Ed Pilkington, Helen Pidd, and Martin Chulov / The Guardian – 2011-02-20 00:21:05
Colin Powell Demands Answers
Over Curveball’s WMD Lies
Ed Pilkington, Helen Pidd, and Martin Chulov / The Guardian
NEW YORK & BERLIN (February 16, 2011) — Colin Powell, the US secretary of state at the time of the Iraq invasion, has called on the CIA and Pentagon to explain why they failed to alert him to the unreliability of a key source behind claims of Saddam Hussein’s bio-weapons capability.
Responding to the Guardian‘s revelation that the source, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi or “Curveball” as his US and German handlers called him, admitted fabricating evidence of Iraq’s secret biological weapons programme, Powell said that questions should be put to the US agencies involved in compiling the case for war.
In particular he singled out the CIA and the Defence Intelligence Agency — the Pentagon’s military intelligence arm. Janabi, an Iraqi defector, was used as the primary source by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq in March 2003. Doubts about his credibility circulated before the war and have been confirmed by his admission this week that he lied.
Powell said that the CIA and DIA should face questions about why they failed to sound the alarm about Janabi. He demanded to know why it had not been made clear to him that Curveball was totally unreliable before false information was put into the key intelligence assessment, or NIE, put before Congress, into the president’s state of the union address two months before the war and into his own speech to the UN.
“It has been known for several years that the source called Curveball was totally unreliable,” he told the Guardian. “The question should be put to the CIA and the DIA as to why this wasn’t known before the false information was put into the NIE sent to Congress, the president’s state of the union address and my 5 February presentation to the UN.”
On 5 February 2003, a month before the invasion, Powell went before the UN security council to make the case for war. In his speech he referred to “firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails â€¦ The source was an eyewitness who supervised one of these facilities”. It is now known that the source, Janabi, made up the story.
Curveball told the Guardian he welcomed Powell’s demand. “It’s great,” he said tonight. “The BND [German intelligence] knew in 2000 that I was lying after they talked to my former boss, Dr Bassil Latif, who told them there were no mobile bioweapons factories. For 18 months after that, they left me alone because they knew I was telling lies even though I never admitted it. Believe me, back then, I thought the whole thing was over for me.
“Then all of a sudden [in the run up to the 2003 invasion] they came back to me and started asking for more details about what I had told them. I still don’t know why the BND then passed on my information to the CIA and it ended up in Powell’s speech.
“I want there to be an inquiry so that people will know the truth. So many lies have been told about me over the years. I finally want the truth to come out.”
Powell has previously expressed regret about the role he unwittingly played in passing on false information to the UN, saying it had put a blot on his career. But his latest comments increase pressure on the intelligence agencies and their former chiefs to divulge what they knew at the time and why they failed to filter out such a bad source.
George Tenet, then head of the CIA, is particularly in the firing line. He failed to pass on warnings from German intelligence about Curveball’s reliability.
Tenet put out a statement on his website in response to Curveball’s admission. He said: “The handling of this matter is certainly a textbook case of how not to deal with defector provided material. But the latest reporting of the subject repeats and amplifies a great deal of misinformation.”
Tenet refers to his own 2007 memoir on the war, At the Centre of the Storm, in which he insists that the first he heard about Curveball’s unreliability was two years after the invasion â€“ “too late to do a damn thing about it”.
In the light of Curveball’s confession, politicians in Iraq called for his permanent exile and scorned his claim to want to return to his motherland and build a political party. “He is a liar, he will not serve his country,” said one Iraqi MP.
In his adopted home of Germany, MPs are demanding to know why the BND paid Curveball Â£2,500 a month for at least five years after they knew he had lied.
Hans-Christian StrÃ¶bele, a Green MP, said Janabi had arguably violated a German law which makes warmongering illegal. Under the law, it is a criminal offence to do anything “with the intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations, especially anything that leads to an aggressive war,” he said. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment, he added, though he did not expect it would ever come to that.
Curveball told the Guardian he was pleased to have finally told the truth. He said he had given the Guardian‘s phone number to his wife and brother in Sweden “just in case something happens to me.”
Further pressure on the CIA came from Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff at the time of the invasion. He said Curveball’s lies raised questions about how the CIA had briefed Powell ahead of his fateful UN speech.
Tyler Drumheller, head of the CIA’s Europe division in the run-up to the invasion, said he welcomed Curveball’s confession because he had always warned Tenet that he may have been a fabricator.
Tenet has disputed Drumheller’s version of events, insisting that the official made no formal warning to CIA headquarters.
(c) Guardian News and Media Limited 2011
Curveball: How US Was Duped by
Iraqi Fantasist Looking to Topple Saddam
Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd / The Guardian
KARLSRUHE (February 15, 2011) — In a small flat in the German town of Erlangen in February 2003, an out-of-work Iraqi sat down with his wife to watch one of the world’s most powerful men deliver the speech of his career on live TV.
As US secretary of state, Colin Powell gathered his notes in front of the United Nations security council, the man watching — Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, known to the west’s intelligence services as “Curveball” — had more than an inkling of what was to come. He was, after all, Powell’s main source, a man his German handlers had feted as a new “Deep throat” — an agent so pivotal that he could bring down a government.
As Curveball watched Powell make the US case to invade Iraq, he was hiding an admission that he has not made until now: that nearly every word he had told his interrogators from Germany’s secret service, the BND, was a lie.
Everything he had said about the inner workings of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons programme was a flight of fantasy — one that, he now claims was aimed at ousting the Iraqi dictator.
Janabi, a chemical engineering graduate who had worked in the Iraqi industry, says he looked on in shock as Powell’s presentation revealed that the Bush administration’s hawkish decisionmakers had swallowed the lot. Something else left him even more amazed; until that point he had not met a US official, let alone been interviewed by one.
“I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime,” he told the Guardian in a series of interviews carried out in his native Arabic and German. “I and my sons are proud of that, and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”
His interviews with the Guardian, which took place over two days, appeared to be partly a purge of conscience, partly an attempt to justify what he did. It also seems to be a bid to resurrect his own reputation, which might help him start again in Iraq — a country that eight years later is still reeling from more than 100,000 civilian deaths and the aftermath of a savage sectarian war.
The man who pulled off one of the greatest confidence tricks in the history of modern intelligence was not easy to pin down. He arrived at a hotel in his adopted home town of Karlsruhe, looking haggard after a sleepless night spent emailing. Heavy set, with plaintive eyes, smelling strongly of cigarettes, and shuffling with nervous energy, he slunk into a chair to begin answering questions, a process he seemed very familiar with.
“Colin Powell didn’t say I was the only reason for this war,” he said. “He talked about three things. First of all, uranium; secondly, al-Qaida; and thirdly, my story. I don’t know why the other sources, for the uranium and al-Qaida, remained hidden and my name got out. I accept it, though, because I did something for my country and for me that was enough.”
Since the fall of Baghdad, Curveball’s identity had been sought throughout Iraq and Europe. He was finally outed in late 2007 as the main source for Powell’s speech, but has tried to keep a low profile ever since, refusing — under the orders of the BND — the approaches of the few reporters who had tracked him down to Karlsruhe.
The only other time Curveball has agreed to be interviewed was in late 2007, when he told CNN that he had been set up as a fall guy by the BND and had never breathed a word to them about WMD. Last year, he called the police on a Danish documentary crew who came knocking.
Curveball claims he was granted asylum by the German government on 13 March 2000, less than six months after arriving in Germany and before he had even been asked a question about biological weapons. He emphasises this point, aware that he could be seen as a simple opportunist.
“The story about the biochemical weapons had nothing to do with my asylum claim. The German state — well, the BND, or someone from Germany, have said that I told them about the chemicals, because I wanted to claim asylum. That’s not true.”
He says that around three weeks after he was granted asylum, a German official, whom he identified as Dr Paul, came to see him. On his application, he had said he had worked as a chemical engineer, a fact that attracted extra attention. “He told me he needed some information about my life. He said it was very important, that Iraq had a dictator and I needed to help.”
At this point, according to Curveball, he decided to let his imagination run wild. For the next six months, he sat with Paul — the BND’s resident expert on weapons of mass destruction — and calling upon his knowledge of chemical engineering from university and from his work in Baghdad, he manufactured a tale of dread.
This period was the genesis of Powell’s fateful speech; what Curveball told Paul became the key pillar of Powell’s UN presentation — the diagrams he displayed of mobile weapons trucks that could dispense biotoxins into the wind.
“We have first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels,” Powell said. “The source was an eyewitness — an Iraqi chemical engineer who supervised one of these facilities. He was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died.”
The effect at the UN was dramatic. Here was a detailed first-hand account from an insider of the sinister and deceptive inner workings of Saddam’s regime. It was tangible evidence; far more compelling than the other two elements of Powell’s case for war, which seemed scant in detail and unlikely to persuade the invasion’s naysayers.
Even now, Curveball seems bemused that his lies got as far as they did. He says he thought the game was up by the end of 2000. By that point, the BND had flown to Dubai to interview his former boss at Iraq’s military industrial complex, Dr Basil Latif, who had told them that his former underling was a liar.
Several British intelligence officers were present at the meeting with Latif. Their German counterparts left Dubai seeing their prized source in a new light.
According to them, Curveball had claimed that Latif’s son, who was then at school in Britain, was a procurer of WMD. That information was easily proven wrong by the British spooks.
The BND then returned to Germany and sent an officer to confront their source. “He says ‘there (are) no trucks’ and I say, ok, when (Dr Basil says) there are no trucks then (there are none),” Curveball recalled in broken English. “I did not speak to them again until (the) end of May 2002.”
By the time the BND came calling again, Curveball says he had fended for himself for almost 18 months. He had been paid a monthly stipend by his handler, but had not been asked to do anything for the state.
“When he come back to me, he don’t ask me (the same questions),” he says of the 2002 meetings. “He ask me, for example, the name of signs, the name of establishment, do you know this person.” He admitted continuing to lie to his interrogators throughout the year.
Curveball suggests that the BND implied that his then-pregnant wife, who was at that point trying to get to Germany from Spain, would not be able to join him unless he co-operated. “He says, you work with us or your wife and child go to Morocco.”
According to his account, there were at least a dozen meetings in 2002. He says none of the new round of questions dealt with a birdseed purification plant, in Djerf al-Nadaf in south-east Baghdad, that he had claimed was where Saddam’s bioweapons programme was based.
This was supposed to be where the mobile trucks were loaded up. “The BND did not ask me about this project, because they knew I was not right.”
But in January 2003, several weeks before Powell’s speech, the interrogation returned to trucks and birdseed. “That was the first time they had talked to me about this since 2000.” Curveball says it was clear to him that the drums of war were beating ever louder, but he maintains that he still thought his story about the mobile trucks had been discounted.
Then came the UN speech. He says the BND had told him that everything he had told them would stay in Germany and that he was shocked to see Powell holding up diagrams that he knew had been prepared from his fraudulent descriptions.
“So I call the person that is responsible for me. I tell him that I see what Colin says, and he says ‘ok, this ist ein klein‘, a small problem. You come … tomorrow, and you speak with me. (He said) you must go now from this home because this flat is very dangerous for you and for your family. From 9 April you can return.”
For the next two months, Curveball claims he was in virtual lockdown, prevented by the BND from watching TV and having limited contact with anyone outside his hotel. He said he knew the war had begun from snatched conversations with strangers.
Asked about how he felt as the bodycount among of countrymen mounted and Iraq descended into chaos, Curveball shifted uncomfortably in his chair, then said: “I tell you something when I hear anybody — not just in Iraq but in any war — (is) killed, I am very sad. But give me another solution. Can you give me another solution?
“Believe me, there was no other way to bring about freedom to Iraq. There were no other possibilities.”
“Saddam did not [allow] freedom in our land. There are no other political parties. You have to believe what Saddam says, and do what Saddam wants. And I don’t accept that. I have to do something for my country. So I did this and I am satisfied, because there is no dictator in Iraq any more.”
Curveball’s reinvention as a liberator and patriot is a tough sell to many in the CIA, the BND and in the Bush administration, whose careers were terminally wounded as mystery surrounding the whereabouts of the missing bioweapons in the post-invasion months turned into the reality that there were none.
His critics — who are many and powerful — say the cost of his deception is too difficult to estimate, even now. As the US scales back its presence in Iraq it is leaving behind an unstable country, whose allegiance — after eight years of blood and treasure — may not be to the US and its allies after all.
For Curveball though, it’s time to reinvent himself. He has returned twice to Iraq and started a political party, winning a modest 1,700-odd votes in the general election last March. He has also written a manuscript about his past 10 years and is looking for a publisher.
In the meantime, things seem to be turning increasingly sour with the BND. The spooks helped him, his wife and two children get German citizenship in 2008. At the same time they cut off his stipend of â‚¬3,000 (Â£2,500) per month and told him to fend for himself.
That has proved difficult around Karlsruhe, a medium-sized university town near the French/German border where his reputation as a fantasist travels ahead of him. On the first day of our interviews, an official at the town hall told him he and his family are forbidden from leaving the country.
He now spends his days in a rented flat on the outskirts of town with a doting wife — who says she only learned of her husband’s exploits three years ago — and two young children. He no longer has the Mercedes Benz that the BND had supplied him with. And he is well aware that the secret service — and his new homeland — seems to be fast tiring of him.
“I will be honest with you. I now have a lot of problems because the BND have taken away my flat, taken my mobile phone: I’m in a bad position. But if I could go back to 2000, if someone asked me, I would say the same thing because I wouldn’t want that regime to continue in our country.
Curveball Doubts Were Shared with CIA,
Says ex-German Foreign Minister
Helen Pidd / The Guardian
BERLIN (February 17, 2011) — Germany’s former foreign minister Joschka Fischer has accused the former head of the CIA George Tenet of making implausible claims about the handling of the Curveball case by the US.
On Wednesday Tenet, the director of central intelligence between 1997 and 2004, issued a statement on his website saying he discovered “too damn late” that Curveball — the Iraqi defector who became a key source for the CIA and the German secret service (BND) — might be a fabricator.
Reprinting an extract from his autobiography, Tenet claimed he only found out in 2005, two years after the Iraq invasion, that the BND had doubts about Curveball’s claims to have witnessed first-hand Saddam Hussein’s bio-weapons programme.
Asked by the Guardian whether Tenet’s claims were plausible, Fischer said: “No. I don’t think so.”
Fischer said the BND realised some time before the war that Curveball was not a watertight source, and passed on his testimony to the CIA with warnings attached.
“Our position was always: [Curveball] might be right, but he might not be right. He could be a liar but he could be telling the truth,” said Fischer at a press conference in Berlin to promote his memoir about the Iraq war.
Fischer said Germany was put in a “very difficult position” when the CIA asked whether they could “have” Curveball, or at least use his evidence to justify a war in Iraq. Germany’s official position was that it would not join the coalition of the willing. Fischer himself famously told Donald Rumsfeld in February 2003 that he was “not convinced” about the case for war.
“On the one hand we didn’t want to withhold from the US any bit of relevant information we had about possible WMD in Iraq. On the other hand, we did not want to take part in any propagandistic exploitation of material, which was far from proven, to justify a war,” Fischer writes in his new autobiography, I Am Not Convinced.
He added: “We decided, therefore, that we would do our duty by sending the Americans all the information we had, together with our assessment that that information came from a deserter and that we had not verified or substantiated it ourselves, and that it could be completely wrong.”
Fischer said today: “We, the German government, decided to pass on the evidence, and I think that was the right thing to do.”
He said the then head of the BND, August Henning, wrote a letter to the CIA outlining the possible problems with Curveball. Fischer also pointed out that it was common practice in security circles — then, as now — to not rely on a single source, but to get at least three independent sources that corroborate each other.
Asked what he thought about Colin Powell demanding answers as to why the CIA and its military arm, the DIA, never told him about Curveball possibly being a liar, Fischer said he couldn’t comment.
“[Powell] is a very good friend of mine, but we have never ever spoken about this phase,” he said. “If there is something to discuss, he has to initiate the conversation.”
(c) Guardian News and Media Limited 2011
Curveball Could Face Jail for
Warmongering, Says German MP
Agent whose lies about Saddam’s weapons capability led to Iraq war has broken German law, says Green MP
Helen Pidd and Martin Chulov / The Guardian
BONN(February 16, 2011) — A German politician has warned that the CIA informant Curveball could go to jail after telling the Guardian that he lied about Saddam Hussein’s bioweapons capability in order to “liberate” Iraq.
Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, who was given the name Curveball by his US and German handlers, told the German secret service that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme.
The 43-year-old defector’s evidence was then passed to the CIA and became the primary source used by the US to justify invading Iraq.
Politicians in Iraq called for Curveball’s permanent exile following his admission and poured scorn on his claim to want to return to his motherland and build a political party. “He is a liar, he will not serve his country,” said one Iraqi MP.
In his adopted home of Germany, MPs are demanding to know why the German secret service paid Curveball Â£2,500 a month for at least five years after they knew he had lied.
Hans-Christian StrÃ¶bele, a Green MP, said Janabi had arguably violated a German law, which makes warmongering illegal. He added that Gerhard SchrÃ¶der, German chancellor around the time of the second Iraq war, should also reveal what he knew about the quality of evidence Curveball gave to Germany’s secret service, the BND.
Under German constitutional law, it is a criminal offence to do anything “with the intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations, especially anything that leads to an aggressive war”, said StrÃ¶bele. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment, he said, adding that he did not expect it would ever come to that.
The MP said he would table a question to the Bundestag demanding to know whether the German secret service knew that Curveball was lying before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. SchrÃ¶der famously refused to join the “coalition of the willing” who took part in the second Iraq war.
Curveball told the Guardian he was pleased to have finally told the truth but that he was scared of the consequences. He said he had given the Guardian’s phone number to his wife and brother in Sweden “just in case something happens to me”.
In the US, questions are being asked of the CIA’s handling of Curveball and specifically why the then head of the intelligence agency, George Tenet, did not pass on German warnings about Curveball’s reliability.
Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to the US secretary of state Colin Powell in the build-up to the invasion, said Curveball’s lies raised questions about how the CIA had briefed Powell ahead of his crucial speech to the UN security council, where he presented the case for war.
Tyler Drumheller, head of the CIA’s Europe division in the run-up to the 2003 invasion, said he welcomed Curveball’s confession because he had always warned Tenet that Curveball may have been a fabricator. But the harshest criticism came from Iraq.
Jamal al-Battikh, the country’s minister for tribes’ affairs, said: “Honestly, this man led Iraq to a catastrophe and a disaster. Iraqis paid a heavy price for his lies — the invasion of 2003 destroyed Iraqi basic infrastructure and after eight years we cannot fix electricity. Plus thousands of Iraqis have died. This man is not welcome back. In fact, Iraqis should complain against him and sue him for his lies.”
Others poured scorn on Curveball’s plan to return to Iraq and enter politics.
Intefadh Qanber, spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Ahmed Chalabi, said: “He is a liar, he will not serve his country. He fabricated the story about WMD and that story gave the USA a suitable pretext to lead the 2003 invasion, which hurt Iraq. For most Iraqis, it was obvious that Saddam was a dictator, but they wanted to see him ousted on the basis of his crimes against human rights, not a fabricated story about weapons of mass destruction.”
In the US, a pressure group representing veterans of the Iraq war demanded the justice department open an investigation into the INC’s relationship to Curveball.
Chalabi, who was very close to the former US vice-president Dick Cheney in the decade leading up to the 2003 invasion, has often been accused of being the man behind Curveball. It has long been known that Chalabi provided the CIA with three other sources who lied about Saddam’s WMD capability. But when asked by the Guardian, Janabi and Chalabi denied knowing each other.
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