2002 October 03 Thursday
Richard Spertzel on Iraqi biological weapons

Below are excerpts from a statement by Richard O. Spertzel, VMD, Ph.D., former head of the biology section of the UN Special Commission on Iraq before the US House Armed Services Committee on the state of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. Spertzel delivered this statement Sept, 10, 2002.

The first excerpt recalls just how long Iraq has been pursuing the development of biological weapons. Note the intent from the beginning to develop biological weapons for terrorist and covert purposes:

Iraq's Biological Weapons Program, Then and Now: Iraq asserts that its BW program began in 1985 and dismisses the earlier BW investigations that began in late 1972/early 1973 as being insignificant. From its inception in the 1970s, Iraq's BW program included both military and terrorist applications. The program included bacteria, viruses, toxins, and agents causing plant diseases. The agents included lethal and incapacitating agents for humans and economic damaging agents. The program sought enhanced virulence, environmental and antibiotic resistance, and aerosol dispersion. In other words, this was a well planned, broadly encompassing program. The covert (terrorist and assassination) feature of Iraq's program was not actively pursued by UNSCOM.

BW Program under Intelligence Service/Special Security Organization: The evidence suggests that Iraq's BW program was under the Intelligence Service/SSO. Much of this information came from senior Iraqi personnel, during the course of interviews. Hard evidence as might be expected is lacking.

Iraq's BW program (and, initially, it appears its chemical weapons (CW) program as well) was founded and funded by Iraq's Intelligence Service with some limited technical input from Iraq's Ministry of Defense. A variety of cover organizations were used to conceal the program including the Ministries of Interior, Health, and Higher Education and Scientific Research. From its inception, there were two distinct interests for the program. One dealt with the pursuit of agents that had small scale, covert application and the other would have application to larger scale strategic/military purpose.

Note the development of aflatoxin. It has no purpose on conventional battlefields because its effects are long term.

BW Program End of 1990: By any definition, in 1990/1991, Iraq's BW program was in an accelerating expansion phase. Iraq's bacterial BW capabilities were reasonably well established, including its ability for production, concentration, spray drying, and delivery to produce a readily dispersable small particle aerosol. Iraq was well underway in establishing a virus research, development, and production capability, but had not reached weaponization potential. Iraq had demonstrated an anticrop capability. It had demonstrated a mycotoxin capability. Although there was no information on an anti-animal program, such agents were well within Iraq's capability. Along with its agent production, Iraq was developing a weapons delivery capability, apparently for both short range and intermediate range delivery. The agents included lethal, incapacitating, and agricultural biological warfare agents. There is a major disparity between the amount of agent declared as produced by Iraq and that estimated by UNSCOM experts.

A serious issue concerns Iraq's interest in and weaponization of aflatoxin. It is apparent that Iraq's interest was in its long-term carcinogenic and liver toxicity effect rather than any short-term effects. One can only wonder what was the intended target population.

Was UNSCOM effectual? Well, Iraq was expanding its biological weapons program during the UNSCOM inspections era:

Iraq's BW program in 1998: Although Iraq claims that it "obliterated" the program in 1991 (without the supervision by the UN as was set out in the ceasefire resolution 687, April 1991), and in so doing it destroyed all weapons and bulk agents unilaterally without any further documentation. The evidence indicates rather that Iraq continued to expand its BW capabilities. UNSCOM monitoring, while useful in hindering Iraq's program, was not successful in preventing some degree of continuation of Iraq's BW investigations.

Expert panels concluded that it was not certain that Iraq had indeed "obliterated" its BW program. Documentation recovered by UNSCOM indicated a continued build up of Iraq's BW program capability. The organizations associated with its BW program continued to acquire and attempted to acquire equipment that would enhance its BW capability.

A new inspection regime under the old rules last in effect 1998 with the same lack of support by the UN Security Council (ie with UNSC permanent members France, China, and Russia actively colluding with Saddam to keep the powers of the inspectors weak) would be a farce:

UNSCOM was able to generate a lot of evidence that Iraqi declarations were not accurate. As regards the accuracy and completeness of Iraq's declaration and the likelihood that it was continuing its BW program, nothing has occurred to change the opinion of the experts. Nor does it appear, in spite of the lip-service that is given to getting inspectors back into Iraq, that there has been any material change in the support that an inspection regime might expect from UNSC P5 members. It appears that most of the proposals for getting inspectors back into Iraq is based on the premise that "any inspectors are better than none." To be blunt, that is pure rubbish, just an illusion of inspections. Even while UNSCOM inspectors were still operable, Iraq was constantly trying to restrict monitoring inspectors activities, curb their access, and require notification of inspections, even to monitored sites. Such limitations to monitoring would make such a regime a farce; under such circumstances, monitoring inspectors would be worse than no inspectors because it would provide an inappropriate illusion of compliance to the world community. What countries really believe and what they will espouse are most likely two entirely different views. I was told by a senior diplomat in 1998 "it would not matter if you placed a BW-laden Al Hussein warhead that you found in Iraq on the UNSC table, it would not change opinions about lifting sanctions". He added "if the CW and missile files are closed, the world will not care about biology." It appears to me that this may still be the viewpoint of several nations.

Here Spertzel makes an incredibly important point: Monitoring teams are not set up for discovery. Saddam can hide things from monitoring teams because the teams lack sufficient powers of investigation and they are working in a country where the populace is far far more afraid of Saddam than they are of the inspectors. Also, I added emphasis to the final paragraph of this excerpt for what it says about the UN Security Council. The UNSC has a history of not supporting the inspection teams and the same permanent UNSC members which worked to undermine inspections in the past by tolerating Saddam's obstruction will do so again. The UNSC is useless for the purpose of trying to stop WMD proliferation.

Monitoring: Monitoring teams, unlike popular misperception, are not set up for discovery, e.g., finding undeclared sites or completing unfinished proscribed program investigations. Rather these teams were designed to be a deterrent to reconstituting a proscribed program using dual-use equipment at declared sites. In UNSCOM terminology this meant the large-scale military relevant programs; it did not address the very low-scale required for terrorist purposes. Implementation of monitoring by UNSCOM was predicated on Iraq fully and willingly cooperating with UNSCOM; that did not happen. Iraq would only give up and can be expected to give up only what the inspectors can find and prove.

It was also predicated on Iraq providing full and complete disclosure of its proscribed BW program; that did not happen. It was also predicated on Iraq making full and accurate disclosure of all facilities containing dual use equipment and capability; that did not happen.

To be effective, the monitoring system must pose a reasonable risk to Iraq of the monitoring system detecting violations of a significant scale. Even under the best of circumstances it would be almost impossible to detect small-scale research, development, and production of BW agents by a State determined to conduct such activities. Without a sense of certainty by Iraq that there would be severe repercussions by a united UNSC, monitoring does not have a chance of true success.

A fundamental requirement for monitoring to be effective depends not only on having highly qualified inspectors but equally important on full support by the UNSC. Past history indicates that Iraq can hinder and in some cases outright block inspectors with impunity and then attempt to blame the incidents on the inspectors. The UNSC does not seem able to equate failure to cooperate with failure to comply.

In this section Spertzel hammers home the point that Saddam isn't just developing bioweapons for battlefield use. At the same time, it is extremely hard to trace back bioterrorism attacks to their point of origin. An example of Saddam's intent in this regard is his development of aflatoxin. So does Saddam want to be able to able to conduct attacks for which he can deny involvement? Seems obvious:

Bioterrorism Threat: The world's press in recent weeks has cited the opposition of most nations in the Middle East and Europe to any action against Iraq. It is cited that Iraq is weakened and does not pose any immediate and significant threat. It seems to me this does not address the terrorist threat posed by Iraq's WMD programs. One would think after 9/11, a more realistic appraisal of Iraq's capability and willingness to use WMD as terrorist weapons would be forthcoming. As I cited above, Iraq's BW program from its inception included a terrorist component.

The threat that Iraq's BW program poses as a bioterrorist weapon to any of its perceived enemies is enormous. While much attention is focused on bioterrorism against people, the economic devastation that could be wreaked on the food animal or food crop industry may be far greater in the long term effect. Clearly the greater danger for the US at home and abroad that is posed by Iraq's WMD activities is the potential for its use in terrorism, whether by Iraq directly or through support to terrorist organizations. Should Iraq be involved with using its BW expertise in bioterrorist activities, it may be impossible to find a "smoking gun" that would implicate Iraq. BW agents are unlikely to have a signature that will definitively pinpoint a laboratory or a country as the origin.

Concern for BW terrorism is not limited to immediate manifestation of such uses. It is worth recalling Iraq's developing and alleged weaponization of aflatoxin. Such an agent has no military relevant application and would only have relevance where an enemy did not know it was attacked or could not fight back. Iraq has shown a willingness to use CW agents on its neighbor and its own population, might it also have used or intended to use aflatoxin on such defenseless populations? It takes ten years or more for aflatoxin to manifest its carcinogenic and liver damaging effects.2

Spertzel thinks Saddam's Bioweapons threat is greater now than in 1990 and in very dangerous ways. The added ability to do genetic engineering to pathogens is frightening:

It has had 12 years to advance its viral capability and, as I have cited elsewhere, this almost certainly includes smallpox as an agent. Even more ominous is Iraq's successful efforts to acquire the necessary equipment and reagents for adding genetic engineering to its BW repertoire. This was particularly alarming because, at the same time, key personnel in Iraq's virus and bioengineering BW program were no longer functional at their stated work locations. There is no doubt in my mind that Iraq has a much stronger BW program today than it had in 1990. Perhaps of most concern would be anthrax and tularemia bacteria and smallpox virus as well as antianimal and anticrop agents.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 October 03 12:12 AM  Inspections and Sanctions


Comments
Ricky Gamboa said at November 21, 2002 3:35 PM:

During the Gulf War Saddam unleashed some of his biological weaponry on us (U.S. Army). Many soldiers returned home with severe medical problems which in some cases I heared even carried over into their offsprings. This was quickly stifled by our government because it would be costly to admit this problem publicly....1) Never ending expense of treating veterans and possible law suits, 2) Bad publicity which could hurt recruiting new people into the military. WHY wasn't this widely published in the media??? Maybe because it would have taken away the "Thunder" of our government's quick/miraculously minimal casualties declared victory. But we had many casualties who will be suffering until they die from Saddam's biological agents he used on us. Our present President is doing the right thing of getting rid of this MANIAC. If only his father finished the job he started back in 1991. Signed, Retired Veteran
USMC 1979-1988/US ARMY 1990-1998

Randall Parker said at November 21, 2002 6:43 PM:

Ricky, I agree. I think how the Gulf War vets were treated is a disgrace. A medical researcher named Garth Nicolson has found evidence linking Gulf War Syndrome to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. He has sensitive tests for detecting mycoplasma infections. See this google search for more relevant information.


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