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Sunday, October 26, 2003

Iraq's non-proliferation policy

There's an interesting story in today's Washington Post overviewing what the US knows about Iraq's nuclear weapons program. While it includes the usual warning (i.e., that Saddam Hussein would have loved to possess them), it also makes clear that Iraq really had no program after 1991:
Among the closely held internal judgments of the Iraq Survey Group, overseen by David Kay as special representative of CIA Director George J. Tenet, are that Iraq's nuclear weapons scientists did no significant arms-related work after 1991, that facilities with suspicious new construction proved benign, and that equipment of potential use to a nuclear program remained under seal or in civilian industrial use.
Perhaps the most outlandish political spin in the article is buried towards the end:
An administration official, defending the CIA's prewar analysis, said its message had been widely misunderstood. "The term 'reconstituting' means restoring to a former condition, a process often inferred to be short term," he said. "Based on reporting, however, Saddam clearly viewed it as a long-term process. So did the NIE."
Is that why administration officials kept referring to mushroom clouds? Because it was a long-term process?

There are plenty of details in the long story. For example, remember those aluminum tubes that the President mentioned during the fall 2002 debate?
investigators have judged the aluminum tubes to be "innocuous," according to Australian Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Meekin, who commands the Joint Captured Enemy Materiel Exploitation Center, the largest of a half-dozen units that report to Kay. That finding is pivotal, because the Bush administration built its case on the proposition that Iraq aimed to use those tubes as centrifuge rotors to enrich uranium for the core of a nuclear warhead.

... [several paragraphs snipped]

"They were rockets," said Meekin, 48, director general of scientific and technical assessment for Australia's Defence Intelligence Organisation, speaking by satellite telephone from Baghdad. "The tubes were used for rockets."
The story includes a lot of detail about the intelligence and even clarifies the story about the buried blueprints for a centrifuge.

Meekin is quoted at the very end of the piece saying that he thinks the sanctions turned out to be quite effective. The US needs to have a public debate about anti-proliferation strategy, as I said yesterday, so this is a very important point. Hopefully, some of the Democrats running for President will push this question.

Kay's team apparently knows that the nuclear threat was non-existent. The Post reports that hardly any of the investigators are looking into it:
On the ground in Iraq, one investigator said, the nuclear investigation began as and remained "the least significant of the missions." The resources, personnel and operational pace of the nuclear team, he said, "were minuscule compared to chem and bio," a reference to chemical and biological weapons probes.

Fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of the search personnel had nuclear assignments, about a dozen out of 1,500 at the peak strength of the Iraq Survey Group....

"There really wasn't a need for our specialized area of work," Navy Cmdr. David Beckett said in a recent interview. In Iraq, Beckett commanded a group of nuclear-trained Special Forces known as the Direct Support Team. Now program manager for special nuclear programs at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Beckett said the aluminum tubes and machine tools cited in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate -- vacuum tubes, industrial magnets and balancing machines -- were "not a big focus" of his work in Iraq. He added, "To be honest, I've read more about that since I got back."
I'd recommend reading the full story.

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