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Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003 17:44:59 -0700 From: ILC <[email protected]> Subject: WMD: America can be its own worst enemy To: Recipient List Suppressed: ;
Weapons of Mass Destruction in Our Midst America can be its own worst enemy
By Scott Ritter
Monday, September 8, 2003 ©2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback www.sfgate.com
URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2 003/09/08/ED302243.DTL
In February, Secretary of State Colin Powell displayed for the U.N. Security Council detailed drawings of truck- and train-mounted mobile biological weapons laboratories alleged to be in the possession of Iraq. The basis for this analysis was an Iraqi defector whose credibility was certified not by the quality or accuracy of the provided data, but rather the political environment of post-Sept. 11, which automatically upgraded the status of any intelligence information, no matter how sketchy, that sustained the charges that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
The discovery by U.S. forces in Iraq of two mobile "biological weapons laboratories" was touted by President Bush as clear evidence that Iraq possessed illegal weapons capabilities. However, it now is clear that these so- called labs were nothing more than hydrogen generation units based upon British technology acquired by Iraq in the 1980s, used to fill weather balloons in support of conventional artillery operations, and have absolutely no application for the production of biological agents.
While Iraq has not been shown to possess the alleged mobile biological labs (or any other weapon of mass destruction, for that matter), fear within the U. S. national security community over the potential existence of such labs in Iraq led the United States to order mobile biological laboratories to be constructed in America, ostensibly for training elite U.S. special operations forces on how to disable the Iraqi labs once discovered.
It now appears that the only place in the world where labs similar to those described by Powell actually exist is here, in the United States. Worse, according to the New York Times, the scientist responsible for the design and construction of the U.S. mobile biological lab is under suspicion by the FBI of using this technology to produce the dry powder anthrax used in the October 2001 letter attack that killed seven Americans. This same scientist was allegedly behind similar "defensive" research that identified anthrax- impregnated letters as an ideal platform for delivering the deadly biological agent.
So, when it comes to the only major biological attack conducted against the United States, the available information points to the likelihood that the attack originated in the United States, using technology and techniques developed as part of a defensive biological weapons program that was a product of bad intelligence about Iraq's biological weapons program.
The Bush administration is getting ready to compound this problem by expanding similar "defensive" biological weapons research programs. For example, the Department of Energy is fast-tracking the construction at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory of a Biosafety Level-3 facility to conduct defensive biological research that would entail, according to the draft environmental assessment submitted in support of the project, the production of ". . . small amounts of biological material (enzymes, DNA, ribonucleic acid [RNA], etc.) using infectious agents and genetically modified agents . . . which may cause serious or potentially lethal or debilitating effects on humans, plants and animal hosts."
The Lawrence Livermore Lab is but one of several bio-defense projects that have sprung up in response to the requirements of both the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense to protect Americans from biological threats, real or imagined, that have emerged in the national psyche since Sept. 11.
Why do we need these labs? Is there a threat to American security requiring the development of facilities that, given the high possibility of accident or compromise, actually put the United States at greater risk from the work being carried out inside than the threats they are designed to protect us from?
The hyped-up threat assessments used by the Bush administration in the build-up to the war in Iraq, combined with similar statements made about the biological weapons capabilities of other nations (witness Undersecretary of State John Bolton's now discredited remarks concerning Cuba's alleged bioweapons program), show there is a great deal to be concerned about when it comes to trusting the intelligence that serves as the basis of our legitimate national defense.
Congress needs to carry out assiduously its oversight responsibilities to ensure that legitimate national security, and not partisan politics, drives the intelligence our nation depends on for its defense. While the United States must reserve the right to do that which is necessary to defend itself from all threats, the fact is that a sound nonproliferation policy that embraces true multilateral disarmament agreements uniformly implemented and enforced (including the United States) would far better serve the national interest than the current Bush post-Sept. 11 policy of knee-jerk response to unsustained or nonexistent threats (which actually accelerates the proliferation of the very threats we are trying to shield ourselves from). Such policies, if left unchecked, make the United States, in regards to the possibility of attack from WMD, its own worst enemy.
Scott Ritter is a former U.N. weapons inspector and author of ""Frontier Justice: WMD and the Bushwhacking of America'' (Context Books, 2003).
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