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Elizabeth Farnsworth talks to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in Kuwait City on the ongoing hunt for evidence of weapons of mass destruction and war crimes in Iraq.
Judith Miller, thank you for joining us.
Good to be here.
What is the 75th exploitation taskforce's mission, and how's it configured to accomplish that mission?
Well, the 75th XTF, that is, as it is known, is a bit of a experiment, Elizabeth. It's the first time that the United States has put together a group of experts– scientists, military people, intelligence analysts, interrogators, linguists– in teams that are supposed to go out to suspect weapons sites– that is, sites that are perhaps the places where Saddam Hussein has been storing weapons of mass destruction– and identify them, find them, secure them, and finally, destroy what is there. And this has never been done in a combat situation on this large a scale.
Judy, describe what you can, what you're able to describe, what you're allowed to describe about the missions carried out so far.
Well, I think the frustrating thing for the people sitting at the camp in northern Kuwait, with its sandstorms and its horrible weather, and its very, very primitive conditions, is that they are really eager to do more than they've been permitted to do thus far. The way the system works, Elizabeth, is that when the forward-based troops, the one met, the marines, or the five corps of the army, when they… when they go out in the normal course of events and they see something unusual, they're supposed to signal back when they see something that might be the sign of a weapons of mass destruction site.
And when it's a serious enough indicator– and they have a set of… almost like a sheet of paper that they check on to see whether or not this is so– they signal back to these mobile exploitation teams at my camp in northern Kuwait. And then these guys assemble their gear and off they go. But they've only done about three of these expeditions so far. And the rest of them sit in camps and train and keep going over what they expect to find, but haven't yet really been sent out to find.
In those three, did they find anything?
No, they haven't. They've found no traces. I mean, we found on one of the expeditions to Talil, the first one, that was a huge air base. And everybody was very excited. A few of us thought that there would be weapons of mass destruction at a site that far south. But, you know, hopes were still very high. And what they did find was enough armament to supply a small third-world country. No one really expected to find anything, because most of his facilities are believed to be within a 25-mile radius of Baghdad. And it isn't really until this taskforce gets up to Baghdad that… and the serious hunt begins in that area that I think the mets will be very, very busy.
So describe how the serious hunt will be carried out. Describe what it is that your taskforce does and will do closer to Baghdad. Describe the mobile labs, the kind of technological breakthroughs that you have now.
Well, first of all, the mobile teams themselves have a list of suspect sites. These are put together largely based on information that was provided from previous inspections. You remember UNSCOM and then UNMOVIC. Then they also have American and other foreign intelligence based on largely defector testimony that they might be able to find chemical or biological weapons at site X, Y, or Z. They will visit these sites systematically, but I think the most important thing they're going to do is be talking to the scientists and the military people who were in charge of these programs. Iraq is such a big country and he has had so many years to learn how to hide things, that, really, humans, as they call it, human intelligence will be the key to finding things or just hitting a lot of dry holes, as we've been doing so far.
Once a site is found and a suspicious material is found, samples of this material will be very carefully packed up and taken back to the camp, or at least wherever it is, and it will be analyzed by a set of mobile labs. They're not really mobile. They're kind of transportable. And they're very delicate. But they will be able to do extraordinarily sophisticated analysis of what that substance is. They will be able to do DNA fingerprinting. They will have the capability on site within a matter of just hours to provide a definitive assessment of what the substance is. This is a very great improvement over previous efforts to do this, where materials had to be sent back to the United States or back to a foreign lab. You have the capability and the analysts and the linguists all in one place. So we should get, once things really get rolling, a very timely assessment of what Saddam Hussein has and does not have.
Judith Miller, thanks for being with us.
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