WASHINGTON – The evidence presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday shows Iraq is using some of the same techniques to thwart weapons inspectors that were used during searches in the 1990s, former weapons inspectors said.
“If he’s correct, they have resuscitated their denial and deceit program,” said former U.N. inspector Dr. Raymond Zilinskas. “That’s a very disturbing sign, because that means the Iraqis will never provide in a proactive way the information that’s required.”
Zilinskas and other former inspectors said Powell’s presentation to the U.N. Security Council disclosed intelligence on Iraq’s banned weapons programs in unprecedented detail. For example, Powell played recordings he said were intercepted transmissions between Iraqi Republican Guard officers.
Part of the reason Powell chose the Republican Guard tapes is that Iraqis already knew such transmissions were not secure, said former inspector Timothy McCarthy.
McCarthy, a missile expert, said he was struck by Powell’s assertion that Iraq moved rockets loaded with biological agents from the Baghdad area to western Iraq a few months ago. Iraq has unguided rockets with ranges from about 12 miles up to about 110 miles, McCarthy said.
Some of the satellite pictures Powell showed seemed as detailed as the images former inspectors got from the U-2 surveillance planes Iraq is now blocking, Zilinskas said.
“If the Iraqis think a facility is about to be inspected, they bring in the trucks to move equipment or weapons or documents. That can be picked up by a U-2,” said Zilinskas, now with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute for International Studies.
U-2 planes are important not only because of the highly detailed pictures they can take but also for their other capabilities, such as heat sensors that can detect activity at underground weapons sites, Zilinskas said.
Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix has repeatedly pressed Iraq to allow U.N.-sponsored U-2 flights and says he will bring up the issue when he meets with Iraqi officials in Baghdad this weekend. Iraq has balked, insisting it can’t guarantee the surveillance planes’ safety as long as the United States and Britain continue to patrol no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq.
Such resistance is surprising, given the fact that the United States is building up its military forces in the region in preparation for possible war, said former inspector Jonathan Tucker.
“It’s difficult to understand the Iraqi mentality. They basically put a gun to their own head,” said Tucker, a visiting fellow with the U.S. Institute for Peace.
Powell also said the U.S. had detected a test flight of an Iraqi “unmanned aerial vehicle” – a remote-controlled plane – of about 500 kilometers, or about 310 miles. Those drones would be ideal for spreading biological or chemical weapons, Powell said.
McCarthy said the UAV Powell discussed apparently had never been revealed before. However, flying for 300 miles in a “racetrack” loop over Iraq is much easier than flying 300 miles in a straight line, McCarthy said.
“In a point-to-point flight, it may not be steerable beyond the tracking range of its radar,” McCarthy said.
He and other former inspectors said Powell made a strong case at the U.N.
“It’s hard not to be convinced by this evidence,” said Terence Taylor, a former top U.N. inspector.
Convincing reluctant members of the Security Council to approve a war against Iraq may have been all but impossible, however, McCarthy said.
“Unless you had a picture of Saddam Hussein (news – web sites) standing next to a nuclear weapon, I doubt you would have changed any minds,” he said.