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'Curveball' lies low and denies it all

The discredited informant is scraping by in Germany and insisting that he never said Iraq had WMDs.

June 18, 2008|John Goetz and Bob Drogin | Special to The Times

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 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."

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. German officials said they met mostly on Saturday mornings at a BND safe house. He liked to go for pizza afterward.

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 vast weapons of mass destruction procurement and smuggling scheme from England. British investigators found, however, that Latif's son was a 16-year-old exchange student, not a criminal mastermind.

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.

"They thought I was lying," Latif, who now lives in Oman, said in an interview. "But I was telling the truth. It upset me very much."

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