In February, Secretary of State Colin Powell displayed for the U.N.
Security Council detailed drawings of truck- and train-mounted mobile
biological weapons laboratories alleged to be in the possession of Iraq. The
basis for this analysis was an Iraqi defector whose credibility was certified
not by the quality or accuracy of the provided data, but rather the political
environment of post-Sept. 11, which automatically upgraded the status of any
intelligence information, no matter how sketchy, that sustained the charges
that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
The discovery by U.S. forces in Iraq of two mobile "biological weapons
laboratories" was touted by President Bush as clear evidence that Iraq
possessed illegal weapons capabilities. However, it now is clear that these so-
called labs were nothing more than hydrogen generation units based upon
British technology acquired by Iraq in the 1980s, used to fill weather
balloons in support of conventional artillery operations, and have absolutely
no application for the production of biological agents.
While Iraq has not been shown to possess the alleged mobile biological labs
(or any other weapon of mass destruction, for that matter), fear within the U.
S. national security community over the potential existence of such labs in
Iraq led the United States to order mobile biological laboratories to be
constructed in America, ostensibly for training elite U.S. special operations
forces on how to disable the Iraqi labs once discovered.
It now appears that the only place in the world where labs similar to those
described by Powell actually exist is here, in the United States. Worse,
according to the New York Times, the scientist responsible for the design and
construction of the U.S. mobile biological lab is under suspicion by the FBI
of using this technology to produce the dry powder anthrax used in the October
2001 letter attack that killed seven Americans. This same scientist was
allegedly behind similar "defensive" research that identified anthrax-
impregnated letters as an ideal platform for delivering the deadly biological
So, when it comes to the only major biological attack conducted against the
United States, the available information points to the likelihood that the
attack originated in the United States, using technology and techniques
developed as part of a defensive biological weapons program that was a product
of bad intelligence about Iraq's biological weapons program.
The Bush administration is getting ready to compound this problem by
expanding similar "defensive" biological weapons research programs. For
example, the Department of Energy is fast-tracking the construction at
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory of a Biosafety Level-3 facility to
conduct defensive biological research that would entail, according to the
draft environmental assessment submitted in support of the project, the
production of ". . . small amounts of biological material (enzymes, DNA,
ribonucleic acid [RNA], etc.) using infectious agents and genetically modified
agents . . . which may cause serious or potentially lethal or debilitating
effects on humans, plants and animal hosts."
The Lawrence Livermore Lab is but one of several bio-defense projects that
have sprung up in response to the requirements of both the Department of
Homeland Security and Department of Defense to protect Americans from
biological threats, real or imagined, that have emerged in the national psyche
since Sept. 11.
Why do we need these labs? Is there a threat to American security requiring
the development of facilities that, given the high possibility of accident or
compromise, actually put the United States at greater risk from the work being
carried out inside than the threats they are designed to protect us from?
The hyped-up threat assessments used by the Bush administration in the
build-up to the war in Iraq, combined with similar statements made about the
biological weapons capabilities of other nations (witness Undersecretary of
State John Bolton's now discredited remarks concerning Cuba's alleged
bioweapons program), show there is a great deal to be concerned about when it
comes to trusting the intelligence that serves as the basis of our legitimate
Congress needs to carry out assiduously its oversight responsibilities to
ensure that legitimate national security, and not partisan politics, drives
the intelligence our nation depends on for its defense. While the United
States must reserve the right to do that which is necessary to defend itself
from all threats, the fact is that a sound nonproliferation policy that
embraces true multilateral disarmament agreements uniformly implemented and
enforced (including the United States) would far better serve the national
interest than the current Bush post-Sept. 11 policy of knee-jerk response to
unsustained or nonexistent threats (which actually accelerates the
proliferation of the very threats we are trying to shield ourselves from).
Such policies, if left unchecked, make the United States, in regards to the
possibility of attack from WMD, its own worst enemy.
Scott Ritter is a former U.N. weapons inspector and author of ""Frontier Justice: WMD and the Bushwhacking of America'' (Context Books, 2003).
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle