Iraqi defector "Curve Ball" speaks out

Bob Simon interviews Rafid Alwan, whose false tale of Iraqi WMDs influenced U.S.'s argument for war

Next Saturday will mark the eighth anniversary of America's invasion of Iraq. And after all this time, questions still remain as to why the United States launched the war in the first place. The Bush administration said it was because of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

But there were no such weapons.

So how did U.S. intelligence get it so wrong? Incredibly, it was all because of one man - an Iraqi defector codenamed "Curve Ball" - who spun a web of lies which convinced America's top spies. His allegations became the crown jewel of the case Colin Powell made to the United Nations before the war.

Three years ago we told you part of this story. But we were missing one crucial element: Curve Ball himself.

We couldn't find him. Finally, we did and now we're going to introduce you to the man and ask you to ponder how anyone could ever have believed one word he said.

60 Minutes: the great "walk-offs"
See famous interview subjects rip off their microphones and storm off the "60 Minutes" set.

Segment: "Curve Ball"
Extra: The argument for war
Extra: How Curve Ball created his story

"Do you think you helped get Saddam Hussein out of Iraq?" correspondent Bob Simon asked Rafid Alwan, a.k.a. Curve Ball.

"Yes. Exactly," the defector replied.

Alwan, a 44-year-old chemical engineer, says he had a mission.

"So you left Iraq with the idea of destroying Saddam Hussein?" Simon asked.

"Exactly," Alwan said.

We sat down with Alwan in Europe; we agreed not to reveal exactly where.

What made him decide to talk to us? We still don't know. But he was unapologetic, hard to pin down and really nervous, not sure how much he could reveal about how he fooled western intelligence services into believing that Iraq had a secret program to brew mobile biological weapons.

"I plan for this for long time," he told Simon.

He came up with the plan after he escaped from Iraq in the late 1990s. But curiously, instead of taking his story to a western embassy, which is what defectors usually do, he just drifted from one country to another.

He told Simon he went to Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Spain, Belgium, back to Morocco, and then to Germany.

"That's a lot of traveling," Simon remarked. "How did you get the money to do that traveling?"

"Some person in Belgium. He's my neighbor in Iraq and he give me also a lot of money," Alwan said.

"Wow, you've got some nice neighbors," Simon said.

Alwan actually wanted to go to England, where he says he hoped to lure the British into thinking Saddam had biological weapons. In November 1999, he took a train from Belgium to Germany, where he was to contact a man who would smuggle him into Britain. The meeting point: the grand cathedral in Cologne. He waited and waited, but the smuggler never showed.

"The police found you?" Simon asked.

"Yes. And I don't have passport, I don't have identity card, I don't have visa, must go to the police station," Alwan said.

Alwan was taken to a refugee center outside Nuremberg, where he was visited by the BND, the German intelligence service. At first Alwan told the truth to his interrogators.

"I say I am chemical engineer," Alwan remembered.

He then mixed a few facts with a heavy dose of fiction. He told German intelligence that in 1995 he had been made a director at a site outside Baghdad called Djerf al Nadaf.

The Iraqis said it was a seed purification plant. But Alwan told the Germans he was present when mobile biological weapons were being made there.

Alwan told the Germans that 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. Smaller vehicles then took the finished product away, exiting hidden doors at the other end.

Produced by Draggan Mihailovich

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