Richard O. Spertzel, VMD, Ph.D.
ConsultantBEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
5 December, 2001
"Russia, Iraq, and Other Potential Sources of Anthrax,
Smallpox, and Other Bioterrorist Weapons"
Iraq's official position as reflected in its Biological "Full, Final and Complete Declaration," includes an account of weaponization of liquid preparations of botulinum toxin, Bacillus anthracis spores, and aflatoxin. Additionally, Iraq acknowledges investigation of Clostridium perfringens and ricin. Three reviews from late 1997 through July 1998 by broad-based international review panels convened in New York, Vienna, and Baghdad all concluded this declaration was an incomplete and inadequate representation of Iraq's biological warfare research and development program.
Assessment by the experts seconded by their host governments to the United Nation's Special Commission (UNSCOM) concluded the account of Iraq's BW program contained in its current FFCD had serious deficiencies and inaccuracies in all areas. Even when the experts focused solely on those areas directly related to the material balance they concluded that none of the components or subcomponents of the material balance could be verified. Key elements in the material balance are the accountability for bulk agents, munitions and material. These are the weapons systems, their production, deployment and destruction as well as the production of bulk agents and munitions, munitions filling and the acquisition of raw materials, equipment and supplies including bacterial growth media, essentially BW agent precursors.
I do not wish to dwell further on the inadequacies and inaccuracies of Iraq's biological FFCD. The question at hand is what might Iraq have in its possession today or what might Iraq be capable of producing.
Iraq's Capability: Iraq has the equipment, facilities, material, and expertise to have an active BW program. Agents of concern must include Bacillus anthracis spores (anthrax), Francisella tularensis (tularemia), Brucella melitensis and smallpox. Antibiotic resistant strains are well within Iraq's capability. I believe any leakage from Iraq's program would be with full concurrence of the Iraqi government.
Anthrax: I do not believe science will identify the laboratory or country from which the present anthrax spores are derived. The quality of the product contained in the letter to Senator Daschle was better than that found in the Soviet, US or Iraqi BW program, certainly in terms of the purity and concentration of spore particles.
Speaking to the Iraqi BW program, Iraq certainly knew how to produce 100% pure spores as part of its fermentation production process. Although Iraq claims a low concentration in its final liquid product, such low levels can not be substantiated and the process used by them is capable with slight tweaking to produce the levels seen in the Daschle letter. Iraq used bentonite in its production of Bacillus thuringensis spores as recovered in 1994 by UNSCOM; however, Iraq through TSMID, its procurement arm for its BW program, also sought a supply of pharmaceutical grade silica in 1988 and 1989. Although suggestive evidence indicates Iraq was able to obtain such material we did not obtain definitive evidence to prove this acquisition. Iraq was also interested in obtaining other materials that would make a good additive for weapons-grade material. Iraq, unlike the Soviet and US programs, did not mill its dried product; rather the Iraqi BW team learned the method of obtaining a readily aerosolizable small particle product in a one step spray drying procedure.
Iraq had obtained anthrax and other bacterial agents from the ATCC in the US and Pasteur Institute, Paris, France. Iraq asserted that it filled aerial bombs and Al Hussein warheads with Volum strain anthrax spores (which was also planned for its drop tank weapon system). Iraq made extensive efforts to obtain the Ames strain in 1988 and 1989 as well as several other pathogenic strains from various countries of, at the time, Western and Eastern Europe and several African countries. Iraq's request for the Ames strain was denied by a laboratory in the UK; UNSCOM did not know what success Iraq had from its contact with other laboratories and countries.
Iraq claimed it did not dry anthrax spores for its weapons. Yet we know that its BW personnel knew how to produce high quality dried preparations and had the equipment and material to produce such dried preparations. Because Iraq asserted it had destroyed all such material in 1991 before UNSCOM inspectors had arrived, no samples of such preparations were obtained; if it retained any dried material, it was not in Iraq's interest to disclose the presence of such material. Dried anthrax spores remaining from its pre-1991 program would still be viable and pose a significant threat.
Smallpox: Iraq does not acknowledge any studies on smallpox. However, a smallpox epidemic swept through northern Iraq in the mid 1970s, just two to three years after it embarked on a program to acquire the capability for weapons of mass destruction. It is most unlikely that Iraq would have missed the opportunity to acquire clinical samples for any biological agent that might be of future benefit to the government. Thus it is prudent to make the assumption that Iraq possesses the necessary seed material for smallpox production. It has the necessary facilities, expertise and equipment for such development. A number of other clues strongly suggests that indeed it had an interest if not an active program in such a weapon development.
Other agents: Iraq also had an interest in many other agents such as agents that induce tularemia, plague, and brucellosis. Again, Iraq has the facilities, equipment, materials, and personnel to be conducting such development.
State versus non-state association: I have maintained from the first descriptions of the material contained in the Daschle letter that the quality appeared to be such that it could be produced only by some group that was involved with a current or former state program in recent years. The level of knowledge, expertise, and experience required and the types of special equipment required to make such quality product takes time and experimentation to develop. Further, the nature of the finished dried product is such that safety equipment and facilities must be used to protect the individuals involved and to shield their clandestine activity from discovery.