- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

The United Nations overruled U.S. government objections and allowed Iraq to buy a specialty chemical that U.S. intelligence officials say will boost Baghdad's chemical and biological warfare agents.
A large quantity of a chemical known as colloidal silicon dioxide was ordered by the Iraqis in August 2001 and held up by the U.S. government because of concerns about its use.
However, the United Nations approved the sale and it was shipped to Iraq last month, said Hasmik Egin, a U.N. spokeswoman.
Colloidal silicon dioxide is used in making commercial products such as glass or electronic-circuit boards.
But the superfine powder also has a military use. It is a key element in producing what are known as "dusty" chemical or biological weapons, agents that are able to penetrate protective suits, equipment and facilities, U.S. intelligence officials said.
"The U.N. is helping the Iraqis to enhance their biological and chemical weapons," said an intelligence official familiar with reports of the chemical sale.
The chemical is not contained on the United Nations' list of banned equipment and material known as the Goods Review List (GRL), said Miss Egin, a spokeswoman for the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq.
"If it is not a GRL item, it is up for approval," Miss Egin said in a telephone interview.
The initial contact for the colloidal silicon dioxide was "placed on hold" by the U.S. government, Miss Egin said.
When additional information on the sale was provided to a special sanctions committee, "that hold was lifted," she said.
The first shipment of the chemical was carried out under procedures that have since been changed, she said.
The second contract for the chemical was rejected as "noncompliant" with the Goods Review List but is under review by the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, Miss Egin said.
The supplier of the chemical and the size of the shipment were not identified.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment.
According to chemical-weapons specialists, colloidal silicon dioxide, also known as silica sol, has particles so small they are largely unaffected by gravity.
As a result, adding the particles to a mixture of chemical or biological agent will enhance the lethality of the agent by making it easier to disperse.
Eric Croddy, a chemical- and biological-weapons specialist, said colloidal silicon dioxide is a fine powder that could greatly enhance nerve or toxin weapons.
"We know the Iraqis did prepare dusty mustard" agent, Mr. Croddy said. "In the desert, where temperatures reach 104 degrees, they want to make sure their agents don't dissipate in the breeze."
Colloidal silicon dioxide would also enhance the killing power of the nerve agent VX, said Mr. Croddy, who is a researcher with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif.
"If you have a dust, the agent can get everywhere and can defeat protective gear," he said.
Mr. Croddy said the U.S. government knows about the utility of silicon dioxide because it was used in U.S. weapons development in the past.
Mr. Croddy said in a recent article that U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that the use of a dusty nerve agent can cause as high as 38 percent fatalities in troops wearing full protective gear.
"With a concern that dusty agents might defeat chemical protective masks and garment ensembles, U.S. military researchers subsequently looked to topical skin protectants for additional protection against dusty agents," he said.
"Because Iraq has proven artillery systems for chemical delivery, the alleged Iraqi development of a dusty VX formulation further increases the chemical exposure risks to U.S. troops that may be operating in theatre," Mr. Croddy said.
A CIA report made public last month stated that Iraq has imported $10 billion worth of goods a year under the U.N. oil-for-food program. Some of the imported goods "clearly support Iraq's military and [weapons of mass destruction] programs," the report stated.
"Iraq has been able to import dual-use, [weapons-of-mass-destruction]-relevant equipment and material through procurements both within and outside the U.N. sanctions regime," the report said.
The agents in Iraq's arsenal include the chemical nerve agents VX, sarin, cyclosarin and the blistering agent mustard.
Its biological and toxin weapons include anthrax, botulinum toxin and aflatoxin.

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