Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein’s scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.
I’m pretty sure that “at the time” should probably read “at that time”, and it refers to “after the Persian Gulf war”, not “2002”. At that point we had just discovered that Saddam had an alarmingly advanced nuclear program operating out of Al-Tuwaitha, and we had had no idea. It was just our dumb luck to blunder into it after we chased Saddam out of Kuwait.
He’s got a timeline, too. Geraghty counters:
[L]et’s presume that this research was completed in 1990.
So these “charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building” are devised in 1990, and are then sitting in some file cabinet in an Iraqi government installation, with the Iraqis have absolutely no intention of ever using them ever. And the war opponents are willing to state, with 100 percent certainty, that Iraq would not have attempted to use all this – which was useful enough to put them a year away from completion.
Was it? Journey back with me now to the October 6, 2004 edition of the New York Times, which featured an op-ed by Mahdi Obeidi, author of “The Bomb in My Garden” and former chief of Saddam’s nuclear centrifuge program. Quote:
Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was on the threshold of success before the 1991 invasion of Kuwait – there is no doubt in my mind that we could have produced dozens of nuclear weapons within a few years – but was stopped in its tracks by United Nations weapons inspectors after the Persian Gulf war and was never restarted. During the 1990’s, the inspectors discovered all of the laboratories, machines and materials we had used in the nuclear program, and all were destroyed or otherwise incapacitated.
By 1998, when Saddam Hussein evicted the weapons inspectors from Iraq, all that was left was the dangerous knowledge of hundreds of scientists and the blueprints and prototype parts for the centrifuge, which I had buried under a tree in my garden.
In addition to the inspections, the sanctions that were put in place by the United Nations after the gulf war made reconstituting the program impossible.
In other words, they could have built a bomb from those plans within a year if all their labs and equipment were intact. But don’t celebrate just yet, nutroots. More from Obeidi:
Was Iraq a potential threat to the United States and the world? Threat is always a matter of perception, but our nuclear program could have been reinstituted at the snap of Saddam Hussein’s fingers. The sanctions and the lucrative oil-for-food program had served as powerful deterrents, but world events – like Iran’s current efforts to step up its nuclear ambitions – might well have changed the situation.
Iraqi scientists had the knowledge and the designs needed to jumpstart the program if necessary. And there is no question that we could have done so very quickly… Had Saddam Hussein ordered it and the world looked the other way, we might have shaved months if not years off our previous efforts.
Maybe not within a year, then, but “very quickly.” Back to Geraghty for the most important point, albeit not one that couldn’t have been made before this story broke yesterday:
[W]e are asked to believe that these “charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building,” in the hands of the Iraqi regime, was never, ever, ever going to end up in the hands of another regime, or in the hands of non-state actors hostile to the United States. I mean, it’s not like the world has people like A.Q. Khan, out to sell everything they know and everything they can get their hands on to anyone willing to buy.
The Times did quote one expert as saying the plans on the website wouldn’t have been useful to terrorists lacking advanced equipment, but with Sunni states increasingly nervous about Iran, it’s not inconceivable that Saddam would have shared technology with them to counter the Shiite threat.
Shifting gears, I’m just going to reprint an e-mail I got from RLW, one of our very best tipsters. How curious it is, he notes, that for the second time in as many election cycles, the New York Times has run an election-eve story on Iraq’s weapons program written by William Broad and sourced in part to the IAEA. He writes:
Looking at these two stories as related items is interesting. Essentially you have the same type of IAEA story being run through the same NYT reporter right before an election. In 2004, there were additional layers of potential leakers because of the involvement of the Iraqi Interim Government and US personnel in Iraq. In 2006, those players are not present. The second story seems to explicitly state that the source is “European diplomats”. I do not think that it is a tremendous leap to assume that both stories probably originated from the same source. Basically, the potential sources common to both stories are either IAEA personnel/”European diplomats” or US government employees in Vienna going up the chain back to Washington. In both cases you have the NYT getting a leak within days of the IAEA learning the information or the IAEA transmitting the information to the US government.
If we assume that European diplomats or IAEA personnel leaked both stories because the second story attributes the leak to them, one has to be a bit pissed that foreign nationals are trying to tilt our elections. Back in 2004, there were some theories that El Baradei was behind the leak because Bush was supposed to be opposed to El Baradei getting a third term with the IAEA. Some of the reaction about the web primer story is that it is a bit of a “weak sister,” but you go with the leak you have not the leak that you wish that you had. The Al-Qaqaa leak was a much bigger story and thankfully, was displaced from the news cycle by the OBL tape. If an American is the source, the guy’s an asshole, but foreign diplomats are a whole other story.
Other odds and ends? Blogger Ray Robison suspects he might have inadvertently set this kerfuffle in motion; Tom Maguire catches Peter Zimmerman, one of the nuke experts quoted in the Times article, saying something different three years ago; the DUers behave exactly as I predicted they would in the previous thread; and Rick Moran, damn his eyes, accepts blame on behalf of right-wing bloggers everywhere:
[I]n our haste to discover the truth and in the Administration’s zeal to participate in this experimental program of unprecedented citizen-government cooperation, some respected experts believe we have damaged our own cause and given valuable information to those who wish to destroy us. This is perhaps the greatest and least palatable irony of all.
And in the increasingly dangerous world in which we live that will soon require decisions of monumental historical import regarding war and peace, the only laughter we may hear will be the bitter cackling of the Angel of Death, circling above bleached bones and rubble – remnants of a war that irony forgot.
Meanwhile, Saddam questions the timing.
Update: I should probably blockquote this part of Ray Robison’s post, huh? This comes from the report of the Senate Prewar Intelligence Review Phase II; the “intelligence report” it references is a top secret CIA report from September 2002.
The intelligence report conveyed information from the source attributed to the Iraqi official which said:
• Iraq was not in possession of a nuclear weapon. However, Iraq was aggressively and covertly developing such a weapon. Saddam, irate that Iraq did not yet have a nuclear weapon because money was no object and because Iraq possessed the scientific know how, had recently called meeting his Nuclear Weapons Committee.
• The Committee told Saddam that a nuclear weapon would be ready within 18-24 months of acquiring the fissile material.
Update: Pete Hoekstra responds to the Times:
Finally, it is disappointing but not surprising that the New York Times would continue to participate in such blatant and transparent political ploys, including what I believe are improper efforts by the IAEA to interfere with U.S. domestic affairs. The sad reality is that the New York Times has done far more damage to U.S. national security by the disclosure of vital, classified, intelligence programs than is likely to be caused by the inadvertent disclosure of decades-old information that had already been in the hands of Saddam’s regime.