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Context of 'Mid-March 2004: CIA Interviews Curveball; Confirms that He’s a Fabricator'

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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

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

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

In the wake of the report by US inspector David Kay that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction (see December 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell’s mood becomes more and more glum (see February 5, 2003). His chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, will later recall: “Well, [Powell] got a telephone call each time a pillar fell. It was either John [McLaughlin, deputy CIA director], calling Rich [Armitage, Powell’s deputy], and Rich telling him, or it was [CIA Director] George [Tenet] or John calling the secretary. And I remember this vividly because he would walk through my door, and his face would grow more morose each time, and he’d say, ‘Another pillar just fell.’ I said, ‘Which one this time?’ And, of course, the last one was the mobile biological labs (see Mid-March 2004). Finally, when that call came, the secretary came through the door and said, ‘The last pillar has just collapsed. The mobile biological labs don’t exist.’ Turned around and went back into his office.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet, John E. McLaughlin, Lawrence Wilkerson

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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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