Sunday, February 19, 2006

More information has surfaced in recent days about Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction programs, and the possible roles of Syria and Russia in spiriting WMD and massive arsenals of conventional munitions out of Iraq prior to the start of the war three years ago.

The new information includes audio recordings of 12 hours of conversations from the early 1990s through 2000 involving Saddam Hussein and his top aides, in which Saddam discusses how to conceal Iraqi weapons programs from U.N. inspectors and the possibility that the United States could be the target of terrorist attacks. The recordings were provided by Bill Tierney, an Arabic speaker, who worked during the mid-1990s for the United Nations Special Commission that was responsible for overseeing Iraq’s disarmament.

One new piece of information revealed on the tapes, released Saturday by Mr. Tierney at the Intelligence Summit, a private conference held in Arlington, is that Saddam was actively working on a plan to enrich uranium using a technique known as plasma separation. This is particularly worrisome because of the date of the conversation: It took place in 2000, nearly five years after Iraq’s nuclear programs were thought to have stopped.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, according to Mr. Tierney, was the fact that the Iraqi scientists briefing Saddam about the uranium enrichment plan in 2000 “were totally unknown” to U.N. weapons inspectors. The plasma program also appears to have escaped the attention of the Iraq Survey Group, which reported two years ago that it had ended back in the late 1980s.

Mr. Tierney points out that the 12 hours of information that he has translated thus far is just a small fraction of the hundreds of hours of tape recordings and other raw intelligence data collected after the fall of Saddam.

Another speaker at the conference was John Shaw, former deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, who charged that Saddam’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were moved by Russian special forces into Syria and Lebanon. According to Mr. Shaw, former Russian intelligence boss Yevgeny Primakov came to Iraq in December 2002 in order to supervise “cleanup” operations to remove WMD production materials from the country. This operation, carried out by GRU military intelligence and Russian “spetsnaz,” or special forces, troops, was designed to make it possible for critics of the war to be able to claim that Iraq had had no WMD. Mr. Shaw claims that officials in the Pentagon and the CIA, who were fearful of alienating Moscow, actively worked to discredit his efforts to bring this story to light, and that some derided it as “Israeli disinformation.”

It is apparent that the American public has much more to learn about Moscow, Damascus and WMD and precisely when Saddam’s nuclear weapons programs actually stopped.

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