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Last Updated

08 Nov 2002

Source: Washington Times, November 8, 2002.

U.S. says Baghdad is hiding anthrax


U.S. intelligence agencies have told U.N. weapons inspectors that Iraq has hidden 7,000 liters of anthrax, but chief inspector Hans Blix never reported the information to the U.N. Security Council, The Washington Times has learned.

The failure to inform the council has raised questions about whether Mr. Blix will report accurately on anticipated Iraqi obstruction of weapons inspections, which could begin again later this month, said administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The recent intelligence assessment of the anthrax -- about 1,800 gallons -- is based on sensitive information, including data provided by Iraqi defectors and other U.S. intelligence-gathering means, the officials said.

U.S. intelligence officials said the anthrax stockpile is believed to be part of the 8,500 liters of anthrax that Iraq's government, after initial denials, admitted in 1995 to producing but told U.N. inspectors that it destroyed.

The intelligence was reported to the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as Unmovic, within the past several months. However, Mr. Blix, the executive chairman of Unmovic, has not reported the information to the members of the Security Council, the officials said.

Ewen Buchanan, a spokesman for Mr. Blix, would not address the issue of reporting the intelligence directly.

"Anthrax production in Iraq is clearly an open question," Mr. Buchanan said. "We don't know how much they've produced and whether they've destroyed all that they claimed."

Mr. Buchanan said previous assessments by the U.N. Special Commission said the Iraqis could have produced three times the 8,500 liters they admitted to having made.

"This is just the sort of question we would pursue," Mr. Buchanan said of the Iraqi anthrax cache.

Mr. Blix could not be reached for comment, but he said in a recent television interview that although he respects U.S. and British intelligence agency reports on Iraq's weapons, Unmovic cannot report the intelligence to the Security Council because spy agencies will not disclose their sources.

Mr. Blix said in an interview with talk-show host Charlie Rose that "the problem is that they will not give you evidence."

"They will say, 'We are convinced for various reasons that they have one thing or another,' but they will not say where it is," he said on the Oct. 31 broadcast.

"They will say that, 'Well, we have to protect our sources, so we will not give you evidence,'" he said. "And if some people ask me am I sure that they have weapons of mass destruction, I say, 'If I had that, I would take it to the Security Council straight away.'"

U.S. intelligence agencies also reported unusual activity at a suspected biological-weapons facility in Iraq, the officials said.

A CIA report made public last month stated that "Iraq admitted producing thousands of liters of the [biological-warfare] agents anthrax, botulinum toxin and aflatoxin" and had prepared missile warheads and bombs to deliver the weapons.

"Baghdad did not provide persuasive evidence to support its claims that it unilaterally destroyed its [biological-warfare] agents and munitions," the report said.U.N. weapons inspectors said Baghdad's production figures for biological-warfare agents "vastly understated" its actual production and that it could have made two to four times the amount it said it produced, the report said.

The report said that about 8,000 anthrax spores, or less than one-millionth of a gram, is enough to cause a person to become infected and that inhaled anthrax is "100 percent fatal within five to seven days, although in recent cases, aggressive medical treatment has reduced the fatality rate."

The disclosure that Unmovic has not reported the intelligence to the Security Council follows the recent approval by the United Nations of Iraq's purchase of a specialty chemical that could be used to enhance Iraq's chemical and biological arms.

The sale of a shipment of a fine powder known as colloidal silicon dioxide was approved by the U.N. oil-for-food program for Iraq despite objections from the U.S. government amid concerns that the chemical could be used for weapons.

According to intelligence officials, reports about Iraq's hidden anthrax were bolstered by a former Iraqi government official who defected two years ago but only recently came forward with new information, U.S. officials said.

The former Iraqi official, who is part of an opposition group of ex-military officers, provided new details about storage sites where Iraq is keeping chemical and biological weapons, the U.S. officials said.
The defector's accounts have been verified by other intelligence, the officials said.

The failure to alert the Security Council to the anthrax stockpile has upset some Bush administration officials, who said the information might have helped persuade some members of the council to support tougher U.S. action.

"If Blix won't report this, what will he do when Iraq obstructs weapons inspectors?" one official asked.

Representatives of Russia, China and France have opposed U.S. efforts to win council approval of military action against Iraq and the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein.

The issue of Iraq's hidden anthrax is likely to emerge in the next month as the United Nations begins a new round of inspections inside Iraq.

Weapons inspections were halted in 1998 after the Clinton administration began military strikes on Iraq aimed at knocking out suspected chemical-, biological- and nuclear-weapons development sites.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. forces that would lead any attack on Iraq, said the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is a key area of concern.

"The linkages between the government of Iraq and other transnational terrorist organizations like al Qaeda is not the issue with me," Gen. Franks told reporters Oct. 29. "The issue is the potential of a state with weapons of mass destruction passing those weapons of mass destruction to proven terrorist capability. And I believe that that risk exists."