Mobile chemical labs allegedly found in Iraq were one of the reasons U.S. officials used to justify the war. German intelligence agents supplied the information, but the labs likely never existed.
Are the labs just a fabrication?
Few sessions of the UN Security Council got as much attention as the one on Feb. 5, 2003. Using audio tapes, slides and a powerpoint presentation, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented "solid proof" for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's weapons arsenal.
Mobile labs were especially dangerous, Powell said, adding that Iraqis had supposedly set up such factories on 18 trucks, enabling them to produce chemical and biological weapons at all times. America's chief diplomat presented detailed photos and drawings as further proof.
Powell at a UN Security Council session
"These are no allegations," he said. "What we are telling you is based on facts and conclusions drawn from solid intelligence reports."
Fourteen months later, things sound a little different. "Now it appears not to be the case that it was that solid," Powell said last week, adding that he had checked and verified different sources of information as the content of the reports appeared "dramatic."
But U.S. intelligence officials now believe the information was fictitious. Even Republican members of Congress have expressed their outrage.
"This is embarrassing for everybody who relied on this information," Pat Roberts, chairman of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee, told the Los Angeles Times.
Germans supplied information
The information's main source seems to have been Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). The organization's informant, a young Iraqi man whose codename is "Curveball," apparently was not a reliable source.
Curveball came to Germany in 1988 and claimed to have been chosen by Hussein's regime to help develop mobile labs after studying chemistry. He shared details of the program with intelligence agents and offered drawings.
According to news reports, his stories were fabricated: Curveball allegedly is the brother of a senior aide to Ahmad Chalabi (photo), a member of the Iraqi interim governing council, who was set on cooperating with the U.S. to bring about a regime change in his country.
Who's to blame?
Other sources cited by Powell have also proven to be unfounded. Two witnesses merely had heard about, but never actually seen, the labs, David Kay, the former U.S. chief weapons inspector, told the Los Angeles Times.
However, it remains unclear how the information made its way to Washington. "Either the BND did a bad job or the government passed on the information in a way that was irresponsible," Friedbert Pflüger, a German parliamentarian and foreign affairs expert for the opposition Christian Democrats, told Der Spiegel newsmagazine.