Nuclear Needles in an Iraqi Haystack
Lies and Bugging Are Keeping Them Hidden
by Gary Milhollin
The Washington Post
June 28, 1992, p. C4.
With little fanfare, the United Nations has dramatically increased
its effort in Iraq to detect stockpiles and production sites of
weapons of mass destruction still hidden by Saddam Hussein's regime.
Late last week, the U.N. began unannounced helicopter flights
to suspected sites for the first time in the effort to decapitate
the mass-weapons complex. The intensified inspections were initiated
because inspection teams are running out of intelligence leads and
time and still have not found all Saddam's nuclear, chemical, biological
and missile sites.
The inspectors' success has always depended on intelligence, such
as a defector's tip or a satellite photo that triggered a site visit.
But as Iraqi concealment has intensified, such leads have dried
up. "I'd send in a team [every] week if I could," a U.N. official
told me recently, "but I don't know where to tell them to go."
And as the visits yield ever more meager results, pressure is
building within the U.N. to stop looking for new sites and simply
monitor what's already found.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which visits the
sites the U.N. designates, is part of this pressure. "Practically
the largest part of Iraq's nuclear program has now been identified,"
said Maurizio Zifferero, who leads the IAEA's Iraq visits. "Probably
what is missing is just details."
But Rolf Ekeus, who heads the U.N. inspection effort, disagrees.
He has repeatedly said that vital parts of Saddam's nuclear program
are still to be found.
U.N. inspectors think Iraq has built an undetected experimental
array of centrifuges called a cascade to purify uranium to weapons
grade level. The inspectors are also looking for missiles. They
know that of the 819 Scud missiles Iraq bought from the Soviet Union,
487 were fired in battle, used in tests, or otherwise destroyed,
including 93 fired in the Persian Gulf War. But Iraq refuses to
reveal launch records, so the overall number of expended rockets
cannot be verified. The CIA is known to believe 200 or more Iraqi
Scuds are still hidden.
Part of the cause for concern is the recent belief in Washington
that despite Pentagon claims of having destroyed numerous mobile
Scud launchers and support vehicles, it is now thought that U.S.
Air Force fighter-bombers failed to bomb any Scud missiles during
Desert Storm's air campaign. Neither U.N. inspectors nor Pentagon
spokesmen can now confirm that a single operational Iraqi Scud was
it by an American bomber. U.S. pilots did destroy some fixed Scud
launchers in the desert, but no missiles were near them.
The U.N. inspectors are also looking for a second Iraqi missile,
the Badr-2000, better known as the Condor II. It can fly 600 miles,
three times farther than the Scud, and is big enough to carry nuclear
warheads. U.N. inspectors report finding the factory where the first
stage was built but have no information about second stage or guidance
Egypt and Argentina, which joined with Iraq to develop the missile
in the 1980s, could shed light on the program, but inspectors say
they have received no help.
Chemical weapons are also a worry, but the inspectors found that
Iraqi nerve gas was only 2 to 7 percent pure (by comparison, U.S.
gas is over 90 percent pure) and degrades rapidly. But U.S. intelligence
sources say manufacture of biological weapons, which unlike lethal
chemical weapons can be produced in small spaces without elaborate
apparatus, may already have resumed at sites the U.N. has not visited
since last summer. There are also thousands of buildings and bunkers
in Iraq that have never been inspected. The invasive new tactics
attack this problem.
The plan's advocates envision inspectors living in Baghdad semi-permanently
instead of the customary periodic arrivals on two days' notice.
From there they can make daily helicopter flights to suspected weapons
sites, making concealment and manufacture more difficult.
Only two or three inspectors have moved to Baghdad, with more
likely to follow. U.N. officials worry about questions of control
and logistic support. The U.N. now has secure telephones, so New
York managers can talk to inspectors in the field. But the inspectors
have complained that Iraq's penchant for electronic bugging makes
secure communications impossible, either among themselves in their
hotels or with New York.
The Bush administration wants the U.N. to set up a secure office
complex near an Iraqi airport, with support personnel for a score
or more inspectors and rooms shielded from bugging. The U.N. has
already moved 35 German airmen and their helicopters to Baghdad,
enough to keep several inspectors flying every day. "The Iraqis,"
said one inspector, "really hate the helicopters."
U.S. officials say that a score of inspectors in Baghdad could
saturate the few areas where there is enough industrial infrastructure
for Iraq to mount a major missile or nuclear production. The theory
is that continuous inspection would force Iraq to move equipment
-- and be detected.
Thus, Saddam could be convinced that continued resistance to the
inspections will only prolong the embargo for nothing.
Iraq still rejects the U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring
full disclosure and long-term monitoring of its mass-weapons programs.
Baghdad recently filed what it called "full, final and complete"
disclosure, but the inspectors found little new in it. They are
certain there is a lot more to be found.
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