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Times article deserves response

Dear all

The Times is running a series by Paxman and Robert Harris about 
Iraq's WMD.

The most interesting bit is the subheading: 'While George Bush 
names Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an axis of evil, Saddam Hussein's 
huge chemical and biological weapons arsenal emerges as the biggest 
threat to world peace'.

Whatever view one takes, there is no basis for stating as fact that Iraq 
has a 'huge' CBW arsenal, and The Times should get rapped for 
saying so.

The article which is really of interest to us is about Iraq's WMD - also 
by Harris and Paxman - immediately after this article in the paper 
version of the Times today, but I can't find it on their website. 
Perhaps if someone else does they will post it to the list? 

It is full of the usual 'could have/may have' stuff. Neatly avoids the 
'inspectors booted out in 1998', and refers to US nuclear threats 
against Iraq in 1991.



Times 2 - features
February 11, 2002
Cover story
The bio-terror time bomb
by Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman

Subheading: While George Bush names Iraq, Iran and North Korea as 
an axis of evil, Saddam Hussein's huge chemical and biological 
weapons arsenal emerges as the biggest threat to world peace

Proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is the most urgent 
problem facing Western military planners. Apart from Iraq — which 
stands in an appalling category of its own — the quartet of Iran, Syria, 
Libya and North Korea now appear to be co-operating in the 
development of weapons of mass destruction. Iranian oil wealth has 
helped to enable North Korea to develop a sophisticated long-range 
missile programme. 

Tehran has also provided Syria with financial assistance to enable it to 
threaten Israel by buying North Korean Scuds. Libya has expressed a 
desire to buy North Korean missiles with a range of 1,000km. All four 
countries have chemical and biological weapons programmes in 
various stages of development. North Korea is believed to have a 
stockpile of 300-1,000 tons of chemical weapons agents, including 
nerve gases, and to be experimenting with anthrax, cholera, bubonic 
plague and smallpox. 

Syria is producing chemical weapons at three sites, employed cyanide 
against a rebellion by Sunni Muslims in 1982 (according to Amnesty 
International) and is “pursuing the development” of biological 
weapons. Iran — which made use of mustard and cyanide gases in its 
war with Iraq — has continued to develop chemical weapons, has a 
biological weapons manufacturing capability, and is alleged to have 
stocks of anthrax and botulinum. Libya used chemical weapons against 
Chad in 1987, has a chemical weapons production facility, and 
appears to be trying to acquire the means to manufacture biological 

Expert advice is not lacking. The image of a footloose, amoral scientist, 
skilled in developing weapons of mass destruction and prepared to 
sell himself to the highest bidder, is usually the stuff of thrillers. But in 
this case, reality has kept pace with fiction. The collapse of the Soviet 
Union left hundreds of scientists involved in its biological weapons 
programme surplus to requirements. Some were re-employed in 
legitimate industries. Some were paid a pension by the Americans in 
return for their discretion. But as the plants at which they worked 
rusted away, others found that curious visitors began calling. 
American diplomats were warned in 1997 that Iranian delegations 
had offered biologists new careers developing a biological warfare 
capability in the Islamic republic. Most seem to have declined the 
invitations. Others, whose salaries had not been paid for months, 
apparently found the lure of a steady income irresistible. 

It is the risk from those countries with a reputation for sponsoring 
terrorism which is now most exercising governments around the 
world. So far the terrorist use of chemical and biological weapons has 
been the province of cults and cranks. In September 1984, for 
example, in the United States, devotees of the Bhagwan Shree 
Rajneesh poisoned 751 people in the Oregon town of Wasco, 
contaminating drinking glasses and salad bowls with salmonella. 
Mercifully there were no fatalities, even though the salmonella had 
been bought from the same company which supplied anthrax and 
botulinum to the University of Baghdad. 

Much more serious were the activities of the Japanese cult, Aum 
Shinrikiyo, which made two ineffectual attacks with biological agents 
— botulinum toxin in 1990 and anthrax in 1993 — neither of which 
caused any injuries, before resorting to nerve agents. In June 1994, 
the cult used home-made sarin on the inhabitants of an apartment 
block in Matsumoto, killing seven and injuring 300. Then, in March 
1995, came the worst incident of all. Five terrorists, each carrying 
plastic bags containing small amounts of sarin, boarded separate 
Tokyo subway trains, and at 8am simultaneously punctured the bags 
with umbrellas. Twelve people died; more than 5,000 were injured. 

Most recently there have been the anthrax attacks in the United 
States, carried out by means of contaminated letters. Five people have 
been killed by military-grade anthrax, reported to contain one trillion 
spores per gram. The letter sent to the US Senate majority leader, 
Tom Daschle, alone contained two grams of anthrax — theoretically 
enough to kill 200 million people (a figure which demonstrates both 
how easy it is to be alarmist about biological weapons, and how 
astonishingly lethal they could be if the right means of dispersal could 
be employed). The high concentration would seem to indicate that 
this agent was originally procured from a national weapons 
programme — possibly even from America’s own former biological 

The most frightening aspect of all these attacks — apart from the 
malice and contempt for human life which inspired them — is the 
ease with which they were mounted. And yet the perpetrators were, 
essentially, amateurs. If professionally trained terrorists, backed by the 
resources of a chemical and biological weapons-capable state, were to 
mount similar attacks, the results could be devastating. There have 
been intelligence reports that the al-Qaeda organisation has acquired 
botulinum toxin from a laboratory in the Czech Republic, paying 
$7,500 (£4,700) a phial. Anthrax “in some form” is also said to have 
been obtained from an Indonesian company. 

One of the hijackers who helped to carry out the suicide attacks of 
September 11 is known to have inquired about purchasing a crop-
dusting aircraft — a perfect means of dispersing chemical and 
biological agents over a target population. A terrorist who was 
infected with smallpox, and who sought contact with as many people 
as possible before succumbing to the disease, would be the ultimate 
walking suicide bomb. In one exercise, undertaken by officials in 
Washington in 1999, the progress of smallpox was tracked as it 
spread through an unvaccinated American population. Within two 
months, 15,000 people were dead; within a year, the figure was 80 

A Higher Form of Killing by Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman 
(Arrow, £8.99) is available from The Times Bookshop (0870 160 
8080) for £7.64 + 99p p&p

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