More Curveball

MORE CURVEBALL….At this point, we already know as fully and completely as we ever will that “Curveball,” the Iraqi source who convinced German and American intelligence that Saddam Hussein had an active bioweapons program, was a complete fraud. At least, that’s what I thought until today, when I read John Goetz and Bob Drogin’s piece about Curveball in the LA Times. “Complete fraud” really sells the guy short. His real name is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, and Goetz and Drogin caught up with him recently and managed to squeeze a series of short interviews out of him. They also talked to a few of his friends and colleagues:

His direct supervisor was Hilal Freah, a British-trained engineer and friend of Alwan’s mother. Freah, who now lives in Jordan, viewed himself as Alwan’s mentor but had trouble trusting his protege.

“Rafid told five or 10 stories every day,” Freah said in an interview. “I’d ask, ‘Where have you been?’ And he’d say, ‘I had a problem with my car.’ Or, ‘My family was sick.’ But I knew he was lying.”

He had a gift for it and “was not embarrassed when caught in a lie,” Freah said.

At the Djerf al Nadaf warehouse, laborers treated seeds from local farmers with fungicides to prevent mold and rot. But Alwan convinced his BND [German intelligence] handlers that the site’s corn-filled sheds were part of Iraq’s secret germ weapons program. He worked there, he told them, until 1998, when an unreported biological accident occurred.

In fact, Alwan had been dismissed three years earlier, in 1995, after inflating expenses and faking receipts for tools, supplies and lamb for a party.

“I fired him,” Freah said. “He was corrupt and he was found stealing.” But the family friend gave Alwan one more chance.

There’s way more in exactly the same vein. Alwan’s response? “I’m not guilty,” “Everything that’s been written about me isn’t true,” “I’m not the source of these problems,” “I’m an honest man,” etc.

The whole thing is fascinating. Alwan is obviously a talented fabulist and con man, sort of the Jayson Blair of prewar intelligence, but German and American intelligence were simply too invested in believing him to root out the obvious holes in his tall tales. It’s a story worth reading.

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