Blair’s dossier

By Gordon Prather

At long last Prime Minister Tony Blair has published the dossier – compiled by his Joint Intelligence Committee – which is supposed to convince us that we must invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein next Tuesday.

Blair views with alarm recent evidence from “inside Iraq” that Saddam still seeks nukes, in breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolution 687.

Blair claims that – since 1998 – Saddam has attempted to purchase 1) highly specialized vacuum pumps used in uranium-enrichment gas-centrifuges, 2) a turn-key facility for producing the highly specialized magnets for the motors and top bearings used in third-generation gas centrifuges, 3) anhydrous hydrogen fluoride and fluorine gas used to convert uranium into uranium hexafluoride for use in uranium enrichment cascades, 4) a large filament winding machine which “could be used” to manufacture third-generation composite gas centrifuge rotors, and 5) a large balancing machine which “could be used” to dynamically balance gas centrifuge rotors.

Blair repeats the claim made by President Bush before the U.N. that Iraq has also made repeated attempts to “covertly acquire a very large quantity of specialized aluminum tubes.”

If Saddam acquired this equipment, it “could be used” in the construction of a large gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility, which might be capable of making enough highly-enriched uranium to make a few nukes.

Now, Blair admits his is a worst-case scenario. And one would hardly be advised to go to war on the basis of a worst-case scenario. But, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, it had been discovered that the Iraqi nuke program had considerably exceeded the pre-war worst-case scenario.

In particular, the IAEA reckons that Iraq had been at, or close to, the threshold of success in producing highly-enriched uranium through the “Calutron” electromagnetic isotope separation process, as well as producing – and pilot-plant cascading – first-generation gas centrifuge machines.

But, being at – or close to – the threshold of success is not success. There was no evidence that Iraq had got either the Calutrons or the gas-centrifuges to work properly even in pilot-plants, much less in full-scale commercial operation.

The Iraqis had initially sought to buy full-scale “turn-key” operations, complete with technical support for start-up operations. But they quickly discovered that full-scale turn-key operations could not be kept clandestine. However, almost everyone was willing to sell them laboratory-scale equipment. So, they bought laboratory-scale equipment from small-scale suppliers and got the supplier to come to Iraq and show them how to set it up and operate it.

However, Iraqi scientists and engineers were unable to make thousands of workable copies of the vacuum pumps, rotors, gas centrifuges, etc. that they illicitly purchased from abroad. Much less were they capable of assembling the thousands of components into systems which could produce significant quantities of highly-enriched uranium. They needed system integration technical assistance from major uranium enrichment service providers, which they couldn’t get then, and most assuredly couldn’t get now.

Despite a 10-year expenditure of about 10 billion dollars, the Iraqis never produced more than a few grams of highly-enriched uranium.

Of course, Iraq should never have been able to acquire all that lab-scale “dual-use” technology. It was all on the Nuclear Suppliers Group export control list, even then. The Germans, for example, who provided gas centrifuge technology and equipment to foreigners were required to get an export license from the German government. They didn’t seek a license to export to Iraq, so the German export-control regime never got a chance to review it and block it.

But since the discoveries made in the aftermath of the Gulf War by the IAEA about Iraq’s illicit transactions, all members of the NSG have strengthened their export laws and have begun vigorously enforcing them.

In fact, under law extant, Germany prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned the Germans responsible for providing German gas-centrifuge technology, equipment and assistance to Iraq prior to the Gulf War.

Now, here’s a curious thing: The list of equipment those German criminals provided Iraq back then is almost identical to the equipment Blair claims Saddam has tried to buy since 1998. Is Blair being less than honest about the timeline? Or is Saddam merely attempting to replace the equipment that the IAEA found and destroyed years ago?

Well, Saddam will discover that times have changed. What he was able to do before the Gulf War, he cannot do now. He’ll just have to forget about nukes and whip up a crock of “wheat smut.” Do you suppose Blair would invade Iraq to put a stop to that?