Weapons of Terror
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RAY SUAREZ: Reporters covering the war have come across troves of documents and other materials in the abandoned houses of Taliban and al-Qaida leaders. I talked with two reporters, David Rohde of the New York Times, who’s in Kabul, and Jack Kelly of USA Today, who’s in Islamabad, Pakistan. Let’s try to get an idea of the kinds of things that have been found left behind by the retreating forces. Jack Kelly, let’s start with you.
JACK KELLEY: We had walked into one of the labs which is in the eastern Afghan city of… of Jalalabad, and as we walked in, we saw two shelves, and on one of the shelves were 18 different bottles, one of which had the word “cyanide” written on it, sulfuric acid, and on the second shelf was a bottle saying “hydroglycerine.” In the corner there were several bomb-making manuals, one of which listed the ideal targets for any kind of bomb against the West. And it said that al-Qaida forces should aim towards buildings, bridges, embassies, theme parks.
And on the floor were several different gas masks. Probably the thing, which had the biggest impact for us was that as we walked outside, we found four poles, and at the base of each of the four poles were chains. And at the end of one of the chains was the remains of what appeared to be some kind of dead animal with white fur.
And we’ve since learned that U.S. Intelligence has taken photos over the last couple of months of this particular lab at this camp, and they… And what they say was that one of bin Laden’s operatives known as Abu Hatib had been experimenting with nerve gas on dogs and rabbits at this particular camp.
RAY SUAREZ: David Rohde, what have you come across?
DAVID ROHDE: Recently in the most recent house, there seemed to be a sketch by a Pakistani nuclear scientist that appeared to be a plan to distribute some kind of biological weapon. One word that was used on the chart was cyanide from high-altitude weather balloons. And the chart seemed to show having several of them fly in tandem and release small amounts of cyanide.
There was also many anthrax documents we found in this house. So it could also be a plan to release anthrax from the balloons at this high altitude; by releasing it from a balloon it will actually make it more effective to bring it over a large area, instead of just dropping the substance in one spot.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you get the idea from what you’ve seen that these labs were very much part of the training operation of the al-Qaida network, or were they sort of R&D centers where scientists were sort of working on future developments?
DAVID ROHDE: The lab I saw was this scheme involving the balloons, and then there was numerous amounts of documents about anthrax. It was more of an R&D center. There are other houses here in Kabul that appear to be training centers.
What we found in those were the notebooks from students who were sort of learning basics: Electricity and physics, but most importantly basic bomb making techniques. And there are sort of detailed notes about how to create a pipe bomb, how to create large fertilizer bombs. There was even one notebook that gave the formula for a fertilizer bomb, and written in it was Oklahoma City, and that it was the exact same chemical mix used in the Oklahoma City bombing.
RAY SUAREZ: Jack Kelley, were these labs or schools that you had seen?
JACK KELLEY: With our case, I think that they happened to be both. We also found several different… Several different notebooks with chemical formulas and words “TNT,” “RDX,” and several other explosives written into it. And most of these notebooks were found outside of the lab in different homes or apartments. These are mud-walled apartments being used by the al-Qaida fighters. Inside of the lab, this appeared to be more of an experimentation lab.
Several of the people who live not too far from the lab said that on one particular day they heard a very large explosion that even broke the mirror of somebody’s house nearby. And that they constantly saw chemicals being brought in and several other R&D-type materials.
RAY SUAREZ: A lot of the reporting both in your own papers and others from the region have talked about fairly ambitious plans for jets, for weapons of mass destruction, for understanding nuclear fission. From what you’ve both seen, do you get the idea that the materials that you’ve observed were part of ambitions, agendas for al-Qaida, or actual capabilities to inflict this kind of damage? David?
DAVID ROHDE: It’s very difficult to tell. Cyanide is fairly easy to get a hold of, and anthrax is produced by at least seven different countries, so I think those kind of attacks may be within the realm of possibility. I think a nuclear weapon is much more difficult and I think that could be more in the realm of a plan or what they hope to achieve.
I mean, there are many rumors here, though, that Mr. bin Laden has obtained a nuclear weapon, but it’s really hard to pin down. But based on what I’ve seen, I’d say it sort of comes down in the middle. They’ve achieved the lower end of these types of schemes, but the most… The more complicated, I think, are out of their reach at this point, hopefully.
RAY SUAREZ: And Jack?
JACK KELLEY: At this point there’s no real evidence that Osama bin Laden has any kind of nuclear weapon. So on that side, it’s definitely more ambition than anything else. On the chemical and biological side, he does seem to have had his foot in that area, and to at least be on the track to developing something.
RAY SUAREZ: Jack Kelley of USA Today, David Rohde of the New York Times, gentlemen, thank you both.