Weapons Hunt in Iraq
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RAY SUAREZ: U.S. troops hunting for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction haven’t come up empty-handed for lack of trying. A week into the Iraq invasion, marines captured what they suspected was a chemical weapons factory in Najaf.
FIRST LIEUTENANT PAUL MYSLIWIEC, U.S. Marine Corps: Any site that might store weapons, while we’re attacking through, we’re going to check it out. But this was known to be a suspected weapons of mass destruction site.
RAY SUAREZ: As it turned out, the site contained pesticide, not chemical weapons. Soldiers searching underground tunnels in Baghdad found only medicines and ammunition, and a week ago in the town of Bayji, north of Baghdad, two mobile labs and a dozen drums were found. Military officials thought there might be nerve and blister agents inside, but tests showed no evidence of any chemical weapons.
So far, U.S. forces have not confirmed the existence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But several top Iraqi weapons experts are in custody. U.S. officials said the most recent capture, Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, dubbed “Mrs. Anthrax,” may provide useful information. On the most wanted list, Ammash is thought to have played a key role in rebuilding Baghdad’s biological weapons capability after the first Gulf War.
Last month, Saddam’s top scientific adviser, Lieutenant General Amir al-Saadi, surrendered to U.S. military authorities. Before the war, al-Saadi told weapons inspectors that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, a contention he repeated after he gave himself up.
LT. GENERAL AMIR AL-SAADI, Saddam Hussein’s Scientific Adviser (April 12): I was knowledgeable about those programs, the past programs, and I was telling the truth, always telling the truth. I never told anything but the truth. And time will bear me out, you will see.
RAY SUAREZ: Over the weekend, President Bush insisted again Saddam Hussein had illegal weapons.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: He spent 14 years hiding weapons of mass destruction. He spent an entire decade making sure that inspectors would never find them. Iraq is the size of the state of California. It’s got tunnels, caves, all kinds of complexes. We’ll find them. It will just be a matter of time to do so.
RAY SUAREZ: Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said finding those weapons would not be easy.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I never believed that we’d just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country. Saddam Hussein was…his entire regime learned to live with U.N. inspections. They fashioned their arrangements and their…how they did things and where they did things so that they could nonetheless persuade inspectors that they didn’t have them.
RAY SUAREZ: U.N. Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has offered to send his team back into Iraq, arguing that disarmament should be conducted by the United Nations. But so far, U.S. officials have refused help. Undersecretary of State John Bolton.
JOHN BOLTON, Undersecretary of State: I don’t think there is any role for the U.N. in the short term in searching for, or identifying, or securing weapons of mass destruction. But we don’t necessarily rule out some kind of U.N. role somewhere down the road.
RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, some suspected sites have been looted. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported looting at the Tuwaitha nuclear site 30 miles southeast of Baghdad. Today, Mohamed el Baradei, the chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, called on the U.S. to let him send inspectors back to Iraq to investigate those reports.
RAY SUAREZ: To assess the developments on the ground, and to discuss the continuing debate over who should conduct the ongoing inspections, we turn to Terence Taylor, a lead weapons inspector for the chemical and biological team in the 1990s. He’s now president of the Washington office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
And David Albright, a former analyst and inspector who monitored Iraq’s nuclear program from 1992 to 1997. He’s now president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.
Well, given how long the United States has been in control of most of the territory in Iraq, is the search about where you expected it to be, Terence Taylor?
TERENCE TAYLOR: I think it is. I’m not surprised that the coalition forces haven’t yet discovered any substantial amounts or evidence of weapons of mass destruction programs. This was weapons programs that were hidden not just from inspectors, but from most of the Iraqi people as well, and very deeply embedded. And only a very few people knew about the whole of the programs, it was very compartmentalized.
I think the key to all of this, in discovering what the real truth is, is individuals coming forward, not just the top scientists, these are important of course, but I think people further down the chain of command will actually reveal a bit more. We have to remember, too, the coalition don’t have all the people in place on the ground, the scientists, those with the corporate memory, not just military people, I mean, people, former U.N. Special Commission inspectors and so on, people who have the corporate memory in the background and know the people involved with the programs, and they’re not in place yet in Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: David Albright, same question.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it’s clear that the claims of the Bush administration that there were lots of deployed chemical weapons, orders had been given to commanders that if red lines were crossed, they could be used, those are not being substantiated. And I think the U.S. government did exaggerate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program, particularly in terms of the amount available to use against U.S. troops. I still believe that there were weapons of mass destruction programs there.
But it looks like they were much smaller, that the inspections in essence were putting the Iraqis on the defensive, and in that sense the inspections were working, certainly not finding everything, but were making it very hard for Iraq to maintain any kind of robust weapons of mass destruction program. And then perhaps they could have been able to reconstitute over time, but the U.S. invasion certainly stopped that possibility.
RAY SUAREZ: So when you pick up your morning paper and see another story about a find made with some excitement and anticipation that this may be the smoking gun, which turns out not to be, what does that tell you?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Well, as these stories have come and gone, I think what I’m increasingly finding is that the U.S. Government hasn’t really put this team or the teams together adequately to look for weapons of mass destruction. There’s a military effort, I don’t particularly think it should be a military investigation. We need to find out exactly what happened, for sure.
But we also have to start looking to the future. We want to make sure that any weapons of mass destruction that are there are found and protected. And they don’t go off some place. And I think it’s going to require a different kind of approach. It’s going to be more cooperative in nature, while still being strict, but more cooperative to try to lure in the scientists and get them to cooperate with the teams doing the investigation.
RAY SUAREZ: What do the false alarms tell you?
TERENCE TAYLOR: Well, there is clearly, we just have military people in the field, have you to get to a number of sites very quickly. I think this is right, they have very basic detection equipment, essentially alarms and detectors, to warn people to put on their protection if there’s a presence of chemical warfare agents, for example, so they only have basic equipment and they’re working their way through a list of sites.
And I think that’s right, that has to be done, and you have to remember it’s only two or three days ago that the president announced that the major armed conflict has come to an end, so it’s only now that you can start putting into the country these teams that David Albright is talking about, including scientists and those with deep knowledge of the programs in the past, know the people involved. And that process hasn’t started, and I think that’s the time when we’ll find some new information.
Also, those that need to come forward need to have confidence that there is going to be some stability for some short period of time at least, maybe a transitional government in place, to give them confidence to come forward and give the information, and certainly that situation doesn’t exist at the moment. I’m sure that’s stopping some people from coming forward.
RAY SUAREZ: When Colin Powell made his presentation before the Security Council, he showed photographs, he showed maps. Didn’t the U.S. already come at this work with a pretty good list of places they wanted to see? And were they properly secured once we knew where they were and once the United States had control of the terrain?
TERENCE TAYLOR: Well, I don’t think it’s simple to get to all the places absolutely all at the same time. Clearly, as the conflict unfolded it was very unpredictable about how places could be secured. And of course, as we know from previous experience and during the 1990s and evidenced since 1998, that the Iraqis had a mobile system. And also they had a mobilization production system, that is they wouldn’t necessarily have weapons filled, but they’d have places and maybe also mobile laboratories, to carry out production and fill the weapons as they needed them.
What we’re looking at I think is a deeply embedded program which was being hidden from the inspectors, ready to be revived at the time when the inspection hand became lighter and could be restarted at any time in the future, and that’s a program that’s pretty hard to find.
RAY SUAREZ: David Albright, wasn’t the Tuwaitha site, which was pretty close to Baghdad, one of the first places that were inspected when the teams went back in?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Sure, and I don’t think anybody expects big finds to be at Tuwaitha. It was heavily inspected by inspectors; it’s sort of the obvious place that anyone would look. What was surprising about Tuwaitha is when the marines went in there, they didn’t really appear to understand what they were entering.
So there was a big stock of natural uranium, 500 tons, some enriched uranium, about 150 radioactive sources stored at a site nearby the main Tuwaitha site. They didn’t appear to know that that was there and that they were led there by villagers, and this is all according to one of the, to the embedded journalists with the marine corps. And so I don’t think the troops are prepared, and so therefore, unfortunately there’s been a lot more looting at Tuwaitha than needed to be, and in essence the site was not adequately secured.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, given what Terence Taylor just said and given one of the stated fears about places like Tuwaitha is proliferation, that fissile materials will just off in the back of a truck or somebody’s briefcase, was that properly secured?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: The main concern over safety and terrorism is really over radioactive sources. There are a large number of them there and there was concern that those would be taken by someone who didn’t understand what they were talking was dangerous or someone who planned to do something malevolent with it, either sell that item or use it for themselves, and so I think that the concern at Tuwaitha finally came down to I don’t think the Pentagon was really prepared to secure the site adequately and that once there it has not protected the main site adequately and looting continued.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s go back to what you both talked about, using the scientists who are being arrested and questioned with much fanfare to get at information that the United States doesn’t have yet. Do you have the people you need in custody right now?
TERENCE TAYLOR: We don’t have all the people we need, but certainly the people have come in recently over the last few days are beginning with General al-Saadi of course, we need to have them in. The coalition needs to have them in in order to question them. But at the moment I don’t think they’re giving very much information. But I’d like to see under of the technicians come in, people who worked in the laboratories, people whom the security special security organization who would have been guarding the capabilities, would have been involved in moving them around and so on. So I think there’s a lot more people I’d like to see come in.
My experience in the 1990s over my years of inspection there was that some of the real nuggets that we found were from people lower down the chain. The people at the top were involved in disinformation and obfuscation, whereas people further down the chain that either inadvertently or sometimes deliberately gave us information that we needed.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: I think it’s very important to reach out to the scientists. I think they have a lot of questions before they volunteer themselves to the U.S., I mean, will they be detained indefinitely? Jafar Jafar, who’s really the father of the Iraqi bomb program turned himself in, and as far as reported is still detained, and yet he was not on that deck of cards.
So I think the scientists need real answers to what are the U.S. policies. Another case, let’s say they say that I don’t know of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Does that mean they’re just going to be held until they, quote, become more cooperative? Are they going to be blackballed if they admit to something? In the sense that maybe they’ll never be allowed to work again in Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: What about these lower level guys, Terence Taylor, is arresting with a lot of fanfare and publicity the people at the top of the food chain the kind of behavior that’s going to encourage people lower down to turn themselves in?
TERENCE TAYLOR: Well, I think it might, actually, if the key people are in custody, if that does give them some encouragements. But I think more important is the overall security situation. If we can get to a point where there’s a transitional government in place and real security pertains in Baghdad, where no one expects to be absolutely secure very very quickly.
But I think the key issue is a secure environment where people can feel confident in coming forward. These senior people have got leverage. And so maybe they can make demands for their information. But people further down the chain have to really feel secure before they can come in to make sure their families are not at risk, that somebody else that hasn’t come in is not going to deal with their families.
It’s a very tricky situation I think for those who were deeply involved in the program, that maybe at a major level. And time will tell if they can come in, but I think there needs to be a conscious program to encourage them to come in, so they come in cooperatively and willingly, that’s the key to really good information.
RAY SUAREZ: Quickly before we go, Mohamed ElBaradei has added his voice to that of Hans Blix, saying the United Nations should get back into Iraq and revive inspections.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: And I think they will. ElBaradei just wants to get to Tuwaitha to see if anything is missing, they’re the ones whose site was partially looted, where the uranium is. So I think it’s very important that the IAEA come in quickly to a place like Tuwaitha and reestablish control over all that material and assure that nothing is missing and tell the international community. In the longer term the inspectors will have to come back in. I mean, Iraq is a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. It’s going to assuredly join the various conventions and biological and chemical weapons and so they will be back.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me get your opinion on that same question. U. N. back in?
TERENCE TAYLOR: Later on than sooner. I think the political climate is not right for them, the coalition has to take the lead, they have the intelligence, they’re the only people who can make people feel secure and come in. But in the long term, I think the long term compliance and monitoring perhaps with a new government that comes into place, there will be a time when U. N. inspectors of some kind, whether from the international Atomic Energy Agency or from another successor perhaps, the U. N. Monitoring and Verification Inspection Commission, some new setup, because it’s a completely different political context as we look at it now.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thanks a lot.
TERENCE TAYLOR: My pleasure.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Thank you.