US program unveils man behind Iraq weapons story

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NEW YORK, Nov 2 (Reuters) An Iraqi defector made up his claim that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons, a threat cited by the Bush administration as a key reason for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US news program ''60 Minutes'' said.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan, codenamed ''Curve Ball'' in intelligence circles, claimed to be a chemical engineering expert but was instead an accused thief and a mediocre student, the program said. He arrived at a German refugee center in 1999.

''To bolster his asylum case and increase his importance, he told officials he was a star chemical engineer who had been in charge of a facility at Djerf al Nadaf that was making mobile biological weapons,'' ''60 Minutes'' said in a statement yesterday.

President George W. Bush and senior US officials argued that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction that threatened the security of the United States.

But no such weapons have been found and what was supposed to have been a short US engagement in Iraq is now in its fifth year, with more than 3,800 US soldiers and tens of thousands Iraqis killed.

''60 Minutes'' said it found an arrest warrant for Alwan in relation to a theft from the Babel television production company in Baghdad where he once worked. It said he studied chemical engineering at university but got low marks.

The report, a culmination of a two-year investigation by journalist Bob Simon, is due to be broadcast on the CBS network on Sunday.

''The (then) CIA director George Tenet gave Alwan's information to Secretary of State Colin Powell to use at the UN in his speech justifying military action against Iraq,'' ''60 Minutes'' said.

That was, the program said, despite a letter from German intelligence officials saying that although Alwan appeared to be believable, there was not evidence to verify his story.

''Through a spokesman, Tenet denies ever seeing the letter,'' ''60 Minutes'' said.

''Alwan was caught when CIA interrogators were finally allowed to question him and confronted him with evidence that his story could not be as he described it,'' the program said.

''Weapons inspectors had examined the plant at Djerf al Nadaf before the fall of Baghdad and found no evidence of biological agents.'' Reuters BJR VP0557

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