Who Armed Iraq?

by STEPHEN GREEN

You have to give Defense Secretary Rumsfeld this credit: he’s a risk taker, and he’s damned brassy about it.

Both were in evidence last week when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Under criticism for his prior characterizations of France and Germany as "old Europe," Rumsfeld fumed: "We would not be facing the problems in Iraq today if the technologically advanced countries of the world had seen the danger and strictly enforced the economic sanctions against Iraq."

The Defense Secretary knew well, naturally, his audience in the Senate Armed Services Committee. As Senator Robert Byrd recently said from the Senate floor, …."this Chamber is, for the most part, silent–ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing."

Still, Rumsfeld’s statement was some chutspa! He was well aware that it was the U.S. Senate itself (Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs) which had conducted extensive hearings in 1992 and 1994 on "United States Dual-Use Exports to Iraq and Their Impact on the Health of Persian Gulf War Veterans." And he’d probably read the front page Washington Post story ("U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup", 12/30/02) based upon recently declassified documents, which revealed that it was Rumsfeld himself who, as President Reagan’s Middle East Envoy, had traveled to the Region to meet with Saddam Hussein in December 1983 to normalize, particularly, security relations.

At the time of the visit , Iraq had already been removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist countries in 1982; and in the previous month, November, President Reagan had approved National Security Decision Directive 114, on expansion of U.S.-Iraq relations generally. But it was Donald Rumsfeld’s trip to Baghdad which opened of the floodgates during 1985-90 for lucrative U.S. weapons exports–some $1.5 billion worth– including chemical/biological and nuclear weapons equipment and technology, along with critical components for missile delivery systems for all of the above. According to a 1994 GAO Letter Report (GAO/NSIAD-94-98) some 771 weapons export licenses for Iraq were approved during this six year period….not by our European allies, but by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

To be sure, many of these weapons were expended in the latter phases of the Iran-Iraq war. Others were destroyed by Coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War, or by UN weapons inspectors in the control regime established by the UN Security Council following that conflict. But a great many undoubtedly remain, and pose grave risks to the 150,000 U.S. troops deployed in Kuwait, and 100,000 on the way. Imagine the embarrassment to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld before the Armed Services Committee last week if one or more Senators had had the awareness AND the courage to raise the matter of Iraq’s secret supplier.

And in this case, the devil is quite literally in the details.

There were few if any reservations evident in the range of weapons which President Ronald Reagan, and his successor George W. H. Bush were willing to sell Saddam Hussein. Under the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, the foreign sale of munitions and other defense equipment and technology are controlled by the Department of State. During the 1980s, such items could not be sold or diverted to Communist states, nor to those on the U.S. list of terrorist-supporting countries. When Iraq came off that list in 1982, however, some $48 million of items such as data privacy devices, voice scramblers, communication and navigation equipment, electronic components, image intensifiers and pistols (to protect Saddam) were approved for sale during 1985-90.

But it was through the purchase of $1.5 billion of American "dual-use items," having, sometimes arguably, both military and civilian functions, that Iraq obtained the bulk of it weapons of mass destruction in the late 80s. "Duel-use items" are controlled and licensed by the Department of Commerce under the Export Administration Act of 1979. This is where the real damage was done.

In 1992 and again in1994, hearings were conducted by the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which has Senate oversight responsibility for the Export Administration Act. The purpose of the hearings was the Committee’s concern that "tens of thousands" of Gulf War veterans were suffering from symptoms associated with the "Gulf War Syndrome", possibly due to their exposure to chemical and biological agents that had been exported from the U.S. during that brief period of "normalisation" of relations with Iraq in 1985-90.

At the opening of the second round of hearings on May 25,1994, Chairman Donald Riegle and Ranking Member Alphonse D’Amato released a detailed staff report which constituted a searing indictment of U.S. arms export policies during the Reagan/Bush Administrations, linking those exports to the health problems of Gulf War veterans, and excoriating the then current (Clinton) Administration for denying that such a link existed.

According to the hearing reports (which are available on a current website: www.chronicillnet.org/PGWS/tuite/default.htm) among the chemical weapons which had been sold to Iraq were some of the very most lethal available: Sarin, Soman, Tabun, VX, Lewisite, Cyanogen Chloride, Hydrogen Cyanide, blister agents and Mustard Gas. Some of the powerful biological agents sold included anthrax, Clostridium Botulinum, Histoplasma Capsulatum (causes a tuberculosis-like disease) , Brucella Melitensis, Clostridium Perfringens and Escherichia Coli.

Witnesses on the first day of the hearings included Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Edwin Dorn, and the officials in both the Defense Department and the CIA responsible for non-proliferation policy. Interestingly, in what was often an adversarial exchange between the Committee and these officials, the latter admitted in sworn testimony that while no chemical/biological weapons had been found to have been "stored or used" by the Iraqi Army during the conflict, American troops had nevertheless been exposed to airborne traces of C/B agents from having been downwind of storage facilities that were bombed by U.S. planes.

Simply put, while Saddam Hussein had shown restraint in the Gulf War by not deploying his most lethal weapons, the U.S. Government had, a) sold chemical/biological agents and shipped them directly to Iraqi military installations, including some just months before Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, b) distributed faulty chemical/biological agent detection sensors and protrction gear such as gasmasks to U.S. troops and, c) caused the exposure of these troops by the bombing of military storage areas upwind of them.

It got worse. Dr. Gordon Oehler, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Non-Proliferation Center testified that, between 1984 and 1990, the CIA’s Office of Scientific and Weapons Research had issued five alert memos…." covering Iraqi’s dealings with United States firms on purchases, discussions, or visits that appeared to be related to weapons of mass destruction programs." Such memos, Oehler explained, were sent to Commerce, Justice, Treasury and the FBI when collected intelligence indicated that U.S. firms had been targeted by foreign governments of concern, or were involved in possible violations of U.S. law.

At another point in the hearings, Dr. Oehler indicated that CIA’s concerns about Iraqi weapons programs, in particular…."a Samarra chemical plant, including six separate chemical weapons lines between 1983 and 1986," had been reported…."directly to our customers." Under questioning from Chairman Riegle, he identified these as the President and the Secretaries of Defense and State. Perhaps the most surprising testimony taken by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs was that given in the earlier 1992 hearings on the matter of U.S. assistance to the Iraqi ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. Gary Milhollin, Director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, testified that U.S. companies were being licensed by the Commerce Department to ship such items directly to the Al-Qaqaa and Badr facilities, which the Pentagon had formally identified as part of the Iraqi nuclear weapons production program, and to Salah al Din, known to be the center of its ballistic missile development efforts.

In all, Milhollin identified 40 U.S. companies involved in such sales. And it was critical equipment–vacuum pumps, electron beam welders, mass spectrometers, accelerometers, missile guidance systems, navigational radar, high speed computers and filling systems to load CB agents in missiles, among many other items. Such "stuff" was being sent to Iraq until late 1989 less than a year before Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait!

Through the mid and late 1980s, said Milhollin, the Pentagon, the CIA and the Office Naval Intelligence, among others, continued to warn the White House that Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons were maturing at a rapid pace, as was work on the ballistic missiles to deliver them. The warnings were falling on deaf ears: in October, 1989, 10 months before the Kuwait invasion, President George Bush signed NSD 26, updating NSDD 114, and again committing the U.S. to normal relations with Saddam Hussein’s government. As had been the case with chemical and biological weapons, the list of American and European companies which sold the nuclear equipment and technology to Iraq were a virtual pantheon of industry names: Hewlett Packard, International Computer Systems, Siemens, TI Coating, Carl Zeiss, Rockwell Collins International, Spectra Physics, Unisys, Tektronix, Scientific Atlanta and Semetex, among many, many others. With such assistance, Iraq became a regional power during 1984-90, and developed regional ambitions.

But these companies were not, per se, Saddam Hussein’s main weapons suppliers: that designation should properly go to Ronald Reagan and George W.H. Bush, the signers, respectively, of NSDD 114 and NSD 26, both of which remain classified. As the primary recipients and ultimate "customers" of the alert memos from the CIA and the U.S. intelligence community, they were currently and fully aware of the use to which the equipment and technology were being put, and of the security policy implications of the process.

And the instrument, the person, the envoy, who negotiated the process in the first instance, is the current U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

Steven Green lives in Berlin, Vermont. He can be reached at: sjgreen@sover.net

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