W. Bush, August Hanning, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Tyler Drumheller, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The CIA’s Berlin station chief warns CIA headquarters that information on the alleged mobile biological units supplied by Iraqi defector “Curveball” should be used with extreme caution. The station chief explains that the German intelligence service does not consider Curveball a reliable source and that it has been unable to confirm the defector’s statements. “[T]o use information from another liaison service’s source whose information cannot be verified on such an important, key topic should take the most serious consideration,” the station chief writes. [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005; Washington Post, 5/21/2005] This information is forwarded by Tyler Drumheller to CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. But WINPAC analysts assure McLaughlin that the reporting is solid enough to be in Powell’s upcoming speech to the UN. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 182-183; Washington Post, 6/25/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 268-269]

Entity Tags: Tyler Drumheller, Central Intelligence Agency, ’Curveball’, Bundesnachrichtendienst, John E. McLaughlin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Larry Wilkerson.Larry Wilkerson. [Source: CBS News]Secretary of State Colin Powell, preparing for his critically important presentation to the United Nations that will assert the reality of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (see February 5, 2003), sends his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, to the CIA to prepare for the presentation. CIA Director George Tenet and his experts regale Wilkerson with the information about mobile bioweapons labs provided by the Iraqi defector Curveball (see November 1999). In 2007, Wilkerson will recall, “They presented it in a very dynamic, dramatic, ‘we know this is accurate,’ way.” Curveball’s assertion that he is a firsthand witness is very important, Wilkerson will say. “This was a man who had actually been in the belly of the beast. He had been in the lab. He had been there when an accident occurred. He’d seen people killed. And the implication was, strong implication, that they weren’t killed because of the accident in the explosion, they were killed because they were contaminated. Yes, the source was very credible. As it was presented by the CIA.” Wilkerson later says that both he and Powell accept the claims because they depend on the intelligence community for good information: “And you depend on the director of central intelligence to assimilate all the intelligence community’s input and give it to you.” Wilkerson feels the section on mobile bioweapons is the strongest part of the presentation, as does Powell. Others at the CIA are not so convinced of Curveball’s truthfulness (see September 2002, January 27, 2003, and December 2002). [CBS News, 11/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, ’Curveball’, United Nations, George J. Tenet, Lawrence Wilkerson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation.Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation. [Source: CBS News]US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 371-2; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232] In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003]
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). [Independent, 2/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003] Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005] Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” [Newsweek, 11/10/2005] Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003] But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” [Associated Press, 2/7/2003] Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. [Reuters, 2/7/2003; Guardian, 2/15/2003] Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003]
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse, 6/6/2003]
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; London Times, 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003] Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2003] Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. [Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/9/2003] Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. [Newsday, 2/6/2003]
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Reuters, 2/11/2003] Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. [CBS News, 11/4/2007] Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003] Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003]
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, 8/22/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2004; Knight Ridder, 4/4/2004; Newsweek, 4/19/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004] Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. [Buzzflash (.com), 11/27/2007] In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2003] After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). [CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003] Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003) (see January 11, 2003) (see August 17, 2001) (see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001) (see September 23, 2002) (see December 2002). [Albright, 10/9/2003] Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 1/24/2003] Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). [Financial Times, 7/29/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003] Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….” (see January 27, 2003) [Annan, 1/27/2003 pdf file] On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” (see March 7, 2003) [CNN, 3/7/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003]
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). [Daily Telegraph, 1/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/18/2003; BBC, 1/19/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003] A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003; BBC, 2/17/2003; Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; CNN, 2/5/2003]
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).

Satellite photo of the Djerf al Nadaf site, showing the wall blocking the truck route. Red arrows indicate where trucks were supposed to pass through the wall.Satellite photo of the Djerf al Nadaf site, showing the wall blocking the truck route. Red arrows indicate where trucks were supposed to pass through the wall. [Source: CBS News]The day after Colin Powell gives his presentation to the UN alleging proof of Iraq’s WMDs (see February 5, 2003, UN inspectors visit Djerf al Nadaf, the site the Iraqi defector Curveball claims was used to create secret bioweapons. Previously, satellite photos have shown that while the site looks much as Curveball described, there was one discrepancy: the area that Curveball said was used by trucks to enter and exit a warehouse to receive and deliver biological toxins was blocked by a wall (see February 2001). US intelligence analysts were disturbed by the existence of the wall, though some hypothesized the wall was a fake. The UN inspectors find a solid, very real wall in place. There was no way trucks could have gotten in and out of the warehouse. Jim Corcoran, whose job is to relay intelligence to the UN inspectors, will recall in 2007, “When the inspectors examined the facility, they found that this was an impossibility.” Curveball had insisted that hidden doors at the other end of the warehouse allowed the trucks to enter and exit, but no such doors exist. Corcoran recalls, “Again, there was a wall there, no doors. And outside there was a stone fence that would have made it impossible for this to have occurred.” Tests for traces of biological agents in the warehouse come up empty (see February 8, 2003 and June 2003-Late 2003). Though the inspectors’ discoveries cast serious doubt on Powell’s allegations, few outside of the intelligence community hear about the discoveries for a long time. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, United Nations, Jim Corcoran, ’Curveball’

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Babel TV facility, from which Curveball stole equipment.Babel TV facility, from which Curveball stole equipment. [Source: CBS News]Curveball, the Iraqi defector (see November 4, 2007) whose claims that Saddam Hussein has mobile bioweapons became an integral part of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN (see February 5, 2003) “proving” the existence of Iraqi WMDs, continues to disintegrate as a reliable intelligence source. His fundamental claims of being a senior Iraqi chemical engineer working on the secret bioweapons project falls apart as both German intelligence analysts and the CIA gather more information on him. Veteran CIA bio-weapons analyst publicly identified only as “Jerry,” who before the war had championed Curveball’s claim that Iraq had mobile biological weapons laboratories, leads a unit of the Iraq Survey Group to Baghdad to investigate Curveball’s background. His team locates Curveball’s personnel file in an Iraqi government storeroom and learns that the Iraqi defector’s allegations consisted of a string of lies. Curveball came in last in his engineering class, not first, as he had told his debriefers (see 1994 and January 2000-September 2001). Nor was he a project chief or site manager, as he had claimed. Rather he was just a low-level trainee engineer. Dr. Basil al-Sa’ati, whom Curveball cited as his supervisor at the Djerf al Nadaf seed purification plant (Curveball claimed that the plant was a secret bioweapons production facility), confirmed that Curveball did indeed work for him at the plant, where al-Sa’ati was the head of production design. But Curveball only worked there a few months, while the facility was being built, and was fired in 1995, the very year that he presumably began working on the alleged program to convert trucks into biological weapons laboratories. The following years were not auspicious for Curveball: he was jailed for a sex crime, briefly drove a taxi in Baghdad, and worked for Iraq’s Babel television production company until he was charged with stealing equipment (the charges were dropped when he agreed to reimburse the company for his theft.) He even sold “homemade cosmetics,” according to his friend Dr. Hillal al Dulaimi. Curveball claimed to have witnessed a biological accident that killed 12 people at Djerf al Nadaf in 1998, but he wasn’t even in Iraq by that time. He had left the country, traveled around the Middle East, and wound up in Morocco. No trace exists of Curveball between that time and when he defected to Germany in 1999. Curveball’s former bosses at the engineering center tell CIA officers that they got duped, falling for “water cooler gossip” and “corridor conversations.” “The Iraqis were all laughing,” a member of the Iraq Survey Group will later recall. “They were saying, ‘This guy? You’ve got to be kidding.’” The team even interviews Curveball’s childhood friends who also corroborate what others have said about him. They say he was a “great liar,” a “con artist,” and “a real operator.” Everyone’s description of Curveball is the same: “People kept saying what a rat Curveball was.” Jerry and another CIA analyst, having heard enough, end the investigation and return to Washington. According to David Kay, by this time Jerry is close to having a nervous breakdown. “They had been true believers in Curveball,” Kay says. “They absolutely believed in him. They knew every detail in his file. But it was total hokum. There was no truth in it. They said they had to go home to explain how all this was all so wrong.” But the CIA doesn’t want to hear it. Jerry is accused of “making waves” and then transferred out of the weapons center. According to Michael Scheuer, another dissident CIA analyst, “Jerry had become kind of a nonperson. There was a tremendous amount of pressure on him not to say anything. Just to sit there and shut up.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005; CBS News, 11/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Hillal al Dulaimi, United Nations, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, “Jerry”, Colin Powell, ’Curveball’, Basil al-Sa’ati

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The CIA sends one of its best officers to Germany to interrogate the Iraqi defector known as Curveball (see November 1999 and November 4, 2007). Until now, both Curveball and German intelligence officials have resisted allowing the US to interview Curveball for themselves, but evidence that Curveball is not who he says he is has already surfaced (see June 2003-Late 2003). The CIA officer, fluent in German and experienced at questioning reluctant sources, quickly determines that Curveball is a fabricator. Each night, the officer files a report summarizing the day’s interrogation session, and then follows up with a phone call to Tyler Drumheller, the head of CIA spying in Europe. “After the first couple of days, he said, ‘This doesn’t sound good,’” Drumheller later recalls. “After the first week, he said, ‘This guy is lying. He’s lying about a bunch of stuff.’” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
Unable to Explain Discrepancy in Statements - One key item was Curveball’s inability to explain the discrepancies between his description of the supposed mobile bioweapons facility at Djerf al Nadaf, in particular why there was a wall blocking what Curveball claimed was a secret entrance to a warehouse where mobile bioweapons trucks entered (see Mid- and Late 2001). Drumheller says in 2007, “[T]he key thing, I think, was the wall. He showed him pictures of the wall.” Curveball retorts, according to Drumheller, “‘You doctored these pictures.’ And [the CIA interrogator] said, ‘No, we didn’t.’” Curveball would have no way of knowing about the wall because it had been built in 1997, two years after he had left Djerf al Nadaf. Drumheller recalls, “… Curveball said, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna say anything else.’” [CBS News, 11/4/2007] Curveball never admits he’s lying. “He never said, ‘You got me,’” according to Drumheller. “He just shrugged, and didn’t say anything. It was all over. We told our guy, ‘You might as well wrap it up and come home.’” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
Reporter: Curveball a Liar and Con Artist - In October 2007, reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, calls Curveball “a twitchy, possibly mentally disturbed drunk who was prone to rapid mood-swings and whose story tended to shift according to what he thought investigators wanted to hear.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]

Entity Tags: Tyler Drumheller, ’Curveball’

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Rafid Ahmed Alwan.Rafid Ahmed Alwan. [Source: CBS News]CBS News reveals the identity of the infamous Iraqi defector, “Curveball,” whose information was used by the Bush administration to build its case for Iraqi biological weapons. Curveball’s real identity is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, an Iraqi who defected to Germany in November 1999, where he requested asylum at a refugee center near Nuremberg (see November 1999). The evidence Curveball provided was detailed, compelling, and completely false, but instrumental in driving the US towards invading Iraq. Former senior CIA official Tyler Drumheller, who was unable to convince either his superiors in the agency or senior officials in the White House that Curveball was untrustworthy (see September 2002), says of Curveball’s contribution to the rhetoric of war, “If they [the Bush administration] had not had Curveball they would have probably found something else. ‘Cause there was a great determination to do it. But going to war in Iraq, under the circumstances we did, Curveball was the absolutely essential case.” CBS reporter Bob Simon says Curveball is “not only a liar, but also a thief and a poor student instead of the chemical engineering whiz he claimed to be.” The CIA eventually acknowledged Alwan as a fraud. The question remains, why did he spin such an elaborate tale? Drumheller thinks it was for the most prosaic of reasons. “It was a guy trying to get his Green Card, essentially, in Germany, playing the system for what it was worth. It just shows sort of the law of unintended consequences.” Alwan is believed to be still living in Germany, most likely under an assumed name. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Bundesnachrichtendienst, Bob Simon, Tyler Drumheller, CBS News, ’Curveball’, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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