Thanks to the readers who sent me Friday's Wall Street Journal story on ricin. I'm not sure if I can now make it available to the rest of you -- try this, it might work. The point of the story is that the CIA said just before the war that Iraq might be making ricin, while the Pentagon stated flatly that Iraq had provided "help in making explosives and poisons, such as ricin," to terrorist groups. However,
Now, some Iraqi scientists who researched ricin are challenging the prewar claims about ricin. Turning it into a battlefield weapon took know-how Iraq never had, according to Shakir al-Akidy, who says he took the lead in trying to develop a ricin weapon. In an interview in Baghdad, he contends that the less-toxic ricin Iraq managed to produce was all either consumed in tests or destroyed.
"Ricin is very difficult to isolate," he says. "What we made was very crude, not useful for military applications. We threw everything away and that was the end."
The program, Dr. al-Akidy says, was abandoned in early 1991. He has some backup:
Though it's impossible to be certain of Dr. al-Akidy's credibility, his claims were verified in most respects by another ricin-project scientist, Loay Abdul Rathman, now dean of a Baghdad pharmacy college. Some details of the Iraqi ricin program, including Dr. al-Akidy's involvement, were also corroborated by current and former United Nations weapons inspectors and by an unreleased 1998 U.N. report, which summarized Iraqi documents and interviews with others who worked in the ricin project.
And, of course, nobody can find any ricin in Iraq right now. Dr. al-Akidy doesn't deny that Iraq made nasty stuff before the first Gulf War, and tried to make yet more. But ricin was a struggle for Iraq:
The program had problems from the start. The team tried crushing the beans using hammers, but that was time-consuming and messy. They bought two electric food processors. For each grinding, they put a handful of beans into the small machines, collecting the resulting mash. Sometimes the hard beans would cause the grinders to jam, forcing the scientists to return to crushing by hand.
Hammers and blenders...I guess we have to extend our definition of the term "dual-use technology."
Trying to follow the stories in this weekend's news made my head spin. Here's AP saying that the evidence for an ongoing Iraqi nuke program was thin:
Before the war, U.N. nuclear inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency interviewed Iraq's nuclear scientists and found no indication that they were working on a weapons program.
"The whole thing was antiquated," said IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming. "These guys were aging, they weren't working collectively and the facilities and infrastructure was dilapidated."
And there's that same claim again -- that WMD work was curtailed more than a decade ago:
Senior Iraqi nuclear scientists interviewed by The Associated Press in Baghdad said their efforts to build a weapon remained dismantled after the 1991 Gulf War. Shakher Hameed, a physicist who was one of Iraq's top nuclear officials in recent years, said there was no program.
"This whole American story of an Iraqi nuclear program is a lie," said Hameed, a frequent interviewee of both U.N. inspectors and U.S. intelligence officers. "The IAEA knew exactly what was going on here and they made it clear there was no program."
The New York Times had this story, from which we learned that the Bushies were lying when they claimed to have better intelligence than UN inspectors could obtain:
Richard Kerr, who headed a four-member team of retired C.I.A. officials that reviewed prewar intelligence about Iraq, said analysts at the C.I.A. and other agencies were forced to rely heavily on evidence that was five years old at least.
..."There were pieces of new information, but not a lot of hard information, and so the products that dealt with W.M.D. were based heavily on analysis drawn out of that earlier period," Mr. Kerr said, using the shorthand for weapons of mass destruction.
Even so, just days before President Bush's State of the Union address in January, Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, described the intelligence as not only convincing but up-to-date.
"It is a case grounded in current intelligence," he told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, "current intelligence that comes not only from sophisticated overhead satellites and our ability to intercept communications, but from brave people who told us the truth at the risk of their lives. We have that; it is very convincing."
Yeah, really convincing -- so convincing that Colim Powell knew a lot of it was bunk:
Mr. Powell was more cautious than Mr. Bush was in describing Mr. Hussein's meetings with what the president, in his Cincinnati speech, had called Iraq's "nuclear mujahedeen." Mr. Powell was urged by some in the administration to cite those meetings, and to illustrate it with a picture of one of the sessions.
"Now tell me who these guys are," he asked a few nights before his presentation, when the C.I.A. showed him the picture, a participant in the conversation recalled.
"Oh, we're quite sure this is his nuclear crowd," came the response.
"How do you know?" Mr. Powell pressed. "Prove it. Who are they?" No one could answer the question.
"There were a lot of cigars lit," Mr. Powell recalled, referring to the evidence. "I didn't want any going off in my face or the president's face."
And then we have Judith Miller's Times article, in which she claims no one can find WMDs in Iraq because, among other things, the U.S. intel is lousy. She also says that WMD sites may be revealing nothing now because they've been looted or because "stockpiles of banned weapons had been destroyed from 1995 to a few days before the war," an assertion she ascribes to a mysterious unnamed Iraqi intelligence officer. But as the AP story notes,
Some kinds of uranium-enrichment programs require vast amounts of electricity; many need large, secure industrial sites, U.S. government scientists say. The soil around sites that are home to uranium weapons work also has greater traces of the substance than regular soil.
Andrew Wilkie, a senior Australian intelligence analyst who resigned in protest of his government's handling of prewar intelligence, said intelligence services did not pick up on telltale emissions and other signs that would point to a large-scale nuclear program.
"Every stage of the weapons cycle was missing," he said.
So why aren't Miller's weapons-hunters finding any evidence of this kind?
Bizarrely, Miller's article also takes a turn into Julia Child territory:
MET Alpha's final mission underscores the continuing problems that plague the hunt. Sent to Basra to investigate what senior Iraq Survey Group intelligence and weapons experts called highly suspicious equipment that could be components for a nuclear weapons program, the team collected what turned out to be oil production equipment and a handful of large, industrial-scale vegetable steamers.
Cuisine of mass destruction....