IRAQI SCIENTIST UNRAVELS A LAYER OF SADDAM'S WMD PROGRAM
An excerpt from the NYT:
Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert
By JUDITH MILLER
ITH THE 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION, south of Baghdad, Iraq, April 20 — A scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program for more than a decade has told an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began, members of the team said.
They said the scientist led Americans to a supply of material that proved to be the building blocks of illegal weapons, which he claimed to have buried as evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs.
The scientist also told American weapons experts that Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid-1990's, and that more recently Iraq was cooperating with Al Qaeda, the military officials said.
The Americans said the scientist told them that President Saddam Hussein's government had destroyed some stockpiles of deadly agents as early as the mid-1990's, transferred others to Syria, and had recently focused its efforts instead on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq's giant weapons plants.
An American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, or MET Alpha, which found the scientist, declined to identify him, saying they feared he might be subject to reprisals. But they said that they considered him credible and that the material unearthed over the last three days at sites to which he led them had proved to be precursors for a toxic agent that is banned by chemical weapons treaties.
The officials' account of the scientist's assertions and the discovery of the buried material, which they described as the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons, supports the Bush administration's charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it. Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.
The officials' accounts also provided an explanation for why United States forces had not yet turned up banned weapons in Iraq. The failure to find such weapons has become a political issue in Washington.
Under the terms of her accreditation to report on the activities of MET Alpha, this reporter was not permitted to interview the scientist or visit his home. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials.
Those officials asked that details of what chemicals were uncovered be deleted. They said they feared that such information could jeopardize the scientist's safety by identifying the part of the weapons program where he worked.
The MET Alpha team said it reported its findings to Washington after testing the buried material and checking the scientist's identity with experts in the United States. A report was sent to the White House on Friday, experts said.
Military spokesmen at the Pentagon and at Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, said they could not confirm that an Iraqi chemical weapons scientist was providing American forces with new information.
The scientist was found by a team headed by Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzales, the leader of MET Alpha, one of several teams charged with hunting for unconventional weapons throughout Iraq. Departing from his team's assigned mission, Mr. Gonzales and his team of specialists from the Defense Intelligence Agency tracked down the scientist on Thursday through a series of interviews and increasingly frantic site visits.
¶ 8:41 AM