- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

NEW YORK A new investigative film traces the roots of the Iraq nuclear crisis to links between German industry and Baghdad's bomb builders, and questions the lenient sentence probation handed down to a German engineer for treason in aiding the project.
The documentary, "Stealing the Fire," also offers a rare close-up look at a "proliferator," the engineer Karl-Heinz Schaab, who emerges on film as a bland, gray, fastidious 68-year-old technician who protests that he is "too small to be turned into a scapegoat for the others."
The film, produced and directed by Oscar-winning documentarian John S. Friedman and Eric Nadler, premieres today at a New York theater.
Blueprints and other documents that Schaab and associates brought to Iraq in the late 1980s, along with Schaab's own hands-on skills, were a vital boost to Baghdad's development of gas centrifuges machines whose ultra-fast spinning "enriches" uranium by separating U-235, the stuff of nuclear bombs, from non-fissionable U-238.
Much of Iraq's nuclear infrastructure subsequently was wrecked by American and allied bombing in the 1991 Gulf war.
More was destroyed during U.N. inspections inside Iraq in the 1990s. Baghdad officials deny they are working on atomic weapons today.
But reconnaissance photos released by the Bush administration, as it seeks support for a potential war against Iraq, indicate the Iraqis have been rebuilding sites previously used for nuclear development. A newly released U.S. intelligence report says they may have nuclear weapons by 2010.
"Stealing the Fire" looks at the source of these capabilities.
Iraq was failing with other enrichment technologies when German centrifuge specialists Bruno Stemmler and Walter Busse, recruited by a German company, H&H; Metallform, came to Baghdad in 1988 and sold the Iraqis old designs for centrifuges.
The next year they brought Schaab, who provided components, technical reports and, most important, a stolen design for an advanced "supercritical" centrifuge.
The design, classified secret in Germany, was used in enriching nuclear-power fuel at the European government consortium Urenco, for which a Schaab-owned company worked as a subcontractor. The Iraqis paid $62,000 for the key documents.
In an on-film interview, Schaab said that on his last Baghdad visit, in April 1990, he personally helped install Iraq's first test centrifuge. Bomb production would require thousands of such devices.
A German court on June 29, 1999, convicted Schaab of treason and sentenced him to five years' imprisonment and a $32,000 fine, but then suspended the prison term because he had served 15 months in a Brazilian jail.
He had fled to Brazil in 1995 after U.N. inspectors uncovered documents in Iraq exposing the German connection. At Germany's request the next year, the Brazilians arrested the fugitive engineer, but freed him when a Brazilian court held that his crime was political and he could not be extradited.
In 1998, Schaab returned to Germany to be with his dying mother and to surrender to authorities, apparently assured his cooperation would win him leniency.
The light sentence he received raised questions, however, among nonproliferation specialists. American physicist David Albright, who was on the U.N. inspection team, suggested that the German government wanted to minimize public perception of Schaab's crime.
"I think they wanted the Schaab story to disappear.
The film suggests that some people want Schaab himself to disappear. His attorneys told the filmmakers that Brazilian authorities had warned them that foreign secret services wanted to kill or kidnap their client, and suggested that the closely timed deaths of associates Mr. Stemmler and Mr. Busse in the early 1990s might not have been natural, as reported.
"Stealing the Fire" leaves such questions unexplored, but it firmly establishes that German companies have supplied technology usable in Baghdad's plans.
One high-ranking defector from Iraq's nuclear program said Germany was an "open field" for Iraqi ambitions in the 1980s, particularly for purchases from such companies as chemical giant Degussa.
A top Degussa executive retorted that "by the German laws, there were no illegal deliveries" during this pre-Gulf war period.
German export controls, widely regarded as too lax, were toughened after the Gulf war. German industry was not alone, however, in helping develop Iraqi capabilities. From 1985 to 1990, the U.S. Commerce Department, for example, licensed $1.5 billion in sales to Iraq of American technology with potential military uses.
Schaab "of course did it for the money," said his attorney, Michael Rietz. But the centrifuge specialist described by wife, Brigitta, as "very quiet, very well-behaved; he doesn't smoke, he doesn't drink" insisted he was focused as much on the technological challenge, and not on illegality and international repercussions.
"I stumbled naively into this thing," he said.


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