Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Over a million Iraqis dead, in part because of a mendacious sometimes Burger King hamburger flipper

"Curveball's" role in Iraq intelligence catches up with him

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...

NUREMBERG, Germany — 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 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.

His security was protected and his identity concealed by the BND, Germany's Federal Intelligence Service.

"Everything that's been written about me isn't true," Alwan repeated in an interview.

Along with confirmation of Curveball's identity, however, have come 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.

"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."

How did the Bush administration get it so wrong?

"I'm not the source of these problems," he said.

Alwan's life as a secret informant began in January 2000, soon after he applied for political asylum at Zirndorf, a refugee camp outside Nuremberg. He told a BND team he had helped run a secret Iraqi program to produce biological weapons, records show.

In 52 meetings with BND handlers over the next year and a half, he provided hand-drawn sketches and other details.

Alwan didn't share all his secrets. He didn't disclose that he had been fired at least twice for dishonesty or that he fled Iraq to avoid arrest. But he did tell some whoppers that should have raised warnings about his credibility.

He claimed, for example, that the son of his former boss, Basil Latif, secretly headed a WMD procurement and smuggling scheme from England. British investigators found, however, that Latif's son was a 16-year-old exchange student.

When a Western intelligence team interviewed Latif outside Iraq in early 2002, a year before the war, he warned that Alwan had been fired for falsifying invoices at work.

Latif also denied that anyone produced biological weapons at the plant where he worked with Alwan. German officials believed Alwan's story that he helped manage an Iraqi factory that installed fermenters, spray dryers and piping within tractor-trailers to brew anthrax, botulinum toxin and other biological agents.

CIA and Pentagon biological-warfare analysts embraced Alwan's account without corroborating evidence or directly questioning the informant.

President Bush declared in his State of the Union address in January 2003 that "we know" that Iraq built mobile-germ factories. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell highlighted Alwan's supposed "eyewitness" account to the U.N. Security Council when he pressed the case for war.

In October 2004, more than a year after the invasion, a CIA-led investigation concluded that Baghdad had abandoned all chemical-, biological- and nuclear-weapons programs after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The germ trucks never existed.

Alwan, who grew up in the middle-class Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad, studied chemical engineering at the Technical University of Baghdad.

He worked as an appliance repairman, then as a junior engineer at the state-run Chemical Engineering and Design Center. In late 1994, he was named site engineer at Djerf al Nadaf, a new warehouse complex about 10 miles south of Baghdad.

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 protégé.

"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."

At the Djerf al Nadaf warehouse, laborers treated seeds from local farmers with fungicides to prevent mold and rot. But Alwan convinced his BND 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 in 1995, after inflating expenses and faking receipts for tools, supplies and lamb for an office party.

Freah, Alwan and two other friends formed a business to sell locally made shampoo and cleaners. Freah says Alwan overcharged the partners for each shampoo bottle, and the company collapsed. So did their friendship. .

He then worked as a technician at Babel, a Baghdad film and TV company. Alwan's alleged sale of Babel camera lenses and other gear on the black market led the Iraqi justice ministry to issue an arrest warrant in August 1998.

Alwan already had fled. Officials say smugglers helped him make his way through Jordan, Egypt, Libya and Morocco before he reached Germany in late 1999.

Original article posted here.

1 comment:

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