Finding Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction
Jude Wanniski
April 10, 2003


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: WOW!! Marines Find Secret Nuke Site!!!

From the start of the U.S.-led pre-emptive strike to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction it was hiding from the United Nations inspectors I’ve been getting almost daily “I-told-you-so” hate-mail from folks crowing about the discovery of secret WMD. I’m asked to “eat crow,” or “humble pie,” and admit I’ve been wrong in arguing the war has been unnecessary if the President’s intent has really been to disarm Iraq. In each and every case the “discovery” of a “smoking gun” winds up being a harmless water pistol or something even less threatening. There was a chemical plant almost certain to contain nerve gas production facilities that turned out to be an empty shell. There were “anthrax” containers that turned out to contain pesticides. There were anthrax and sarin powders found that tested out as ordinary explosive powder. And there were 3000 “new” chemical suits indicating the Iraqis were going to protect themselves from “blowback,” which turn out to be brand new unused suits from the war against Iran.

Yesterday came the biggest “discovery “ of all, a secret, underground nuclear weapons facility found by the US Marines!!! WOW! Here was the headline and story at at 7 pm EDT last night, written against a dispatch in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Please read it and then read this morning’s Washington Post account which follows it. Hint: Post reporter Toby Warwick called the International Atomic Energy Agency and asked if they knew about the secret nuke facility.

Marines find underground nuke complex
Captain guarding facility: 'How did the world miss all of this?'

U.S. Marines have located an underground nuclear complex near Baghdad that apparently went unnoticed by U.N. weapons inspectors.

Hidden beneath the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission's Al-Tuwaitha facility, 18 miles south of the capital, is a vast array of warehouses and bombproof offices that could contain the "smoking gun" sought by intelligence agencies, reported the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"I've never seen anything like it, ever," said Marine Capt. John Seegar. "How did the world miss all of this? Why couldn't they see what was happening here?"

Marine nuclear and intelligence experts say that at least 14 buildings at Al-Tuwaitha indicate high levels of radiation and some show lethal amounts of nuclear residue, according to the Pittsburgh daily. The site was examined numerous times by U.N. weapons inspectors, who found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

"They went through that site multiple times, but did they go underground? I never heard anything about that," said physicist David Albright, a former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector in Iraq from 1992 to 1997.

In a 1999 report, Albright said, "Iraq developed procedures to limit access to these buildings by IAEA inspectors who had a right to inspect the fuel fabrication facility."

"On days when the inspectors were scheduled to visit, only the fuel fabrication rooms were open to them," he said in the report, written with Khidhir Hamza, an Iraqi nuclear engineer who defected in 1994. "Usually, employees were told to take to their rooms so that the inspectors did not see an unusually large number of people."

Chief Warrant Officer Darrin Flick, the battalion's nuclear, biological and chemical warfare specialist, said radiation levels were particularly high at a place near the complex where local residents say the "missile water" is stored in mammoth caverns.

"It's amazing," Flick said. "I went to the off-site storage buildings, and the rad detector went off the charts. Then I opened the steel door, and there were all these drums, many, many drums, of highly radioactive material."

Noting that the ground in the area is muddy and composed of clay, Hamza was surprised to learn of the Marines' discovery, the Tribune-Review said. He wondered if the Iraqis went to the colossal expense of pumping enough water to build the subterranean complex because no reasonable inspector would think anything might be built underground there.

"Nobody would expect it," Hamza said. "Nobody would think twice about going back there."

Michael Levi of the Federation of American Scientists said the Iraqis continued rebuilding the Al-Tuwaitha facility after weapons inspections ended in 1998.

"I do not believe the latest round of inspections included anything underground, so anything you find underground would be very suspicious," said Levi. "It sounds absolutely amazing."

The Pittsburgh paper said nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians, housed in a plush neighborhood near the campus, have fled, along with Baathist party loyalists.

"It's going to take some very smart people a very long time to sift through everything here," said Flick. "All this machinery. All this technology. They could do a lot of very bad things with all of this."

Marine Capt. Seegar said his unit will continue to hold the nuclear site until international authorities can take over. Last night, they monitored gun and artillery battles by U.S. Marines against Iraqi Republican Guards and Fedayeen terrorists.

The offices underground are replete with videos and pictures that indicate the complex was built largely over the last four years, the Tribune-Review said.

Iraq began to develop its nuclear program at Al-Tuwaitha in the 1970s, according to the Institute for Science and International Security. Israel destroyed a French-built reactor there in 1981, called "Osiraq," and a reactor built by the Russians was destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War.

In his 2000 book "Saddam's Bombmaker," Hamza revealed Saddam's secret plans for the nuclear complex at Al-Tuwaitha:

From my office window in the Nuclear Research Center, I could see just a slice of what Saddam's oil money had built in less than a decade: a sprawling complex of nuclear facilities, scattered over ten square miles, poised to deliver us the bomb. It was called al-Tuwaitha, in Arabic "the truncheon."

Below my floor was fifty thousand square feet of office space and laboratories, sparkling with new equipment, where hundreds of technicians were running nuclear experiments. Outside to my left was our chemical reprocessing plant, where we would enrich fuel for a plutonium bomb. Down the street was our domed Russian reactor, newly renovated with Belgian electronic controls, which made it capable of generating radioactive material for nuclear triggers. Past that was our French-supplied neutron generator, and next to that our electronics labs, and then a four-story building that handled spent nuclear fuel, full of hot cells and new remote-controlled equipment overseen by platoons of white-jacketed technicians. All this was a long, long way from the dining room table where we'd scratched out our first memo for a bomb in 1972.

Rising up behind my office, however, was al-Tuwaitha's jewel in the crown, the aluminum dome of the French reactor, glittering in the blue desert sky. Osiraq was the most advanced reactor of its kind, crammed with such up-to-date equipment and technology that visitors were amazed that the French had ever agreed to sell it to us. Little did they know that the acquisition of Osiraq, an incredible feat on its own, was merely a decoy: Saddam wanted us to copy the French design and build another, secret reactor, where we would produce the bomb-grade plutonium beyond the prying eyes of foreign spies and inspectors – the same thing to him.

But it was not to be. On June 7, 1981, Israel sent eight F-16 warplanes almost 700 miles over Jordanian, Saudi and Iraqi air space for hours without detection. By flying in tight formation, they generated a radar signal resembling that of a commercial airliner. Upon identifying the Osiraq nuclear plant, and catching Iraqi defenses by surprise, the Israeli pilots managed to demolish the reactor in one minute and 20 seconds.

At the time, Israel's audacious preemptive strike was almost universally condemned, but later praised by many for helping thwart Iraq's development of nuclear weapons.

Despite this and other setbacks, says Hamza, Saddam persisted in his quest for a nuclear bomb. In testimony before Congress last August, Hamza – the architect of Iraq's atom bomb program – said that if left unchecked, Iraq could have had nuclear weapons by 2005.


Radiation Detected At Iraqi Complex

by Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2003; Page A36

Days after the site was overrun by Marines, U.S. military commanders said yesterday they have imposed heightened security and safety measures at a nuclear complex where the Iraqi government warehoused radioactive material. Iraqi forces abandoned the Tuwaitha nuclear site over the weekend, prompting fears among nuclear experts that the facility might be plundered, or that arriving U.S. troops or Iraqi civilians might be exposed to potentially dangerous doses of radiation.

The site, about 15 miles south of Baghdad, is Iraq's only internationally sanctioned repository for nuclear material. Since the early 1990s, large quantities of uranium and dozens of radioactive devices used in medicine and research have been stored at the site in warehouses that are sealed and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog.

Marines who have held the facility since Sunday have entered some of the complex's bunkers and recorded high levels of radiation inside, according to reports from embedded journalists. The accounts fueled speculation initially that the troops had discovered a secret nuclear weapons laboratory. Among U.S. and international nuclear experts familiar with the site, the reports raised concerns that the IAEA's seals may have broken, leaving the nuclear material vulnerable and Iraqis and U.S. troops in danger of radioactive contamination.

"There is a risk to troops who might enter these secure areas, and there's a risk of looting that could allow the material to be spread around," said one nuclear expert close to the IAEA's Iraq inspection team.

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Qatar said coalition forces were familiar with the materials stored at Tuwaitha and had taken steps to protect troops and guard against theft.

Built in the 1960s, Tuwaitha was the birthplace of Iraq's previous nuclear weapons program and the site of a French-built nuclear reactor that was destroyed in an Israeli bombing in 1981. All of Iraq's known stocks of weapons-grade uranium were removed following the 1991 Gulf War, but Iraq was allowed to keep about 1.7 tons of low-enriched uranium and nearly 500 tons of natural uranium at Tuwaitha under IAEA safeguards. Low-enriched uranium is not immediately useable for a weapon but could be valuable to anyone trying to build one.

The site also served as a repository for about 150 pieces of radioactive equipment that Iraq was permitted to keep for medical or industrial applications. Some of the devices contain high levels of radiation and could be potentially used in a "dirty bomb," said David Albright, a former IAEA inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

"This might be a good opportunity for [coalition forces] to take this stuff out now," he said. "Why leave it for the next Iraqi government to deal with?"

© 2003 The Washington Post Company