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Iraq's missing WMD scientists: the post-invasion "brain drain" and weapons proliferation

by Plutonium Page Thu Aug 25th, 2005 at 12:17:03 AM EST

(Also posted at The Next Hurrah.)

In December 2002, Iraq provided the UN with a list of 500 of their weapons scientists.  These were scientists from Saddam's former chemical, biological and (fledgling) nuclear weapons programs.  None of the programs were active in 2002, but the scientists remained.  Congress recognized that they were a potential source of intelligence;  on March 21, 2003, the Senate unanimously passed the Iraqi Scientists Immigration Act, which gave amnesty to Iraqi WMD scientists in exchange for information.

However, thanks to Bush's impatience, all hell had already broken loose in Iraq, and any remaining WMD scientists were in "fear [of] being taken prisoner by US forces, retaliation by Saddam loyalists, or kidnap and ransom to coalition authorities." (Nature, 22 May 2003, subscription only.)

So, the Iraq Survey Group's investigation into Iraq's (nonexistent) WMDs continued.  On October 2, 2003, Dr. David Kay gave a statement before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.  He ended his testimony with a blunt warning:

Second, we have found people, technical information and illicit procurement networks that if allowed to flow to other countries and regions could accelerate global proliferation. Even in the area of actual weapons there is no doubt that Iraq had at one time chemical and biological weapons. Even if there were only a remote possibility that these pre-1991 weapons still exist, we have an obligation to American troops who are now there and the Iraqi population to ensure that none of these remain to be used against them in the ongoing insurgency activity.

This warning wasn't lost on certain members of Congress, who, in December 2003,  drafted a letter to then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice regarding Iraqi weapons scientists:

We are writing to call your attention to what we believe has been a serious and dangerous oversight in the Administration's planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom and the post-war period. Although hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in searching for weapons of mass destruction, we understand that the Administration has only recently begun contemplating efforts to keep Iraq's weapons scientists - who may be the only extant element of an Iraqi unconventional weapons program - from putting their knowledge to use elsewhere.

So where are the scientists?  Some have been assassinated;  some may have gone into hiding.  Some are in U.S. custody.  And many are still missing.

Journalist Kurt Pitzer had the opportunity to interview one of Saddam Hussein's main nuclear scientists, Dr. Mahdi Obeidi.  The interview reveals some of the reasons the Bush administration failed to secure many of Saddam's scientists, namely that they were afraid of arrest or assassination:

Then one day, he [Obeidi] gestured toward a spot in the garden. Buried under the lotus tree next to his rosebushes a few feet from where we sat, he said, was the core of Saddam's nuclear quest: blueprints and prototype pieces for building centrifuges to enrich uranium to bomb grade. Twelve years earlier, he had buried them on orders from Saddam's son Qusay -- presumably, he said, to use them to restart a bomb program someday.

Obeidi dug up the cache a few days later. When he showed me the four prototypes, his hands shook. The machine parts looked alien, like pieces of a futuristic motorcycle, most of them small enough to fit inside a briefcase. He explained that these components and the three-foot-high stack of diagrams were still immensely valuable -- and immensely dangerous. They represented the core knowledge it would take to jump-start a covert bomb program, anywhere in the world.

This was why Obeidi was so anxious. On any given day he might be arrested by U.S. forces who would consider him a "bad guy," or killed by Saddam loyalists who would see him as a collaborator, or kidnapped by some other country interested in what he knew. The decision to come forward had been a hard one.

The article indicates Albright's opinion that the Bush administration didn't have a well-defined plan to handle the Iraqi scientists.  Obeidi's bomb plans are an example of why the Bush administration's failure to secure many of Saddam's WMD scientists could contribute to global WMD proliferation:

Nobody knows how many Iraqi scientists may have been lured over the borders into Iran, Syria, or beyond. Nobody knows because no one is keeping tabs. But several observers agree that so little attention is being paid to Iraq's scientists, the war may actually have increased the chances of nuclear capabilities proliferating beyond the country's borders. Between its unemployed scientists and the disappearance of large amounts of WMD-related materials from former weapons sites, Iraq now poses a nightmare scenario, according to Ray McGovern, who spent 27 years analyzing intelligence for the CIA and afterward cofounded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. "The danger is much more acute, both from the proliferation side and the terrorism side," McGovern says. "Before we invaded, there was no evidence that Iraq had any plan or incentive to proliferate. They didn't even have a current plan to develop WMDs. They just hadn't been doing it. Now, my God, we have a magnet attracting all manner of foreign jihadists to a place where the WMD expertise is suddenly unprotected. It just boggles the mind."

The Bush administration started a war based on non-existent WMDs.  And now that war has effectively increased the probability of WMD proliferation.  The WMD scientists' brainpower is essentially a precious black market commodity, whether in the employ of terrorists or nations with an interest in these weapons.

Peter Scoblic of The New Republic argues that Bush's conservative policies have left the U.S. vulnerable to nuclear terrorism. It's obvious that the Iraq war, as a specific example of Bush's conservative policies, has profoundly jeopardized international security.  It has changed the arms proliferation landscape, for there are few things more valuable than a highly trained weapons scientist.

One hell of a diary Plutonium Page - extensive and great analysis of the critical shortfalls in this failed neocon adventure.
CIA/America :: World's greatest challenge in nuclear proliferation.

Held: Iraq's Scientists

Saddam's liaison: Was el-Saadi released?

[...] Another scientist who reportedly has been considered for release is bioweapons researcher Rehab Taha ("Dr. Germ"), though the official said she is also still in custody.

One prominent Iraqi scientist not in U.S. custody is Jaffar Dhia Jaffar, the so-called father of Iraq's nuclear-weapons program. Jaffar fled Baghdad at the time of the U.S. invasion, and last August told the BBC that Saddam had decided after Operation Desert Storm in 1991 to close down his nukes program. Albright said Jaffar now lives in Syria, where he has been writing books about his truncated career as Saddam's nuclear wizard.



'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Thu Aug 25th, 2005 at 05:10:36 AM EST
The Case of the Missing Information about Iraq's Weapons

The major media in the US seem intent on following a script worthy of an Agatha Christie mystery. They lay out a few clues at best and withhold or obscure facts that could give you a better picture of why and how the crime was committed.

The plot? The missing 8,000 pages the United States edited out of Iraq's 11,800-page dossier on weapons before it passed on a "sanitized" version to the 10 non-permanent members of the United Nations security council, according to a December 22 story in the Glasgow, Scotland Sunday Herald.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council --the US, the UK, France, China and Russia-- were given access to the complete "top secret" version of the dossier.

Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan called it was `unfortunate' that the UN had allowed the US to take the only complete dossier and edit it. Norway, a fellow (non-permanent) member of the Security Council, was miffed; its UN spokesperson said Norway felt like it was being treated like a "second-class country" because it wasn't made privy to the complete dossier.

Without all the information, the authors point out, the non-permanent members of the Security Council will have no way of testing the US claims for themselves. If the US and the UK go back to the Security Council seeking authorization to wage war on Iraq due to alleged breaches of resolution 1441. The UN weapons inspectors' report, is expected to be made to the UN this month.

Hans von Sponeck, former assistant general secretary of the UN and the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq until 2000, told the Scottish authors, "This is an outrageous attempt by the US to mislead".  

Iraq Weapons Declaration
NEW YORK UN Dec. 19, 2002 -- Only the five permanent members of the Security Council - China, France, Russia, the UK and the US - were given the complete document, with the 10 rotating members, including Syria, receiving an edited version.

Powell's Steady Path to War
As well as the "Do-It-Yourself" nuclear, chemical and biological weapons instructions that were cut from the Iraqi report, Hans Blix managed to persuade the Council, to the relief of some of the countries involved, that the names of the companies that had previously tooled up the Iraqi war effort should be cut out of the version that went to the non-permanent members. The reason: these were companies that had cooperated in the past with UN inspectors.

However the political damage was done. The Berlin daily, Die Tageszeitung (SP) leaked the names and thus reminded the world that the West was not always so interested in disarming Iraq. The list of companies that allegedly supplied Iraq with nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile technology includes Honeywell, UNISYS, Sperry Corp., Rockwell, Hewlett Packard, Dupont, Eastman Kodak and Bechtel.

Peacelab.de existed till July 12, 2003  


'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Thu Aug 25th, 2005 at 05:59:15 AM EST

Dec. 4, 2002 -- US accused Saddam Hussein of lying

Iraq declaration: The key tests

According to US intelligence, Iraq possesses:

  • 360 tonnes of chemical warfare agents, including 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve agent;
  • 3,000 tonnes of chemical precursors (which are developed into chemical weapons) including 300 tonnes uniquely used for VX;
  • Growth media  for 20,000 litres of biological warfare agents. Any Iraqi claims that this will have degenerated will not be accepted as mustard gas found in shells in 1997 was active;
  • Shells for use in biological warfare - 20,000 are missing say the British, 15,000 say the Americans;
  • 6,000 chemical warfare bombs.

Other key concerns include the following:


  • Why did Iraq try to import 60,000 aluminium tubes? Rapidly spinning rotor tubes in centrifuges are used to separate weapons grade uranium, though both the British and American reports acknowledge that the tubes could be used for conventional weapons as well.
  • Why did it try to import other equipment, including vacuum pumps, a winding machine and special chemicals needed in gas centrifuge cascades?
  • Did it, as the British dossier alleges, try to buy uranium from a country in Africa?
  • Where is the information, said by the CIA to be missing, on details of its nuclear programmes such as procurement logs, technical and experimental data, and weapons design?

  • What is going on in the important chemical production centres at Tarmiyah (a research centre), al-Qa'qa (phosgene production) and al-Sharqat (a complex in the north west desert)? These have been newly built or rebuilt.
  • Is Iraq, as the CIA alleges, trying to hide the real purpose of the Fallujah ll chemical plant which makes chlorine and phenol? Both chemicals have civilian uses but both are also precursors for blister and nerve agents.


According to the British dossier, "facilities of concern" which should be explained include:

  • The castor oil production plant at Fallujah lll. Castor oil is used for brake fluid but also for the biological agent ricin;
  • The al-Dawrah foot and mouth vaccine plant said to have been used for biological agent research;
  • The Amariyah vaccine plant at Abu Ghraib, a previous centre of biological agent research and now expanded;
  • The CIA is particularly interested in Iraqi development of mobile biological laboratories which could be hidden from inspectors.

  • Has Iraq retained any Scud missiles from the Gulf War? It should not have.
  • Is it trying to develop rockets with ranges above the 150km limit imposed by the UN? If not, why has it built a new rocket test bed at al-Rafah, and rocket fuel and production facilities at al-Mutasin and al-Mamoun?

Delivery systems
  • Has it tried to make the Czech-made fighter the L-29 into an unmanned plane which could be used to spray chemicals?
  • Does it have any drop tanks or helicopter sprayers for use in chemical warfare?
  • What happened to Scud warheads which might have been filled with VX agent?

The list of questions is long.


'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Thu Aug 25th, 2005 at 06:34:59 AM EST
Thank you for a fascinating diary.

It seems like just when you think there is nothing else that "those people" can screw up, they surpass themselves yet again.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Thu Aug 25th, 2005 at 10:35:04 AM EST
by Oui (Oui) on Sun Aug 28th, 2005 at 04:38:10 AM EST
globalsecurity.org is one of my favorite sites.  It's fun to read, and a great reference.  I guess I've become more interested in military history thanks to the Iraq war.

If you're interested in reading about the history of bioweapons (both U.S. and Russia), please e-mail me and I'll give you a couple of recommendations for some amazing books.

And thanks for your comments on this diary.  It looks like you have an interest in this stuff as well.  Plus, you find the coolest photos ;-)

Off-topic, but I just found out that it's going to take 6 weeks for all my stuff to be shipped from New Mexico to Amsterdam.  Looks like we'll be sitting on the floor for a while, because we'll be waiting for my furniture...

by Plutonium Page (page dot vlinders at gmail dot com) on Sun Aug 28th, 2005 at 12:25:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
close friends - urgent - need seating cushions, easy chairs, garden seats and folding camping table. Frank provides the beer and friends bring your first necessities to have a cozy 5-6 weeks, until the furniture arrives.

These parties normally may cause some breakage, that isn't possible when you organize it BEFORE the good household stuff arrives. We did it in our first house warming party, only mistake I made was to use the new crystal glassware. That worked out OK, until I accepted party volunteers, to help out with the dishes - beautiful crystal ware ... was decimated. Horror - therefore just a cautionary note.

I would be interested in your info on WMD stuff - please email me ::
foia at xs4all (dot) nl - thanks.

Some nice sources and pics I find lately by searching images at Google or Yahoo, and linking to source of image leads to many excellent articles.


'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Sun Aug 28th, 2005 at 02:25:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Kind of like a potluck, but with pillows ;-)

Knowing our friends, they'll bring beverages as well.

I'll e-mail you later tonight (which will be morning for you).  I'll give you a list of books that'll keep you reading for a while.

by Plutonium Page (page dot vlinders at gmail dot com) on Sun Aug 28th, 2005 at 06:01:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Will let you know how I advance on subject - chemistry is not my choice of study - but the topic is too important to ignore. I try to follow the FBI antrax investigation, with Hatfill link to South Africa, and the sarin attack in the UK whenever Blair gets into political trouble.

David Kelly was the scientist who unraveled the bio- chemical stockpiles of Soviet WMDs.

Ricin - Al Zarqawi - Bly Oregon - Niger

Adrian is used in the states as both male and female name.
In the Netherlands it's 100% boy's name in some variety: Aad, Aat, Arie, Adrie, Adriaan. My dad is called Arie, therefore I was named Aad.

Baptism name is Adrianus - most likely named after only Dutch pope Adrianus VI or Adrian VI.

Kind regards,


'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Mon Aug 29th, 2005 at 06:34:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
None of the books are overly technical at all.  The Russian guy explains things especially well;  I think he holds a teaching position at a university in the U.S., and he must be a great teacher.

And anything that doesn't make sense, I can certainly explain it :-)

Looks like we have many of the same interests.

I wrote something about the anthrax investigation and the connection to the U.S. planning the war on Iraq right after 9/11.  Check it out:

Iraq retrospective: Downing Street memo, 9/11, Saddam Hussein, and anthrax

Also, there are some concerns regarding current research with microorganisms that could (potentially) be used for not-so-nice purposes:

Dangerous biology in the post 9/11 world: ethics, transparency, and responsibility.

by Plutonium Page (page dot vlinders at gmail dot com) on Tue Aug 30th, 2005 at 12:18:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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