Coalition Forces Have Iraqi Mobile Bioweapons Facility
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 7, 2003 Coalition forces have obtained an Iraqi mobile biological weapons production facility, defense officials confirmed today. However, no traces of biological weapons have been found on the trailer.
Coalition forces in Iraq took control of the trailer April 19 at a Kurdish checkpoint near the northern town of Tall Kayf, the Defense Department's undersecretary for intelligence, Stephen Cambone, said in the Pentagon today.
"U.S. and U.K. technical experts have concluded that the unit does not appear to perform any function beyond production of biological weapons," he said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell had described such facilities during an early February presentation to the United Nations. "The interior layout of that trailer matches closely what was described by the secretary of state," Cambone said.
Powell had said an Iraqi defector provided information about 18 such mobile labs. Cambone today said the same defector now says the trailer found in Iraq seems consistent with the facilities he was familiar with.
The undersecretary said the trailer is painted in a military color scheme and was being carried on a heavy- equipment transporter, typically used to transport tanks.
The trailer is of the same size and type as that described by the defector, and equipment is laid out in a similar fashion. It carried a fermenter, gas cylinders to supply clean air, and a system to capture and compress exhaust "to eliminate any signature of the production."
Cambone said the vehicle was en route to the Baghdad area, where experts will disassemble it to try to find evidence of biological agents. He said the vehicle had been cleaned with a "very caustic substance" and painted.
Experts from several branches of the U.S. and foreign governments are scouring Iraq, searching for evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program. Cambone explained that "mobile exploitation teams" are looking to obtain information from Iraqi individuals both cooperative volunteers and Baath party members held as prisoners of war. They are also searching sensitive sites and poring through countless caches of documents, computer hard drives and other sources of information.
"What we have here is a highly iterative process in the theater where we try to take advantage of each bit of information to get to the next step in unraveling the puzzle that is the weapons of mass destruction program," Cambone said.
Experts in the region meet daily to discuss sensitive sites roughly 1,000 in all. Of those, nearly 600 are suspected WMD sites. The military has now searched 70 such sites identified before the war as suspicious. The search has included 40 others that have come to officials' attention since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. None has yielded proof of banned weapons yet.
Cambone explained that at each site investigators take four sets of samples. One is tested in the region, two are sent to national labs in the United States, and the fourth is sent to a lab outside the United States to give the process more legitimacy.
The organization charged with this "site exploitation" is known as the 75th Group, made up of some 600 experts from throughout the government. It includes the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, military services, Defense Threat Reduction Agency and FBI, in addition to international experts and individuals who have served as U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq.
"Toward the end of this month," another organization, the Iraq Survey Group, headed by DIA staff officer Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, will augment the 75th Group. Cambone said this organization will add another 1,300 experts and 800 support staff to the task of finding Saddam's weapons.
In addition, he said, experts on the ground in Iraq are supported by a "fusion cell" of DIA experts in Washington to conduct in-depth analysis as needed.
Cambone said he's not discouraged that no "smoking gun" has been found regarding banned weapons. "We are poring through documents. We are talking to people, and more of this is going to come to the surface as time goes by," he said. "It is a tough, laborious process."