The Washington Times

U.S. sees proof of biological arms program

May 8, 2003
Section: PAGE ONE

Page: A01


The Pentagon confirmed yesterday that a tractor-trailer found in northern Iraq is a mobile biological laboratory that could be used to make deadly germ weapons.

The laboratory had been scrubbed clean, but U.S. officials believe it is the first concrete evidence that Iraq had a program to develop biological agents.

Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told reporters at the Pentagon that the 18-wheel truck with special equipment inside matches intelligence provided by an Iraqi defector, who first revealed the existence of the mobile biological-weapons laboratories.

The equipment could be used for nonmilitary purposes, but "U.S. and U.K. technical experts have concluded that the unit does not appear to perform any function beyond what the defector said it was for, which was the production of biological agents," Mr. Cambone said.

Initial tests on the surface of the lab equipment found no trace of biological-weapons agents, he said. However, additional tests are being carried out on internal areas of the equipment.

The lab appears to have been washed with a caustic substance, perhaps ammonia, Mr. Cambone said.

"As time goes by and the more we learn, I'm sure we're going to discover that the [weapons of mass destruction] programs are as extensive and as varied as the secretary of state reported in his February address," said Mr. Cambone, referring to the speech given to the United Nations by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. The address outlined the administration's case that Baghdad possessed biological and chemical weapons, especially through mobile labs in trucks or vans.

The vans were not included in Iraq's declaration to the United Nations, in which it denied that it had weapons of mass destruction.

Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, reported to the Security Council in March that inspectors could find no evidence of mobile weapons laboratories. Instead, Mr. Blix reported that "food-testing mobile laboratories and mobile workshops" were seen, along with containers for seed processing. "No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found," he said in a report.

The mobile lab was found April 19 at a checkpoint that had been manned by Kurdish forces near the town of Tall Kayf, in northern Iraq. It had been in a convoy of military vehicles and was painted in military olive colors.

Inside the truck, officials found a fermenter, gas cylinders to supply clean air for production, and a system to filter exhaust gas and "eliminate any signature of production," Mr. Cambone said.

"The fermenters are used for growing cultures," he said. "And the recovery systems make air filtration unnecessary ... and prevent the release of signs indicating the fermentation process." He said that the gas recovery system is not used for any commercial biological purpose.

A detailed description of the truck was given by Mr. Powell during an intelligence briefing on Iraq's weapons programs in February before the U.N. Security Council.

"The interior layout of that trailer matches closely what was described by the secretary of state, on the basis of information provided to us by a source," Mr. Cambone said. "That source, as you may recall, had a hand in the design and the operation of this type of facility."

The defector also said that a number of people who had been working on the mobile lab had died as a result of exposure to biological agents.

Army Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of the Army's V Corps, which led the invasion of Iraq, said yesterday that his troops were worried that Iraq would use chemical or biological weapons.

"We trained our troops to operate in that environment," Gen. Wallace told reporters in a telephone press conference. "As far as the intelligence information, we thought we had solid information of the likelihood of their use."

Gen. Wallace said U.S. forces have gathered "plenty of documentary evidence" showing that Iraq had an active program of chemical and biological arms.

"It's taken awhile, as you might expect, to sort through that documentary evidence," he said. "A lot of the information that we're getting is coming from low-tier Iraqis who had some knowledge of the program but not full knowledge of the program, and it's just taken us awhile to sort through all of that."

Mr. Cambone said a team of weapons specialists is now in Iraq searching for weapons of mass destruction, terrorist camps, prisoners of war, and former leadership and regime targets.

The Pentagon has identified about 1,000 sites to be investigated, about half of them related to weapons of mass destruction.

So far, about 70 sites have been investigated, and 40 more sites have been discovered.

The Army's 75th Intelligence Exploitation Group is conducting the investigations and has about 600 specialists who focus on interrogation and reviewing documents.

The unit also includes weapons experts.

Later this month, an additional team of 1,300 specialists known as the Iraq Survey Group will be sent to Iraq. The group is headed by Army Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, a Defense Intelligence Agency official.

Asked whether stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons may not be found in Iraq, Mr. Cambone said: "That may be true."

"I think we're going to find that they had a weapons of mass destruction program," he said. "Now, how it was configured and how they intended to use it is part of the hard work that they're going through right now."

Asked about the hunt for banned weapons in Iraq, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said it was "too early to tell" what happened to any biological and chemical arms that Saddam Hussein might have possessed.

"This is piecing together a major jigsaw puzzle, and we're only just beginning to gain insights and to work the puzzle," Adm. Jacoby said.

Mr. Powell, in his Feb. 5 presentation at the U.N. Security Council, said Iraq was thought to have 18 mobile biological-arms laboratories.

The labs were "one of the most worrisome signs" about Saddam's effort to build deadly biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell said the labs had been described by at least four eyewitnesses, among them a chemical engineer involved in supervising one of the vans.