'Curveball' speaks, and a reputation as a disinformation agent remains intact
Rafid Ahmed Alwan talks publicly for the first time. Charges that he fabricated intelligence that helped lead to war in Iraq are themselves fiction, he insists.
The Iraqi refugee and German intelligence source code-named Curveball, left, meets with reporter John Goetz somewhere in Germany. His tall tales of Saddam Hussein's mobile germ weapons labs helped the White House justify the invasion of Iraq. (Der Spiegel)
Rafid Ahmed Alwan hoped for an easier life when he came here from Iraq nine years ago. He also hoped for a reward for his cooperation with German intelligence officers.
"For what I've done, I should be treated like a king," he said outside a cramped, low-rent apartment he shares with his family.
Instead, the Iraqi informant code-named Curveball has flipped burgers at McDonald's and Burger King, washed dishes in a Chinese restaurant and baked pretzels in an all-night bakery. He also has faced withering international scorn for peddling discredited intelligence that helped spur an invasion of his native country.
Now, in his first public comments, the 41-year-old engineer from Baghdad complains that the CIA and other spy agencies are blaming him for their mistakes.
"I'm not guilty," Alwan said, insisting that he made no false claims. "Believe me, I'm not guilty."
It was intelligence attributed to Alwan -- as Curveball -- that the White House used in making its case that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. He described what turned out to be fictional mobile germ factories. The CIA belatedly branded him a liar.
After Curveball's role in the pre-invasion intelligence fiasco was disclosed by the Los Angeles Times four years ago, the con man behind the code name remained in the shadows. His security was protected and his identity concealed by the BND, Germany's Federal Intelligence Service.
But when a reporter knocked on his door one Sunday morning this year, Alwan seemed neither alarmed nor surprised. In a series of sometimes reluctant interviews that followed, he emerged as a defiant and pugnacious defender of his intelligence contributions and reputation.
"Everything that's been written about me isn't true," Alwan repeated.
Along with confirmation of Curveball's identity, however, have come fresh disclosures raising doubts about his honesty -- much of that new detail coming from friends, associates and past employers.
"He was corrupt," said a family friend who once employed him.
"He always lied," said a fellow Burger King worker.
And records reveal that when Alwan fled to Germany, one step ahead of the Iraq Justice Ministry, an arrest warrant had been issued alleging that he sold filched camera equipment on the Baghdad black market.
The reporter at his door that morning offered Alwan a chance to defend himself publicly.
He was calm, unshaven, wearing a T-shirt and pajama bottoms. Alwan tried to bargain for an interview fee. When he didn't get one, he shut the door, saying he was "risking my family" by talking.
Over the next few weeks, Alwan dodged attempts to reopen conversations and took steps to elude the reporter. He altered his appearance by shaving his bushy mustache. He pulled his name from a mailbox. He failed to show up at promised appointments.
Eventually, he agreed to a series of brief interviews. In every encounter, he was combative and unapologetic. Others, he insisted, had twisted or misinterpreted his information.
"I never said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, never in my whole life," he said. "I challenge anyone in the world to get a piece of paper from me, anything with my signature, that proves I said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."