Post April 26, 2004
By Kenneth R.Timmerman
New evidence out of Iraq suggeststhat the U.S. effort to track down Saddam Hussein's missing weaponsof mass destruction (WMD) is having better success than is beingreported. Key assertions by the intelligence community that werewidely judged in the media and by critics of President George W. Bushas having been false are turning out to have been true after all. Butthis stunning news has received little attention from the majormedia, and the president's critics continue to insist that "noweapons" have been found.
In virtually every case - chemical, biological, nuclear and ballisticmissiles - the United States has found the weapons and the programsthat the Iraqi dictator successfully concealed for 12 years from U.N.weapons inspectors.
The Iraq Survey Group (ISG), whose intelligence analysts are managedby Charles Duelfer, a former State Department official and deputychief of the U.N.-led arms-inspection teams, has found "hundreds ofcases of activities that were prohibited" under U.N. Security Councilresolutions, a senior administration official tells Insight. "Thereis a long list of charges made by the U.S. that have been confirmed,but none of this seems to mean anything because the weapons that wereunaccounted for by the United Nations remain unaccounted for."
Both Duelfer and his predecessor, David Kay, reported to Congressthat the evidence they had found on the ground in Iraq showedSaddam's regime was in "material violation" of U.N. Security CouncilResolution 1441, the last of 17 resolutions that promised "seriousconsequences" if Iraq did not make a complete disclosure of itsweapons programs and dismantle them in a verifiable manner. TheUnited States cited Iraq's refusal to comply with these demands asone justification for going to war.
Both Duelfer and Kay found that Iraq had "a clandestine network oflaboratories and safe houses with equipment that was suitable tocontinuing its prohibited chemical- and biological-weapons[BW] programs," the official said. "They found a prisonlaboratory where we suspect they tested biological weapons on humansubjects." They found equipment for "uranium-enrichment centrifuges"whose only plausible use was as part of a clandestine nuclear-weaponsprogram. In all these cases, "Iraqi scientists had been told beforethe war not to declare their activities to the U.N. inspectors," theofficial said.
But while the president's critics and the media might plausibly hidebehind ambiguity and a lack of sensational-
looking finds for not reporting some discoveries, in the case ofSaddam's ballistic-missile programs they have no excuse for theirsilence. "Where were the missiles? We found them," another senioradministration official told Insight.
"Saddam Hussein's prohibited missile programs are as close to a slamdunk as you will ever find for violating United Nations resolutions,"the first official said. Both senior administration officials spoketo Insight on condition that neither their name nor their agency beidentified, but their accounts of what the United States has found inIraq coincided in every major area.
When former weapons inspector Kay reported to Congress in Januarythat the United States had found "no stockpiles" of forbidden weaponsin Iraq, his conclusions made front-page news. But when he detailedwhat the ISG had found in testimony before the House Permanent SelectCommittee on Intelligence last October, few took notice. Among Kay'srevelations, which officials tell Insight have been amplified insubsequent inspections in recent weeks:
* A prison laboratory complex that may have beenused for human testing of BW agents and "that Iraqi officials workingto prepare the U.N. inspections were explicitly ordered not todeclare to the U.N." Why was Saddam interested in testingbiological-warfare agents on humans if he didn't have abiological-weapons program?
* "Reference strains" of a wide variety ofbiological-weapons agents were found beneath the sink in the home ofa prominent Iraqi BW scientist. "We thought it was a big deal," asenior administration official said. "But it has been written off[by the press] as a sort of 'starter set.'"
* New research on BW-applicable agents, brucellaand Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever, and continuing work on ricin andaflatoxin that were not declared to the United Nations.
* A line of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ordrones, "not fully declared at an undeclared production facility andan admission that they had tested one of their declared UAVs out to arange of 500 kilometers [311 miles], 350 kilometers [217miles] beyond the permissible limit."
* "Continuing covert capability to manufacture fuelpropellant useful only for prohibited Scud-variant missiles, acapability that was maintained at least until the end of 2001 andthat cooperating Iraqi scientists have said they were told to concealfrom the U.N."
* "Plans and advanced design work for newlong-range missiles with ranges up to at least 1,000 kilometers[621 miles] - well beyond the 150-kilometer-range limit[93 miles] imposed by the U.N. Missiles of a 1,000-kilometerrange would have allowed Iraq to threaten targets throughout theMiddle East, including Ankara [Turkey], Cairo [Egypt]and Abu Dhabi [United Arab Emirates]."
* In addition, through interviews with Iraqiscientists, seized documents and other evidence, the ISG learned theIraqi government had made "clandestine attempts between late 1999 and2002 to obtain from North Korea technology related to1,300-kilometer-range [807 miles] ballistic missiles -probably the No Dong - 300-kilometer-range [186 miles]antiship cruise missiles and other prohibited military equipment,"Kay reported.
In testimony before Congress on March 30, Duelfer, revealed that theISG had found evidence of a "crash program" to construct new plantscapable of making chemical- and biological-warfare agents. The ISGalso found a previously undeclared program to build a "high-speedrail gun," a device apparently designed for testing nuclear-weaponsmaterials. That came in addition to 500 tons of natural uraniumstockpiled at Iraq's main declared nuclear site south of Baghdad,which International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Mark Gwozdeckyacknowledged to Insight had been intended for "a clandestinenuclear-weapons program."
In taking apart Iraq's clandestine procurement network, Duelfer saidhis investigators had discovered that "the primary source of illicitfinancing for this system was oil smuggling conducted throughgovernment-to-government protocols negotiated with neighboringcountries [and] from kickback payments made on contracts setup through the U.N. oil-for-food program"[see"Documents Prove U.N. OilCorruption," April 27-May10].
What the president's critics and the media widely have portrayed asthe most dramatic failure of the U.S. case against Saddam has beenthe claimed failure to find "stockpiles" of chemical and biologicalweapons. But in a June 2003 Washington Post op-ed, former chief U.N.weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus called such criticism "a distortion anda trivialization of a major threat to international peace andsecurity."
Lt. Gen. Amer Rashid al-Obeidi (left)and Lt. Gen. Amer Hamoodi al-Saddi (right) speak to an unidentifiedFrench intelligence officer at the Baghdad International Arms Fair inApril 1989, and another French officer listens in (behind al-Saadi,facing camera)
The October 2002 NationalIntelligence Estimate on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction concludedthat Saddam "probably has stocked at least 100 metric tons (MT) andpossibly as much as 500 MT of CW [chemical warfare] agents -much of it added in the last year." That assessment was based, inpart, on conclusions contained in the final report from U.N. weaponsinspectors in 1999, which highlighted discrepancies in what theIraqis reported to the United Nations and the amount of precursorchemicals U.N. arms inspectors could document Iraq had imported butfor which it no longer could account. Until now, Bush's critics say,no stockpiles of CW agents made with those precursors have beenfound. The snap conclusion they draw is that the administration"lied" to the American people to create a pretext for invadingIraq.
But what are "stockpiles" of CW agents supposed to look like? Wasanyone seriously expecting Saddam to have left behind freshly paintedwarehouses packed with chemical munitions, all neatly laid out inserried rows, with labels written in English? Or did they think thata captured Saddam would guide U.S. troops to smoking vats full ofnerve gas in an abandoned factory? In fact, as recent evidence madepublic by a former operations officer for the Coalition ProvisionalAuthority's (CPA's) intelligence unit in Iraq shows, some of thosestockpiles have been found - not all at once, and not all in niceworking order - but found all the same.
Douglas Hanson was a U.S. Army cavalry reconnaissance officer for 20years, and a veteran of Gulf War I. He was an atomic demolitionsmunitions security officer and a nuclear, biological and chemicaldefense officer. As a civilian analyst in Iraq last summer, he workedfor an operations intelligence unit of the CPA in Iraq, and later,with the newly formed Ministry of Science and Technology, which wasresponsible for finding new, nonlethal employment for Iraqi WMDscientists.
In an interview with Insight and in an article he wrote for theonline magazine AmericanThinker.com, Hanson examines reports fromU.S. combat units and public information confirming that many ofIraq's CW stockpiles have indeed been found. Until now, however,journalists have devoted scant attention to this evidence, in partbecause it contradicts the story line they have been putting forwardsince the U.S.-led inspections began after the war.
But another reason for the media silence may stem from the seeminglyundramatic nature of the "finds" Hanson and others have described.The materials that constitute Saddam's chemical-weapons "stockpiles"look an awful lot like pesticides, which they indeed resemble."Pesticides are the key elements in the chemical-agent arena," Hansonsays. "In fact, the general pesticide chemical formula(organophosphate) is the 'grandfather' of modern-day nerveagents."
The United Nations was fully aware that Saddam had established hischemical-weapons plants under the guise of a permitted civilianchemical-industry infrastructure. Plants inspected in the early 1990sas CW production facilities had been set up to appear as if they wereproducing pesticides - or in the case of a giant plant near Fallujah,chlorine, which is used to produce mustard gas.
When coalition forces entered Iraq, "huge warehouses and caches of'commercial and agricultural' chemicals were seized and painstakinglytested by Army and Marine chemical specialists," Hanson writes. "Whatwas surprising was how quickly the ISG refuted the findings of ourground forces and how silent they have been on the significance ofthese caches."
Caches of "commercial and agricultural" chemicals don't match theexpectation of "stockpiles" of chemical weapons. But, in fact, thatis precisely what they are. "At a very minimum," Hanson tellsInsight, "they were storing the precursors to restart achemical-warfare program very quickly." Kay and Duelfer came to asimilar conclusion, telling Congress under oath that Saddam had builtnew facilities and stockpiled the materials to relaunch production ofchemical and biological weapons at a moment's notice.
At Karbala, U.S. troops stumbled upon 55-gallon drums of pesticidesat what appeared to be a very large "agricultural supply" area,Hanson says. Some of the drums were stored in a "camouflaged bunkercomplex" that was shown to reporters - with unpleasant results. "Morethan a dozen soldiers, a Knight-Ridder reporter, a CNN cameraman, andtwo Iraqi POWs came down with symptoms consistent with exposure to anerve agent," Hanson says. "But later ISG tests resulted in aproclamation of negative, end of story, nothing to see here, etc.,and the earlier findings and injuries dissolved into nonexistence.Left unexplained is the small matter of the obvious pains taken todisguise the cache of ostensibly legitimate pesticides. One wondersabout the advantage an agricultural-commodities business gains bysecuring drums of pesticide in camouflaged bunkers 6 feetunderground. The 'agricultural site' was also colocated with amilitary ammunition dump - evidently nothing more than a coincidencein the eyes of the ISG."
That wasn't the only significant find by coalition troops of probableCW stockpiles, Hanson believes. Near the northern Iraqi town ofBai'ji, where Saddam had built a chemical-weapons plant known to theUnited States from nearly 12 years of inspections, elements of the4th Infantry Division found 55-gallon drums containing a substanceidentified through mass spectrometry analysis as cyclosarin - a nerveagent. Nearby were surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles,gas masks and a mobile laboratory that could have been used to mixchemicals at the site. "Of course, later tests by the expertsrevealed that these were only the ubiquitous pesticides thateverybody was turning up," Hanson says. "It seems Iraqi soldiers wereobsessed with keeping ammo dumps insect-free, according to thereading of the evidence now enshrined by the conventional wisdom that'no WMD stockpiles have been discovered.'"
At Taji - an Iraqi weapons complex as large as the District ofColumbia - U.S. combat units discovered more "pesticides" stockpiledin specially built containers, smaller in diameter but much longerthan the standard 55-gallon drum. Hanson says he still recalls themilitary sending digital images of the canisters to his office, wherehis boss at the Ministry of Science and Technology translated theArabic-language markings. "They were labeled as pesticides," he says."Gee, you sure have got a lot of pesticides stored in ammodumps."
Again, this January, Danish forces found 120-millimeter mortar shellsfilled with a mysterious liquid that initially tested positive forblister agents. But subsequent tests by the United States disputedthat finding. "If it wasn't a chemical agent, what was it?" Hansonasks. "More pesticides? Dish-washing detergent? From this oldsoldier's perspective, I gain nothing from putting a liquid in mymortar rounds unless that stuff will do bad things to the enemy."
The discoveries Hanson describes are not dramatic. And that's theproblem: Finding real stockpiles in grubby ammo dumps doesn't fit theimage the media and the president's critics carefully have fed to thepublic of what Iraq's weapons ought to look like.
A senior administration official who has gone through theintelligence reporting from Iraq as well as the earlier reports fromU.N. arms inspectors refers to another well-documented allegation."The Iraqis admitted they had made 3.9 tons of VX," a powerful nervegas, but claimed they had never weaponized it. The U.N. inspectors"felt they had more. But where did it go?" The Iraqis never providedany explanation of what had happened to their VX stockpiles.
What does 3.9 tons of VX look like? "It could fit in one largegarage," the official says. Assuming, of course, that Saddam wouldassemble every bit of VX gas his scientists had produced at a singlesite, that still amounts to one large garage in an area the size ofthe state of California.
Senior administration officials stress that the investigation willcontinue as inspectors comb through millions of pages of documents inIraq and attempt to interview Iraqi weapons scientists who have beentrained all their professional lives to conceal their activities fromthe outside world.
"The conditions under which the ISG is working are not veryconducive," one official said. "But this president wants the truth tocome out. This is not an exercise in spinning or censoring."
For more on WMD, read "IraqiWeapons in Syria"
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer forInsight.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a seniorwriter for Insight and author of TheFrench Betrayal of America,just released from Crown Forum.