No regrets: ‘Agent Curveball’ lied to topple dictator
An Iraqi defector claimed Saddam Hussein was making chemical weapons. He now admits he lied to help the case for war, but remains proud of what he did.
‘I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime…Believe me, there was no other way to bring about freedom to Iraq.’
These are the words of Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, code-named ‘Curveball’, who has spoken for the first time about how he deliberately misled Western intelligence services about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator.
Janabi, who now has asylum in Germany, was a small pawn in a global game – the search for a way to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A chemical engineer trained in Baghdad, he had been feeding the German secret service false information about Saddam’s chemical weapons programme since 2000.
His claims that the Iraqis were using mobile bioweapons trucks to evade detection by international weapons inspectors were investigated and proved to be false.
But in mid-2002, pressure was mounting on Western governments to find a case for the brewing war against Iraq. Both the US and UK governments felt sure that Saddam remained a threat to the whole Middle East region. He had a record of invading neighbouring countries, stockpiling illegal weapons of mass destruction, and even exterminating thousands of his own citizens.
So the spy networks came knocking at Janabi’s door again.
A month before Colin Powell, then the US secretary of state, had to make his presentation during a crucial speech to the UN, they asked about the weapons trucks. When Powell’s case for war was broadcast live to the world on 5th February 2003, they featured prominently.
Janabi says he is an Iraqi patriot, who took the opportunity to deceive Western intelligence agencies because they were clearly building a case for war against the dictator he hated.
Cost and benefit
‘If I could go back to 2000, if someone asked me, I would say the same thing because I would not want that regime to continue in my country,’ Janabi said. The German secret service paid him for the bogus information but he says his motives were higher.
The American political establishment may not be easy to convince: Powell has described his now-notorious presentation of ‘evidence’ to the UN as a blot on his career. And the revelations make the West’s spy networks look ridiculous – overly ready to believe someone telling them what they wanted to hear and then retailing it as genuine intelligence.
But they all shared the central objective: getting rid of Saddam. If Janabi lied to the spies, and the spies lied to the politicians, who is responsible for the momentous decision to start a long and bloody war?
- Can the ends ever justify the means? What if you had to get rid of Adolf Hitler?
- How often do you believe what you hear because it suits you?
- Look at the link about Colin Powell's speech to the UN general assembly, the main international forum. Write a speech for or against the Iraq invasion, or another war you have studied.
- Research the cost in money and lives of the Iraq War. Remember to look at the different claims about Iraqi civilian deaths as well as military casualties. Make a presentation to your class about the invasion and its aftermath.
Some People Say...
“Only evil can defeat evil.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Why did the Germans and then the CIA, the US intelligence agency, believe such a dubious source?
- ‘It was an intelligence failure and very poor tradecraft,’ Judith Yaphe, who used to be a CIA analyst, told The Guardian, the newspaper telling Janabi’s story. But judgement gets clouded when someone tells us what we want to hear.
- Didn’t they have other information?
- In 2002 and 2003 there was confusion about the threat posed by Iraq. The rest of the world, during long debates at the United Nations in New York, was sceptical about an invasion, but the US wanted to oust Saddam. Inconclusive evidence from UN weapons inspectors was hotly debated in capitals around the world. In the end, no weapons have been found.
- Why this revelation now?
- Janabi has decided to come clean because he wants to write a book, and has started a new political party in Iraq’s fledgling democracy.