Sunday, September 25, 2005

Iraq Week: The Shifting Sands of Reality Don't Hide WMD....

...But alas they do seem to have swallowed up Saddam's weapons makers. A fascinating and frightening article in this month's Mother Jones talks about how Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program might not have existed at the time of the American/British/Australian/Fijian invasion, but the scientists that had worked on it certainly did. And now they, and their deadly knowledge, are almost all missing. As the article's author Kurt Pitzer puts it:

They were Iraq's only real WMDs. The U.S. refused to secure them. Now Saddam's nuclear and bioweapons scientists are dispersed and more dangerous than ever.

It's not as if the (Bush) administration hasn't talked about the danger posed by Saddam's WMD scientists. Whether Iraq had actual weapons or just 'capabilities" didn't matter, it has long argued: even capabilities could leak out to terrorist groups... Nobody knows how many Iraqi scientists may have been lured over the borders into Iran, Syria, or beyond. Nobody knows because nobody is keeping tabs. But several observers agree that so little attantion is being paid to Iraq's scientists, the war may have actually increased the chances of nuclear capabilities proliferating beyond the country's borders. Between its unemployed scientists and the disapperance of large amounts of WMD-related materials from former weapons sites, Iraq now poses a nightmare scenario, according to Ray McGovern, who spent 27 years analyzing intelligence for the CIA. McGovern says "Before we invaded, there was no evidence that Iraq had any plan or incentive to proliferate. They didn't even have a current plan to develop WMD. They just hadn't been doing it. Now, my God, we have a magnet attracting all manner of foreign jihadists to a place where WMD expertise is suddenly unprotected. It just boggles the mind."

The exact number of scientists and technicians who worked on Saddam's WMD programs is unkown but it is estimated to be in the thousands. To date, only one (Mahdi Obeidi) has been brought safely to the United States. Indeed, Obeidi tried to surrender to the military, intelligence agencies, and even journalists only to have the US government ignore him until the Army, acting independently of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, and the state department, smashed in his front door and arrested him. Given that at least twelve other well known scientists who had surrendered had been imprisoned without charge (one was beaten to death in jail) Obeidi was understandably concerned, and after the CIA took him away from the Army's clutches he was able to give an interview to CNN and through visibilty buy himself some protection. Not long after interrogating Obeidi, the CIA posted detailed excerpts of documents and schematics Obeidi had handed over and bragged about the imformation he had given them on the agency's website. To quote Pitzer, "Buried for 12 years, some of Saddam's hoard of nuclear knowledge got out because of the US government, not in spite of it."

I could rant and rage about this for eons, and to little effect other than to raise my blood pressure and not move the serious work of securing this dangerous and terrible knowledge forward one inch. So instead, let me return to Pitzer's article and former CIA case officer Robert Baer for an eloquent and chilling conclusion:

"The proliferation risk is higher than it was before, and a chaotic situation means this technology is going to spread," says Baer, who spent 21 years as a CIA case officer in the Middle East. If the administration had been serious about neutralizing Saddam's weapons program, he says, "the troops would have been securing equipment at weapons sites as they invaded, and they would have been looking for scientists... It tells you that this war had nothing to do with WMD."

Next up in this Iraq Week series: If we didn't go to war to get serious about WMD, the secondary reason given was to spread freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. What do we do then when the Iraqi concept of freedom and democracy is antethical to our stated goal of regional stability?

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