Tuesday, 29 October 2002 By max[This story has already vanished from the Buffalo News website: but here we conjure it up again. Ah, the wonders of the Internet!]
Buffalo, New York State, September 24, 2002
US Sent Iraq BioWeapon Germs In The mid-'80s
By Douglas Turner, Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON - American research companies, with the approval of two previous presidential administrations, provided Iraq biological cultures that could be used for biological weapons, according to testimony to a U.S. Senate committee eight years ago. West Nile Virus, E. coli, anthrax and botulism were among the potentially fatal biological cultures that a U.S. company sent under U.S. Commerce Department licenses after 1985, when Ronald Reagan was president, according to the Senate testimony.
The Commerce Department under the first Bush administration also authorized eight shipments of cultures that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later classified as having "biological warfare significance."
Between 1985 and 1989, the Senate testimony shows, Iraq received at least 72 U.S. shipments of clones, germs and chemicals ranging from substances that could destroy wheat crops, give children and animals the bone-deforming disease rickets, to a nerve gas rated a million times more lethal than Sarin.
Disclosures about such shipments in the late 1980s not only highlight questions about old policies but pose new ones, such as how well the American military forces would be protected against such an arsenal ? if one exists - should the United States invade Iraq.
Testimony on these shipments was offered in 1994 to the Senate Banking Committee headed by then-Sens. Donald Riegle Jr., D-Mich., and Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., who were critics of the policy. The testimony, which occurred during hearings that were held about the poor health of some returning Gulf War veterans, was brought to the attention of The Buffalo News by associates of Riegle.
The committee oversees the work of the U.S. Export Administration of the Commerce Department, which licensed the shipments of the dangerous biological agents.
"Saddam (Hussein) took full advantage of the arrangement," Riegle said in an interview with TheNews late last week. "They seemed to give him anything he wanted. Even so, it's right out of a science fiction movie as to why we would send this kind of stuff to anybody." The new Bush administration, he said, claims Hussein is adding to his bioweapons capability.
"If that's the case, then the issue needs discussion and clarity," Riegle said. "But it's not something anybody wants to talk about."
The shipments were sent to Iraq in the late 1980s, when that country was engaged in a war with Iran, and Presidents Reagan and George Bush were trying to diminish the influence of a nation that took Americans hostages a decade earlier and was still aiding anti-Israeli terrorists.
"Iraq was considered an ally of the U.S. in the 1980s," said Nancy Wysocki, vice president for public relations for one of the U.S. organizations that provided the materials to Hussein's regime.
"All these (shipments) were properly licensed by the government, otherwise they would not have been sent," said Wysocki, who works for American Type Culture Collection, Manassas, Va., a nonprofit bioinformatics firm.
The shipments not only raise serious questions about the wisdom of former administrations, Riegle said, but also questions about what steps the Defense Department is taking to protect American military personnel against Saddam's biological arsenal in the event of an invasion.
Riegle said there are 100,000 names on a national registry of gulf veterans who have reported illnesses they believe stem from their tours of duty there.
"Some of these people, who went over there as young able-bodied Americans, are now desperately ill," he said. "Some of them have died." "One of the obvious questions for today is: How has our Defense Department adjusted to this threat to our own troops?" he said. "How might this potential war proceed differently so that we don't have the same outcome?
"How would our troops be protected? What kind of sensors do we have now? In the Gulf War, the battlefield sensors went off tens of thousands of times. The Defense Department says they were false alarms."
U.S. bioinformatics firms in the 1980s received requests from a wide variety of Iraqi agencies, all claiming the materials were intended for civilian research purposes.
The congressional testimony from 1994 cites an American Type shipment in 1985 to the Iraq Ministry of Higher Education of a substance that resembles tuberculosis and influenza and causes enlargement of the liver and spleen. It can also infect the brain, lungs, heart and spinal column. The substance is called histoplasma capsulatum.
American Type also provided clones used in the development of germs that would kill plants. The material went to the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission, which the U.S. government says is a front for Saddam's military.
An organization called the State Company for Drug Industries received a pneumonia virus, and E. coli, salmonella and staphylcoccus in August 1987 under U.S. license, according to the Senate testimony. The country's Ministry of Trade got 33 batches of deadly germs, including anthrax and botulism in 1988.
Ten months after the first President Bush was inaugurated in 1988, an unnamed U.S. firm sent eight substances, including the germ that causes strep throat, to Iraq's University of Basrah.
An unnamed office in Basrah, Iraq, got "West Nile Fever Virus" from an unnamed U.S. company in 1985, the Senate testimony shows.
While there is no proof that the recent outbreak of West Nile virus in the United States stemmed from anything Iraq did, Riegle said, "You have to ask yourself, might there be a connection?"
Researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said American companies were not the only ones that sent anthrax cultures to Iraq. British firms sold cultures to the University of Baghdad that were transferred to the Iraqi military, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said. The Swiss also sent cultures.
The data on American shipments of deadly biological agents to Iraq was developed for the Senate Banking Committee in the winter of 1994 by the panel's chief investigator, James Tuite, and other staffers, and entered into the committee record May 25, 1994.
The committee was trying to establish that thousands of service personnel were harmed by exposure to Iraqi chemical weapons during the Gulf War, particularly following a U.S. air attack on a munitions dump ? a theory that the Defense Department and much of official Washington have always downplayed.