Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Curveball - an example to the UFO research community

Dear readers

Long-term readers of this blog will be aware of my fascination with intelligence agencies and their involvement in the UFO phenomenon.

I have posted on Jacques Vallee's interaction with the NSA and CIA in the 1970's (click here); Richard M Dolan's observations on the CIA, NSA and DIA (click here); FOI documents located by Lawrence Fawcett and Barry Greenwood (click here); and pointed out that you can read UFO documents held by the NSA, CIA and DIA on their own websites (e.g. click here). Lately, Mark Pilkington's book "Mirage men" covers, both a lot of history plus recent interviews with people who were in the intelligence field.

Here, in Australia, the Disclosure Australia Project, following Bill Chalker's pioneering work, interviewed the Department of Defence's own internal intelligence area expert on the UFO phenomenon (click here.)

Lastly, the recent release of the New Zealand Defence Force's UFO files revealed that it was their Defence Intelligence area which co-ordinated the New Zealand Unidentified Flying Object Investigating Committee (click here.)


In today's post I'd like to present a cautionary tale from a 2007 non-fiction book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Bob Drogin, titled "Curveball" and published by Edbury Press, New York. ISBN 978-0091-9230-20. My copy from Adelaide Booksellers off the shelf.

It is not a book about UFOs but after my notes on the book, I will draw some lessons to be learnt, by the UFO research community.


In November 1999, Iraqi Ahmed Hassan Mohammed (a pseudonym) arrived in Munich, Germany and came to the attention of the Bundesenachrichtendienst (BND) (click here , Germany's intelligence service. Ahmed told the BND tales of his involvement in Iraq's germ warfare program, and included "Saddam was using German-manufactured equipment to build his WMD..." (p.28.)

The BND sent reports on Ahmen to the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) (click here)(p.32.) Ahmed as a source was given the code name "Curveball."

The BND initially refused to allow the DIA to interview "Curveball" (p.36) but shared information "His hands-on accounts, rich with vivid details, provided a crucial missing piece of the WMD puzzle. German intelligence shared their debriefing reports with their closest partners: U.S., British and Israeli spy services." (p.49.)


Gradually, the distribution of "Curveball's" information widened to include the CIA, via DIA HQ. However, what was being received by the CIA was BND summaries of Ahmed's Arabic, in German, which was then translated into English and summarised again. (p.66.)

Among Ahmed's claims was the existence of mobile germ warfare laboratories. As late as September 2002 "Not one CIA operations officer had debriefed the defector." (p.109.)

Ahmed's information continued to be passed upwards. "A National Intelligence Estimate represents the best collective judgement of the entire intelligence community...For the first time, biological weapons took the lead. The section labelled "Biological Warfare Program-Larger than Before" contained the NIE's most assertive and alarming language.And virtually every paragraph derived from Curveball's information." (p.126.)


A British Government Joint Intelligence Committee report included "A year later, they cautioned that "our picture of Iraq's BW programme is unclear" other than "good intelligence on one facility that could be used to support BW production," meaning Curveball's worksite..." (p.128.)

Despite internal misgivings as to the fact that the "BND cannot vouch for the validity of the information" (p.142) from Curveball, on 28 January 2003 President Bush stated "From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990's had several mobile weapon labs..." (p142.) "Curveball was "the other tangible source." None of the others had actually seen the mobile bioweapons lab. They had just heard about them. (p.144.)

On 5 February 2003 US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, addressed the United Nations Security Council, speaking out against Iraq. "Powell used the estimate (the NIE) as the foundation for his Security Council address" (p.153.) Powell's speech included the case for mobile weapons labs, "Virtually every word from Powell now was coming from Curveball..." (p.157.)

The UN's inspection team in Iraq (UNMOVIC) on 8 Feb 2003 started to check locations in Iraq mentioned by Curveball, including Djerf al Nadaf "...the complex where Curveball worked." (p.168.)

The UN team found no evidence to support the claim of mobile weapons labs.

"In late July, three deep-cover operatives...drove out of Slayer to search fro Curveball's parents." (p.229.)What they learned sent them off to the BND. An examination of Curveball's Iraqi academic record did not support his claim to have graduated first in his class (p.239.) "On other days, the bio-team pored over the defector's official government employment records...supervisors at the Chemical Engineering and Design Center had fired the young engineer in late 1995 for unspecified...offences...(pp 239-240.)

In short, Curveball's claims could not be supported.Later,it was found that "...all three of Curveball's supposed corroborating sources had lied." (p.245.)

"...Curveball was a liar, a con man, an out-and-out fabricator..." (p.277.)


I have spent so much time above, in relating the account of this major intelligence failure for a purpose. It shows human nature at its worst. Intelligent people wanted to believe Curveball's account, so interpreted the evidence to support their belief, rather than the other way around.

In the UFO field, UFO cases are often presented in abstract form, rather than producing all the raw data for people to examine themselves. This is the case in many of the "crashed UFO" stories which have been circulating (see my previous posts here and here.)


As an Australian example, take a look at the 1988 Mundrabilla, Australia, "UFO car encounter" case. (Click here for an example of the legend.)

Most wesbites, books and magazines suggest that the case is a classic example of a UFO picking up a car and dropping it and its occupants back onto the road. However, my co-blogger, Keith Basterfield led a team in a detailed investigation of this case and published a document via the US Based Fund for UFO Research (click here) which, when carefully read, suggested that the event was, in fact, a series of events which could be re-constructed as having no UFO connection at all. However today the Mundrabilla "legend" lives on and will probably continue to do so.

My point with this post is to suggest that when faced with a UFO event, you need to demonstrate that your data comes from original on-site investigations, original interviews with the witnesses and an analysis which takes into account all of, and not just part of, the data. This doesn't always happen and too often the source of the account is an anonymous one, or a document which is no longer widely available.

Final comment from Drogin:

"Declaring Curveball a fabricator in the end was a cop-out for the CIA. It implied that U.S. Intelligence had fallen for a clever hoax. The truth was more disturbing. The defector didn't con the spies, as much as they conned themselves." (p.281.)

Final comment from me:

I'll close with a very relevant quote from paranormal researcher, Jacques Vallee, from a diary entry dated 20 March 1977. The reference to "Kit" is to Christopher (Kit) Green, a former CIA analyst with an interest in UFOs and the paranormal. Kit and Vallee met a number of times in the 1970's.

"I am unimpressed by people with secret clearances. UFOs and psychic phenomena are best studied in the field, not in the secrecy of Washington circles. Kit's colleagues make mistakes like everyone else. In fact they are probably easier to fool, compartmentalised as they are. They can even fool themselves." (Vallee, J. Forbidden Science Volume 2. Documatica Research, LLC. 2008. ISBN 978-0-615-24974-2.)

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