The New York Times, March 16, 2003
Iraq Links Germs for Weapons to U.S. and France
By PHILIP SHENON
WASHINGTON, March 15 Iraq has identified a Virginia-based biological
supply house and a French scientific institute as the sources of all the
foreign germ samples that it used to create the biological weapons that are
still believed to be in Iraq's arsenal, according to American officials and
foreign diplomats who have reviewed Iraq's latest weapons declaration to
the United Nations.
The American supply house, the American Type Culture Collection of Manassas,
Va., had previously been identified as an important supplier of anthrax and
other germ samples to Iraq.
But the full extent of the sales by the Virginia supply house and the Pasteur
Institute in Paris has never been made public by the United Nations, which
received the latest weapons declaration from Iraq in December.
Nor was there any public suggestion before now that Iraq had apart
from a small amount of home-grown germ samples depended exclusively
on supplies from the United States and France in the 1980's in developing
the biological weapons that American officials say are now believed to threaten
troops massing around Iraq. The shipments were approved by the United States
government in the 1980's, when the transfer of such pathogens for research
was legal and easily arranged.
A copy of the pages of the Iraqi declaration dealing with biological weapons
was provided to The New York Times, and it reveals the full variety of germs
that Iraq says it obtained from abroad for its biological weapons program.
The document shows that the American and French supply houses shipped 17
types of biological agents to Iraq in the 1980's that were used in the weapons
programs. Those included anthrax and the bacteria needed to make botulinum
toxin, among the most deadly poisons known. It also discloses that Iraq had
tried unsuccessfully to obtain biological agents in the late 1980's from
other biological supply houses around the world.
The quantities of the agents were described in terms of ampuls, which are
sealed glass or plastic containers about the size of test tubes.
Iraq has acknowledged that it used the American and French germ samples to
produce tons of biological weapons in the 1980's. It has repeatedly insisted
in recent years that the program was shut down, and all of the biological
material destroyed, in the 1990's, an assertion that the United States and
many other nations have said is demonstrably untrue.
The United States, France and other Western countries placed severe restrictions
on the shipment of biological materials in the early 1990's, after the extent
of Iraq's biological weapons program became clear in the aftermath of the
1991 Persian Gulf war.
Spokesmen for the American Type Culture Collection and the Pasteur Institute
said that they were not surprised that Iraq had identified them as the exclusive
foreign suppliers of germ samples to its weapons programs. They said that
all of their shipments had been legal and that they were made with the
understanding that the agents would be used for research and medical purposes.
"A.T.C.C. could never have shipped these samples to Iraq without the Department
of Commerce's approval for all requests," said Nancy J. Wysocki, vice president
for human resources and public relations at the American Type Culture Collection,
a nonprofit organization that is one of the world's leading biological supply
houses. "They were sent for legitimate research purposes."
Michele Mock, a microbiologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said in
a telephone interview: "In the 1980's, the rules were entirely different.
If there was an official letter, there was no reason to avoid providing this
material. One good thing now is that the rules have changed."
The Iraqi statement on its bioweapons was prepared by the Iraqis in 1997
and was incorporated in its entirety into the full weapons declaration provided
to the United Nations last year, officials said.
The bioweapons declaration was obtained by Gary B. Pitts, a Houston lawyer
who is representing ailing gulf war veterans in a lawsuit claiming that their
illnesses were explained by exposure to chemical or biological weapons that
were known to be in Iraq's arsenal in the war. United Nations officials confirmed
the authenticity of the document.
Mr. Pitts said that American Type Culture Collection, which is a defendant
in the lawsuit, and the Pasteur Institute should have known in the 1980's
that "it was unreasonable to turn over something like this to Saddam, especially
after he had used weapons of mass destruction in the past."
"It's ironic that we're now talking about going into Iraq to clean up these
weapons," Mr. Pitts added.
He had previously made public a copy of Iraq's chemical weapons declaration.
In it, the Baghdad government identified several major suppliers for its
production of nerve gas and other chemical weapons. Apart from two small
suppliers in the United States that are now defunct, most of the chemical
suppliers identified in the report were European.
Jonathan Tucker, a former United Nations weapons inspector who is a visiting
fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, said that the
1980's "were a more innocent time, and the default in those days was to supply
these cultures to academic research labs without asking many questions."
"At the time, the U.S. government was tilting toward Iraq, was trying to
improve relations with Iraq, and the tendency was not to scrutinize these
requests," Mr. Tucker said.
But Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project, an arms control research
group, said that the biological supply houses should have realized that Iraq
might use the germ samples to make weapons, especially since it was known
then that Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iranian troops in the Iran-Iraq
"If you know that the buying country is involved in a chemical weapons program,
you have an obligation to ask some questions rather than just send it out,"
Mr. Milhollin said.