February 16, 1998
President Clinton will deliver a speech tomorrow on the need to prepare for conflict with Iraq. The main reason for possible action cited by U.S. officials is Iraq's stockpile of biological and chemical weapons. But how significant a threat does Saddam Hussein's country really pose? Following a background report, Jim Lehrer gets two experts' opinions.
JIM LEHRER: Two views of this now: Raymond Zilinskas served as an UNSCOM inspector in Iraq in 1994. He's now at the University of Maryland. Neil Livingstone has written extensively on the proliferation and terrorism issues and operates a consulting firm here in Washington.
|How serious a threat is Iraq?|
Dr. Zilinskas, how serious a threat do you think the biological and chemical weapons that Iraq has are?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS, Former U.N. Inspector: Well, it's a potential threat. I don't think they have any weapons ready to go. They might have some smaller quantities of VX and mustard gas hidden away in some sort of bulk containers underneath the ground somewhere. And--but it's certainly not loaded into anything. They might have two to twenty Scud missiles also hidden away somewhere in the desert, and again they'd have to be set up. Biologically, I don't think they have any biological weapons. What they have are seed cultures sitting in refrigerators that could be used to start a program again very quickly, and, of course, they have the trained manpower that worked the program before, in other words, the scientists, engineers, and technicians. And, of course, all of those people are ready to go to work any time.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, let's take these things one at a time. First, in the chemical area, Mr. Livingstone, do you agree with his summation of what the potential threat is in the chemical area?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE, Security Analyst: Pretty much so, yes, indeed.
JIM LEHRER: So, help us understand what that means. They have the ability to destroy what with nerve gas, say?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: Well, right now they do have the ability to load nerve gas into missiles if they have missiles left. If they have 20 Scuds left, which is the kind of top-end estimate of the number of Scuds they have, they could deliver those missiles--that--by those missiles. Now, the concern is, is that they might find other more surreptitious ways of doing it.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. All right. Now, let's back up a minute. Nerve gas, what does it do to people, and how much does it take, and what's the extent of the damage that could be done?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Well, a nerve gas like VX, which is the most toxic--shall we say organic substance--it takes less than, well, a pin prick, less than that to completely incapacitate a person. First, a person--it acts on the nerve system, and the way it works is that there's an enzyme which limits the nerve contractions. So it kills that enzyme, so you essentially go into uncontrollable spasms. So within two minutes you can die.
|What range do Saddam Hussein's missiles have?|
JIM LEHRER: And these Scud missiles would deliver it over what--what range? I mean, who would be in jeopardy? What countries would be in jeopardy from nerve gas attacks if, in fact, they have the 20 Scuds and if, in fact, they use them?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: Well, depending on where the missiles are at this time--and they are mobile missile launchers, so--
JIM LEHRER: Mobile meaning they're on trucks and--
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: That's right. They can move around.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: And so obviously all the potential targets are in the region, and Israel possibly Cairo are probably the extremes that they can reach right now, but they could reach into Saudi Arabia, into Kuwait, into other countries, into their immediate neighborhood.JIM LEHRER: Now, is it--do you all, the two of you agree that they have enough--let's say the 20 Scuds--but let's say they have enough of this nerve gas where they could cause--I mean, thousands of people to die, millions of people to die? Is it guesswork, or is there any way to know?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Well, it's guesswork because it depends on so many conditions. First of all, the missiles that they had were not really designed to carry chemical or biological weapons, so there's a question about stability of the missile. And then--
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. How would--a missile goes up in the air and it lands on a target, and then it would explode and this nerve gas theoretically would come out and fill the air, and whoever is around it would die, is that it?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Well, it's a little more complicated because it falls down--first of all, the explosion destroys the major part of the payload, and then a part of the payload is driven into the ground. And the part that's left can create a plume, but then it depends on wind. If there's no wind, it'll just contaminate around--the ground re's a strong wind, then you have a significant hazard to people downwind, and depending how much is delivered, it could be hundreds to thousands of people but not millions.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Yes.
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: I was going to say there was a World Health Organization study some years ago and they took a target population of say 150,000 people with a lethal dose, which is to ten milligrams were square meter. And they found that they would have 80,000 casualties immediately who probably would not receive any type of sufficient treatment before they died. Another 35,000--unless they received intervention right away and treatment--they would probably die as well--so you had a 120,000 of those 150,000 dead, most likely, and the other--the remaining 30,000 impaired. That's how lethal VX is.
JIM LEHRER: All right, now, specifically, both of you believe that it's possible or probable that Iraq has the capability of doing that, is that right?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Maybe to a place as far away as Israel, or Cairo, which is how many thousands of miles from say, well, we don't know where in Iraq they'd come from--
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: We're talking about a thousand mile range, five hundred to a thousand mile range?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: No. The Scud missile had a 600 kilometer range, and the Al-Hussein, which is, I should say a modified version, that has about an 800 kilometer range, but with a smaller payload, so there's payoffs in each case.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. So in miles what are we talking about?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: We're talking about four hundred to five hundred miles.
|What is the country's biological weapons capability?|
JIM LEHRER: Four hundred/five hundred miles. All right, now, let's move to the biological. Where does the biological capability fit into the Scud missile or the delivery system problem, and what is the potential for that threat?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: Well, I agree with Raymond that it's a potential threat, more than a real threat today. The issue really is: Do we want him to have that threat in the future? It's arguable right now whether he really has biologicals in a sufficient number and with the appropriate stability in weaponized form that he can put them in the missiles, and so what we're really talking about here is we don't want him to have something in the future.
JIM LEHRER: What has he got? What do you think he has?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Well, I think he has two to three hundred people that are very capable of starting the program. He has--
JIM LEHRER: Some of these things in these refrigerators you were talking about.
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Right. He has seed cultures to take out of the refrigerator that you can start production of anthrax and the clustered in-botulinum, which produces botulinum toxin. He has about twenty to thirty biological research development and production facilities that could be converted from civilian use to warfare use. And so--
JIM LEHRER: And quickly? I mean, how long would it take for him to do this?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Well, I would estimate within six months you would have a militarily useful quantity, a shorter time than that for terrorist purposes.
JIM LEHRER: No evidence that he's done that thus far?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Not with UNSCOM inspectors crawling all over these places.
JIM LEHRER: The UNSCOM inspectors are looking in the refrigerators; they're trying to find these things, is that--
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Well, they don't go to private homes to look for that, but there are these 80 facilities that Iraq has. Some of them are inspected on a daily basis, some of them on a weekly basis, some of them on a monthly basis, but they're inspected all the time. And the most threatening ones have video cameras and television cameras. They have 24-hour surveillance, so that keeps going. We might lose all that if we--
JIM LEHRER: I want to get to that in a minute, but the biological possibilities are that small. I mean, you could literally put them in somebody's private homes.
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: That's right. They could be in a very small container really that is portable, that can be really moved around on the back of a truck, and that's one of our problems in monitoring it. Now, I'm a little less optimistic than Raymond is. I think there are people in our defense establishment that believe that it's been over four months since we have had this problem with Iraq, and during that four-month period that they probably needed a week to ten days to get the program up and running again. And they might have been manufacturing agents during this period of time. That's debatable. We don't know for sure, and we may also have missed stocks that they did weaponize in secret locations that our friends from UNSCOM have not found yet, so that's the real issue.
|Air strikes: "The most important component are the workers, and you can't reach them."|
JIM LEHRER: Based on your knowledge of the situation, could you eliminate or effectively stymie the development of both the chemical and biological weapons by air strikes?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: No. You can't reach--the most important component are the workers, and you can't reach them, and then in order to reach the civilian facilities that conceivably could become--to the other--you have to keep on all of them, and they're sitting in urban centers, and that's not going to happen. I mean, it is unreasonable because one or two can be converted--even bomb all of them and destroy all the civilian populations around them. It doesn't make too much sense, so I don't think so. In the chemical, I don't think there's anything to bomb. Maybe--Neil knows more about this than I do--but maybe the pesticide factors that are producing pesticides for civilian purposes eventually could be converted to chemical weapons production, but it would take quite a while.
JIM LEHRER: But as far as anybody knows, there are no factories right now manufacturing chemical weapons?
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: Well, there may be but they're certainly in reinforced positions. They may be underground; we may not have found everything that is producing weapons right now, but the issue is that if we do bomb them, this is only a temporary respite anyway because even if we got everything today, they could put the program back together again in the future, so it doesn't make any sense to have a four-day bombing campaign, where we essentially run up to a bear with a sharp stick and jab him a few times, and then go home again. It--all we're going to do is make Iraq all the more bitter and angry.
JIM LEHRER: But if the administration thus far has explained--they acknowledge--it's not, well, you help me on this--they acknowledge they're not going to be able to destroy all of these things for all the reasons that you all have just laid out, but they can deliver a message, and the message can get harsher and harsher and harsher and get the inspectors back in.
NEIL LIVINGSTONE: Well, that's their rationale for doing it. I think I belong in that camp that suggests that if we're going to say that as a matter of U.S. national policy that Iraq should not have weapons of mass destruction, then we have to make sure that they don't. And that's going to require perhaps air support for any elements of the Iraqi military that would revolt against Saddam Hussein; maybe a no-fly zone over the entire country. We're going to have to do a lot more than a pin prick attack that's going to go in there for a few days and then go home again and say, well, maybe he learned his lesson this time. I don't think he's learned his lesson.
JIM LEHRER: But both of you agree that there is no way if this thing comes to it, and these planes take off and it's announced that the United States is going to bomb Iraq, forget it if anybody believes these individual weapons possibilities, potentials are going to be eliminated by bombing, is that what you're saying?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: That's right. I'm saying they cannot be eliminated that way.
JIM LEHRER: And so what do you think of Mr. Livingstone's approach?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Well, I agree that there has to be more of a comprehensive view on--you know, it's more than just bombing weapons of--so-called weapons of mass destruction, targets--but what I fear most of all is that the--keeping bombing up, making it tougher and tougher, is just going to coalesce the Iraqi population behind the leadership even more than now, and furthermore, on the other hand, the Iraqis will take this opportunity to kick out the inspectors from the international atomic energy agency and UNSCOM so all this monitoring work--remember, 200 facilities are being covered--plus all these surprise inspections. What we're hearing about, as far as the so-called sensitive or sovereign sites, is only about 5 percent of UNSCOM's work. Ninety five percent of the work proceeds unhindered.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. All right. Well, we'll hear from the administration on the program tomorrow night. Thank you both very much.