Friday, September 30, 2011

Amy Smithson's "Germ Gambits"

Amy Smithson is a Senior Fellow at the Washington, D.C. Office of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies where she researches issues related to chemical and biological weapons proliferation, threat reduction mechanisms, and homeland security. Before joining the James Martin Center, she worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Henry L. Stimson Center—where she founded the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project. Previously, she worked for Pacific-Sierra Research Corporation and the Center for Naval Analyses. The author, co-author, or editor of 16 books and book-length reports, as well as numerous articles, Smithson has appeared frequently before Congress and is a regular commentator in the electronic and print media.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Germ Gambits: The Bioweapons Dilemma, Iraq and Beyond, and reported that it passed the test:
Germ Gambits is a tale of high stakes gambling in which Iraq tried to hide its germ weapons program from United Nations (UN) inspectors, risking additional punishment for breaking the ceasefire conditions for the 1991 war initiated to oust Iraq from Kuwait. At a time when common wisdom held that inspections of biological facilities were futile, the inspectors entered Iraq with scant intelligence about Iraq’s bioweapons program and were pitted against an army of Iraqis attempting to deceive them and conceal Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs. Iraq had manufactured and weaponized enough biowarfare agents to kill the world’s population many times over, so the security and public health ramifications of this situation were stratospheric. Had the inspectors not detected the program, Saddam, who had already used poison gas in the 1980s Iran-Iraq War and against his own civilians, would have retained a devastating weapon. Instead, the inspectors uncovered sufficient evidence to force Iraq to admit that it made biowarfare agents on July 1, 1995.

The inspectors told the Iraqis this account made no sense, that Iraq must have also loaded these agents into weapons. Rolf Ekeus, the UN’s chief inspector, told the UN Security Council as much. Then, on August 7, 1995 the man at the center of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Kamal Hassan, defected. Worried that Kamal would tell all to the inspectors, Baghdad rushed to spill the beans first.

Page 99 of Germ Gambits picks up the story in mid-August 1995, with Ekeus hearing Iraq’s second confession in as many months. As the inspectors had suspected, Iraq had loaded missile warheads and bombs with biowarfare agents.
As the account emerged over the course of a couple of days, Ekeus was not convinced that he was getting the whole story. At one point he appealed personally to Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz for the truth. “I told him that he had misled me for such a long time, that he had lied about Iraq having no biological weapons. I asked him how I could trust him. Again,” recalled Ekeus, “Aziz blamed everything on Hussein Kamal.” Aziz’s reply was no surprise to Ekeus, who observed, “People have forgotten the systematic and fantastic lying by the top Iraqi leaders.” Kamal, Aziz contended, kept everyone in the dark, hiding the truth about the bioweapons program even from his closest aid, General Amer Rasheed, whose wife, Rihab Taha, ran the bioweapons program. The preposterousness of that assertion did not faze Aziz. Just after accusing Kamal and telling Ekeus he had no responsibility for the biological portfolio, Aziz claimed personal credit for withholding information on biological weapons.

During the next two days, the Iraqis paraded people in front of Ekeus to relate what they had done in the nuclear, chemical, biological, or missile programs. Aziz or Rasheed repeatedly encouraged Ekeus’s staff to “ask anything” and then shouted at each hapless individual to tell the UNSCOM delegation whatever they wanted to know. “I’m sure these poor people didn’t tell us everything because they were scared,” said Ekeus. “The whole episode had an atmosphere almost of panic.”
While the inspectors did not find out every last detail about Iraq’s bioweapons program, they successfully alerted the international community to this illicit weapons program, accomplishing what many thought was impossible.

The inspectors themselves tell how they pulled off this feat in Germ Gambits, which has significant policy implications. In 2002 the international community abandoned efforts to add inspection provisions to the 1975 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which bans these arms but has been egregiously violated. Among other recommendations, the inspectors argue that the international community should learn from their experience. The book’s final chapter places this tale in the broader perspective of mankind’s worrisome track record with germ weapons and the life sciences revolution now underway that could inadvertently generate additional manmade biological risks.
Learn more about Germ Gambits at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue