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Trump and the realities of WMD in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq

GOP Presidential front runner Donald Trump, following his South Carolina victory, was on Fox News Sunday, February 21, 2016 with Chris Wallace when the subject of the War in Iraq came up.  Trump contended it was a disaster.  He asserted that Jeb Bush finally admitted he never supported it and pointed towards the result, Iran taking over there.  Something he alleges he would stop if elected President.  Trump was on record in an interview with Howard Stern in September 2002 supporting the Iraq war, later questioning its cost. Wallace’s question was triggered by an exchange with Anderson Cooper of CNN during the South Carolina town hall on February 19th. His comment about WMD in Iraq caught a wave of attention. In the exchange with Cooper he said:

“There are a lot of people that think that – look, bottom line, there were no weapons of mass destruction, and there were none, and they knew there were none,” he added. “There were no weapons of mass destruction.”

Watch Trump’s interview with FoxNews’ Chris Wallace on this YouTube Video:

The Lisa Benson Show contested Trump’s assertion in posts on social media.  Host Benson pointed out the views of noted BioWarfare expert, Dr. Jill Bellamy in our first NER interview with her in December 2007 when we raised this issue. Here was our exchange with Bellamy:

GordonWe heard that some of the late Saddam Hussein’s Bio-warfare research and pathogens may have been transferred to Syria during Operation Enduring Freedom.  Is that accurate to your knowledge, and who facilitated the transfer? What types of bio-warfare agents and materials might have been transferred?

Bellamy: Yes. It is important to remember that the Iraqi programs were far more advanced at the time than what the Syrians had, and were developing.  The delivery of certain pathogens in a ‘weaponized’ form taught the Syrians new techniques they previously had not mastered. This is very problematic. I am less concerned about the types of pathogens or specific pathogens as these were available to Syria from other sources.  What Hussein’s transfer taught the Syrians was more sophisticated ways of weaponization and dispersal. I believe Russian special ops- their Spetsnaz teams – transported sections of the programs. Remember these are not MIRVed ICBM’s we are talking about – you don’t need to stockpile biological weapons. It is the quality of the pathogen and ‘weaponization’ or aerosolization, milling processes that count, not the quantity.  I don’t believe they moved some biological arsenals into the Baqaa Valley in Lebanon, perhaps sections of their chemical and nuclear weapons, but not the biological programs.  Those are much too sensitive to dump in the desert. They must be carefully maintained in a defense laboratory. If you take something like Botulism – one gram of crystalline Botulinium is estimated to kill about a million people if it were evenly dispersed – you don’t want to bury it out in the desert.

This writer and host Lisa Benson of the eponymous Radio Show on National Security later on Sunday, February 21, 2016 interviewed Ken Timmerman,  investigative journalist, President of  the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, author of New York Times best seller, Countdown to Crisis , Shadow Warriors and Dark Forces: The Truth About What Happened at Benghazi.  We brought up Trump’s assertions about Saddam Hussein’s WMD.

Timmerman said that Trump had erred by repeating “a massive media lie.” As evidence to support this he pointed out that evidence of WMD, especially chemical weapons had been uncovered in the opening stages of Operations Enduring Freedom.  Moreover, months before the March 2003 conflict with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq began; convoys of trucks were seen on satellite imagery crossing the frontier into Syria.  “We knew,” Timmerman said,” because none other than current Director of National Intelligence James Clapper,  formerly the director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, said in 2003 that he believed materials had been moved out of Iraq in the months before the war and cited satellite imagery.” Further in 2008, NBC reported secret U.S. operation transferred to Canada more than  550 metric tons of “yellow cake” uranium discovered in Iraq that was to be used for higher grade  enrichment .  Good thing, because  if not transferred it might have ended up in the hands of ISIS courtesy of those former Ba’athist officers.  There was further corroboration of Timmerman’s rebuttal in a 2012 Daily Beast article on this question:

Former Iraqi General Sada asserted that Saddam’s chemical stockpile was lifted, in his book “Saddam’s Secrets” and summarized by Investor’s Business Daily:

As Sada told the New York Sun, two Iraqi Airways Boeings were converted to cargo planes by removing the seats, and special Republican Guard units loaded the planes with chemical weapons materials.

There were 56 flights disguised as a relief effort after a 2002 Syrian dam collapse.

The IBD article also mentions then Israeli General, now Defense Minister Yaalon’s assertions, and those of John Shaw regarding Russian assistance in the form of former KGB General Primakov:

There were also truck convoys into Syria. Sada’s comments came more than a month after Israel’s top general during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Moshe Ya’alon, told the Sun that Saddam “transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria.”

According to Shaw, ex-Russian intelligence chief Yevgeni Primakov, a KGB general with long-standing ties to Saddam, went to Iraq in December 2002 and stayed until just before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Anticipating the invasion, his job was to supervise the removal of such weapons and erase as much evidence of Russian involvement as possible.

Timmerman also drew attention to Saddam Hussein era connections to ISIS’ use of chemical weapons in both Iraq and Syria against Kurdish Peshmerga and Syrian Kurdish YPG forces. Our colleague Ilana Freedman asserted that ISIS may have perpetrated the 2013 Sarin gas attack in a Damascus suburb killing over a thousand Syrian civilians.   Timmerman said that ISIS is a “blend of former Iraqi Ba’athist officers and Al Qaeda in Iraq Jihadists.” ‘Those former Ba’athist officers knew where those WMD caches were located in both Iraq and Syria”.

As to who may have perpetrated the media lie about there was no WMD in Iraq, Timmerman’s 2007 book, Shadow Warriors  (see pp. 285-286) suggests that it was the late Tyler Drumheller, former European division chief of the CIA’s Director of Operations, who went on 60 Minutes with the late Ed Bradley and lied about information obtained from a Saddam Hussein era, Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri.  Timmerman reported this exchange between Bradley and Drumheller:

Tyler Drumheller, a twenty-six year veteran of the Agency, has decided to do something CIA officials at his level almost never do: speak out,” intoned, Ed Bradley

And what did this high-level source tell them? Bradley wanted to know. “He told us that they had no active weapons of mass destruction program, “Drumheller said. Bush Lied, people died  [noted Timmerman].

Bradley wondered. “It directly contradicts what the president and his staff were telling us.”

No one cared about the facts, Drumheller said. “The policy was set. The War in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy.”

What might Trump say in response to GOP debate moderators on this assertion? Timmerman suggested that Trump might simply brush the controversy off by saying “I relied on what the media was saying at the time”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Donald Trump with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, South Carolina Town hall, February 18, 2016.

Anthrax Released: Should we be concerned?

US Army Dugway Proving Ground Main GateThe abrupt news that live anthrax samples  had been shipped from the U.S. Army Dugway proving ground to laboratories in the U.S., an air base in South Korea and possibly Australia came as a reminder to Americans and the world that biological warfare  training exercises might lead to troubling inadvertent releases. Fortunately, 22 military personnel exposed at the south Korean  airbase are being treated with the antibiotic Cipro. However, this latest release of a BW agent has caused both the U.S. Army bio-warfare directorate and the CDC to review safety precautions, packaging and procedures for the transmission of possible live anthrax spores and why samples had not been made inert?

The BBC reported that the U.S. military has ordered a review of how it handles anthrax after discovering more cases of live samples being accidentally sent to labs:

Live anthrax samples were believed to have been sent to a total of 24 labs, in 11 U.S. states as well as South Korea and Australia, the Pentagon said.

The Pentagon says that there is no known risk to the general public.

Experts in bio-safety have heavily criticized the lapse and called for improved precautions.

Symptoms of anthrax exposure include skin ulcers, nausea, vomiting and fever, and can cause death if untreated.

News of the live shipments first emerged on Wednesday, as the U.S. said it had accidentally shipped live anthrax spores from Utah to labs in Texas, Maryland, Wisconsin, Delaware, New Jersey, Tennessee, New York, California and Virginia, as well as an air base in South Korea.

Those shipments took place between March 2014 and April 2015, a U.S. official said, according to Reuters.

On Friday, the Department of Defense said it had identified “additional inadvertent live anthrax shipments”, including a suspect sample sent to Australia from a batch of anthrax from 2008.

It is not clear when that sample was shipped to Australia.

The military has ordered all of its labs that have previously received inactive anthrax samples to test them. In addition it is advising all labs to cease working with these samples until told otherwise.

Shortly after 9/11, the American public concern over bio-terrorism was raised  by the release of Anthrax in powdered form in letters sent to members of Congress and randomly to private persons. 22 persons were sickened, 5 died, the U.S. Senate building was shut down and inspected.  Anthrax exists naturally, but more powerful variants have been developed synthetically by dual use laboratories in rogue states like Iran, North Korea and Assad’s Syria.  Bio-warfare laboratories have been established by Al Qaeda and ISIS has been rumored to have obtained access to materials in Syria, as well. Remember the arrest in Afghanistan, prosecution and conviction in the U.S. of Brandeis University and MIT trained scientist, “Lady Al Qaeda”, Aafia Siddiqui .  There is also evidence that Iran’s terrorist proxy, Hezbollah may have been transferred BW capabilities and agents  by Syria that could be deployed against America’s ally , Israel and globally through major transportation nodes in Europe.

Jill Bellamy van Aalst(3)

Dr. Jill Bellamy

We asked Dr. Jill Bellamy, noted expert on biological warfare and threat reduction about this latest incident.  We have published articles by Dr. Bellamy on Syrian, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Iranian BW programs in both the NER and our blog the Iconoclast.

She commented:

Clearly from a bio-safety perspective this is a very serious breach of protocol and demands a full and transparent investigation. As anyone who works with inactivated anthrax would be routinely vaccinated with AVA, exposure from a clinical perspective is probably not as much of a concern as the general public may believe. Of course if anyone outside military labs the live anthrax was sent to and persons who have not been routinely vaccinated were exposed, this would be concerning. I would worry about the time frame from exposure. It appears from the reports that we are talking about several weeks or months during which the anthrax was shipped. It is probably a good sign that none of the labs has reported a laboratory acquired disease or LAD. If exposure is known Cipro (ciprofloxacin hydrochloride) is given for inhalation anthrax and usually a 60 day course is advised. The lab workers in these labs  would surely  have all been vaccinated, so how much of a health risk it poses is debatable.

The bio-safety side is more worrying. CDC and a number of other labs have previously had exposures from the accidental handling of live anthrax. There are very stringent regulations in place for the shipping and transport of live agents. It is doubtful there was any risk to public health during the transport as this would be handled by the military. What is more problematic is that the research done  at US Army labs and Dugway proving ground  are critical to national security.  Incidents like this feed an uninformed section in non-proliferation circles who then call for the closing of these labs or hype the danger they pose to the general public. It makes it more difficult to assure the public that such labs are a vital aspect to protecting citizens from BW attacks and ensuring vaccines and therapeutic countermeasures are available and stockpiled in the event of a deliberate attack. Hopefully this is an incident we will learn a great deal from in terms of bio-safety training, protocols and bio-security.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of  microscopic anthrax spores. Source: Reuters.