Mass Weapons Danger Real, Iraq not Only Country of Concern
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 13, 2002 While Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program poses the most immediate danger, other countries are also of concern, said a senior defense official Sept. 13.
Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Cuba have active WMD programs, said the official.
But what is of more concern is the nexus between such states and terrorist organizations.
The briefer, who spoke on background, said most of these nations possess chemical and biological capabilities. North Korea possesses a nuclear capability and Iraq can develop a nuclear weapon "within a year" of getting fissile material.
These states also work closely with terrorist group. One of the briefer's slides contained a quote from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. "If I seek to acquire these weapons, I am carrying out a duty."
The official said the United States knows the terror networks have been hurt, but they are not destroyed and are active. The groups including al Qaeda are trying to rebuild and are planning other attacks.
If these groups acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons the casualties could run to the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands.
The official said intelligence on any terror group and WMD capabilities is hard to come by. These groups are, of course, working to keep this capability secret. By the time coalition intelligence services hear of the threat, the threat has probably been under development for a number of years. The briefer used the example of an Egyptian Islamic Jihad operative arrested in Cairo in 1998. He told authorities that his group had chemical and biological weapons. When they started work is a mystery, and how far the group has come since is also unknown.
Another problem is that information on terror networks work toward realizing WMD capabilities is "that the information is always going to be incomplete, it is always going to be pieced together with great difficulty over time." Terror organizations are fragmented into cells and few people have the complete picture of any operation or endeavor.
The obvious point, then, is that what then United States may know of this WMD danger may be just the tip of the iceberg. Just prior to and during the Persian Gulf War, for example, experts thought Iraq was six to 10 years away from developing a nuclear weapon. In 1995 it came out that Iraq was within a year of developing such a device.