Iraqi Defector Behind America's WMD Claims Exposed As 'Out-And-Out Fabricator'
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
29 March 2004 "The Independent"
-- The case for war against Iraq was dealt another embarrassing blow yesterday due to claims by an American newspaper that
the first-hand intelligence source on Saddam Hussein's alleged mobile bioweapons labs was a politically motivated Iraqi defector
now dismissed as an "out-and-out fabricator".
The mobile labs, since exposed by weapons inspectors as hydrogen production
facilities at best and phantoms at worst, were one of the centre pieces of the US Secretary of State Colin Powell's prewar
address to the United Nations. As recently as January, Vice President Dick Cheney maintained that discovery of the labs would
provide "conclusive" proof that Iraq possessed WMD.
A detailed investigation in the Los Angeles Times revealed that
the source claiming to have seen mobile bioweapons labs was the brother of one of the senior aides to Ahmed Chalabi, the leader
of the Iraqi National Congress, who recently boasted how the erroneous information provided by his group achieved his long-cherished
goal of toppling Saddam.
The source, given the unintentionally appropriate code name Curveball, was an asset of German
intelligence and was never directly interviewed by US officials. The Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency do not even
know exactly who he is, the LA Times reported.
David Kay, the postwar weapons inspector whose declaration in January
that Iraq had no WMD initiated a series of hammer-blows to the credibility of the Bush administration and the British government,
described Mr Powell's use of Curveball's information before the UN as "disingenuous".
He told the LA Times: "If Powell
had said to the Security Council: 'It's one source, we never actually talked to him, and we don't know his name', I think
people would have laughed us out of court."
Mr Powell told the world on 5 February last year the administration had
"firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails" capable of producing enough anthrax or botulinum
toxin to kill "thousands upon thousands of people". He showed "highly detailed and extremely accurate" diagrams of how the
trucks were configured. Revealingly, he could only produce artist renditions, not actual blueprints or photographs.
the Powell speech, Curveball's reliability has been destroyed. The German foreign intelligence service, the BND, later warned
the CIA that it had "various problems with the source". Curveball also lied about his academic credentials and omitted to
tell his interlocutors he had been fired as a chemical engineer for the Iraqi army and jailed for embezzlement before fleeing
Iraq in the late 1990s.
The possible existence of mobile labs was touted as a theory by UN weapons inspectors frustrated
in 1992 at their failure to find evidence of chemical and biological weapons programmes. (Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal,
later defected and said they had been destroyed in 1991.) The UN inspectors approached Mr Chalabi for help in establishing
the existence of the mobile labs in late 1997. Scott Ritter, one of the inspectors, told the LA Times: "We got hand-drawn
maps, handwritten statements and other stuff. It looked good. But nothing panned out. Most of it just regurgitated what we'd
given them. And the data that was new never checked out."
Evidence, much of it tentative, trickled in throughout the
1990s that Saddam may have built mobile labs to conceal his weapons programmes. In 1994 Israeli military intelligence indicated
that poisons were being made in red and white ice cream trucks and in green moving vans labelled "Sajida Transport" after
Saddam's wife. UN inspectors later concluded this information was bogus.
The role of Israeli intelligence in the case
for war was the subject of a parliamentary report released in Jerusalem yesterday. An eight-month inquiry resisted the notion
that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction did not exist, but lambasted the intelligence agencies for exaggerating Iraqi capabilities,
particularly before the war.
Yuval Steinitz, the parliamentarian who led the inquiry, said: "Why didn't we succeed
in laying down a broad and deep framework so we could rely on reports and not speculation? That is the central question."
the same has been said in the US by veteran intelligence professionals appalled by their government's manipulation of information
and Mr Powell's UN speech. Mr Powell is likely to come under the closest scrutiny because he was the member of the Bush administration
most trusted internationally and because his presentation seemed so convincing.
In addition to the mobile labs, Mr
Powell showed slides of what he said were chemical munitions facilities surrounded by "decontamination vehicles". The "chemical
munitions" works were later identified by Mr Ritter and others as a site well-known to UN inspectors. The vehicles were later
shown to have been fire engines.
Mr Powell also showed surveillance footage of an Iraq plane dropping simulated anthrax
in what he said was a military exercise. It later emerged the plane was destroyed in 1991.
© 2004 Independent
Digital (UK) Ltd