Thursday, June 30, 2005

Hussein's Pesticides

We still hear the "no WMD! Iraq war unjustified!" mantra.

Not that there are other key strategic reasons for the war other than the narrow issue of chemical weapons.

And nevermind his ballistic missile program -- which nobody denies! -- was just as much a material breach of the UN resolutions and the GWI cease-fire agreements as the chemical weapons would be.

But let's still review, as this straw-man will be a rallying-cry of scoundrels forever unless it's completely discredited.

Fact #1 is we KNOW Hussein had chemical weapons stockpiles, since he used them. And Clinton bombed them in 1998.

Fact #2 is we KNOW the UN inspections team STILL has not been able to account for several tons of nerve gas and other deadly biological agents that it believes Hussein produced. Somehow failing to find them is taken to mean they never existed, but the logic doesn't hold up.

Fact #3 is we KNOW, from the ISG report, that Hussein maintained programs to start up production as soon as he felt it would be feasible.

Fact #4 is we KNOW that Hussein KNEW that inspectors were popping in and out, so surely he wouldn't be so dumb as to leave big warehouses full of crates of chemical shells sitting around, would he?

Yet such warehouses are apparently the only thing that will satisfy the ankle-biters, since of course they know such athing would be an absurdity, so they can ankle-bite with impunity until kingdom-come (which may be sooner than they think, if they get their way...)

So if YOU were an evil dictator, what would YOU do to hide your program?

Hid it in plain sight, maybe, in the form of ambiguous dual-use chemicals?

Check out this story, from a year ago!

When former weapons inspector Kay reported to Congress in January that the United States had found "no stockpiles" of forbidden weapons in Iraq, his conclusions made front-page news. But when he detailed what the ISG had found in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last October, few took notice.
In testimony before Congress on March 30, Duelfer, revealed that the ISG had found evidence of a "crash program" to construct new plants capable of making chemical- and biological-warfare agents. The ISG also found a previously undeclared program to build a "high-speed rail gun," a device apparently designed for testing nuclear-weapons materials. That came in addition to 500 tons of natural uranium stockpiled at Iraq's main declared nuclear site south of Baghdad, which International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky acknowledged to Insight had been intended for "a clandestine nuclear-weapons program."

In taking apart Iraq's clandestine procurement network, Duelfer said his investigators had discovered that "the primary source of illicit financing for this system was oil smuggling conducted through government-to-government protocols negotiated with neighboring countries [and] from kickback payments made on contracts set up through the U.N. oil-for-food program" [see "Documents Prove U.N. Oil Corruption," April 27-May 10].

What the president's critics and the media widely have portrayed as the most dramatic failure of the U.S. case against Saddam has been the claimed failure to find "stockpiles" of chemical and biological weapons. But in a June 2003 Washington Post op-ed, former chief U.N. weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus called such criticism "a distortion and a trivialization of a major threat to international peace and security."
Until now, Bush's critics say, no stockpiles of CW agents made with those precursors have been found. The snap conclusion they draw is that the administration "lied" to the American people to create a pretext for invading Iraq.

But what are "stockpiles" of CW agents supposed to look like? Was anyone seriously expecting Saddam to have left behind freshly painted warehouses packed with chemical munitions, all neatly laid out in serried rows, with labels written in English? Or did they think that a captured Saddam would guide U.S. troops to smoking vats full of nerve gas in an abandoned factory? In fact, as recent evidence made public by a former operations officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA's) intelligence unit in Iraq shows, some of those stockpiles have been found - not all at once, and not all in nice working order - but found all the same.
But another reason for the media silence may stem from the seemingly undramatic nature of the "finds" Hanson and others have described. The materials that constitute Saddam's chemical-weapons "stockpiles" look an awful lot like pesticides, which they indeed resemble. "Pesticides are the key elements in the chemical-agent arena," Hanson says. "In fact, the general pesticide chemical formula (organophosphate) is the 'grandfather' of modern-day nerve agents."
When coalition forces entered Iraq, "huge warehouses and caches of 'commercial and agricultural' chemicals were seized and painstakingly tested by Army and Marine chemical specialists," Hanson writes. "What was surprising was how quickly the ISG refuted the findings of our ground forces and how silent they have been on the significance of these caches."
At Karbala, U.S. troops stumbled upon 55-gallon drums of pesticides at what appeared to be a very large "agricultural supply" area, Hanson says. Some of the drums were stored in a "camouflaged bunker complex" that was shown to reporters - with unpleasant results. "More than a dozen soldiers, a Knight-Ridder reporter, a CNN cameraman, and two Iraqi POWs came down with symptoms consistent with exposure to a nerve agent," Hanson says. "But later ISG tests resulted in a proclamation of negative, end of story, nothing to see here, etc., and the earlier findings and injuries dissolved into nonexistence. Left unexplained is the small matter of the obvious pains taken to disguise the cache of ostensibly legitimate pesticides. One wonders about the advantage an agricultural-commodities business gains by securing drums of pesticide in camouflaged bunkers 6 feet underground. The 'agricultural site' was also colocated with a military ammunition dump - evidently nothing more than a coincidence in the eyes of the ISG."

That wasn't the only significant find by coalition troops of probable CW stockpiles, Hanson believes. Near the northern Iraqi town of Bai'ji, where Saddam had built a chemical-weapons plant known to the United States from nearly 12 years of inspections, elements of the 4th Infantry Division found 55-gallon drums containing a substance identified through mass spectrometry analysis as cyclosarin - a nerve agent. Nearby were surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, gas masks and a mobile laboratory that could have been used to mix chemicals at the site. "Of course, later tests by the experts revealed that these were only the ubiquitous pesticides that everybody was turning up," Hanson says. "It seems Iraqi soldiers were obsessed with keeping ammo dumps insect-free, according to the reading of the evidence now enshrined by the conventional wisdom that 'no WMD stockpiles have been discovered.'"
The discoveries Hanson describes are not dramatic. And that's the problem: Finding real stockpiles in grubby ammo dumps doesn't fit the image the media and the president's critics carefully have fed to the public of what Iraq's weapons ought to look like.

A senior administration official who has gone through the intelligence reporting from Iraq as well as the earlier reports from U.N. arms inspectors refers to another well-documented allegation. "The Iraqis admitted they had made 3.9 tons of VX," a powerful nerve gas, but claimed they had never weaponized it. The U.N. inspectors "felt they had more. But where did it go?" The Iraqis never provided any explanation of what had happened to their VX stockpiles.


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