Yesterday I said
that Mahdi Obeidi had told
his CIA handlers about some on-going
Here's what I hear: Sometime in June 2003, after the fall of Saddam but prior to his leaving the country, Obeidi heard the following from a colleague in the Iraqi scientific community.
The colleague told Obeidi that there was another Iraqi scientist (someone involved in the nuclear program but not tied specifically to the uranium enrichment effort) who had done the following. At some point in 2001 or 2002 this scientist had brought together some junior people (other scientists, that is) to do work on the uranium enrichment front. This wasn't work actually enriching uranium, per se, in the sense of actual production, but theoretical R&D, discussing and hashing out ideas for how the job should be done once the word was given.
This would be in line with the CIA's 2000 report on the state of Iraq's program which said the Iraqis had "probably continued low-level theoretical R&D" after weapons inspectors had been expelled in 1998.
Again, Obeidi seems to have found out about this particular detail only after the fall of Baghdad, not before. This wasn't something he'd been involved with, but something he'd heard, and apparently believed.
That information jibes with other information both from Obeidi and other Iraqi scientists pointing to the conclusion that the Iraqi WMD programs were much closer to a state of dormancy than US intelligence had feared. However, there was clearly an attempt to keep the relevant scientists around and, at least on the chemical and biological front, to remain prepared to reconstitute the programs if and when the opportunity or need arose. (Bear that in mind when you think about the report coming from David Kay.)
And one other detail: It was widely believed in the US intelligence community that once inspectors left, the Iraqi WMD programs would really kick into high gear. That was a pretty solid assumption. And many of the estimates of the state of Iraqi WMD programs were based not simply or even primarily on positive evidence so much as this inference. What now seems clear, however, is that the sanctions regime may have been -- to the Iraqis -- a bigger deal than the inspectors. And it was the end of the sanctions that would have been the real green light for moving ahead.
Next up: what more evidence of biological and chemical weapons we might still find in Iraq and what it might mean.