U.S. intelligence agencies spotted activity at an Iraqi factory last week that is increasing fears that Saddam Hussein is advancing his germ-weapons program, The Washington Times has learned.
A convoy of about 60 trucks was photographed by a U.S. spy satellite at a known biological weapons facility near Taji last week, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The trucks were seen at a site identified as a biological weapons facility once called the Taji Single Cell Protein Plant, located about six miles northwest of Baghdad. The plant, which was converted by the Iraqis into a biological-weapons production facility, was bombed during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
“They’re moving stuff in or out,” said an official familiar with the report. Intelligence information about Iraq’s weapons program is limited, the official said.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment.
U.S. intelligence agencies also warned Bush administration policy-makers in an intelligence report last week that Saddam is prepared to use weapons of mass destruction chemical, biological and nuclear against U.S. and coalition military forces in the event of an attack on Iraq and an incursion into Baghdad, the capital.
Senior Bush administration officials have said Iraq’s efforts to build the weapons pose a threat to the United States. President Bush said last week that Iraq is “an enemy until proven otherwise.”
Iraq is seeking unconventional weapons, and “we owe it to our children and our children’s children to free the world from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of those who hate freedom,” Mr. Bush said.
This assessment was included in classified reports last week.
The Bush administration has said it will not stand by and allow Iraq to develop such weapons.
The latest intelligence report comes amid other recent reports indicating that Iraq is working on biological weapons, including mobile biological-weapons vans.
Other reports indicate that Baghdad is developing rail cars that could be used to develop or transport biological weapons agents, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
After the Gulf war, the Taji plant was found to have produced hundreds of liters of Botulinum toxin during the late 1980s. The facility had a spore drier capable of producing up to a kilogram of weaponized dried spores a day.
It also was suspected of producing anthrax spores.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld disclosed last month that Iraq has deployed mobile laboratories that could be used to make biological weapons.
“They’re buying dual-use capability,” Mr. Rumsfeld said during a visit to a military base in Suffolk, Va. “A biological laboratory can be on wheels in a trailer and make a lot of bad stuff, and it’s movable, and it looks like most any other trailer.”
Asked later whether Iraq is using mobile biological weapons laboratories in trailers, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “I think that that’s a reasonable conclusion.”
Taji is the location of at least one unit of Iraq’s Republican Guard tank divisions, elite troops that are viewed as a pillar of Saddam’s authoritarian regime.
Taji also was the site where U.N. weapons inspectors uncovered evidence that Iraq had filled Scud-missile warheads with deadly VX nerve agent. It is so powerful that a small amount can kill a person on contact.
The Taji area also includes a major missile development and production facility. The missile factories there produced frames and engines.
Weapons inspectors from the United Nations destroyed many long-range missiles at Taji during the 1990s, before all inspection teams were forced out in 1998, after U.S. bombing raids during Operation Desert Fox. Taji also is associated with Iraq’s covert nuclear-weapons program. It was the planned location for a centrifuge uranium-enrichment program.
The program was believed to have been halted after 1991, but intelligence reports indicate that Iraq is continuing to seek equipment for centrifuge enrichment, which produces the fuel for nuclear weapons.
Procurement agents for the Iraqi government were identified attempting to purchase special stainless steel tubing used in centrifuges, intelligence officials said last month.
The truck activity near Taji followed a news report earlier this month that U.S. intelligence was looking for a suspected Iraqi biological weapons laboratory north of Baghdad.
The laboratory reportedly is known as Tahhaddy, or “Challenge,” and is said to have 85 employees. The plant may be producing a weaponized version of the deadly Ebola virus, an extremely lethal hemorrhagic disease, according to U.S. government officials quoted by The Washington Post.
Kelly Motz, a specialist on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, said it would be unusual to spot a column of trucks involved in biological-arms programs. “Most of what Iraq is doing in the biological-weapons area is either underground or in small mobile vehicles,” she said. “They could be moving equipment into a site that was renovated.”
Iraq is a self-sufficient producer of a variety of deadly germ weapons, Miss Motz noted, that include aflatoxin, anthrax, botulinum and other agents. It also has worked on deadly viruses, possibly a virus similar to smallpox. A CIA report made public in January stated that Iraq was converting L-29 trainer aircraft into pilotless vehicles “for delivery of chemical or, more likely, biological warfare agents.”
“With the absence of a monitoring regime and Iraq’s growing industrial self-sufficiency, we remain concerned that Iraq may again be producing biological warfare agents,” the report said.