60 Minutes spent two years, and traveled to nine countries, trying to solve the mystery. We talked to intelligence sources, to people who knew Curve Ball and to people who worked with him. As correspondent Bob Simon reports, Curve Ball's real name has never been made public, nor has any video of him, until now.
60 Minutes has obtained video of Rafid Ahmed Alwan at a 1993 Baghdad wedding, filmed six years before he became the key Iraqi source known as Curve Ball, six years before he helped launch the war.
Former CIA senior official Tyler Drumheller was an insider and watched Curve Ball emerge from nowhere.
Asked how important Curve Ball was in taking us to war in Iraq, Drumheller tells Simon, "If they had not had Curve Ball they would have probably found something else. 'Cause there was a great determination to do it. But going to war in Iraq, under the circumstances we did, Curve Ball was the absolutely essential case."
How did Rafid Alwan become Curve Ball? 60 Minutes' investigation led us to Germany, where in November 1999, Alwan arrived by car and requested asylum at a refugee center outside Nuremberg. The 32-year-old told German intelligence that he was a chemical engineer in Saddam's Iraq, and that he had done so well in university he had been made director of a site at Djerf al Nadaf, just outside Baghdad. The Iraqis called it a "seed purification plant." In reality, he said, the place was secretly making mobile biological weapons.
He told the Germans specially-equipped trucks made their way to one end of a warehouse, entered doors there, hooked up to hoses and pumps and brewed biological agents. The germ trucks then exited hidden doors on the other side.
Alwan's story fit what Western intelligence agencies feared: that Saddam might turn to mobile weapons to evade American bombs. The Germans hid Alwan in Nuremberg, then later in the town of Erlangen. He was given a code name: Curve Ball. He was interrogated once a week, sometimes twice, for a year and a half. He told the Germans he didn't want to meet with Americans. Only summaries of his debriefings were transmitted to Washington. Still, there were enough details to convince analysts at the CIA.
"Curve Ball was the one piece of evidence where they could say, 'Look at this. If they have this capability, where they can transport biological weapons, anthrax, all these horrible weapons, they can attack our troops with them. They can give them to terrorist groups,'" Drumheller says.
One of Curve Ball's reports was especially alarming: proof that the agents were lethal, something Curve Ball claimed he had seen while working at Djerf al Nadaf.
"He said, 'In 1998, working around these tanks, there was even an accident and 12 people were killed.' And that got everybody's attention," Drumheller explains.
So much so that in February 2001, German and American experts met in Munich to discuss Curve Ball. The Americans revealed they had located Djerf al Nadaf on overhead imagery; 60 Minutes found it on Google Earth.