SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 94
September 26, 2002

THE US GOVERNMENT AND IRAQI BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS

"Did the United States help Iraq to acquire the building blocks of biological weapons during the Iran-Iraq War? Are we, in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown?"

When Senator Robert Byrd posed those bothersome questions to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a September 19 hearing, Rumsfeld dismissed the matter with a curt "I doubt it."

But in fact there is abundant documentary and reportorial evidence to demonstrate that "the U.S. Government provided nearly two dozen viral and bacterial samples to Iraqi scientists in 1985--samples that included the plague, botulism, and anthrax, among other deadly diseases."

A 1995 letter from then-director of the Centers for Disease Control David Satcher to Sen. Donald Riegle itemizes "all biological materials, including viruses, retroviruses, bacteria, and fungi, which CDC provided to the government of Iraq from October 1, 1984, through October 13, 1993."

Sen. Byrd assembled all of the key evidence -- the Satcher letter, a recent Newsweek article by Christopher Dickey and Evan Thomas, the transcript of his exchange with Secretary Rumsfeld, and an excerpt from a 1994 Senate Banking Committee report -- and inserted this information in the Congressional Record on September 20. See:

Columnist Robert D. Novak discussed the issue in a Washington Post op-ed column today, available here:

The prevailing US attitude toward Iraq during those years was articulated in President George H.W. Bush's upbeat National Security Directive 26 of October 2, 1989 on "U.S. Policy Toward the Persian Gulf":

"Normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our longer-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East. The United States Government should propose economic and political incentives for Iraq to moderate its behavior and to increase our influence with Iraq."

"At the same time, the Iraqi leadership must understand that any illegal use of chemical and/or biological weapons will lead to economic and political sanctions, for which we would seek the broadest possible support from our allies and friends," the previous President Bush wrote.

A copy of NSD 26, declassified in 1999, is posted here:

The gathering momentum for a US war with Iraq signals the decline of American democracy, argues columnist Michael Kinsley today.

Public deliberation about whether to go to war has been crippled by the fact that "crucial information for an independent decision is unavailable to us... We aren't capable of answering the actual questions at hand: Is Saddam Hussein an imminent threat to our national and personal security, and is a war to remove him from power the only way to end that threat?"

See "Ours Not to Reason Why" by Michael Kinsley in Slate Magazine:


GAO REPORT ON FOIA ACTIVITY

The General Accounting Office has issued a comprehensive new report on implementation of the Freedom of Information Act in dozens of federal agencies, noting that "backlogs of pending requests governmentwide are substantial and growing, indicating that agencies are falling behind in processing requests."

The Department of Energy, for example, took 16 days to process simple requests in 1999, but needed 211 days in 2001. More complex requests took DOE a median of 55 days to process in 1999, but required a dysfunctional 1,788 days by 2001, the GAO found.

The impact of September 11 was assessed differently by agency officials and FOIA requesters, the GAO said.

"Agency officials characterized the effects on FOIA implementation as relatively minor, except for mail delays associated with the anthrax problem. In contrast, members of the requester community expressed general concern about information dissemination and access to government information in light of removal of information from government Web sites after September 11."

See GAO Report GAO-02-493, "Update on Implementation of the 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments" (in a massive 2 MB PDF file) here:


SENATE CLEARS 2003 INTEL AUTHORIZATION BILL

"I can assure my colleagues that this bill provides a significant increase in funding to the U.S. intelligence community," said Sen. Richard Shelby.

So assured, the Senate proceeded September 25 to approve the 2003 intelligence authorization bill on a voice vote. See:

The fifth public hearing of the congressional joint inquiry into September 11 today featured perfunctory testimony from former FBI counterterrorism official Dale Watson. See:


ODDS AND ENDS

"Academia is suddenly finding itself a central target of new security laws and regulations," writes Mark Clayton in the Christian Science Monitor today. "As fall semester gets under way, university scientists worry that freedom of inquiry, open access, and internationalization long valued in US higher education are at risk."

See "Academia becomes target for new security laws":

"A [Taiwanese] defense official yesterday criticized the press as being 'unprofessional' in reporting the threat that an electro- magnetic pulse (EMP) weapon might pose to Taiwan, since such a weapon has not been proven to exist," according to the Taipei Times on September 18.

Major General Tyson Fu went on to admit that "The military's document classification system doesn't make any sense. Some documents which should be classified are unclassified, while some which should be unclassified turn out to be classified."

See "Army slams press for scaring people with bogus weapon" by Brian Hsu:

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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