Inspectors look more for clues than weapons

Paperwork, machinery in Iraq will reveal much


SAN JOSE, Calif. - When United Nations inspectors return to Iraq, they are unlikely to find finished weapons for chemical, nuclear or biological warfare, according to former inspectors.

Instead, the multinational teams will focus on discovering the machinery and materials used to make weapons and the missiles that could deliver them to other countries.

"You ask to look at the equipment itself," said Tim McCarthy, who completed 13 missions in Iraq and served as deputy chief inspector for the United Nations' missile team in the 1990s.

"You look at a machine tool and determine if it actually builds a certain part. Then you look at the pieces the tool has actually produced, and that includes looking in the scrap yard for the rejects."

The details give up secrets, McCarthy said.

Iraq's short-range missiles are driven by a certain type of fuel pump. Finding a design for a more advanced fuel pump can only mean one thing: Iraqi workers are developing a forbidden longer-range missile, putting more countries at risk.

There are clues everywhere, McCarthy said: "At the site, is there high security? Are the Iraqis nervous around you? Does their explanation make sense, in terms of what their objectives are?"

In some cases, the inspectors might be tipped off by U.S., British or Israeli intelligence services that a particular scientist has recently traveled abroad.

Inspectors also might confront Iraqi managers with evidence of lies, McCarthy said: "You have plans to deploy 100 missiles, but you have a plant to produce propellant for 1,000 missiles.

"You go into a plant, you close it down and go through the offices. They generally try to clean the place, but they make mistakes," said McCarthy, who is on the staff of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

A memo directing the plant director to build a certain part can be revealing but so can lesser documents, such as invoices, budgets and even a sick-leave report that describes a worker's responsibilities.

McCarthy said he found a document in a safe that outlined Saddam Hussein's plan to keep his nuclear weapons researchers together after the Persian Gulf war.

Chasing the Iraqi nuclear program involves a different set of clues. The Iraqi program had been dismantled by the time U.N. inspectors left the country in 1998, but it's not known whether Hussein has revived the program.

The U.N. experts, many drawn from the United States and England, will attempt to sniff out signs of materials used to make bombs or to enrich the uranium that the bombs require.

High-speed electronic switches and the exotic metal beryllium are used in atom bombs, while carbon-fiber materials and special resins are employed in making rotors for the gas centrifuges Iraq has used in its enrichment program.

The centrifuges are more difficult to build than the bomb itself, according to a former inspector, and thus the best machine tools would probably be reserved for the centrifuge program.

Biological research can be easily hidden, a former inspector said: "Any good junior-college biology lab could probably be used for biological weapons, if you want to risk your life."

Inspectors face difficult problems in so-called dual-use facilities, which might have both civilian and military purposes. For instance, a brewery is on the dual-use list because it could be used to brew either beer or biological weapons.

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