Sunday, February 16, 2003

Two Potent Iraq Weapons: Denial & Deception

In the Chicago Tribune, Stephen Hadley, Deputy National Security Advisor to the Bush administration, writes:

Hussein's Regime Behaves as if It Has Something to Hide

After World War II, western intelligence agencies estimated that the
Soviet Union would possess nuclear weapons by the mid-1950s. In 1949,
the Soviets detonated a nuclear bomb. The world thought it knew the
scope of North Korea's nuclear efforts -- until U.S. intelligence
discovered a covert uranium enrichment program.

Iraq's record of deception, however, is unparalleled. For at least 25
years, the Iraqi regime has been intent on developing nuclear weapons.
These technologies are hard to detect and easy to conceal -- even in
the face of continued inspections.

Beginning in 1972, despite International Atomic Energy Agency
inspections every six months, Saddam Hussein maintained an extensive,
secret nuclear weapons program, costing several billion dollars.

Only after the Persian Gulf war did the world learn of Iraq's program.
And if not for that, Iraq could have completed a nuclear weapon by
1993, several years earlier than most estimates of the time.

How could Iraq have concealed such a program so effectively?

Former IAEA inspector David Kay has described the regime's methods.
When procuring key materials, regime officials lied about and refused
to reveal the material's intended use. They created front companies to
buy prohibited equipment. Iraqi personnel, posing as investors,
infiltrated legitimate foreign companies to use them as fronts for
illicit purchases.

Inside Iraq, regime officials controlled which IAEA personnel were
allowed to conduct inspections. They allowed visiting inspectors
access to small areas of key sites. For instance, agency inspectors
could visit only three of the almost 100 buildings at the Al Tuwaitha
facility, which was then home to both Iraq's legitimate nuclear
activity and much of its secret weapons program. Some illicit
facilities were concealed within buildings that appeared to have
legitimate uses. Equipment was frequently moved.

The agency gradually became aware of the Iraqi regime's deceptions but
could not defeat them. Hans Blix, then the director general of the
IAEA, summed up this activity to the UN Security Council in March
1992: "Iraq has often followed a pattern of denial of clandestine
activities until the evidence is overwhelming, followed by cooperation
until the next case of concealment is revealed. The denials of
activities have in many cases been accompanied by active concealment
and deception."

That assessment was proved true once again in 1995. After almost four
years of inspections, the IAEA reported to the Security Council that
"the essential components of Iraq's past clandestine nuclear program
have been identified and ... that the scope of the past program is
well understood."

Yet just a few months later, because of information provided by Iraqi
defector and former head of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
programs, Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel, the regime had to admit in detail
how it cheated on its nuclear non-proliferation commitments. This led
to the discovery that in January 1991, Iraq was, according to the
IAEA, ready "to commence the recovery of the highly enriched uranium
from the safeguarded research reactor fuel." Only the gulf war, and
the bombing of the facility, stopped the Iraqis from extracting the
uranium needed to build a nuclear weapon.

Given Iraq's success at hiding its nuclear weapons programs, and the
difficulty of finding what a regime does not want to be found, we
should be cautious when assessing the state of Iraq's nuclear program.

With its trained nuclear scientists and a weapons design, all Saddam
Hussein lacks is the necessary plutonium or enriched uranium. Iraq has
an active procurement program. According to British intelligence, the
regime has tried to acquire natural uranium from abroad. It is also
trying to import and develop specialized magnets, high-speed balancing
machines and other hardware needed to build the centrifuges that can
produce enriched uranium. Through front companies, Iraq has tried
recently to import high-strength aluminum tubes with tolerances
suitable for centrifuges -- and that far exceed the requirements for
conventional weapons.

Iraq behaves like a regime with something to hide. It is withholding
crucial information about its nuclear programs. Instead of turning
over key documents, it first refused to acknowledge the existence of
such documents. Confronted with irrefutable evidence and increasing
international pressure, the regime began to disclose documents
piecemeal, falling far short of full disclosure. Despite Iraqi claims
that it had destroyed all remaining documents related to its nuclear
programs, inspectors recently found a large cache of such documents
hidden in a private home. And the Iraqi regime continues to intimidate
scientists to prevent them from being interviewed in conditions of

All of these facts point to a sustained, wide-ranging effort to
develop nuclear weapons, which threatens the international community.
This regime has cheated inspectors before; it has cheated sanctions
for years. It has proven that its nuclear ambitions cannot be

That we cannot precisely trace Iraq's progress should not be a cause
for comfort but a cause for alarm. In this case, it is precisely what
we don't know that could cause us the gravest harm.