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Last Updated

17 Mar 2003

Source: New York Times, March 16, 2003

Iraq Links Germs for Weapons to U.S. and France


WASHINGTON, March 15 Iraq has identified a Virginia-based biological supply house and a French scientific institute as the sources of all the foreign germ samples that it used to create the biological weapons that are still believed to be in Iraq's arsenal, according to American officials and foreign diplomats who have reviewed Iraq's latest weapons declaration to the United Nations.

The American supply house, the American Type Culture Collection of Manassas, Va., had previously been identified as an important supplier of anthrax and other germ samples to Iraq.

But the full extent of the sales by the Virginia supply house and the Pasteur Institute in Paris has never been made public by the United Nations, which received the latest weapons declaration from Iraq in December.

Nor was there any public suggestion before now that Iraq had apart from a small amount of home-grown germ samples depended exclusively on supplies from the United States and France in the 1980's in developing the biological weapons that American officials say are now believed to threaten troops massing around Iraq. The shipments were approved by the United States government in the 1980's, when the transfer of such pathogens for research was legal and easily arranged.

A copy of the pages of the Iraqi declaration dealing with biological weapons was provided to The New York Times, and it reveals the full variety of germs that Iraq says it obtained from abroad for its biological weapons program.

The document shows that the American and French supply houses shipped 17 types of biological agents to Iraq in the 1980's that were used in the weapons programs. Those included anthrax and the bacteria needed to make botulinum toxin, among the most deadly poisons known. It also discloses that Iraq had tried unsuccessfully to obtain biological agents in the late 1980's from other biological supply houses around the world.

The quantities of the agents were described in terms of ampuls, which are sealed glass or plastic containers about the size of test tubes.

Iraq has acknowledged that it used the American and French germ samples to produce tons of biological weapons in the 1980's. It has repeatedly insisted in recent years that the program was shut down, and all of the biological material destroyed, in the 1990's, an assertion that the United States and many other nations have said is demonstrably untrue.

The United States, France and other Western countries placed severe restrictions on the shipment of biological materials in the early 1990's, after the extent of Iraq's biological weapons program became clear in the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Spokesmen for the American Type Culture Collection and the Pasteur Institute said that they were not surprised that Iraq had identified them as the exclusive foreign suppliers of germ samples to its weapons programs. They said that all of their shipments had been legal and that they were made with the understanding that the agents would be used for research and medical purposes.

"A.T.C.C. could never have shipped these samples to Iraq without the Department of Commerce's approval for all requests," said Nancy J. Wysocki, vice president for human resources and public relations at the American Type Culture Collection, a nonprofit organization that is one of the world's leading biological supply houses. "They were sent for legitimate research purposes."

Michele Mock, a microbiologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said in a telephone interview: "In the 1980's, the rules were entirely different. If there was an official letter, there was no reason to avoid providing this material. One good thing now is that the rules have changed."

The Iraqi statement on its bioweapons was prepared by the Iraqis in 1997 and was incorporated in its entirety into the full weapons declaration provided to the United Nations last year, officials said.

The bioweapons declaration was obtained by Gary B. Pitts, a Houston lawyer who is representing ailing gulf war veterans in a lawsuit claiming that their illnesses were explained by exposure to chemical or biological weapons that were known to be in Iraq's arsenal in the war. United Nations officials confirmed the authenticity of the document.

Mr. Pitts said that American Type Culture Collection, which is a defendant in the lawsuit, and the Pasteur Institute should have known in the 1980's that "it was unreasonable to turn over something like this to Saddam, especially after he had used weapons of mass destruction in the past."

"It's ironic that we're now talking about going into Iraq to clean up these weapons," Mr. Pitts added.

He had previously made public a copy of Iraq's chemical weapons declaration. In it, the Baghdad government identified several major suppliers for its production of nerve gas and other chemical weapons. Apart from two small suppliers in the United States that are now defunct, most of the chemical suppliers identified in the report were European.

Jonathan Tucker, a former United Nations weapons inspector who is a visiting fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, said that the 1980's "were a more innocent time, and the default in those days was to supply these cultures to academic research labs without asking many questions."

"At the time, the U.S. government was tilting toward Iraq, was trying to improve relations with Iraq, and the tendency was not to scrutinize these requests," Mr. Tucker said.

But Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project, an arms control research group, said that the biological supply houses should have realized that Iraq might use the germ samples to make weapons, especially since it was known then that Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iranian troops in the Iran-Iraq war.

"If you know that the buying country is involved in a chemical weapons program, you have an obligation to ask some questions rather than just send it out," Mr. Milhollin said.