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.