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Rafid Ahmed Alwan ( , Rāfid Aḥmad 'Alwān), known by the Central Intelligence Agency pseudonym "Curveball", is an Iraqi citizen who defected from Iraq in 1999, claiming that he had worked as a chemical engineer at a plant that manufactured mobile biological weapon laboratories as part of an Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program. Alwan's allegations were subsequently shown to be false by the Iraq Survey Group's final report published in 2004.Despite warnings from the Germanmarker Federal Intelligence Servicemarker questioning the authenticity of the claims, the US Government utilized them to build a rationale for military action in the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, including in the 2003 State of the Union address, where President Bush said "we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs", and Colin Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council, which contained a computer generated image of a mobile biological weapons laboratory. On November 4, 2007, 60 Minutes revealed Curveball's real identity. Former CIA official Tyler Drumheller summed up Curveball as "a guy trying to get his green card essentially, in Germany, and playing the system for what it was worth."

The name "Curveball"

Allegedly because the Iraqi informant disliked Americans, Germany's intelligence service marker classified him as a "blue" source, meaning the Germans would not permit U.S. access to him (red sources were allowed American contact). (Later evidence indicated that he was in fact pro-American and that the Germans were guarding their source.) The Germans however did pass on information to the American intelligence agencies and the informant was given the codename "Curveball". Despite it being an American term, the Americans deny coining the name, and its origin is uncertain. The base cryptonym "ball" had been used during the Cold War when dealing with informants who had intelligence about weapons. The codename became somewhat ironic considering that the name is a reference to a curveball baseball pitch, which is American English slang for something that behaves indirectly, erratically, or surprisingly. Intelligence agencies often use codenames generated at random , so the relation to "erratic behavior".

Claims and background

Rafid Ahmed Alwan studied chemical engineering in university but received low marks. He also worked at the Babel television production company in Baghdad; sometime after leaving his job, a warrant was issued for his arrest because of theft from the same company.

Curveball's story began in November 1999 when Alwan, then in his late 20s, arrived at Munichmarker's Franz Josef Strauss Airportmarker with a tourist visa. Upon entering the country he applied for political asylum because he had embezzled Iraqi government money and faced prison or worse if sent home. The German refugee system sent him to Zirndorfmarker, a refugee center near Nurembergmarker.

After he arrived at the refugee center he changed his story. Alwan's new story included that after he had graduated at the top of his chemical engineering class at Baghdad University in 1994, he worked for "Dr. Germ," British-trained microbiologist Rihab Rashid Taha to lead a team that built mobile labs to brew deadly biological WMD.

The Germans listened to his claims and debriefed him starting in January 2000, continuing to September 2001. Although the Americans didn't have "direct access" to Curveball, information was communicated to Germany's intelligence service marker, which relayed the information to the United States Defense Intelligence Agency. As an incentive to keep supplying information to the Germans, Curveball had been granted asylum. He had applied earlier in 1999 and failed He had enough money that he didn't have to work. He gave many hours of testimony about Iraq's WMD program and in particular its mobile weapons laboratories. This information made it to the American government and although there were wide doubts and questions about the claimed informant's reliability and background, assertions attributed to Curveball claiming that Iraq was creating biological agents in mobile weapons laboratories to elude inspectors appeared in more than 112 United States government reports between January 2000 and September 2001. His assertions eventually made it into United States Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 2003 address to the United Nations detailing Iraq's weapons programs.

Criticism, investigation, and damage control

In 2003, inspectors led by David Kay conducted additional investigation of Curveball's credibility. They found among other things that he placed last in his university class when he had claimed to place first, and that he had been jailed for embezzlement before fleeing to Germany. The former point is relevant because Curveball claimed to have been hired out of university to head Iraq's bioweapons program. That he had placed last in his class would cast considerable doubt on this claim.

In response to public criticism, U.S. president Bush initiated an investigative commission who released their report on March 31, 2005. Bush's investigative commission came to many conclusions including:

  • Curveball's Germanmarker intelligence handlers saw him as "crazy ... out of control", his friends called him a "congenital liar", and US officials investigating his claims were surprised that he had a hangover and that he "might be an alcoholic".

  • While there were many reports that Curveball was actually a relative of one of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress top aides, the investigative commission stated that it was "unable to uncover any evidence that the INC or any other organization was directing Curveball."

  • The Bush administration ignored evidence from the UN weapons inspectors that Curveball's claims were false. Curveball had identified a particular Iraqi facility as a docking station for mobile labs. Satellite photography had showed a wall made such access impossible, but it was theorised that this wall was temporary. "When United Nations Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) inspectors visited the site on February 9, 2003, they found that the wall was a permanent structure and could find nothing to corroborate Curveball's statements." Instead, the inspectors found the warehouse to be used for seed processing.

CIA to blame?

The Bush administration laid blame on the CIA, criticizing its officials for "failing to investigate" doubts about Curveball, which emerged after an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. In May 2004, over a year after the invasion of Iraq, the CIA concluded formally that Curveball's information was fabricated. Furthermore, on June 26, 2006, The Washington Post reported that "the CIA acknowledged that Curveball was a con artist who drove a taxi in Iraq and spun his engineering knowledge into a fantastic but plausible tale about secret bioweapons factories on wheels."

On April 8, 2005, CIA Director Porter Goss ordered an internal review of the CIA in order to determine why doubts about Curveball's reliability were not forwarded to policy makers. Former CIA Director George Tenet and his former deputy, John E. McLaughlin, announced that they were not aware of doubts about Curveball's veracity before the war. However, Tyler Drumheller, the former chief of the CIA's European division, told the Los Angeles Times that "everyone in the chain of command knew exactly what was happening."

In April 2, 2005, the Los Angeles Times quoted Drumheller as saying

Curveball revisited

The Los Angeles Times revisited Curveball in June, 2008, and concluded that he is still an unreliable witness.

Further reading


  1. Drogin, Bob, Curveball, Random House, 2007, pp 231, 268, 282
  2. Drogin, Bob, Curveball, Random House, 2007, p 35
  3. Drogin, Bob, Curveball, Random House, 2007, pp 170-177.
  4. "'Curveball' speaks, and a reputation as a disinformation agent remains intact", by John Goetz and Bob Drogin, June 18, 2008, Los Angeles Times

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